Interview with Historical Fiction Author Dot Ryan

Dot Ryan, author of the historical novel, Corrigans’ Pool, makes her home in Corpus Christi, Texas. Dot is busy writing her second and third works of historical fiction, one of which is the upcoming sequel to Corrigans’ Pool. To learn more about Dot, and to read Part One of the sequel, visit her website at

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Dot. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Dot: Thank you! I’m pleased to be here. I was born and raised in rural South Texas. I live in the beautiful coastal city of Corpus Christi with my husband Sam and in close vicinity to our sons and daughters and grandchildren.
I’ve been writing all my life. In the beginning, I wrote purely for the pleasure of it, sharing my stories with close friends and family long before I was confident enough to pursue publication.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Dot: Yes, I’d love to. Corrigans’ Pool is a Civil War era novel that takes place in and around Savannah, Georgia. If you don’t mind, I’ve taken parts of the following description from the recent ForeWord Clarion Review of Corrigans’ Pool, which gave the book five stars out five:
The eldest of two daughters, Ella Corrigan rises to the challenge when a family tragedy results in an incapacitated mother and a father consumed by guilt. Despite the pressures of essentially running the family plantation on her own, she bears the burden of responsibility stoically, with kindness, efficiency, and little resentment for her lot in life.

Somewhat resigned to the possibility of never marrying, Ella is stunned by her reaction when she meets the dashing, if seemingly ill-suited, Gentry Garland. She repeatedly resists the attraction at first, resulting in moments both touching and amusing, until she finally accepts the love between them. From there, it doesn’t take long for Ella to begin envisioning a different, more enriching future—at least until the Civil War lands on their doorstep and Gentry strangely disappears without a word.

Devastated, Ella makes the fateful decision to marry neighboring plantation owner Victor Faircloth. Victor’s increasingly contemptuous violence toward those who serve his household sickens Ella, and a gripping mystery begins to unfold involving his rapidly disappearing slaves and the beautiful pool, called Corrigans’ Pool, on Ella’s family property. As the Civil War rages on, Ella finds herself fighting a war of her own to save her home, her loved ones, and the innocent victims of her husband’s brutality.

Villains and heroes are exposed in their true light, loves are lost and found, and the strength of human spirit ultimately prevails.

I suppose I wrote Corrigans’ Pool because of my life-long love of history and novels that teach as well as entertain. I learned at an early age that my Irish paternal great-great grandparents came to Texas from Pennsylvania in 1819 and to America much earlier. Stories passed down from generation to generation about the hazards they and others faced piqued my interest in American history even before I was old enough to read and write. I have always been drawn to books with strong characters struggling to survive. I grew up knowing that someday I would write such novels. Corrigans’ Pool’s characters popped into my head years before I wrote the story.

What kind of research was involved in writing your book?

Dot: My early sources were old newspapers and encyclopedias, used mostly to substantiate facts and dates and to set my time line. In that Corrigans’ Pool takes place almost entirely in and around Savannah, Georgia and does not cover the entire Civil War, I found Derek Smith’s Civil War Savannah to be a superb source of information about the city and its citizens. I contacted Mr. Smith and told him what a tremendous help his book was to me in writing Corrigans’ Pool, and I was thrilled when he took the time to reply, wishing me the best of luck.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Dot: Early on, when I was trying to write Corrigans’ Pool, the ride was rather bumpy. I had married right out of high school, but was determined to continue my studies at home because I still dreamed of being a writer someday. I wrote bits and pieces of Corrigans’ Pool in the 60s’ and 70s’, then put the disjointed manuscript away for months and years at a time while I struggled with the realization that I needed to know more about the art of creative writing. I had the imagination one needs to write novels, but the two years of college business courses that I completed a few years after marriage did nothing to advance my narrow writing skills. College was not an option—I had three children to care for and was holding down a forty-hour a week job.

After pondering awhile, I realized that I indeed had one option—my own initiative. I began a campaign of self-study, hours in libraries, reading and re-reading dozens of books on writing, subscribing to every writer’s magazine I came across, enrolling in every late evening writer’s course available within reasonable driving distance from my rural home.

People experience euphoria for all kinds of reasons—mine came each time I learned something new in my studies—anything that gave me another tool to make me a better writer. I finished Corrigans’ Pool in 1982 … then lost every page of it in a fire a few months later.

After an interval of anger and self-pity, I started Corrigans’ Pool all over again. Six years later, with time off to run a business that my new husband and I had bought, Corrigans’ Pool had arisen from the ashes of the old—better, I believe, than the first.

Unfortunately, the new manuscript was a hefty tome of 1,012 pages. More work was ahead in that it had to be shortened by more than half. After finishing the extensive rewrite, I queried well over a dozen New York agents. Only one requested to see the manuscript. Three months later, she suggested I rewrite Corrigans’ Pool in a way that enhanced the romance issue. I thought long and hard about it, deciding against turning my story into something I had not intended. Although there is romance in the book, it is subtle, and is not the single aspect of Corrigans’ Pool that makes the story appealing throughout.

With faith that I had written a creditable novel, I decided to self-publish. I was fully aware of the stigma against self-published books and their writers. Despite all the talk to the contrary, I do not believe that those in the publishing world, who are truly interested in good books, actually go out of their way to punish writers who have enough faith in their creative abilities to self-publish their first novels … or their second or their third. Judging from reader’s reviews of Corrigans’ Pool, I made the right decision.

As a self-published author, I have all the say so over how long my book stays on the market. I was not thinking of the profit margin, I simply did not want to spend years trying to get my book published at a time when the economy had taken a downturn and traditional publishers were sticking mostly to known authors or celebrities. This is not to say I will not submit future manuscripts to traditional publishers, but it is nice to know that I have an alternative—even if I have to self-promote every book I write. I am praying that Corrigans’ Pool will establish me as a serious writer.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Dot: From contract to release it took a little over a year. In that the book was self-published, the length of time could have been much shorter, but in addition to falling between the cracks a few times immediately after the publishing company relocated to another area, I was a stickler for editing and made changes as we went along, all of which slowed down the process. In the self-publishing world, it is exclusively up to the writer to groom their book, exactly the way a good agent or traditional publisher would expect, before sending it to the printer. Self-published writers who fail to do this needn’t look forward to any sort of recognition other than the old raspberry.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Dot: No, I don’t have an agent nor have I ever. I hear conflicting notions about the necessity of an agent. I can understand why a writer would want one if she is dead set on getting a traditional publisher. These days, few traditional publishers will look at manuscripts that are not represented by agents.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Dot: Many! I’m currently working on the sequel to Corrigans’ Pool. You can read Part One on my website, but it would be nice if you read Corrigans’ Pool first. I have bits and pieces of three additional novels, two of which take place in the South during World War II. I’m also working on a story about the Texas dance hall business during the dying throes of the Urban Cowboy days. Whew! I’ve got a lot to do, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love writing! One of my daughters recently reminded me that I hadn’t had a vacation in ages. I told her that I’m on vacation every time I sit down at my computer to write.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

Dot: Mostly, I stay tucked away in my cramped little office. Occasionally, I write in the back yard. Confession: Some days, I don’t bother to get out of my pajamas before I begin writing—I’m all for comfort while exercising the brain.

My favorite place to write is the beach when it isn’t too windy and the seagulls leave me alone.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Dot: A spacious RV and an experienced chauffeur who can read maps! Prior to setting out, I would arrange publicity stops all across the scenic USA. What a great combination of work and sight-seeing that would be!

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Dot: Self-promotion is the key to success. There is no doubt that in order to sell, to be seen and noticed, you must promote and market your book. Through my publisher, I have paid for quite a few promotion deals; it remains to be seen which will be effective. A self-published author has to be willing to spend a little money, but all the money in the world won’t transform a bad book into a marketable one. I am hoping that my recently purchased Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tour will get Corrigans’ Pool noticed in all the right places. After that, I’m confident that Corrigans’ Pool can stand on its own merit.

Additionally, I have a website, and am on other popular sites:

Website:http//; Wordpress Blog; Twitted; Facebook; Shelfari; Goodreads and Myspace. I am trying to make time for these sites, but will soon choose three or four on which to concentrate. Currently, I am working on ways to increase flow to my website.

As far as offline promotion, I notified everyone I know, sent e-mails, and donated books to an area library. I am still working on other promotions. Just as I was about to begin a state-wide tour this past summer, a family member’s sudden illness required that I not leave town. The illness turned out to be long term. I am hoping to reschedule my tour visits in early spring. If successful, I will consider visiting other states, and will contact radio and TV station. For now, I am planning appointments with brick and mortar stores in my area, including large food chains and gift shops, and will see what it takes to get my book on display. Bookstores like to hear that your book is returnable if it doesn’t move off the shelf, and Corrigans’ Pool is returnable to the publisher—a service that I paid for, but which I feel is well worth the price. I am also having posters, flyers, and bookmarks made, which will come in handy on my trips.

I am discovering that word of mouth testimonials from readers is an excellent way to get one’s work noticed, and Corrigans’ Pool reviews have been outstanding.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

Dot: In my opinion, the most common reason could easily be a lack of encouragement from those closest to them. The most important thing a new writer can have is the heart-felt support and understanding of family, even if buoyed by only one lone member; without it, dreams become unrealistic in one’s own mind, and so easy to push aside.

Also, machine gun rejection slips can drop a writer to his knees. Most writers are sensitive creatures, but early on they must develop a tough hide if they are to survive disappointments that might otherwise end their dreams of being published. Being a woman, I am opposed to tough hides on females, inner or outer; therefore, I pretend I have a long, beautiful, rawhide cape and when the need arises I toss it around my shoulders and wrap my creative sensitivities in it. I carry my cape everywhere I go, and it works great.

The tragedy of seeing my years of work reduced to a pile of ashes in the fire I mentioned earlier almost ended my ever wanting to write again. Maybe it was the insatiable writer inside me that overcame my heartbreak and anger. Or maybe it was my rawhide cape. Whichever, I started all over again and I haven’t stopped since.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Dot: Follow your heart, and when you’ve finished writing your manuscript, have it professionally evaluated and edited before you do another thing. If you are a serious writer, you’ve probably heard this advice before, but when you think your manuscript is in tip-top shape, set it aside for a couple of weeks and then go over it again—you will be stunned by the errors that both you and your editor missed! Only when it is finally as perfect as you can get it, will you be ready to submit to agents or publishers, or go the self-published route.

First and foremost, don’t let anyone or anything—and this certainly includes the machine gun rejection slips—take away your dream to be published. Be ready for obstacles and know that you can overcome them if only you do not give up. And, whatever else you do, get yourself an attractive rawhide cape and wear it proudly!
Thank you for your interview, Dot. I wish you much success!

Dot: Thank you for inviting me. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Dot Ryan's Corrigans' Pool, click here!

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