Welcome to the three hundred and ninetieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical novelist RLB Hartmann. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, RLB. Please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be a writer.
RLB: I’ve lived in western North Carolina all of my life except for a few months in Sarasota, FL, where I met my husband in his bookstore. My maternal grandmother and my mother read to me, so I learned as a pre-schooler the value of narrative and dialog. In third grade, I began penning stories of my own and never stopped.
Morgen: How romantic, meeting your husband where you did. Fate, clearly. What genre do you generally write?
RLB: Historical novels hold the most appeal, though my first attempts were a contemporary teen angst and a fanciful heroine-marries-badboy-and-goes-to-live-in-his-mysterious-castle. Both remain packed away, and rightfully so!
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
RLB: The first book was a test case, put through Lulu.com. A fictionalized account of a real ex-moonshiner, Floyd and the Traveling Yard Sale turned out satisfactory, so I published I Rode with Cullen Baker, my first historical novel, based on a real-life Texas outlaw.
Morgen: Historical is a really popular genre (and agents have told me they want more of it). History was my worst subject at school so I tend to avoid it although one of the people who bought my Story a Day May 2011 eBook collection said one of the historical pieces was their favourite (as did someone else with a sci-fi piece and I tend to avoid that too, because I don’t read the genre). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
RLB: Like most writers who stick with it, I have a folder stuffed with rejections from some of the biggest names in the publishing world, as well as obscure and transitory editors at selected magazines. Once I understood why my novels were being shoved aside, I stopped courting failure, and as soon as I could, I took my career into my own hands.
Morgen: I was the same although my file isn’t stuffed, I just liked the idea of doing everything myself. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
RLB: Some years ago, my 1-page short, “It Wasn’t My Idea,” resulted in first prize, a giant tiger kite (never flown, but a nice decoration), and “Harvest” won $10 as first in a monthly contest one Halloween. My short story “Going…going…gone” recently won $100 (first place) at www.love-lovepublishing.com. My contemporary novel, Strong Coffee, placed 4th in the second Textnovel.com competition, and in 2001 the script version of I Rode with Cullen Baker won first place in the original Split-Screenplay $1000 competition.
Morgen: Wow, well done. That must make up for your stuffed file. Do you have an agent?
RLB: I’ve had two agents. For a brief time.
Morgen: Ah. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
RLB: For now, for me it’s paper. Ironic, as I’m a tree-hugger whose father loved nothing better than chopping down the biggest poplar tree on his property and using it for firewood.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
RLB: I do it all, learning as I go.
Morgen: It’s definitely a curve, isn’t it. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
RLB: Whatever book I’m re-reading in prep for publishing, is my favorite. If I had to choose a favorite character, he would be Ramón Cordero, the central figure in most of my saga, Tierra del Oro. The actor/s would depend on who is the right age now, and what books were being filmed.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
RLB: Being my own publisher, I’ve chosen all of my titles. I believe they are extremely important as they’re usually the first and sometimes the only thing a potential reader knows.
Morgen: And some people are put off if they’re poor. What are you working on at the moment / next?
RLB: A Lion Against the Wind, Book 5 of the Cordero Saga (Tierra del Oro) went live this April with subsequent titles to follow at 2-month intervals, finishing in December 2012. I’m also putting together the YouTube video for Book 2, Legend of the Sierra Madre (cover shown).
Morgen: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
RLB: Once the saga began, I never had writer’s block, for there was always some scene or sequence in my mind, ready to find its way onto the page the moment I sat down.
Morgen: That’s pretty much how it works for me, I’m very lucky. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
RLB: I used to jot down events that I knew would happen sooner or later, and record bits of dialog that characters spoke, so I wouldn’t lose them before they were needed.
Morgen: You mentioned Ramón Cordero, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
RLB: My characters appear in my mind’s eye and I watch and listen to them. I think they’re believable because they live in a world that was once real–Mexico in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve amassed quite a nice reference library of vintage materials. The most exciting find was Gringo Rebel, by Thord-Gray, a man in the rebel army who wrote details of General Obregón’s march down the west coast. It came into my hand at the exact point in my novel that I needed it for authenticity.
Morgen: Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
RLB: Some short stories, short scripts, a very few poems, and occasional irate letters or emails.
Morgen: <laughs> Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
RLB: I’m still editing just before I hit the “publish” button at Create Space.
Morgen: I think most writers would keep editing if they could, going back to something later there’s usually something. You just have to draw a line. You said you need authenticity, which is obviously vital, and you sound very knowledgeable about that era, do you have to do much research?
RLB: I did much more research than ever found its way into the stories, but knowing what was going on at the time my characters lived enabled me to weave in the events and details they would have been affected by.
Morgen: It’s always better to know more than goes in the book. Some authors have clearly been showing off when they’ve put in so much unnecessary detail. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
RLB: I Rode with Cullen Baker and Strong Coffee are both first person. The Tierra del Oro novels are all third person, but have multiple points of view, depending on which character is most emotionally involved in the action.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
RLB: The two unnamed efforts I mentioned earlier, as well as an unfinished vampire story and one finished novel that I’m still not satisfied with. And some western short stories with beginnings but no endings.
Morgen: Yet. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
RLB: Characters make the plotlines, and plotlines make the characters. Don’t put out work that reveals your ignorance of the language you’re writing in and of the audience you’re writing for.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
RLB: I would find out what they like to eat, and either cook it myself or call up a caterer. I’d invite Edward James Olmos, Victor Villaseñor, and Margaret Mitchell.
Morgen: Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
RLB: “Always scroll to the bottom.”
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
RLB: I read and buy books. When I ever find the time, I’m planning to return to my painting.
Morgen: Me too. I have loads of art equipment in my loft waiting to be used, although I’m more of a cartoonist (although not a great one) – I’m OK if I have something in front of me to replicate but unlike my writing, I have little imagination when drawing from scratch. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Morgen: I don’t know those. I’ll check them out. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
RLB: I’m sporadically active at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Goodreads, and still visit the online site that has given me immense encouragement over the years, Zoetrope.com
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
RLB: Depends entirely on the writer.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
RLB: I have one other historical novel, The Brackettville Horses, slated to be published by Love-Love Publishing sometime this year. Book 5, A Lion Against the Wind, launched on time on the 14th April. Any or all of the 5 Tierra del Oro titles may be purchased through the links on my website
Morgen: Thank you, RLB.
RLB: Thank you, Morgen, for allowing me the opportunity to express myself!
Morgen: I love talking writing so it’s always a pleasure.
Update November 2012: The Cordero Saga, Tierra del Oro, is now complete in 9 paperback volumes, available via my website www.rlbhartmann.com which is always in progress as I add more to it. The two books that were at Lulu.com have now been retired, so those editions are never going to be available except on the secondary market. However, I am seriously thinking of reissuing I Rode with Cullen Baker under a different ISBN and auspices, and perhaps reintroducing Floyd and his antics, first on my website and afterward reissue an expanded paperback edition containing 3 or more new stories. My saga videos continue on You Tube, with # 4 live now. Links are on my website, or anyone searching Cordero Saga on the Tube can watch all 4.
Morgen: Great news, RLB.
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