Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interview: M. K. Tod, Author of LIES TOLD IN SILENCE

M. K. Tod is known in the historical fiction community for the extensive surveys of historical fiction readers she conducted in 2012 and 2013. She is also the author of two novels set during the World Wars, UNRAVELLED and LIES TOLD IN SILENCE (both published in 2014). I'm happy to welcome Mary here today to discuss her novels and share her thoughts on the practice and prospects of historical fiction.

1) You have written a novel about World War I, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE, and one about World War II, UNRAVELLED. What is it about this era in history that fascinates you? How did you become interested in the World Wars?

My obsession with war was totally unexpected. I hated history at school – far too many facts and dates to memorize – however, when my husband and I were living in Hong Kong for three years, I had very little to do and decided to occupy myself by exploring my grandparents’ lives. Since my grandfather served in both WWI and WWII, these investigations led to military events of that time. Something about the absolute horror and devastation of WWI captured my mind and soul. The fact that these wars happened to people I knew quite well touched me greatly.

2) Out of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why? Which character took you the longest to understand?

I always struggle with questions like this! So far, one of my – I’m hedging my bets already – favorite characters is Mariele, Helene Noisette’s grandmother in LIES TOLD IN SILENCE. She’s quietly feisty and a very wise woman – something I hope to be too. For the one who took me the longest to understand, I have to designate Edward Jamieson. He’s modeled after my grandfather, but I took a long time to understand what he went through during the wars. I wish I could have talked to him about it all.

3) How do you balance research and writing? At what point do you feel ready to write? 

I’m obsessed with research and love the process involved – probably my analytical nature and consulting background coming out. After writing my first novel in a totally haphazard fashion mixing research and writing with little thought to structure, I wrote the second novel much more quickly by using a chapter outline. With an outline in hand, research became more purposeful. As I write each chapter, I also note spots that require further research or facts that need checking with a # and return to them later. This method helps keep the writing flow going.

4) Can you relate an instance where your research changed the course of a novel’s plot? 

In UNRAVELLED, my protagonist, Edward Jamieson, gets involved in Camp X, a Canadian based training camp for WWII espionage agents. At some time in my research, I discovered a document outlining the agenda of a meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt, which took place in Washington, D.C. in 1942. Right away, I knew that meeting had to be part of the novel and so I constructed a series of adjunct meetings between US and British espionage groups that took place alongside the main political and military discussions. In the novel, Edward’s absence has unexpected consequences for his wife Ann. I call this the serendipity of research.

5) Did you visit the places you wrote about? How did those visits enrich your writing? Which place moved you the most? 

My husband and I took a trip to northern France in 2010. Seeing the memorials and cemeteries that mark the dead and the sacrifice of so many young men, tramping through fields where battles occurred and alongside trenches and craters, listening to the Last Post at Menin Gate in Ypres, hearing the names of the dead called out, learning of graves dug before battle – these experiences generated powerful and lasting emotions that enhance my writing. The place that moved me most was Vimy Ridge and the memorial to that seminal Canadian battle. My grandfather fought there and survived. I can never forget what he and others did for all of us. He was nineteen when he went and, like so many former soldiers, never spoke of it.

6) You self-published both your novels. What did you learn from publishing and marketing the first that helped you with the second?

Excellent question, Julianne, and no doubt an essay all on its own! I’m sure my learnings will be similar to others writing about self-publishing.

(1) Don’t be afraid to self-publish. One of my greatest joys is the people who have told me in person or via emails that they have read and enjoyed my novels. A euphoric experience.
(2) Build your platform before you self-publish.
(3) Use every opportunity to add to your database of contacts.
(4) Hire a great editor.
(5) Figure out where readers of your genre hang out and stake out a presence there.
(6) One blog tour isn’t enough. Continued sales require regular marketing.
(7) Don’t expect to be an overnight success.
(8) Celebrate what you’ve accomplished.
(9) Get busy writing another novel.

7) You’ve conducted two extensive and immensely helpful surveys of historical fiction readers (the results of which may be found here and here). What information did you glean from these surveys that surprised you the most?

Several insights stand out for me. One that is uppermost in my mind right now is the dominance of social media as a source of reading related recommendations and discussions. Another is the demographic differences: women and men not only read different novels but they also have very different profiles in terms of reading habits; under 30s are vastly different from over 50s; American readers are quite different from British or Canadian. I am also intrigued that those who start reading historical fiction at a young age continue reading it in much higher proportions throughout adulthood.

8) How important is blogging to a writer’s career? Is it more important at certain stages than at others?

Blogging is an important part of a writer’s platform. You should have a purpose for your blog as well as some objectives. You might decide on purpose and objectives at the outset or you might stumble upon them several months or even a year later. Once these are in place you need to adhere to them or else the followers you have cultivated will go elsewhere. In my opinion, blogging serves other purposes: to write and publish regularly; to interact with readers; to build participate in a community; to experiment with voice; to show readers the person behind the stories. My own belief is that blogging remains important throughout your career as a writer. I’ve had two blogs so far. The first is called One Writer’s Voice and it was my attempt to get ‘out there’ and to explore the business of writing. That blog gathered writers as followers not readers and so I developed another blog called A Writer of History where I planned to post on topics that would appeal to readers. As it turns out, my biggest group of followers continues to be other writers. And at this point, that’s fine with me. Writers I interact with on my blog or on Facebook and Twitter have become my community. They cheerlead, encourage, offer suggestions and critique, spread the word about my surveys and novels. What more could I ask for?

9) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing writers of historical fiction today?

Fortunately, we’re in a period where historical fiction is very popular so I’m going to say that our biggest challenge is productivity. As historical fiction writers, we have to both write and research and most writers of historical fiction will tell you that research takes almost the same amount of time as writing. Since the best way to sell your novels is to write another novel, it takes us almost twice as long to do so. Of course, many writers reduce the research time by staying within a particular era.

10) What are you currently working on?

My third novel is called TIME & REGRET. A quick synopsis: While cleaning house to eliminate traces of her ex-husband, Grace Hansen discovers her grandfather's WWI diaries along with a puzzling note. Surprisingly, the diaries reveal a different man from the beloved grandfather who raised her. A few months later, Grace follows the path her grandfather took through the trenches of northern France and discovers a secret he kept hidden for more than seventy years.

I’m writing this with parallel time periods – Grace in the early 1990s and Martin Devlin (her grandfather) in WWI. An interesting challenge.


Thank you, Mary, for sharing your insights! You can learn more about M. K. Tod and her books at her blog. Her books are available in paperback and electronic editions from major online outlets.


http://www.awriterofhistory.com said...

Many thanks for hosting me on your blog, Julianne. From the Renaissance to WWI is a bit of a leap, but I hope your readers will enjoy hearing about my writing.

Julianne Douglas said...

I'm happy to publicize good historical fiction of all sorts, Mary! You've helped the historical fiction community in so many ways with your insightful surveys.