Today, the very funny and talented Steven B. Weissman is visiting to chat about his recently published romantic historical fiction, Bountiful Creek.
TC: Hi Steven. Thanks for sparing some of your time today. First, let me get this out there. I read Bountiful Creek and absolutely loved it.
SW: Thank you, Teresa. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
A little about the book:
“In the spring of 1861, just prior to the onset of the Civil War, Martha Somerville finds her life rapidly changing along with the world around her. Determined to find a way to build a life with her love, Wilby, Martha focuses her energies on acquiring enough money to buy a plot of land to turn into a small farm. Her obsession takes her far from quiet Bountiful Creek, Virginia, deep into Union territory in Ohio. When war breaks out, she immediately sets her course for home before Wilby leaves to join the Confederate Army; but a wealthy suitor, a gravely ill companion, and a thief challenge her efforts to reach him in time. Yet even if she can successfully overcome her obstacles, her life dangerously parallels an ill-fated legend that threatens to keep her and the man she loves apart forever.”
TC: Such a beautiful and moving story about a young woman’s struggles around the time of the American Civil War! Where did the inspiration for Bountiful Creek come from?
SW: I had acquired a bundle of original, handwritten 19th century letters, to experience the period firsthand instead of only from what I’d seen in movies or read in novels. In the stack, I discovered two very poignant letters from a young western Virginia woman, Martha Somerville, about the hardships as well as joys of Civil War era life. That was my inspiration.
TC: It’s incredible that you wrote such a book after reading two letters. Inspiration is a mysterious thing. How long did it take you to write it? And, it is obvious that you’ve meticulously researched the era. What percentage of your writing time (just ballpark) did you spend on research?
SW: It took me four years to write Bountiful Creek. I did research all along the way, as needed. But I spent three months on heavy research before I ever wrote a word, totaling fifteen books, on everything from Appalachian culture and speech, to typical life in southern slave states, to life among the very wealthy in high society. I wanted to equip myself with as much knowledge as possible about the time, places, and varied cultures, to firmly set the stage, so to speak, before I ever dropped the characters onto it.
TC: Your dedication to research and accuracy shows in the pages of your book. The vocabulary was amazing! Can you share any of the process you used to develop such incredible prose?
SW: I love the beautiful prose of wonderfully talented authors such as Jane Austen, Henry James, Charles Dickens and the like. Once I’d set my mind to a similar style and rhythm, it became quite natural to write that way. I also found it helpful to read from those authors while writing, just to keep me in the zone.
TC: Seems to have been a very effective approach. I’ve read how some authors get themselves in the mood for writing. Do you have any particular thing you do before immersing yourself in a writing session?
SW: I like to have a snack handy, and sometimes a glass of wine. I have no particular thing that I do to get in the mood, but I do need total silence when writing. I’ve tried writing outdoors, but all those wonderful sounds from birds, insects, even the plop of a frog jumping into the lagoon distract me. Oddly, when working on a rewrite or editing, I find it helpful to have background noise, like music or the TV. It keeps me from getting into my head too much, so I can just focus on what’s written.
TC: Looking back over your experience writing Bountiful Creek, from idea inception, to published book, what’s been your greatest frustration?
SW: My greatest frustration was finding typos in what I thought was a “finished” manuscript—a missing question mark, a wrong word, etc. I must have read it front to back at least forty times before I caught, I hope, the last error.
TC: Spoken like a true editor! Now, let’s take that last question and change it to what has been your greatest triumph?
SW: Finishing writing it! Seriously, at times it seemed like it would never end. I guess I could have used the same answer for my greatest frustration, but I’ll stick with it as my triumph.
TC: You have me smiling now—and likely any writer reading this is smiling as well. “Finishing writing it!” Triumph, indeed. After chatting with you and discovering what a fun guy you are, I admit amazement at the distance, personality wise, between you and your characters. How did you do that so effectively?
SW: I guess it has something to do with living vicariously. Whether my characters are endearing, or just plain scoundrels (they’re the most interesting, but so unlike me), it’s fun to totally immerse myself in each of them and act out things I never would or could do in real life.
TC: One of the glories of being a writer is getting to live so many lives within one lifetime. Scoundrels are fun to write, and you’ve written a nasty one for Bountiful Creek. I’m tiptoeing now; I don’t want to give away any spoilers. When you wrote the scoundrel, was it all planned, or was it seat-of-your-pants writing?
SW: Not much was planned. I pretty much forged through the story, oftentimes having little more information than the characters themselves. As for the villain, well, every good story needs one. But I had no idea how it would manifest itself until I got to that part in the story, and then I just had fun with it.
TC: Forging through was a good ‘non-plan’. I found it fascinating that you, a man, wrote a female protagonist so amazingly well. What brought you to the decision to write the story in Martha’s voice?
SW: Since the letters I used as the inspiration to write Bountiful Creek were written by a real woman, it seemed only natural for the story to be told in her voice. The challenge was to mentally put myself into the role of a woman and look at things from a woman’s point of view, especially given the period in which the story takes place. Sometimes I’d be inside a woman’s head for so long that when a writing session was over, I’d need to do something manly like watch a ball game, scratch myself, and belch (lol).
TC: Whew, glad that you figured out appropriate measures to get back into a man’s head (lol)! Your characters are drawn so richly. Were there any experiences in your life that influenced your writing or decision to become a writer?
SW: I guess I started gathering the raw materials necessary for being a writer as a young man. I dropped out of college, traded in musty books for a Harley Davidson, and well-trodden university halls for roads less traveled, and experienced life from all corners.
TC: Something almost magical comes through the words of a writer who has experienced life in a larger sense. Such is the case with your writing. Are you working on anything new?
SW: Yes. Speaking of magical, I’m working on a fun time travel/fantasy story, but with a twist from the usual.
TC: Oh, I can’t wait! OK, let’s shake things up a little. I always like to ask a few off-the-wall questions—to get a little glimpse of the person behind the writer. Here goes…
If you had a time machine—where (when in time) would you go? Why?
SW: I’d want to go back to important historical times to see what REALLY happened—so many to choose from. But, if I can only pick one place in time (other than the age of dinosaurs—wouldn’t that be cool!), I’d like to be in Ford’s Theater in Washington DC when Abraham Lincoln was shot. I just can’t even imagine the excitement and drama on that fateful night!
TC: Excitement and drama indeed. OK, now share something fun and crazy that you’ve done.
SW: I used to jump fences with my horse, in a western saddle, like John Wayne in True Grit.
Oh, there’s lots of things you can do with horses. One winter, with the ground covered in ice, I skied down the road by grabbing the end my horse’s tail while he ran ahead of me. That worked pretty well…until he bucked and double-barreled me right in the chest.
TC: Your last answer is a perfect lead into my next question. If there were a book about your life, what genre would it be?
SW: Is “How Not To” books a genre? I’m full of those things.
TC: It sounds like you are, but obviously not when it comes to your writing! One more question, then I’ll let you get back to work on your next novel. You have to act in a Broadway show. Which character will you play?
SW: I think I’d like to play Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. I get to sing, dance, mesmerize an entire town, and get the girl at the end. Of course, I’d have to learn to sing and dance first…
TC: I hear there are lessons to be had. ;-) And what a great choice for a writer, “Professor Harold Hill”—quite the entertainer…
I want to thank you again, Steven, for sharing your time, experience, and knowledge with my readers and me.
SW: It was my pleasure, Teresa. Thank you so much for inviting me.
TC: I encourage you to check out Steven’s book.
It’s here on Amazon: BOUNTIFULCREEK
It’s here on Amazon: BOUNTIFULCREEK
And you can find Steven on facebook, here: Steven B. Weissman,Author