Saturday, March 08, 2008

Scandalous Victorian, Cynthia Owens

Why do you write historicals?

love history. I think it would be great to go back in time and experience it first-hand. There’s a story in my family that one of my ancestors on my dad’s side sailed up the St. Lawrence River and discovered Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier. Of course, Cartier got the credit! Another ancestor, this one on my mother’s side, was one of the Filles du Roi, a “king’s girl” sent from France to marry one of the habitants (settlers) in New France (now Quebec) in the 17th Century. So I guess it’s inevitable that I love history.

It’s the people in history that interest me. Ordinary people going through what were some pretty extraordinary times. My first novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow (Highland Press, December 2006), is set in Ireland, just as the country was beginning to recover from the Famine. I took a cast of characters, all ordinary people, and plunged them into the extraordinary situation of trying to bring their little village of Ballycashel back to life after starvation, tyranny and betrayal had nearly destroyed it.

Ordinary people…

What part of the Victorian era/setting do you write in?

I’ve written two stories, In Sunshine or in Shadow and its sequel, Coming Home, that are set in post-Famine Ireland, 1850 and 1867 respectively. Playing for Keeps, a second sequel to In Sunshine or in Shadow, is set in 1860 Baltimore and Philadelphia.

After that, I’m planning a series of novels set mostly in Victorian-era New York City, just after the Civil War. They’ll still have an Irish theme, though, since the heroes are veterans of the Irish Brigade.

What is it about the era that most intrigues you?

Again, it’s the people. The ordinary people struggling to survive, the extraordinary people rushing through their social whirl. What went on behind the closed doors? What were their lives like, their hopes and dreams, their passions? That’s what I love to discover.

Where do you get your information?

Everywhere! Books, movies, magazines, and of course, the Internet. As far as the Irish part is concerned, it helps that my mother-in-law is Irish. While I’ve been writing Playing For Keeps, my current work-in-progress, I had an actor friend help me with research for the hero, who is also an actor.

What are you working on now?

Well, let’s see. Coming Home, a sequel to In Sunshine or in Shadow, is under consideration with my editor right now, and I’m revising the second sequel, Playing For Keeps.

I’ve starting researching a new five book series. The books will all be stand-alone stories, but will be interconnected by the heroes, who met as boys on a coffin ship to America from famished Ireland. They grew up together in New York, and fought together during the American Civil War in Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade. Now that the war is over, the real stories begin. The first book, Deceptive Hearts, features an ex-boxer/cop and a wealthy society lady who seems to be running a high-class brothel.

How many books have you written?

In Sunshine or in Shadow is my first published novel, but it was the fourth full-length manuscript I’d written. Since then, I’ve completed a second and am working on the final draft of a third.

Do you write outside the Victorian era, genre?

No. I like the time, the glamour, and the excitement of new discoveries. It was a fascinating era.

What challenges have you faced in your career?

Probably a lot of the same challenges most writers face. Enough rejections to paper the walls of my office (or “creative corner,” as I like to call it.) Writer’s block. The busyness of a home life with a husband and kids. And self-doubt. Is my writing good enough? Will anyone want to read what I write?

What is your writing schedule like?

Total insanity! I’m an early riser, so I try to be at my computer by 5:30 a.m. I check e-mail, update my Myspace account, do promotional stuff – anything business related until about 7:30 or so, when my kids get up and get ready for school.

Once the kids are gone, I’ll get to the serious business of writing. I spend a few hours each morning, and at least one or two hours in the afternoon, either writing, re-writing, or researching, depending on what I’m working on.

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Susan Macatee said...

Great interview, Cynthia!

I love hearing about all your books. But 5:30 am? Yikes!

I used to get up at 6 am when my boys were still in school, but now I sleep in until 7.

Cynthia Owens said...

Yeah, I know, it sounds early, and most people think I'm a bit crazy. But there's something about the quietness of early morning that seems to inspire me.

Nicole McCaffrey said...

Nice interview, Cynthia!

It's great to hear about your works in progress, sounds like they'll be great reads!

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Nic, I certainly hope so!

Pat McDermott said...

Great post, Cynthia. I'm intrigued by your proposed series of the boys who met on the coffin ships. Get going on that!

Cynthia Owens said...

Thank you, Pat. I've begun research for the first installment, Deceptive Hearts. Shane's a former boxer turned cop. Lydia's a mysterious beauty who seems to be running a high-class brothel in New York City.

Of course, things are not always as they seem!

Marlene said...

How exciting to b3 able to trace your roots back to discovering Canada. I've always thought to really know who you are you need to know where you come from. I love history as well. Thanks for sharing your family history.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks Marlene. I'm a firm believer in the old saying, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

Anonymous said...

Wow, Cynthia, busy busy busy! Those coffin ship stories sound really interesting, you'll have to share your progress on those.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thanks, Christine, I'm always interested in the immigrant experience. Maybe that's because I've lived in the same place all my life.

The stories are still in the planning stages, but I hope to start actually writing the first, Deceptive Hearts, this fall.

Georgie Lee said...

I enjoyed the interview. Your family history is great.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thank you, Georgie. As a child I loved to hear the old family stories, and I guess they stuck with me!