Just for fun, I decided to answer a series of author interview questions about my 2017 historical fiction novel, Lighthouse Loyalty, as we wrap up this series of author’s notes. I hope you’ll chime in with your own opinions about the book or your own writing in the comments!
I’ll answer 10 questions this week and 10 more next week. Let’s see about this “interview”…
1. What research or fiction books most influenced you while writing Lighthouse Loyalty?
I had a stack of research books about lighthouses and aspects of maritime history. Non-fiction books by Candice Clifford about American lighthouses, keepers, and history of aids to navigation were some of my favorites, and some of Elinor DeWire’s books had some wonderful anecdotes and stories about lighthouse keeping.
Fictionally speaking – I was writing the book I hadn’t found about a lighthouse family. However, I was inspired in maritime stories and culture by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Jean Lee Latham’s Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.
2. What prompted your interest in maritime history?
I’ve had a fascination with ships from the age of sail for many years. Ironically, many of the ships by the 1860’s were steam-powered and 1867 isn’t really the “classic” age of sail. Along with that fascination came an interest in the stories of the ships, captains, and crews.
And if you read about ships, shipwrecks, adverted disasters long enough, you’ll find lighthouses!
3. What’s your short explanation when someone asks “what’s Lighthouse Loyalty about?”
It’s a well-researched historical fiction story set in 1867, just two years after the ending of the American Civil War. The story follows a nine-year-old lighthouse keeper’s daughter as she grapples with the challenges of living in a new and lonely lighthouse. Along the way, she tries to unravel some dark secrets about the recently ended war and draws new conclusions about the concept of loyalty.
4. How did you develop your plot?
Well, the first few drafts had a weak plot revolving around Susan wanting to write. I’m so glad I worked with a structure editor who pointed out a lot of flaws and challenged me to craft a stronger plot. I spent quite a few hours tearing the story apart, working at a drawing board, developing a little mystery, and eventually twenty hours of rewriting before I had a solid plot.
The lesson for me? Don’t start a story without a plot. It’s a time consuming and expensive mistake!
5. How do you select the names of your characters?
Carefully. I want the characters’ names to match their actions in the story and the way I image they look.
Susannah Rose Arnold – called Susan or Susan Rose – was a fun name to build and layer backstory based on her parents’ character history. I just couldn’t see her as “Susannah” though, and decided on Susan. Incidentally, Susan is my mother’s name, and I thought it was a nice little tribute to her for her continued encouragement of my writing.
6. Tell us about your protagonist(s)? Was there a real-life inspiration behind him or her?
Let’s focus on Susan Rose Arnold, the main character/protagonist. She’s the oldest child and has three siblings. As her family moves to a new lighthouse, she misses her friends, going to school, and her original home near the shore of one of the Great Lakes. She’s determined, though, and tries to brighten everyone’s life. Proud and unwilling to discuss her own loneliness, Susan weaves worlds of imagination and poetry while trying to befriend her uncle (the assistant lightkeeper).
Real life inspiration? Maybe a little. Just a little. Once upon a time yours truly wanted to write, but she never discovered mysterious secrets!
7. How did you find inspiration for the antagonists in your book?
Antagonists… I looked at a lot of photos for inspiration while developing these characters. They aren’t necessarily bad – in the wicked sense, but they help to drive the story by causing serious conflict. I tried to separate the antagonist’s characters and characteristics to gain a real understanding of their motives to try to produce believable conflicts.
8. What real-life inspirations did you draw from this book?
I’ve already said, I wanted to write when I was a kid – so some of that inspired parts of Susan’s activities and imaginative ideas.
One of the other real-life inspiration ideas I’ll share comes from exploring the historic 1855 lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument. I was sitting in the tiny watchroom early one morning and decided to take a seat on the ladder to the lantern room. There, I felt comfortable and ready to write. Remembering that while writing, Susan’s writing place became the watchroom, sitting on the ladder.
9. What odd things did you research for this book?
Seals. Shells. Wild berries. Coastal flowers. I wanted to know as much as possible about the region where the story is set. Not as strange of a list as for some of my other books.
10. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Rewriting – the hardest and most rewarding part. It made me dig deep into some personal emotions that were easier to tuck away. No, those personal details weren’t exposed in the book so don’t try finding them, but remembering how I felt in difficult circumstances helped to add some emotional realism to the story. I hope…
What’s your favorite chapter in Lighthouse Loyalty?
If you’re an author, what’s been the best and the hardest parts of writing for you?
Your Historian (and Authoress),
P.S. Answers to the last ten questions of the “interview” next week!