Hello readers and welcome to another edition of our series, Writer Spotlight. This month we’re featuring historical fiction author and Pitch Wars mentor Carrie Callaghan. Her first novel, A Light of Her Own, which is set in 17th-century Holland, comes out today (yes, today!). We’re thrilled to feature her in our spotlight, and we hope you enjoy our interview with her.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, and how long you’ve been writing
Hi! I’m a writer living outside of Washington, DC, and I focus on literary-ish historical fiction. I’ve been cobbling together the time to research and write for the past fifteen years. I have a day job, two young children, a spouse, and all the normal adult responsibilities that I mostly try to brush off in favor of reading and writing.
2. Tell us about your publishing journey and about your debut
My debut, A Light of Her Own, is about 17th century Dutch painter Judith Leyster, and it comes out today. Eek! The novel is my attempt to imagine how this woman painting at the time of Rembrandt made her way in the world, and what she had to sacrifice (or not) in the process. It was my fifth finished novel manuscript, and the second one I’d tried to get published. It was a painful road, but I wouldn’t trade in a single bump or bruise because they all made me a more resilient and grateful writer.
3. What is your favorite thing about writing?
There is a sort of fugue state that we can enter when we really immerse ourselves in a scene. That sort of lucid dreaming is like nothing else, and I love the magical feeling of creating something that will (hopefully) come to life. But I have lots of things that I love about writing, because writing is a way of life. It means processing the world in words, thinking always about how to name or describe something, challenging myself to articulate my feelings in a way that is sensible. Writing also means endless curiosity about how humans work and what our interaction with the world means. Even if I never publish another book, I’ll be writing until I die.
4. What is the one writing habit that you’ve stuck to all this time?
My writing habits have all evolved, with the unfortunate exception of needing to write my first drafts by hand. Writing with pen and paper forces me to turn off the inner editor and to maintain forward momentum. It also feels more portable than relying on a laptop. The downside to writing in hand is that once I’ve filled those beautiful notebooks, I need to type them up. And that’s grueling.
5. How do you cope with rejections?
At first, I didn’t cope well at all. I didn’t know how to calibrate my expectations, so the early rejections were crushing. Now that I’ve received hundreds (between that previously queried manuscript and my short stories), I’m much more inured to them. Sometimes, I can learn something from the rejection. Sometimes, they’re still frustrating and baffling. Always, I know it’s just one opinion, and I’m grateful the world can hold so many opinions. It’s consoling, in a way, to know that people like different things from what I like. I always try to write better, and I mostly avoid dwelling on a particular rejection for more than a day. Mostly. 🙂
6. What is one piece of writing advice you go back to every time the writing isn’t going so well?
Put it in a scene. This isn’t always the answer, but it’s at least a starting point. If I can write an interaction as a scene with conflict between my characters, I can understand that moment better. Sometimes the point in the story doesn’t actually need to be shown, and telling will suffice. But often the characters do need to butt heads in a scene. Plus, that’s more fun to write.
7. Any advice for other debut authors? Or writers who are still fighting to break into the industry?
Write because you love it, and nourish that love with reading. If you don’t love the process of writing, then the grinding rejections and the demoralizing bad reviews and the empty years of non-recognition will eat you up. But if you love the writing, and you’re putting words onto paper because you can’t imagine another way to live, then what happens afterwards won’t be as important. Not everyone needs to write. Everyone does need to find a way to live that’s satisfying and healthy. I can’t promise that everyone who wants to get published will. But I can promise that if you’re enjoying the experience of writing, you’ll be happier doing the work — and that certainly increases the chances of getting published. More importantly, it increases your chances of living a good life!
8. Do you have a favorite historical era to read and/or write about?
I bounce all over the place! I’ve loved books set in nearly every time period. The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton or A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel or Song Yet Sung by James McBride. As a writer, I’m currently gravitating toward stories set in either the early 20th century or the 17th century, but I’m sure that can change. I’m curious about all facets of humanity, and all the places and times we have lived. Each era has its own unique angles on that human tale, and I want to know them all!
9. If you could invite four famous historical figures to dinner, who would you invite and why?
Assuming we have magical translation devices, I’d love to have Judith Leyster (my novel’s heroine), the Greek poet Sappho, Queen Elizabeth I, and Indira Ghandi all sit down and talk about the challenges of being an ambitious woman in their times. I’d love to just sit back and watch the conversation.
* Muses’ Note: Quick! Someone invent a magical translation device! (Oh and a time machine…) That’s one dinner we also wouldn’t want to miss!
Thank you again to Carrie for being featured in our Writer Spotlight. Her debut novel, A Light of Her Own, is now available, and you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and on her website.