Q&A with Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner

Kayla Posner was kind enough to reach out and ask me to answer several historical-fiction-related questions for the Pittsburgh Historical Fiction Examiner. A ton of authors have answered a similar survey, but it still made me feel pretty legitimate. :)

Link to full article here.

Cara Langston, author of “Battle Hymns” answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.

1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?

Amelia Earhart. She traveled to so many places and did so many exciting things! Plus, my husband has turned me into a bit of an aviation geek. But can I stop being her just before she disappears?

2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?

As much as I love the idea of experiencing Colonial America or Regency England, I am fully aware of how terrible life usually was for women back then, so I’m going to choose a more modern time. I’d pick the late 1910s in America and be a suffragette!

3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?

Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, and the Duchess of Cambridge (she’s a historical person in the making).

4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?

Neuschwanstein. I’ve never been to Germany, but the surrounding mountains look gorgeous in photos.

5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?

Diana Gabaldon (I read all 8 “Outlander” books this summer, so that story is still at the front of my thoughts) and, for my love of the English monarchy, Philippa Gregory. She must know almost everything after writing so many books!

6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?

I have to admit I’m not very familiar with King Louis XIV of France… I had to Google him to remember which Louis he was! So he’s obviously not my answer. I suppose King Henry VIII of England, then, if only because I enjoyed watching Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character in “The Tudors.”

7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?

Anne of Cleves, because I can trace my genealogy back to the Von Kleves, and I have to support my 14th great grand aunt!

8. English monarchy or French monarchy?

English monarchy. I haven’t read enough about the French monarchy. Maybe I should start!

9. What three novels could you read over and over?

“Les Miserables”,” Gone With The Wind”, and “Night”.

10. Tea or coffee when writing?

Both! Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and while we’re at it, red wine in the evenings.

Failing at Building an Author Platform

Upon beginning my publishing journey, I read a lot of articles on how to succeed in self-publishing. There are vast quantities of tips on the Internet, but one of the most popular ones is this: Build an author platform.

That sounds easy, right? We live in the age of social media. Almost everyone has a Facebook, Twitter, blog, Instagram, Foursquare, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and/or that dreaded app Facebook made us download to read our friends’  messages. It’s easy to create an account. It’s much more difficult, however, to connect.

I’m pretty sure I’m terrible at building an author platform. I rarely update this blog. I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but mostly reading others’ tweets rather than tweeting myself. I haven’t posted anything on my Facebook author page in almost 2 months. I loathe posting links to my books because it feels so impersonal and I hate it when that’s all other authors do on social media.

Despite this, I have learned some things and compiled a short list of Do’s and Don’ts.

TWITTER

  • DO follow other authors and readers. If you haven’t published anything or don’t have NYT Bestseller (like most of us), not many people will follow you just because. You will have to earn their follow by following them first. It’s a very quid pro quo relationship. Is it petty? Sure, but that’s how it works.
  • DO make Twitter lists. Do you know what happens when you follow 1,000 people? You can’t keep track of conversations. Twitter has a very nice feature where you can add users to a list that narrows down whose tweets you see. I have a private list called “Interact”. Despite the fact that I follow 600+ people, this list only has ~20. They are friends I’ve made on Twitter, authors who seem similar to me, and the Outlander account, because I’m addicted (that’s another post).
  • DON’T only tweet out your book links. There are some people who tweet the same link every 3 minutes, all day long. It’s obnoxious, and I really doubt it increases your sales all that much. It just makes me want to unfollow you and never consider reading your book.

FACEBOOK

  • DON’T spend a ton of time on Facebook unless you’ve had some incredible success with that platform. Facebook wants you to pay to reach your audience, and unless you have an unlimited budget, you’ll end up reaching maybe 5% of however many people “liked” your page. I use Facebook all the time for personal use, but for an author platform, it really sucks.

I feel like I should have more suggestions, but as I said above, I don’t think I’m any good at this. This post is actually the result of two glasses of red wine, boredom, and the nagging feeling of “I should really post something else on my blog.” I’m going to return to the first draft of my next novel now (I’m at 37K words!), but before I do, a meme for you:

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Genealogy Fun!

One of my favorite hobbies in recent years has been discovering my genealogy. I’m an European mutt, my father’s side being mainly Italian, Polish, German, and Swiss, while my mother’s side is mainly German and English.

When I began my research, I thought my father’s side would be more interesting; after all, only my father’s family every discussed their ancestry. They were the ones with the weird European names (my own maiden name included) and the ones whose ancestors had emigrated from Sicily, Poznan, and Vienna during the peak immigration period from 1900-1920. Those are the names I was able to find on my visits to Ellis Island. But the problems with Eastern European records is that they disappear. The furthest I could go back was to several Swiss ancestors who were born in the 1770s.

So it was actually my mother’s side of the family that opened up the treasure trove of history. It took some time to gather enough information for the little green leaves to pop up on Ancestry.com. I never knew much about my mother’s side of the family. Unlike on my father’s side, I never met my grandparents’ siblings or their families. I vaguely knew my maternal grandfather was from a German family in the Ohio area. The only thing I knew about my maternal grandmother was that she was related to Abraham Lincoln (that has been proven untrue and is merely family folklore).

It turns out, though, my maternal grandmother is the link to the majority of my most interesting ancestors, including:

  • A shared ancestor with the British royal family, Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland (his daughter Cecily was mother to King Edward IV and King Richard III; Cecily’s brother is my 21st great grandfather)
  • John Carrington, a carpenter hanged for witchcraft in 1650 Connecticut (my 11th great grandfather)
  • Mayflower passenger Edward Fuller (my 13th great grandfather)
  • Anne of Cleves (my 14th great grand aunt)

I’ve cast a wide net in my family tree (it includes 2661 people at present), but though I know some names, birth dates, and death dates, I have come to realize that maybe my research would be better spent digging deeper into their lives. So that’s what I’ll spend my time doing, now that I’ve re-upped my Ancestry.com subscription for a month.

But without further ado, here are some of the more interesting photos I’ve found in my research. Warning: Old photos can be pretty creepy.

Wilhelmina Koch (1832-1897, 3rd great grandmother)

Wilhelmina Koch (1832-1897)

Nancy Harrell and Benjamin Weeks (c. 1880)

Nancy Harrell and Benjamin Weeks (c. 1880)

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Adam Brozovich and Petra Tomic (c. 1910-20)

I also need to work on my husband’s family tree. I thought his might be easy considering he’s English, and at least in my experience, the English records have been the easiest to find. But no such luck. He has too many ancestors with generic names.

Writer’s Doubt

I’m a published author. I have written a book, a difficult feat in and of itself, and it is published. The reviews were all overwhelmingly positive (save for the handful of no-review, one-star ratings from Goodreads trolls). I made my sister cry as she read it. Overall, I consider that a success. And yet, I still cower away from the accomplishment.

I chose to write under a pen name. At the time, it was a pretty simple decision to make, given my continuing career in the corporate world and the fact that everyone spells my first name incorrectly. A pen name has its advantages, but it also has one major disadvantage: My writing life and my “real” life are (almost) completely separate, and I’m struggling to integrate them.

A hand-drawn illustration

A hand-drawn illustration

Have I posted about my book on my personal Facebook page? NOPE.

Have I let my mother brag about my book to her friends? Not on Facebook, at least.

When I attended a wedding right after I published Battle Hymns, did I tell any of my husband’s friends about it, even when they asked what was happening in my life? Certainly not.

I find I still harbor massive insecurities about my abilities as a writer, and I’m hiding behind the pen name. I don’t want my literary snob acquaintances to ask, “Who published you?” when the answer is, “Myself.” In reality, they probably wouldn’t even care, but I would think they did.

And that is my current struggle. I fear I’m not a legitimate writer, so I don’t act like one, and it becomes a never-ending circle of doubt.

But on a more positive note, I know I’m not alone in this struggle. So thank you all for your kind words and encouragement! :)

Battle Hymns

I made it to the BATTLE HYMNS publishing date without having a nervous breakdown! It’s early in the process, though; it could still happen. It nearly happened this evening after my husband told me his father bought my book. I spent most of the day freaking out over how strangers would receive my book, but this announcement put my worries into perspective: It’s much more nerve-wracking to wonder what your in-laws will think. Anyway . . .

BATTLE HYMNS is out! Purchase links have been included below. I am also participating in a Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.  Check out the reviews/interviews, also linked below!

Battle Hymns Final Front Cover Medium

Links:
Amazon Kindle
Amazon US (Paperback)
Amazon UK (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble Nook
Apple iBooks
Smashwords

In December 1941, Charlotte Donahue is engaged to Nick Adler, a handsome, pre-law student at Georgetown University. Despite her studies at a liberal arts college, she expects nothing more than to marry her fiancé and settle into a conventional life as a young American homemaker. But her future is unexpectedly disrupted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While Nick trains for the battlefront with the U.S. Army, Charlotte does her part by volunteering as a nurses’ aide with the American Red Cross.

Assigned to a convalescent ward at Walter Reed’s Army Medical Center, Charlotte discovers her passion lies, not in the home, but in tending to the wounds of injured soldiers, all of whom remind her of Nick. Here she is drawn to a mysterious soldier, Lieutenant William Kendrick, whose jet was shot down in the skies over Germany. As Will’s physical and psychological wounds begin to heal, he and Charlotte develop a friendship that will bind them together in ways they never imagined.

Battle Hymns is a poignant story of love, survival, and redemption set against the backdrop of World War II.

 

BLOG TOUR:

Monday, June 2
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, June 3
Review at Booktalk & More

Wednesday, June 4
Review at Closed the Cover

Thursday, June 5
Interview at Closed the Cover

Monday, June 9
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Tuesday, June 10
Review at Lit Nerd

Wednesday, June 11
Interview at Lit Nerd

Friday, June 13
Review at History Undressed

Sunday, June 15
Review at History from a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, June 16
Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, June 17
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, June 18
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Interview at Layered Pages

Friday, June 20
Review at Too Fond Beth

Battle Hymns_Tour Banner_FINAL

Confessions of a Cover Snob

I consider myself a design-oriented person, even though I have no formal training in it.

Example 1: I thoroughly enjoy decorating my home. I can easily put together a vignette on any flat surface in my home, taking into account balance, white space, odd pairings, texture, color, et cetera. As a result, I’m exceedingly pleased with how my fireplace mantel turned out after one try.

Example 2: At my day job, one of my primary responsibilities is making executive-level PowerPoint presentations. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at creating visually-appealing and professional presentations. I created our company template, and I am admittedly awesome at balancing visual illustrations (shapes! smart art! graphs!) with textual information (tables! bullet points!).
[Side note: Never use default Office colors. It's lazy and looks terrible.]

This is one of my greatest strengths, but it has also made me a complete snob about book covers. I will absolutely judge a book by its cover, and I make no apologies for that. It’s rare that I buy a gorgeous book and the inside is utter dross, whereas the reverse is often true. I’ll stick with what’s worked for me since I was a child.

To me, the cover of your book signals how much you’ve invested in it, including time, effort, and money. I’m not saying you need to spend a fortune for a nice book cover. There are a lot of artists out there who design book covers for reasonable amounts. Full disclosure: I paid $350 for an eBook and print cover design for Battle Hymns. That price may be on the higher side of what you can find browsing the web, but my designer specializes in historical fiction and I couldn’t find anyone else who could compete with her. Plus, she made me, Book Cover Snob Cara, exceedingly happy with the design.

I’m constantly astounded (in a bad way) by some of the covers of self-published works I see promoted on Twitter, Goodreads, or book blogs. I really want to share some of the worst ones, but I shouldn’t call out any specific authors. I believe in karma.

Instead I shall return to Goodreads and find books I want to read based solely on their covers. I will also leave you with this:

keep-calm-and-don-t-use-comic-sans-4

My ever-evolving characters

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The majority of my colleagues were away at a conference earlier this week, so I took advantage of the quiet time at work and finally picked up my WIP again. It was tough, but I managed to write about 1,000 more words, just barely surpassing the 21,000 word mark. And then it happened: The first major snag appeared.

I have a detailed outline of where The Glassmaker’s Wife is heading. I’ve developed the backgrounds of all my character. I can tell you when they were born, their views toward Prohibition, their happy or terrible childhoods, and way more. The story was coming together so perfectly! But it just had to come crashing down when I realized that my main character’s actions made no sense with the history I gave her. I sat at my desk whispering profanities under my breath as I panicked, battling with myself on how to resolve the problem:

“It can work,” I reassured myself. “I don’t want to re-write all this shit.”

“No, it can’t work. Eva is a complete idiot if she falls for this man after everything that happened to her. You don’t want your readers thinking that in the first 20% of the novel. Something needs to change.”

“Fine, but I can’t change what Henry does. It’s vital to the plot.”

“Then you have to change Eva’s childhood history.”

And that’s what I did. It wasn’t fun. I had to find a new background for her. Now she has a new sibling, and her parents are completely different than what I originally wrote. I had to cut out a scene and a character that I loved. I changed the way she met her husband, which changes how she interacts with her husband going forward. To be honest, I’m still not 100% sure if this is going to work. But I am glad that I discovered this problem at 20,000 words rather than 100,000 words.

So that’s my lesson for today: You may want to be a plotter, but your characters will grow lives of their own and screw everything up.

P.S. I don’t usually have conversations with myself . . .

My Writing Process

What genre do you write?
Historical fiction/romance

How many books have you written?
1.25. Battle Hymns is my debut novel and will be published in June. I have 20,000 words written on the next novel, The Glassmaker’s Wife. Prior to Battle Hymns, I wrote 4 full-length stories that I kept to myself and don’t count.

Are you published?
I will be in June!

How long do you let an idea “simmer” before you start writing?
As soon as I get inspiration, I start writing. It’s a fast start that then slows as life becomes more demanding. When I figured out the plot of The Glassmaker’s Wife, I wrote the first 10,000 words of it in 2 weeks, that’s how much inspiration I had! But then it took 3 months to write the next 10,000 words, thanks to necessary Battle Hymns edits.

How much pre-story planning do you do in the form of outlines, character sketches, maps, etc.?
For the first book, I didn’t do any of this until much later in the process. It was very much a “pantsed” book. I’m attempting to be a plotter on this next one. I have a high-level description for each outlined scene. I’ve made character profiles in Evernote and an Excel spreadsheet that includes everything from birth dates to hair color to religious practices. There’s also a separate spreadsheet for fictional locations that I use, so I can keep track of the appropriate street names, ‘L’ stations, etc.

I like pre-story planning. If I have writers’ block but still want to work on the story, I can flesh out some more details in my character profiles instead of working on prose. That might be my strength as a planner as well as my weakness as a procrastinator.

If you use an outline, what type do you use (snowflake, index card, etc)?
It’s just a note within my Evernote program, so I can access it at home, at work, on my iPad, etc. It looks something like this:

Chapter 1 – Overall description/theme of the chapter

  • Scene 1 – Sentences on what the characters do, important things to remember to include, etc.
  • Scene 2 – What the characters do in the second scene (if applicable)
  • Date in narrative

Chapter 2 – Continue with this process

How many drafts do you usually go through before you’re “done”? 
About 5. After the first draft, I send it to beta-readers for their thoughts on what works and what doesn’t. Then I spend a long time on the second draft, take a break, and go through it a third time. Then I’ll send it to someone again, make necessary adjustments in a fourth draft. Then I send it to the copy editor, and when it comes back, there’s draft five.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?
Battle Hymns took 4.5 years, but I took a break from it for 2 years in the middle of that time span. I hope to finish The Glassmaker’s Wife within 1 year. I know a lot of people say it should take 3-4 months, but I have a full-time job and a bad habit of editing as I write.

How long do revisions usually take you? 
It took 9 months between the end of the first draft of Battle Hymns and the point where I considered it complete.

Are your revised drafts substantially different plot-wise from your first draft?
I cut out some pretty large chunks of the first draft and added some new scenes. I wouldn’t consider it a substantial change to the main plot. I merely removed an unnecessary subplot and fleshed out some scenes.

Cover Reveal: Battle Hymns

What a week! My husband and I moved into our first house together on Monday, and after all the legally-binding signatures, paper cuts from cardboard boxes, and sore limbs, I am finally taking a break to reveal the cover for my upcoming historical novel, BATTLE HYMNS, debuting June 3rd.

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Battle Hymns: A Novel

In December 1941, Charlotte Donahue is engaged to Nick Adler, a handsome, pre-law student at Georgetown University. Despite her studies at a liberal arts college, she expects nothing more than to marry her fiancé and settle into a conventional life as a young American homemaker. But her future is unexpectedly disrupted after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While Nick trains for the battlefront with the U.S. Army, Charlotte does her part by volunteering as a nurses’ aide with the American Red Cross.

Assigned to a convalescent ward at Walter Reed’s Army Medical Center, Charlotte discovers her passion lies, not in the home, but in tending to the wounds of injured soldiers, all of whom remind her of Nick. Here she is drawn to a mysterious soldier, Lieutenant William Kendrick, whose jet was shot down in the skies over Germany. As Will’s physical and psychological wounds begin to heal, he and Charlotte will develop a friendship that will bind them together in ways they never imagined.

Battle Hymns is a poignant story of love, survival, and redemption set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Find Battle Hymns on Goodreads.
Credit for this beautiful cover goes to Jennifer Quinlan of Historical Editorial.
Follow me on Twitter for updates and watch for the blog tour in June!

And now I’m back to unpacking and hanging curtains…

Novel Taglines: My Worst Enemy

I’m falling behind on my New Year’s Resolution to blog. I should say there’s no excuse, but really, I can name quite a few:

  • I still have a full-time job outside of my writing
  • I have an hour-long commute each way to that job
  • I watched 3 seasons of Scandal in 3 weeks
  • My husband and I are moving into our first house in 2 weeks, and I’ve been packing our belongings into cardboard boxes on the weekends
  • And, oh yeah, I also try to write novels in my spare time

Whew! March has been quite a month. But I’ve carved out some time to write this post, all thanks to an exercise that I despise: Creating a tagline for your novel.

I wasn’t initially sure I wanted a tagline for BATTLE HYMNS, so I put it off. And then my cover designer created the most gorgeous cover for my debut novel. At the bottom, in a smaller font size, were the words, “Tagline here.” And I said, “Well, shit.”

I needed one. The title doesn’t tell readers what the story is about. The cover (which will be revealed in the next 2 months) hints to one of the major themes of the novel but isn’t indicative of a romance. So I needed a hook. I scoured my bookshelf and pulled out all my historical fiction novels. Turns out most of them were paperbacks and their taglines had been removed on that edition. So I found the first edition covers on Goodreads, made notes on what other authors chose, and then brainstormed my own phrases.

It was an awful exercise, one that made me doubt my ability to put two or more words together to form a phrase. I am humbly willing to share my failed attempts. They range from the simple (A novel of love and war) to the cheesy (Love is the best medicine) to the Pat Benatar (Love is a battlefield).

I did finally come up with something I like: A Second War. A Second Chance.

It’s set during WWII (A Second War) and both main characters get second chances at love and at life (A Second Chance). It’s perfect.

Now I’m going to play “Love is a Battlefield” until I finally stop humming it.