Welcome to the two hundred and forty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical fiction author Carole Eglash-Kosoff. 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, Carole. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Carole: A few years ago I lost my husband, mother and brother within 2 months and, trying to figure out how to move forward, I volunteered and ended up teaching part of two years in South Africa. While there I began writing essays about the amazing men and women I was working with who had struggled during apartheid. That became my first book, The Human Spirit – Apartheid’s Unheralded Heroes. (www.thehumanspirit-thebook.com) After that I was hooked and haven’t looked back. I’ve now finished my 4th book.
Morgen: I was hooked after my first evening class so I know how you feel about writing and for you certainly a positive thing to come out of such an awful time. What genre do you generally write?
Carole: After the Human Spirit, I settled on my first love, historic fiction and stories that deal with injustice and ignorance. That became my 2nd book and 1st novel, When Stars Align, a multi-racial love story set against the Civil War and reconstruction. (www.whenstarsalign-thebook.com)
Morgen: Historical is incredibly popular and what agents (well, three at Winchester Writers Conference last July) tell me they need more of. 🙂 What have you had published to-date?
Carole: I now have 3 books published but when I held that first copy in my hands, I trembled and having some stranger tell me how much they enjoyed it was most rewarding.
Morgen: Other than magazine publications, I’ve not had anything in print in book form but do know how thrilling it is to have people feed back on my stories. Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book?
Carole: Haven’t had that pleasure but I have had out of the blue phone calls or emails from people.
Morgen: Phone calls? Wow. 🙂 How much of the marketing do you do?
Carole: I do whatever I can think of including sending copies of the book to anyone I think might relate to its content.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Carole: Just beginning to submit.
Morgen: Oh, good luck with that. I find that even if I don’t get anywhere (I’ve had some wins and shortlists) it has invariably made me write something new that I can then send off elsewhere. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Carole: I had a NY agent for When Stars Align but in this volatile market he wasn’t able to get it placed… That part of the world is changing rapidly.
Morgen: It is, and has its ‘for’s and ‘against’s; where authors are gaining more power individually the battle to get in front of an agent or publisher has increased so I think you securing an agent definitely says good things about your writing. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Carole: Yes…and yes…I had help with the process… requires more technical skill then I possess.
Morgen: Which on the upside leaves you more time to write and market. 🙂 What was your first acceptance?
Carole: To speak at a large local college and present at a large book store.
Morgen: That sounds scary. How do you deal with rejections?
Carole: Just try and move on… rejection is part of the process.
Morgen: It is, sadly but you have the right idea; to move on. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Carole: Finishing one non-fiction historic book and beginning another.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Carole: I try but it doesn’t always work… and I don’t measure progress by page count but rather how the plot is moving forward.
Morgen: Quality over quantity. 🙂 Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Carole: Often… walk away from the computer until your brain offers up a solution… mine usually comes around 4 or 5 in the morning.
Morgen: My goodness, even I’m asleep at 4am / 5am (often going to bed at 1am / 2am, getting up at 6am / 6.30) Where do you get your inspiration from, Carole?
Carole: I don’t really know but trying to just let your mind wander offers up some interesting new themes.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Carole: I usually know where I want the book to head as a direction. I used to outline in detail but my characters seem to evolve better this way.
Morgen: I love that aspect of writing, letting them take over. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Carole: Great question…
Morgen: Thank you. 🙂
Carole: …but I don’t know the answers. I try and use names true to the period as well as vernacular that adds credibility.
Morgen: That’s the thing about historical; it has to be particularly accurate to feel authentic. How do you decide what to write about?
Carole: I had my most recent book in my head for decades but until the Internet I couldn’t do the proper research and research is critical.
Morgen: I love the times we’re living in… in that respect anyway. Do you have to do much research for your writing, and have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Carole: A great deal and my readers love the detail and learning about a part of history with which they were unfamiliar.
Morgen: History was my worst subject at school so I’d be unfamiliar with most of it. 😦 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Carole: Yes…. I travel a great deal. I have an active tax practice (often works of near fiction) and offer small scholarships to local high school graduates.
Morgen: That sounds great. 🙂 Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Carole: I have 2-3 friends who are also great editors.
Morgen: I think everyone needs someone, writing groups are ideal for bouncing around ideas and they’ll invariably pick up on things that would not have occurred to the author (me) because he or she (me) is too close to the piece. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Carole: I edit multiple times.
Morgen: Me too then it goes off to my editor who pulls it apart then I go through it again. It all takes time so authors (new ones especially) shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to see their work out there – there’s only one change to make a good impression, as the saying goes. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Carole: My mind has formed what I need to write next.
Morgen: Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Morgen: Me too, although I prefer to edit on paper. Many interviewees have said that their handwriting is so awful that they prefer a computer. Mine’s not too bad but much slower. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Carole: I much prefer background music to keep me company. My dogs often sit in the room with me.
Morgen: Ditto. Classical mostly and a Jack Russell/Cairn cross. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Carole: The Human Spirit was first person but part of the new book is 2nd person.
Morgen: Oh, wow. I love second person and (in my opinion) not enough is written in it. Do you ever use prologues / epilogues?
Carole: I do use them, prologues to explain or get the story off to the right start; epilogues to wrap up what happens to my characters in the future.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Carole: doesn’t everyone
Morgen: Funnily enough, no. I have had a couple of interviewees say they don’t (either from having not written much or honed what they have until it’s ready to submit). What’s your favourite aspect of your writing life?
Carole: Bringing characters to life who you can love…and hate.
Morgen: That’s my favourite too. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Carole: How much I enjoy it. During 25 years with my husband I put all my earlier writing aside.
Morgen: That’s such a shame, but you’re here now. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Carole: Keep writing…keep reading
Morgen: What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Carole: McCullough, Gore Vidal, Manchester
Morgen: Ooh, not heard of an author called Manchester – I should have done, living not a million miles away (three hours) from the city of the same name. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Carole: “The delicious futility of impossible tasks is like catnip to the overachiever.”
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Carole: Tennis, bridge, and travel
Morgen: In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Carole: California, United States…not a hindrance.
Morgen: I would say not either. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Carole: I try facebook and linked-in.
Morgen: Me too, and Twitter. I find they’re each great for different things so would urge all writers to be on at least two of them (ideally all three). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Carole: There will always be a demand for good writing but there is such a quantity of books released they may not all get recognized.
Morgen: Which is where reader reviews come in. If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Carole: Started and stayed with my writing earlier.
Morgen: Me too (I was late 30s). Thank you so much Carole, best wishes for the rest of your tour.
I then invited Carole to include an extract of her writing…
There is a dance that accompanies the rhythm of our lives. It has a logic… a pattern… a beat. Different sections of the orchestra blending into a single melody that defines who we are. I’m a man; you’re a woman. I’m white. I’m tall. I’m a Christian. And then… wait a minute. It seems I’m not white. I have some Negro blood coursing through my veins that I’d never known about. The beat of the music suddenly changes as one section, maybe the woodwinds, puts their instruments away. The new rhythm is discordant…a rhythm with which I’m unfamiliar. It’s a different tune, a genre I don’t know how to play. I’ve lost the beat. The other orchestra members are staring at me in a different way.
I’m not sure what it all means. This isn’t the South. It’s already 1883. Slavery’s been gone for nearly twenty years and the country has moved forward. I had a baby sister who was born colored. I’d never known and it’s interesting, but it happened too long ago for me to feel sad. She died, my parents are both dead, and I’m still me. But that’s the problem. In my head I suddenly feel like a different me.
Carole Eglash-Kosoff lives and writes in Valley Village, California. She graduated from UCLA and spent her career teaching, writing, and traveling to more than seventy countries. An avid student of history, she researched the decades preceding and following the Civil War for nearly two years, including time in Louisiana, the setting for Winds of Change and her earlier novel, When Stars Align. They are both stories of mixed race love during a period of terrible injustice. They are stories of war, reconstruction, and racism, but most of all; they are stories of hope.
Winds of Change is her third book. In 2006, following the death of her husband, mother, and brother within a few weeks, she spent several months teaching in the black townships of South Africa. Her first book, The Human Spirit – Apartheid’s Unheralded Heroes, tells the true life stories of an amazing array of men and women who have devoted their lives during the worst years of apartheid to help the children, the elderly, and the disabled of the townships. These people cared when no one else did and their efforts continue to this day. Her second book, When Stars Align, was a well-received novel of mixed race lovers, Thaddeus, colored, born from the rape of a young slave girl by the scion of the plantation, Moss Grove. His love for Amy, white, carries them both through the Civil War and Reconstruction but their stars never align.
Winds of Change, just released, follows the characters of When Stars Align into the decades that closed out one century and led us into the next, decades that saw the introduction of the automobile, the airplane, and the telephone as well as the Spanish-American War, and World War I.
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