Historical fiction author Elaine Cougler discloses some fascinating aspects of her life and writing in her answers to my questions. It's indeed a privilege that she has agreed to do so on the Blogroll. Enjoy!
|photo by Paula Tizzard|
EC: Such an interesting question to start off, Marta. Certainly there is a connection between my teaching and my coming from a large family as I was always used to having people around me and learned to thrive in that busy environment. We played school by the hour in the upstairs hall of our large house and we had enough people to play all the parts. (chuckle)
As for those experiences contributing to becoming a writer, I’m not sure. Maybe two things connect: From the time I was about 10, I loved to get off by myself and read my mother’s books, and my love of reading is and was a natural jumping-off point for beginning to write. I first taught high school French which allowed me to revel in my love of languages but eventually English became my subject area. Following course outlines laid out by excellent teachers who came before me helped me to read a lot of books that I never would have read otherwise. Still today I make reference to poems that spoke to me for their use of language and word pictures. So, yes, I am the writer I am today partly because of my teaching career and my mother’s love of the written word.
2. MM: How does the subject matter of The Loyalist’s Wife relate to your own history and ancestry?
EC: In the beginning there were a few links but the story of Lucinda and John came out of my head. I have always been one to put myself in situations and feel how a character might feel. I do, however, think that my own Loyalist background made the research for The Loyalist’s Wife particularly exciting for me. In one of the books I have the members of Butler’s Rangers are listed and one name was John Garner. Because I have a brother by that name naming my male character John just seemed to be right. For his wife’s name, I wanted something that suggested the period so I chose Lucinda, the name of one of my great aunts. I particularly liked that I could shorten it to Lucy or use the long form, depending on the situation. That gave an extra layer to drawing her character.
3. MM: In your opinion, what is the advantage of writing a series rather than independent books?
EC: When I started John and Lucy’s story, I only saw the one book, but the more I researched and the more I got to know these two, I realized there would be more to tell. For me, then, the series gives me a chance to tell more of the history of the Loyalists, a group of people who first brought English colonists to Canada, which up until that point had been mostly French.
I already have readers wanting to know the rest of John and Lucy’s story, an indication that once readers get hooked on your characters and their plight, they want to have more. One hopes there will be a loud clamoring for The Loyalist’s Luck (June, 2014) and The Loyalist’s Legacy. (June, 2015)
4. MM: What was the most fruitful outcome of your contact with other writers in terms of the best way to approach your subject?
EC: I wrote The Loyalist’s Luck in splendid isolation, at least for the first draft, so I had little contact with others at that time. I decided on the approach based on my own experience reading great historical fiction authors such as Sharon Kay Penman, Colleen McCullough, Margaret George, and many others. Of course, that all changed once I started reaching out to critique groups, extreme editing courses, workshops and conferences. After all of that I think my best lesson has to be that I learned to trust my own voice. The irony is that I had to write through fire to gain that confidence, but there it is.
5. MM: Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
EC: I love reading many different types of fiction and even some history books, but historical fiction has always appealed to me for its greater sense of truth. Yes, the characters are usually fictional but setting them against great and true events in history lends a veracity, a reality, to fiction. Taking true events and showing how they might have affected everyday people lets me actually feel what they might have felt. Personally, with my own family history so entwined in the Loyalist story, this is thrilling.
6. MM: Did you create your characters or did they impose themselves upon you?
EC: I have to say I made up my characters. Authors talk about characters insisting that their story be told and so on but that was not my experience. Of course there were wonderful times when Lucy just absolutely said something which didn’t even seem to come out of my head. John, too, spoke out as I put him in outrageous situations. I loved losing myself in the story and sometimes got so entranced the hours flew, my tears fell, and I wanted to stop writing and just read the story to see what would happen. Of course I had to write it first!
7. MM: Still talking about characters, do you have special feelings for them? I mean, do you love some more than others and, if so, how do you balance your feelings in the final composition?
EC: For me the main thing is the story and I suppose that is because historical fiction has its framework of historical events against which the personal story of my characters must be laid. I can’t just let my characters go because of that framework. Of course, I do admit to loving Lucy more than John, simply because she was easier for me to draw. My point of view shifts between Lucy’s chapters about being left behind to try to hold on to their farm and John’s chapters where he fought with Butler’s Rangers against the Americans, all the while bearing a huge load of guilt for leaving Lucy alone. I often used my father as a model for John and imagined what he might have done in the same situations. That was intriguing, to say the least.
8. MM: What advice would you offer writers in the same genre?
EC: Oh, that’s a tough one, Marta! I regret not using an in-depth timeline and map from the very outset. Remembering just where John was and later, Lucy, (that’s not really a spoiler!), became tricky in the revisions and critiquing sessions. People would ask me about those things and I couldn’t remember. With the sequel, The Loyalist’s Luck, I have much more of an outline with timelines clearly marked. Of course they might change but, at least, I have a record for easy reference.
Thank you, Marta, for inviting me to participate in this interview. I loved the procedure you used for it, asking me for a bio from which you might draw questions. Yet again, you have taught me something very useful. Hopefully, this has resulted in a more personal and unique interview. Thanks so much!
The Loyalist’s Wife:
When American colonists resort to war against Britain and her colonial attitudes, a young couple caught in the crossfire must find a way to survive. Pioneers in the wilds of New York State, John and Lucy face a bitter separation and the fear of losing everything, even their lives, when he joins Butler’s Rangers to fight for the King and leaves her to care for their isolated farm. As the war in the Americas ramps up, ruffians roam the colonies looking to snap up Loyalist land. Alone, pregnant, and fearing John is dead, Lucy must fight with every weapon she has.
With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.
Elaine blogs at On Becoming a Wordsmith which may be found at www.elainecougler.com. She also is frequently found here: @ElaineCougler, Facebook/ElaineCouglerAuthor, and LinkedIn author groups. The Loyalist’s Wife is available on Amazon and Kobo. www.amazon.com www.kobo.com
A native of Southern Ontario, Elaine taught high school and with her husband raised two children until she finally had time to pursue her writing career. She loves to research both family history and history in general for the stories of real people that emanate from the dusty pages. These days writing is Elaine’s pleasure and she has published two volumes of family history, a children’s story, and numerous short stories. Telling the stories of Loyalists caught in the American Revolutionary War is very natural as her personal roots are thoroughly enmeshed in that struggle, out of which arose both Canada and the United States.