Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Writer's Reality 101: The Stories behind the Stories.

Two weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Liz Kales, author of Destiny’s Weave, silver haired vixen (that's Alberta-speak for foxy lady) extraordinaire, live and in person. I met Liz through the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards on the World Wide Web, but, as it turns out, she’s my neighbour. Or nearly so. She lives 15 minutes away from me. Although I think we were both somewhat nervous about meeting face to face for the first time, our anxiety quickly faded, and we had a great time conversing. Liz is a sweetheart, a most gracious host and a fascinating woman.

Lisa: Liz, I’d read or heard somewhere that you used to do some travel writing?

Liz: Yes, well, I wasn’t a real one per se, but I was in the travel business for over twenty-five years, so I wrote many articles about things I did. I actually got paid for quite a few of them. Some were published in the Richmond Review and in the Canadian Travel Trade Journals. (As you can see already, Liz is humble as well. She wrote, got published and paid, numerous times. I’d call that a travel writer.)

Lisa: So you traveled quite a bit.

Liz: Yes, we did quite a lot. Not as much as I would have liked to, but we did travel to lots of places and saw many things. I especially enjoyed travelling by ship. I still love it; love cruising, that’s my favourite.

Lisa: How long has writing been a part of your life?

Liz: I was thinking about when I first wrote anything worthwhile, and I was in grade 7, so I was 12 years old. I wrote a funny play about a henpecked husband who was always saying ‘yes dear.’ The principal of my school really liked it so he had it performed for the parent teacher association.

Lisa: Oh, neat! (I’m so intelligently expressive at times.)

Liz: Yes, it was fun. All through high school, I wrote for the school paper, and then when I graduated, I went to work for the Telegraph Office because I had to make some money. That was more important than anything else at the time because my father was retiring and there were no government pensions in those days.

After I while, I got a job at CBC writing advertisements for TV and radio. I really hated writing the advertisements, really disliked it, and it turned me right off writing for a long time. Later when I got into travel, I wanted to write what I wanted to write. I didn’t like the idea of having to please fifty people or more which is what it’s like in the advertising industry. You have to please everyone.

What changed everything—what made me think I have to start the writing again, was when I went through this horrendous chemotherapy—for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That was 7 years ago now, and I lived. I made it through, and I thought, ‘well, I’ve got to do something with this extra time I’ve been given.’ I always wanted to write a novel and I knew a lot about my family history. (They say ‘write what you know’) I’d been researching my ancestry for 25 years and I’d learned about my Huguenot background. When I was going through the chemo, my husband, Allan said to me, “ if you live, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.” I wanted to go to France. So we went and I just loved it there. We went to the little village where my ancestors originated, Exoudun, and I thought, ‘I have to write about these people.’ A lot of the book is based on real events.

Lisa: Can you give me a summary of the book? Just in case an agent or publisher happens across this interview. (Hey, if I can’t get mine published, I can at least promote my fellow authors!)

Liz: Destiny’s Weave is a saga set in the last two decades of the 17th century that tells the story of Pierre and Jacques Garneau – Huguenot cousins brought up together by their grandfather in small village in south western France. (In real life, they were brothers) In 1685, the Huguenots came under siege and their freedoms were taken away. They were told they must revert to the Catholic Church and if they didn’t, they were hung.

Hundreds of thousands of Huguenots were killed and hundreds of thousands more fled the country. My hero, Pierre, a staunch Calvinist, lives by the philosophy of predestination and feels that his fate is already sealed. He does not want to revert to Catholicism to save himself as Jacques has chosen to do. Jacques, on the other hand, believes what William Shakespeare once wrote. "It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves..."

Lisa: How long did it take you to write the book?

Liz: I didn’t know a thing about writing a novel when I started, I didn’t have a clue, so I went on- line and learned about the Writers Workshop Online classes and I started taking them. That’s where I learned to write a novel. I began writing the novel around the end of 2005. Early in 2006, I started the courses and took them for two years altogether. For my lessons, I would do my scenes. It took me a year to do my first draft, what with the lessons. In 2007, I entered it the way it was in the Amazon contest, and surprisingly, it made it into the semi-finals, and I received a nice review. Then I thought I’d better go back and take a couple of advanced courses to get it into the shape it is in now. It’s been a four or five year process, so I can’t just give up on it.

Lisa: Have you submitted to any publishers?

Liz: I have. I’ve sent it out about 20 times. I received one really nice rejection letter from an agent. He loved it, and he thought the themes were beautiful, but he didn’t think it was going to sell in New York, so I have to look for someone else.

Lisa: It sounds like a combination of historical fiction and adventure. Is there romance in it?

Liz: It has some romance. It’s not romance in the sense of historical romances. However, there is a love story and there’s adventure and history about the time, and some inspiration.

Lisa: What is your favourite part of the novel?

Liz: My favourite part of the novel is when one of the main characters, Mark, is in China. He goes with his father because they are traveling merchants. There’s a whole segment about him learning to be a tea merchant. This was at the time when England was beginning to get interested in tea. While there, he gets involved with a courtesan, so it was interesting to write.

Lisa: It sounds like you did tons of research for this book.

Liz: Yes, because it was 1700th century China and France, but I loved doing it. I love history.

Lisa: Are you working on anything else now?

Liz: Yes, I’m working on a prequel. It will be set all in France and it goes back to 1628, in La Rochelle with King Louis the 13th. He led a siege on the city of La Rochelle, and pretty much starved the people. It takes place around the same time as “The Three Musketeers.”

Lisa: How much are you into the Prequel?

Liz: About five chapters.

Lisa: Do you plan on continuing to submit to publishers?

Liz: Yes, I’m looking for specific agents that handle this kind of thing. I found a website where you can submit directly to the publisher and they like inspirational history so it may be a good fit for them.

Lisa: When is your favourite time to write?

Liz: I’m not a morning person, so I write from 9:00p.m. to 11:00p.m. or midnight. When I was first going through the chemo I would wake up in the middle of the night, go to the computer, and write; that was a good time for me. I always felt sicker during the day.

Lisa: Do you still have your blog?

Liz: I let it go for a while, because I was so busy, but I’m back at it and I put a blog post up the other day. http://albetkales.blogspot.com/

Lisa: If you were to give advice to someone who is thinking about writing what would you say?

Liz: Start early. Don’t wait until you are 60 something. Just write, write, write. Take some lessons if you don’t know much about it. Then you get the basics and rules and once you know them you can break them.

Lisa: Any possibility that you might self-publish?

Liz: I would. I think I’ll give it another six months and then I will.

Lisa: Is there anything else you want me to let people know, Liz?

Liz: You can tell them my age. I’m 73. I’m more or less doing this to keep myself alive. It’s my motivation. The cancer could come back, but I believe as long as I stay happy and motivated and do fun things and say nice things, I can stay alive.

Lisa: Ah…The secrets to a long life…

Liz: Lots of vitamins! A glass of red wine a day. And I have a great husband. We’ve been married for 47 years. It was our anniversary yesterday. Every year since I lived through the chemo, he brings me red roses. I think our relationship is good because he had a heart attack and I nearly lost him, and then he nearly lost me, and you really begin to appreciate each other.