Thursday, January 21, 2016

Interview with author Doreen McNicol

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Doreen McNicol to Flashlight Commentary.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Doreen. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, I’d like to know a little bit about you. Where are you from? What is your background?
Thank you so much Erin, for having me as your guest. I live in Kelowna, British Columbia in Canada.. I have been writing since I was seventeen though I only began publishing a few years ago. I enjoy learning history and enjoy using it in my writing.

How would you characterize your writing style? What sort of themes are you drawn to?
I try my best to have a realistic historical voice in my writing. I try to use actual facts of history in my work and weave my story around it whenever I can. I will only change names of people or places if and when I am not comfortable using them, like in the case there could be descendants to think about. If this was the case, I would reveal that in a forward of the novel. In “The Starlings of Chatham Street,” I did not have to do this. All my characters are fictional.

As for the sort of themes I try to draw upon, I try to focus on the inner strength of my characters. I believe the human spirit is inspiring under incredible strive and therefore something to explore in my work.

Historic fiction is obviously a favorite genre of mine, but why do you think it holds so much appeal for modern readers?
When you learn about history in a class room, more often than not you are learning about the political end of history. You learn about wars and battles more than the day to day life of the societies you may be drawn to. I look for the everyday person in novels about history and how they deal with the events of the day.

How would you describe your writing process? Where do you start and how do you get into the right mindset?
I usually begin by reading about a period in history that attracts me. If I find out about an event that surprises and even shocks me, I feel driven to learn more about it. The more I learn the more I want to write about it. If I am having difficulty even after I have my research in place, I have an excellent sounding board in my sister Donna McNicol who helps me focus my thoughts on the right objectives.

Do you struggle with dialogue, research, plotting, character development, etc.? If so, how do you overcome it?
I usually struggle with plotting more than anything else but if my research is sound, I will have historical fact to help pull me along. I also talk it out with my sister, as I said. Every writer should have someone like that to help them figure things out. She is currently writing a novel as well and we work together, helping each other stay focused.  

Many people, myself included, dream of publishing their stories. How and when did you know it was time to start writing professionally?
For me, the time to publish came when I was working on a novel entitled, “Parts Beyond the Seas: The Unwanted” I had a number of people reading it at the time and from their feedback, I felt I had gotten my writing skills to a level that I felt comfortable enough to share with the rest of the world. Once I started looking for an agent, I just couldn't let it go. Like Starlings, Parts was a novel involving multiple lead characters and the publishers were nervous to have that as my first published work, especially since I was still an unknown writer. Fair enough, but I had to keep trying to publish and I did with my novel, “Rachel Wicks”, followed by the sequel “Rachel Blackburn” and then my novel “The Starling of Chatham Street”.

Navigating the ins and outs of the industry can be confusing for many. What was the most difficult hurdle for you as far as getting your work on the market?
I went into it expecting the rejection slips and I got them but for me they are merely stepping stones. Its part of the process. I think the most difficult part came with the changes I am asked to make. That's hard. I pour a lot of myself into each book and to hear someone wants a change is a bit of a blow but in the end, it too is part of the process. I would also say the marketing end of things is a bit of a mountain to climb but I'm learning everyday on that. I just can't give up on it. There are people out there that are more than generous, who will help if you let them, such as this blog for instance, so thank you again Erin..

Those of us in the book world understand writing the novel is only the tip of the iceberg. What tool or tools have you found to be the most beneficial in terms of advertising and promoting your work?
In my personal case, I would have to say networking and social media have been a life saver. It's difficult for me to go on social networking and talk about my books. I'm a writer but not a good marketer. Still, I have connected with many people like yourself, who will help boost your public profile. Word of mouth is very important to anyone trying to sell a product.

I would also point to my agent Sharon Belcastro and the Belcastro Agency who gave plenty of much needed help and advice along the way. I thank them very much.  

As an author, who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors and what are your favorite books?
I have a great admiration for the Bronte's, with Anne as my favorite. In the “Tenant of Wildfell Hall” a wife runs away from her abusive husband when she sees he is teaching their son his cruel behavior. I admired Anne Bronte for writing such a strong, forward thinking woman. I was deeply impressed. I love “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte as well, as I see Jane as a very strong willed woman who will stand up for herself even if it goes against social convention. In “Wuthering Heights” I often imagine I am seeing Emily Bronte in the Cathy Character. My hands down favorite however would be Jane Austin and her novel “Persuasion”. I can identify with Anne Elliot on many levels.

Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it centers on a writer who falls through time and meets many of his own literary heroes. If you could do the same, who would you want to meet and why?
I would always choose to meet Jane Austen. I would love to go for a walk with her and hear her discuss her stories and what inspired her to write them. How did she really come to the decision to dedicate “Emma“ to the Prince Regent? I would also ask her how it felt to sit at a table and heard people gushing over her books without realizing she was the writer? I think it would be a very interesting visit.

In looking ahead to possible future projects, what subjects or historic characters interest you the most?
I plan on publishing “Parts Beyond the Seas: The Unwanted” which is a book about six women who are all arrested for minor crimes in England. All are sentenced to transportion to parts beyond the seas. This is the first of four books. The first book  covers the girl's first year in prison. Four are in Newgate prison in London and two are in a county gaol. They all come together at the end of the novel on board the ship that will take them to New South Wales. As well, I am soon releasing a novel entitled “Red Upon the Wind”. Set at the turn of the century in San Francisco. It is the story of a Chinese girl sold into slavery. This is the first of a three book series. I will of course be finishing the Starlings series too, with the next novel entitled, “The Starlings of the Five Bells Inn”, which takes the girls to New South Wales to start their new lives there.

What advice, if any, do you have for aspiring authors?
Get your research. The internet is a very good place to start but so is the library, magazines, text books, etc. The more research to back you up the more confidant you will be.

I would also say, never give up. I know it is something everyone hears over and over but there really is no better advice to give. You write for yourself and with each and every word you choose to link to your story it will lead you closer to your goal. When you send your work out, expect the rejection slips. Every single published writer has gotten them. Be proud of them. They mean someone did look at your work, even if it was a for a second. That really is a success in a sense. They can't reject what they don't see. And they can't accept what they don't see so just keep going.

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I started writing as a teenager. I started just to see if I could do it and before I knew it my first story was 130 pages long with a number of my friends and a few of their mothers as my readers. I finished my first full length novel when I was 19 with a pencil and paper. My next novel was completed a year later. I continued with a few other novels after that. Yes, (LOL) all hand written. My typing is horrible.

I did not write for the next few years as I moved around from city to city, living in Winnipeg, Calgary and finally settling again in Kelowna, British Columbia.Along with writing I enjoy exploring my creative side through photography and painting. I enjoy reading about history and travelling to historical sites.

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