An interview with Summer Hanford
Writer to Writer
- What inspired you to become a writer?
SH: Reading. I love reading.
- How did you get published?
SH: The old fashioned way, to start with. Researching publishers and submitting to them.
- What is it like working with a professional editor?
SH:That depends on the editor.
- What is your favorite writing exercise?
SH: Inventing characters.
- What is the best piece of writing advice you have received?
SH: Write the stories that speak to you. If you don’t love what you’re writing, you can’t expect other people to love it.
- What is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
SH: To never employ the past perfect tense.
- Do you have any ‘don’t ever do this’ author advice?
SH: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something with your book. I could give you hundreds of rules but the truth is, if you do it in the right way, you can do anything.
- What advice would you give first-time writers?
SH: Write and read as much as you can. Writing is a skill. Practicing it will help you improve. If you have a story that is very, very important to you, consider writing other stories first so that you make yourself into a better writer before tackling that pivotal manuscript. You wouldn’t put a student driver in a race car, or give someone truffles to cook the first time they tried to make a meal.
- How do you start your story?
SH: With the setting, then the characters, then the difficulty they’ll need to overcome and how it will change them.
- Has a reader ever told you that you made mistakes in your research facts?
- Do you have a favorite part of your own book(s)? If so, which part and why?
In general, I enjoy sections with banter or action…because I like reading and writing banter and action.
- How do you create a fleshed-out main character?
SH: They need a history, which informs their personality, even if little or none of that history will make it into the book. They also need strengths and weaknesses. They need flaws. Most importantly, they shouldn’t be the same person at the end of the book as they were at the start. In at least one way, they should change.
- How do you get ideas for books?
SH: I have the world and the character. By the time I’m done inventing or researching both of those, it’s generally obvious what the obstacles before them are, and resolving those obstacles becomes a story.
- What are common traps for aspiring writers?
SH: Copying too closely something they love. Rushing their book. Scenes that don’t move the story forward. Not learning enough about the actual craft of writing (as opposed to storytelling) so the writing is poor (spelling, grammar, point of view, etc.). The misconception that the moment they finish writing the book, their work is over.
- What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
SH: Small presses who require authors to purchase a certain number of author copies.
- Do you have any advice for marketing?
SH: Work hard at your mailing list.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
SH: I google things, of course, and try to watch my sources. There are plenty of good ones, but there are bad ones. I also have reference books, especially about clothing, accoutrements, architecture and food. For Historical Romances, I used to read other Historical Romances for information but I found that generally what I got wrong (for readers to point out) came from reading other people’s books and assuming they were accurate. Much like websites, some authors are more historically reliable than others and, at first, it’s difficult to know which.
- How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
SH: I’ve added more and more layers of proof reading.
- Do you believe in writer’s block? Believe in it?
SH: Of course. Suffer from it…knock on wood…
- For historical fiction:
- What drew you to this time period or moment in history?
SH: Jane Austen
- What content or experiences helped you understand this historical period? SH: I enjoy the exaggeration of the issue of male/female equality. Also, I prefer horses and swords over airplanes and cellphones.
- For romance:
- What is your favorite romance novel trope?
SH: Spies/secret identity/superhero
- How do you pair two characters together? What do you think when creating a compelling leading couple?
SH: They need to have a conflict that hinders their relationship.
- For multi-book/series authors:
- How does your first book compare to your current book?
SH: I always think the book I’m working on is the best book I’ve ever written.
- How do you grow from book to book?
SH: I don’t know if I grow, but I like to begin with characters who don’t know much so that the reader can delve into the complexity of the world along with the characters.
- Do you start a series knowing how it will end? How does that impact your writing?
SH: Yes, I do. I’m one of those authors who outlines before writing. There is flexibility and change, but there is a plan and an outline. It allows me to ensure that details in early books are consistent with the overall plot so that I’m confident in putting out early books before the whole series is actually written.
For my Readers
- What do you like to do when you are not writing?
SH: Sleep…I love to read, especially with my cats. I cook. I play outside with my dog. I like online multi person roll playing games (MOMPRGs) but I never have time for them. I enjoy doing graphics work so for me formatting or promotional work can be fun.
- What did you want to be when you grew up?
SH: An author…who lived in a tower with cats. Two out of three isn’t bad.
- Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.
SH: I repeated second grade because I could neither learn to read nor to write.
- If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be? SH: Persistent and kind.
- What is the first book that made you cry?
SH: Novel, Of Mice and Men. Book, The Giving Tree (which will still make me cry, without fail).
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
SH: First one, then the other.
- What is your writing Kryptonite?
SH: Lack of exercise so my brain doesn’t work at its best…or if you mean while writing, spelling.
- Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? SH: Yes.
- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
SH: I know it’s difficult but please try not to be so shy because someday you’ll overcome it but you’ll miss opportunities before you do.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
SH: I honestly don’t understand a time before that.
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
SH: If it’s been read, it’s appreciated. I guess I don’t keep enough track of how ‘big’ novels I read are. Of my own…More Than He Seems.
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
SH: Four full length novels, at least two of those with half written sequels. About thirty rough outlines in various stages of completion.
- What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? SH: I grew up a tomboy. Sometimes I feel as if I have more trouble writing women than men.
- How many hours a day do you write?
SH: On a good day? Five. On a bad day, none. On average, two.
- What did you edit out of this book?
SH: This book? I had Betsy more clueless about the world than she is in the final draft. I almost edited out Mr. Relógio being black out of nearly paralyzing fear of crafting a poor representation but I believe in the obligation of authors to bring in more and more representation and I had to begin somewhere in my painfully white Regency world. I’m still worried there’s too much of a Bagger Vance vibe, but I would have written the character exactly the same way no matter what his heritage.
- What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
SH: I try not to use many real historical figures. If I do, it’s simply to mention them. I don’t like to make them characters. A lot of them have living relatives.
- How do you select the names of your characters?
SH: Lists of baby names and a spreadsheet sometimes. Other times, I have particular reasons.
- If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
SH: I would do research in a sub discipline of biology.
- Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
SH: Yes. For example, I recently wrote a book where the main male character is named William Raymond and he’s a curate’s son…which has to do with an old, famous, song that I enjoy. In The Tailor and the Demoiselle, the people and place names are all carefully thought out to relate to Beauty and the Beast and adaptations of that work. For example, the French castle that inspired the Beast’s castle is Chateau de Chambord, so I named Betsy’s castle ‘Rodchamb’ which is an anagram of ‘Chambord.’ Few people will notice.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
SH: In The Tailor and the Demoiselles, the scene where Betsy gives Isaac the paints, brushes, etc. The work of conveying the emotions of both while keeping in the correct point of view, and adding in the details of movement and description without hindering the emotions of the moment required careful balance. I wanted the reader to see and experience everything in that scene very fully but not to bog down the writing in any way.
- Do you Google yourself?
SH: Rarely, but I check my reviews about ten times a day.
- What is your favorite childhood book?
SH: Before I learned to read, Panda Cake by Rosalie Seidler. After I learned to read, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey.
- What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
SH: Making myself stop. It’s important to engage with real life and the real world, and real people. It’s difficult when I’m writing well to come back out of the story. Like when you wake someone from a nap and they wake grouchy.
- How long on average does it take you to write a book?
SH: That depends on how much time I am able to devote specifically to writing and how long the book is, but a first draft, on average, six to eight weeks. My fastest would be a little over 100,000 words in four weeks, but that’s very exhausting and means I neglected everyone who cares about me. It’s a bit selfish to write that much all at once (if I do it).
- Who is your favorite author and why?
SH: It’s like a favorite song. It depends on my mood. There can’t be one, but if I had to pick only one, forever, Anne McCaffrey, specifically her Pern books. Why? Because she has adventure and romance. Politics. Epic struggles. Human struggles. Science fiction elements. Fantasy elements. Humor. Sorrow. A book for every mood and each of my reading interests.
- What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
SH: For authors, Jane Austen, David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Rafael Sabatini, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper and, to be honest, Shakespeare. These are authors by whom I have read many, if not all, of their works. For works, Beowulf, The Curse of Capistrano, Lochinvar, Robin Hood (I’ve read many versions).
- Favorite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
SH: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
- How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
SH: At least thirty. My favorite…As I said, I always think the one I’m writing now is the best, but if I had to pick, an unpublished, unseen by the world manuscript that is Zorro fan fiction.
- What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?
SH: That sometimes you really do go back and read something that you truly don’t recall writing and you’re surprised how much you like it.
- Tell us about your first published book? What was the journey like? SH: It was about a ten year process from writing it, through submitting it everywhere, to realizing I was obviously doing something wrong, to taking writing classes to learn what I was doing wrong, to editing it many times, to resubmitting it again, to getting it picked up by a small press.
About my book The Tailor and the Demoiselle
- What inspired you to write your book(s)? (The Tailor and the Demoiselle)
SH: The Tailor and the Demoiselle is a Beauty and the Beast inspired retelling.
- What is your personal favorite part of your book?
SH: Of this book? There are many parts I enjoy. It’s difficult to pick only one. I like when Grandma Adams tells Isaac and Betsy that they can’t marry, on the steps outside Rodchamb.
- Do you draw from your own life when you write?
SH: Not usually, no. I like to imagine things up. I already know all about my life.
- Are there any characters based on or inspired by people you know?
SH: Not really. I don’t know enough people to fill all the pages of my books.
- How do you think your book(s) reflect on the world today? \
- SH: I wish they reflected more on the world today. I feel it’s vital that we bring in more varied characters to our work to create better representation in novels.
- Can you give us some insight into what makes your characters tick?
SH: Betsy is a purely selfish, self-absorbed creature at the start of the book, to the point where she’s observed little of the world. Isaac is a people pleaser, a bit too dedicated to his mother, and more secretly unhappy inside than he realizes, since his efforts are generally aimed outward.
- What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
SH: The key challenge was to craft a Beauty and the Beast story with the Beast a woman, while not turning the book into Taming of the Shrew.
- Your story is set in Regency England. Why did you choose that as the setting for your book?
SH: Because that is the historical point in which I’m most comfortable writing and the point of this novel wasn’t to branch out as a writer but to create a Beauty and the Beast tribute.
- What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
SH: Give other people some consideration and care.
- Is there significance to the book’s title? And if so, what?
SH: Well, yes. It’s meant to reflect Beauty and the Beast, so Tailor comes first (as Isaac is the Beauty) and Demoiselles comes second (as Betsy is the Beast).
- Who would you cast as your main characters?
SH: Honestly, I don’t know. I’m very bad at seeing people’s faces.
- Are there any secrets from the book (that aren’t in the blurb), you can share with your readers?
SH: It’s Portuguese. The language used that isn’t English.
- Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart?
SH: If so, why? Isaac a little. I’ve fallen into the trap of working so hard for what other people need of you that you forget to remember yourself.
- What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
SH: There won’t be a sequel. I generally put an epilogue if there’s no sequel, which I did. That goes a solid decade into the future so people can see how things pan out.
- If you had to describe character Betsy in three words, what would those three words be?
SH: Good at heart.
Betsy is a purely selfish, self-absorbed creature at the start of the book, to the point where she’s observed little of the world. Isaac is a people pleaser, a bit too dedicated to his mother, and more secretly unhappy inside than he realizes, since his efforts are generally aimed outward.
- What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
- SH: The key challenge was to craft a Beauty and the Beast story with the Beast a woman, while not turning the book into Taming of the Shrew.
- What was the highlight of writing this book?
SH: Getting to craft perceptions of Isaac’s mother as they change throughout.
Questions about Writing
- What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?
SH: Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- How do you handle writer’s block?
SH: By creating outlines.
- What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
SH: It depends on your goals as a writer. Some people love to evoke emotion. Some people want to write literature. My goal is that people shouldn’t recall they’re reading. They should see, hear, smell and feel what the character is and the writing should be good and dynamic, but clean and simple, so it conveys without distraction. A stream of through going from the page into the reader’s mind without conscious effort.
- What comes first, plot or characters?
SH: They interweave but I suppose the overall arc of the plot comes first. Yet, characters influence it, if they’re well built.
- How do you develop your plot and characters?
SH: There are levels of plot. Overall, there’s almost no development for me to do. It is good vs evil, or a love story, or preferably both. They simply exist. As to the details of a plot, I begin with a very specific goal of, ‘Convey normal. World altering event. Characters react. World altering event. Characters react again…thinking things are all settled. World altering event. Characters react, and really settle things. Wrap up.’ Creating those points starts the story and then it is adjusted, twisted, tweaked based on the setting and the characters. As to the characters, I begin with their history, which comes into being in tandem with their key character traits. I pick a name and broad physical characteristics and enter them into my spreadsheet. Then I make them interact with the plot elements and see how the characters influence and change the plot elements and how the elements influence and change the characters. Then I start writing based on the outline and characters all the above created, and adjust it as needed.
- How do you come up with the titles to your books?
SH: I try to pick key elements that will intrigue but which will make fuller sense after the book is read, and then I google them and put them in book seller websites, to see if they’ve been used before, and adjust accordingly.
- What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
SH: As with many authors, promoting. Not simply because it’s a different skill set but because of that deep, lingering fear many of us have that we didn’t real write anything worth reading.
- How do you do research for your books?
- SH: I google things, of course, and try to watch my sources. There are plenty of good ones, but there are bad ones. I also have reference books, especially about clothing, accoutrements, architecture and food. For Historical Romances, I used to read other Historical Romances for information but I found that generally what I got wrong (for readers to point out) came from reading other people’s books and assuming they were accurate. Much like websites, some authors are more historically reliable than others and, at first, it’s difficult to know which.
- What are the tools of the trade?
SH: Word processing programs, PDF converters, various editing tools, a nice keyboard, access to the internet or else an extensive library. Tea and cookies.
- When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc.) scene, how do you get in the mood?
- SH: I reread what leads up to that moment. I will also use music, but not to set the mood. More of to put me into a meditative state, if you will. It’s always the same music no matter what I’m writing.
- How do you deal with emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story?
SH: That’s what the tea and cookies are for…and the workouts and the cats and the dog.
- How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?
SH: I suppose a lot. For me, building the world is part of outlining the plot. The world and characters interact to make the story.
- Is there lots to do before you dive in and start writing the story? SH: Yes, because I go in with a detailed outline. There’s a lot of staring out the window, or at split ends, while the hamster wheel turns.
- When writing a series how do you keep things fresh, for both your readers and yourself?
SH: In a romance series, there is a new main couple for each book. A new love story. A fresh set of obstacles to be overcome.
- What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
SH: My favorite part is releasing a new book, which means my least favorite part is editing. I imagine many authors feel the same way.
- Do you find it more challenging to write the first book in a series or to write the subsequent novels?
SH: Subsequent, to be sure. That’s why the spreadsheets. To start a series, I may have to do a lot of research to build my world and the details therein. At a certain point in the series, you have to do research in your own books or your own notes. It bogs down the writing by taking you out of the scene, and then you have to get back in.
Couple’s Therapy with Betsy and Isaac
“Mr. and Mrs. Bell, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Dr. Williams. I understand you’re interested in addressing a few issues together.”
“Not issues,” Betsy said quickly. “We don’t have issues.”
“No,” Isaac agreed thoughtfully. “It’s more that we want to ensure we’re communicating openly.”
Betsy folded her arms across her chest. “It’s Isaac’s idea.”
“I see.” Dr. Williams nodded. “Well, open communication is very important in a relationship.”
Betsy huffed. “I didn’t say it’s not.”
Dr. William raised an eyebrow. “Shall we begin with some affirmation?”
Both Betsy and Isaac nodded.
“Well, then, how about you each state something you like about the other.” Dr. William inclined his head to Betsy. “Mrs. Bell, you may go first. What do you like best about your husband?”
She pursed her lips, thinking. “That he’s so considerate of people. He’s really very good with everyone, which means he’s good with me.”
“High praise. Very good. Mr. Bell, what do you like best about your wife?”
“Her vehemence and strength.”
“An interesting combination,” Dr. Williams observed, writing something on the pad he held. “Now, what about a dislike? Something we can address together. And please, try to make it a quality, not an incident or direct accusation. Mrs. Bell?”
“Well…” Betsy glanced at Isaac. “He’s too nice.”
Isaac turned to her in surprise. “But you just said you like that I am considerate of people.”
“I do, but I don’t like when you let them take advantage of that.” She turned back to Dr. Williams. “And he becomes obsessed when he paints, and I may as well not even exist, even if he’s painting me.”
“He said one thing,” Isaac pointed out.
Betsy glared at him. “And he corrects me.”
“Yes, well, we’ll come back to that. For now, let us address the first issue, that Mr. Bell is too nice. Why does that trouble you, Mrs. Bell?”
Betsy left off glaring at Isaac to turn to Dr. Williams. “Because people take advantage of him.”
“And why does that trouble you?”
She frowned. “Because I have to stop them.”
“And that is a concern because?”
Her frown deepened. “Because then he’s terribly nice and I…I’m beastly. I don’t want to always have to be beastly.”
“I see,” Dr. William nodded along with his words. “Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.” He turned to Isaac. “Were you aware of the effect your behavior has on Mrs. Bell?”
Isaac shook his head. “I thought she simply didn’t like me to be nice to people.”
“You what?” Betsy gaped at him. “Why wouldn’t I want you to be nice to people?” She jabbed a finger at Isaac. “You do think I’m beastly.”
He held up both hands, palms out. “I don’t.”
“Harrumph,” she muttered, crossing her arms again.
“Yes, well, moving on.” Dr. Williams tuned to Isaac. “And what is something you don’t fully appreciate about Mrs. Bell?”
Still frowning at Betsy, Isaac said, “She has a quick temper.”
Betsy rolled her eyes.
“And why does that trouble you, Mr. Bell?”
“Because it’s annoying.”
Betsy dropped her arm and cast an incredulous look at Isaac. “That’s not a good answer. I did a much better job with my answers.” She turned to Dr. Williams. “Do that thing where you ask him the same question again and again.”
Isaac threw up his hands. “It’s not a competition.”
Betsy smirked. “You only say that because you’re losing.”
“Ah, yes, well, let’s return to affirmation,” Dr. William cut in. “Mr. Bell, what is something that your wife enjoys?”
“She likes baking,” Isaac said without hesitation.
“And do you like that she likes baking?”
“I do. It makes her happy and she makes delicious things.”
Dr. Williams nodded. “Very good. Now, Mrs. Bell, what is something your husband enjoys doing?”
“I already said. He likes to paint.”
“And do you like that he enjoys painting?”
“He’s very talented and we have his art up in many of Rodchamb’s rooms.”
“Hm.” Dr. Williams write something on his pad.
“What are you writing?” Betsy asked. “What does ‘Hm’ mean?”
“He’s probably noting that you didn’t answer his question,” Isaac said.
Betsy tossed her curls. “I did so. He asked and words came out of my mouth in reply. That’s answering.”
“Your painting has come up multiple times now, Mr. Bell,” Dr. Willaims observed. “Why do you enjoy painting so much?”
Isaac thought for a moment. “It’s my time, only for me.”
“So, in a way, painting is you being selfish, as your wife wishes you would be more often?” Dr. Williams said.
“I didn’t say selfish,” Betsy protested. “I said not taken advantage of.”
“She didn’t say selfish,” Isaac seconded.
“Hm,” Dr. Williams responded and wrote on his notepad.
Betsy and Isaac exchanged a glance. Betsy rolled her eyes again, smiling. Isaac grinned back. Dr. Williams stopped writing and his head started to come up. They both smoothed their features into polite interest.
Dr. Williams looked from one to the other. “Yes, well, probably a good place to stop for this first session.”
“That’s all?” Isaac asked.
“But I didn’t even get to tell you about Isaac’s horrible mother,” Betsy protested.
“Or Betsy’s mad parents,” Isaac added.
Betsy nodded. “Or my domineering grandmother.”
“Or how a woman who wanted to marry me nearly got Betsy exiled to Australia,” Isaac said.
“Yes, well, plenty of time for that in other sessions.” Dr. Williams rose, so the Bells did likewise. He shook Isaac’s hand and nodded to Betsy. “I’ll see you next week. In the meantime, remember, two affirmations for any criticism.”
“Yes, Dr. Williams,” they chorused.
Isaac offered Betsy his arm. Side by side and smiling at each other, they left, Dr. Williams walking with them to the outer door of his offices.
After their footfalls faded down the steps to the street, Dr. Williams turned to his assistant. “Make sure we’ve plenty of notepads. Between the two of them, it sounds as if they have enough to tell me to fill a book.”
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