Friday, October 16, 2009
Introducing Historical Fiction Author Kathleen Cunningham Guler
Novelist Kathleen Cunningham Guler is the author of the multi-award winning Macsen’s Treasure Series, adult historical fiction set in fifth century Britain. Drawing on a long background in history and literature as well as her Welsh and Scottish heritage, she has also published numerous articles, essays, reviews, short stories and poetry. The author is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the International Arthurian Society and participates in various writing organizations.
Blog: Lighting Up Britain’s Dark Ages http://kathleenguler.blogspot.com
Blog: Macsen’s Treasure Series http://macsenstreasure.com
Welcome to The Writer's Life, Kathleen. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
Thank you very much for inviting me to chat with you. I’m honored! I have always loved medieval history, literature and writing, not necessarily in that order. Though I’ve earned an art degree and a business degree, I probably have enough time and study put in to have earned history and English degrees as well.
Writing was something I’d done for fun since grade school—my best friend and I made up short stories to exchange with each other. I was also the odd kid who would go home and write my own story if I didn’t like the one read in class. Then, back in the early 1980’s, after reading a particularly dull book set in a historical period, a moment of supreme egotism came over me. I muttered, “I’ll bet I could do at least as good as this.” That’s when I started the long journey to becoming a novelist.
Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?
A Land Beyond Ravens, like all the other books in the Macsen’s Treasure Series, is a historical spy thriller set in fifth century Britain. It continues the story of master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth’s efforts to keep the country free from oppressive Saxon dominance and to aid in the fulfillment of Myrddin Emrys’ (Merlin) prophecy that a great king called Arthur will one day take the crown.
In this, the final installment of the series, Marcus discovers the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power as an independent faction to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time, his beloved wife Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain’s high kings. But as Marcus struggles to distract the church, he and Myrddin also set up the very doom Claerwen sees. It seems they accidentally set things in motion that will send a lot of folks off chasing something called a grail…
What kind of research was involved in writing A Land Beyond Ravens?
My research has included everything from reading a vast array of reference books and academic articles on Dark Age Britain, Celtic culture and Arthurian legend, to travel to many of the locations in Britain where the story takes place, to tracking down and corresponding with scholars on the era. Research is never truly done until the book goes to print. New questions that need to be answered or facts that need confirmation always arise during the writing, revision and editing phases.
Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?
Let’s just say I could wallpaper my house with letters asking to see the full manuscript, more letters showing subsequent interest and questions, then ultimately, the rejection slips. The good news is that after the first of my books was finally published, I’ve been extremely lucky to have been able to stay with the same publisher.
For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?
I had a contract to write the fourth book a few months after the third book was released in March 2006, so that would make it three years.
Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/she is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?
At this time, I don’t have an agent. I’ve been lucky to have developed a wonderful relationship with a small publisher, my editor in particular.
With the growing abundance of small publishers out there now, it’s not absolutely necessary to have an agent. However, for new authors, I would recommend trying the agent route to start with—it may help maximize the chances of finding a publisher.
I would also recommend caution—do not blindly jump in with the first agent who offers representation unless that agent is truly a good fit to both the book and the author. Years ago I did have an agent but she kept trying to sell my first book, Into the Path of Gods, as a “historical romance,” which it is not. While all my books have an element of romance, they don’t fit the “formula” for publishers of that genre. Needless to say, she failed to sell the book and I found success elsewhere.
Do you plan subsequent books?
A Land Beyond Ravens is the last book in the Macsen’s Treasure Series, so there won’t be any more of those. However, I have several more historical novels planned. The next one I hope to tackle will be a novel-length group of interconnected short stories, each set in a different time.
Can you describe your most favorite place to write?
My husband and I have four small businesses that we run out of one office, so I’m pretty much tied to that location. It’s well stocked with many of my research books, so at least I’m surrounded by all that sort of energy.
If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?
Travel to all the Celtic festivals, Renaissance faires, re-enactment groups, book clubs, libraries—anywhere I could give talks or participate in activities with the folks who are my best audience. If there’s a way to buy time and energy as well in order to do all this, I’d invest in that, too.
How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?
Self-promotion or lack thereof is what makes or breaks a book’s success. It’s difficult and time consuming, and the solitary nature of a writer often works against being good at promotion, but without it, a book will never make it. This hit home for me years ago when I attended a conference and people would say, “Oh, I’ve heard of your publisher,” but they had no idea of who I was or what my books were about. Since then, I’ve worked at ways to bring myself more into the spotlight.
Online, the best success lately has been due to the advent of Twitter, Facebook and blogging. If I can drive someone to my blog, where I have been accumulating short pieces on the research behind my books, they often become interested enough to buy a book. It offers much more information than just the blurb on the cover. This is my first virtual book tour, which I’m enjoying very much, and hope will lead to good exposure. Offline, I still try to do the occasional bookstore signing, but I’ve found giving talks at organizations that enjoy my kind of work and places like libraries bring in a better audience.
What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?
To write something as long as a novel takes commitment of yourself, your time, and your willingness to learn not only the craft of writing but how to do the research that goes into it. It also requires the patience to raise the quality of writing from a craft to an art. You must be able to dig down into yourself farther than you ever have. It also takes having an excellent critique group or writing partner that can help with developing style and flushing out problems. I believe most people who give up either won’t make this kind of commitment or are afraid of criticism.
Personally, I have always been too stubborn to give up. There were times when I was forced to set the work aside, but I never even thought of giving up.
Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?
Be persistent. Be patient. Join a good critique group. Read the work of highly respected authors to learn from them; meet them if you can. And most of all, keep writing!
Thank you for your interview, Kathleen. I wish you much success!
Thank you! It’s been my pleasure!