Monday, June 16, 2014

My Writing Process : A 'Blog Hop' Tour

Beth von Staats, a talented writer of Tudor-era short stories, kindly invited me to participate in the Blog Hop Tour "My Writing Process," prior to which, I had little notion as to what a 'Blog Hop' comprised, or what kind of physical and mental contortions might be required - being, still, a technological novice in all but the most basic aspects of social media. Fortunately, given my excess of left feet, mastering the 'blog hop' seems to comprise of answering four questions pertaining to the writing process - that I can do!

What are you currently working on?


I have, most recently, completed a decade-long literary endeavor: Killing the Bee King, which will be released by Regal House Publishing at the end of July. It is, essentially, a spy-themed thriller set in Paris and London in 1803 and revolves around Napoleon's intent to invade England; it is a tale of secret agents and assassins, torture in dark ancient prisons, an emperor's obsession, and a dying man's magnificent triumph. It is a tale of two nations at war, and a man and a woman torn by conflicting loyalties, who in a time of secret agendas and shadowy plots, must learn not only to trust each other but to forgive themselves.

Now, freed from the constraints of editing, and the endless rounds of tweaking that invariably accompany a work in it's final conclusion, I am simply ecstatic to move on to another historical narrative.

My next novel is located in mid-eighteenth century Southeast Asia, and will comprise a maritime adventure through the Banda Sea at a time when the great European powers were seeking domination of the spice trade. The narrative revolves around the character of Lucie, a young lady of some gentility who harkens from Georgian England, whose trans-Mediterranean journey en route to India is intercepted by Tunisian pirates; pirates who dominate the North African slave trade. From thence, seized and ransomed to the sultan of Malacca, Lucie finds herself in company with a Portuguese shipowner who seeks to liberate his brother from imminent execution on the spice island of Ternate. Pursued by the ruthless sultan Marshid Khan, battling storms, Achenese pirates, the usual shipborne diseases, and each other, the two navigate the political and social intricacies of colonial outposts in their desperate attempt to reach Ternate in time.

So I am currently embroiled in research, examining Georgian England in the attempt to define the context from which Lucie emerged, and to better understand the evolution of her particular character as the various pitfalls and impediments within the plotline befall her. I am immersed in colonial politics of the mid-eighteenth century, historical accounts of Portuguese merchants, naval architecture, tropical food and colonial fashions. And, of course, the history of the spice trade. It is of utmost importance to me to maintain the highest degree of historical authenticity in my fictional works, and so to this end, the research might last six months prior to beginning writing the actual novel. Although, I have cheated somewhat and already penned the first three chapters!

How does your work differ from others of  its genre?


I am unsure how to adequately answer this question; I do not read a great deal of contemporary historical fiction. I can only speak to my own literary imperative - which is to create an atmospheric work of great suspense; to render a world in words, one in which the reader feels viscerally immersed; a historical environment saturated with authentic detail that lends a vibrancy to the narrative without weighing it down unduly. And therein lies the challenge!

Why do you write what you do?


I have long been fascinated by ancient and historical cultures; my academic background is in archaeology, a scientific endeavor that seeks to piece together the past. I have harnessed the writing of historical fiction to a similar purpose (although one can dispense with those dreaded footnotes, and has some license for fabrication - which tends to be frowned upon within archaeological circles!)

I find an intriguing juxtaposition between cultures of the past (and the associated constraints under which fictional characters operate), and that of modernity. A dramatic tension exists, for example, simply in a reference to eighteenth-century medical practice, where disease-ridden miasma's provoked ailments that only bleeding could cure. Within the context of this singular reference, however brief it may be, the reader is dramatically aware not only of the distance traveled in medical science, but the relative speed with which those innovations have occurred; and in these moments, within an historical narrative that is authentically portrayed, the reader is perpetually invited to compare the then and now. And, at times, with unexpected results.

The characters are critical, as they are in all genres of fiction, but for historical fiction I think of them as Virgil, guiding not Dante through the circles of Hell, but taking the readers' hands and leading them through the narrative. A guide through whose perspective we become acquainted with an unfamiliar world. In this regard, the characters are the structural bones upon which all else hangs.

In its essentials, I am seeking a reviving. A resurrection of a parallel universe (to challenge the complexities of modern astrophysics) that might have existed in the past. For so much of Killing the Bee King was based on factual accounts, and so many of its characters (for whom I retain a great fondness) were inspiring in their historical fortitude; so much so, that every part of the novel played out in all it's vivid intensity within the confines of my imaginative self. It was as if I was the sole ticket-holder to a cinematic pre-screening, and I had settled myself, with all necessary refreshments, into the plush velvet seat - and it all played out up there on the big screen. And not just on the big screen. Perched on my nose were my special spectacles, that enabled not only three-dimensional viewing, but with the added benefit of olfactory-stimulation. After all, how tragic to visit early nineteenth century Paris and London and not smell the stagnantly oozing puddles, the seeping sewage, and the heavy muskiness of unwashed bodies. No, no, no! It must not be! And so, with full sensory satisfaction, I tipped back in my seat, lost in the momentum of it; tense, apprehensive, tearful, delighted...wanting to see how it was all going to end. And, part of me, hoping it never would. Then, of course, like all of us that relate with relish a much-enjoyed film, I wanted to share this narrative with others.  I wanted to depict this period of the past with as much veracity as I could muster, perhaps kindling, for the reader, an interest in a time and place with which they might not be so very well acquainted.

How does your writing process work?

A 'process' sounds like a formulated plan; a literary methodology that has been rigorously proven to be effective; a set manner of proceeding that produces the best possible outcome, and one which is utilized consistently from one novel to the next. I have no particular process. I read non-fiction voraciously throughout. When writing Killing the Bee King, I read articles in obscure architectural history journals about the renovations of the Louvre, historical works about about culinary innovations, numerous biographical books about all my historical personages - William Pitt, Napoleon, Talleyrand..and of course, book upon book upon book about the French Revolution and the immediate aftermath. This obsession with the historical record is probably the only constant within any literary 'process' I adhere to. Then, with historical accounts fresh in mind, I write furiously...then wonder, ponder, muse about this or that...then revert to non-fiction yet again with an almost maniac devotion to extricating some measure of 'truth.' Creative initiative, at least for me, is not so easily harnessed; and I progress in fits and starts with constant referral to this non-fictional work or that...writing chapter upon chapter that feel sublimely perfect in the first draft, and then being stymied for days on end as to how best to proceed.


Marta Merjver-Kurlat

Marta Merjver-Kurlat

I am utterly delighted to introduce a wonderful Argentinean writer as the next one 'tagged' in this blog hop, and I have no doubt she will accomplish this feat far more deftly than I! Her brilliant novel Just Toss the Ashes is a sublime examination of grief, love and loss within the complications of the family dynamic. Marta is also a translator and psychoanalyst who publishes in Spanish and English with Jorge Pinto Books, Inc., New York. 


Pim Wiersinga

Pim Wiersinga
I am thrilled to introduce an incredibly talented writer whose marvelous work The Pavilion of Forgotten Concubines will be released by Regal House Publishing later this year. It is a simply exquisite work from an already renowned Dutch author, but this particular novel represents his English debut. I, for one, am excited to see what Pim is going to come up with next! In the meantime, visit his blog to find out his answers to the blog hop questions!


  1. Whenever I read PJ I experience the immense pleasure yielded by the beauty of language in able, talented hands. Her musings, archived in this site, are masterpieces I'd like to see collected in a book.
    That said, I'm both dying to learn how her new character will survive the dangerous world into which she was plunged and anticipating an unforgettable book, the kind you cannot put down even is the house is catching fire.
    Thank you for sharing, dear PJ! (And thank you for such a kind introduction... terrified to let you down!)

    1. Oh Marta - utterly impossible - to let me down that is! Thank you so much for your kind words regarding my humble musings - which means a great deal indeed from a writer of your talent and ability. And I am so looking forward to your hopping event next week!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Beth! And thank you for including me in this tour, it has been fun responding to these questions, and learning to 'hop'!

  3. Thank you, PJ Royal, for a most vivid account of your wanderings through Napoleon's France and Georgian England; not to mention North African slave-markets and the spice trade of Ternate. Given the erroneous nature of the research historical fiction writers must expose themselves to, I don't think any fellow-sufferer would ever call first chapters "cheating", though. There's a story to be told, after all, a drama to be excavated from volumes of facts; no matter how vast Imagination's universe may be, a destination can only be reached by carving a road through stardust.

    1. What a gorgeously poetic comment, dear Pim! Your phraseology is sublime! Thank you for stopping by, and for your lovely comment.

  4. Dearest PJ,
    I am indeed humbled by your musings and intrigued by your story-telling. To learn that your fascination with and discipline in archaeology comes as no surprise when one reads your your extraordinary descriptions of artistic, historical, linguistic, scientific and social details in all of your work. The truly masterful and all-encompassing research component that accompanies your powerful creative writing gift is an unstoppable combination - which is precisely what makes your works the page-turners that they are! I am excited about your latest adventure and wish you every success - again!

    1. Thank you dearest Shari! For your kindest of words - you truly inspire me to even loftier literary heights (scant of breath and twice-left-footed though I be!) Your generous warmth is humbling indeed, and I count myself beyond fortunate to have become acquainted with you! Onwards and upwards, dear Shari! Much love, PJ