Today’s guest is Meggan Connors, author of Jessie’s War. I’d tell you about it but I think she can do a better job.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your book, Jessie’s War?
Jessie’s War is a western steampunk romance, set against the backdrop of a prolonged American Civil War and the Nevada silver boom. It’s about a woman who, after spending years trying to put her life back together after the deaths of everyone she loved, suddenly discovers that the lover she had given up for dead is alive, and needs her help.
Needless to say, when he shows up on her doorstep, she’s got some trust issues.
But when she discovers her father may be alive and held hostage by Rebel forces, she turns to Luke to help her rescue him–and to keep his invention out of Confederate hands.
2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?
In July of 2009, I was home for a period of time following surgery. I remember looking at my husband and thinking, “I could write a romance novel.” After all, they’d been my dirty little secret since I was sixteen.
By October, I had this massive tome. It was something like 160,000 words. The Husband asked what I was going to do with this… thing… I’d spent so much time working on.
My answer? “Uh, I dunno.”
So, he suggested that I try to get it published. I started researching the romance market, thinking my little jewel was ripe for publication.
It so wasn’t.
In any case, by January or February of 2010, I’d decided that I was going to write something worthy of publication… And I did! (After many, many edits and revisions, a few contests, and much gnashing of teeth) The Marker, my western that reads like a Regency, came out in December of 2011.
3. Your novel is classified as Western steampunk romance. What exactly does this mean?
Essentially, it’s a steampunk first, a western second. It’s a speculative fiction/alternate history set in the Victorian era. Steampunk tends to be very steam oriented, hence the name, so you have trains, lots of coal, stuff like that. For your standard steampunk, think of Jules Verne.
Jessie’s War is a Victorian set alternate history with science fiction elements, but instead of being set in England, as traditional steampunks often are, mine is set in Virginia City, NV. As in all westerns, setting is a major secondary character in this book. An example of a western steampunk would be Wild, Wild West; Boneshaker and The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.
Jessie’s War is a little bit of all of those. With sex.
4. How did you choose which genre to write in?
Well, I love historicals, and I love paranormals and science fiction. Steampunk is a natural off-shoot of that. What I love about steampunk is that it can be about anything, as long as it’s Victorian set and an alternate history. You want ghosts? Sure, throw some in! Vampires and zombies? Absolutely! Want to write a straight up speculative fiction that’s heavily technology-based? By all means, do it!
I think my writing a steampunk was really only a matter of time. I’d written three westerns by the time I finished up Jessie’s War. By the time my third one was completed, I’d begun incorporating elements of the occult. Those whacky Victorians did love their tarot. Once you’re putting magic or the paranormal into a Victorian-set story, you’re pretty much doomed to eventually write a steampunk.
I have to admit, it was great fun world building.
5. Your novel takes place during the American Civil War. What were some of the challenges of writing during this time period?
I tend to write in a very narrow timeframe of between 1864 and 1884, so I know a lot of the actual history, particularly of the West. I think the hardest part about writing an alternate history set during a prolonged Civil War is deciding what to keep and what to leave out. In my story, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t assassinated. Who would be his Secretary of War, if, like Roosevelt, he got elected to the presidency multiple times? What battles were fought? How much real history gets incorporated into a speculative world? As always happens during wars, weapons technology advances by leaps and bounds, so what weapons were developed, and how were they used? In terms of western history, how do I integrate the legends of the native peoples into the story, while still maintaining the integrity of both the legends and the world I’ve built?
It was quite a challenge.
Also, the underwear. I hate writing about Victorians and their underwear.
6. How would you suggest a writer hoping to write in the same time period begin their research?
I have to say, I started with museums. I live not far from a living museum, so I watched re-enactments, visited obscure museums (anyone else visit a museum of western brothels? No?), and went to four different train museums. No trip to a train museum is complete without a long discussion of the transcontinental railroad, and it’s perfect for your post Civil War stories. The history of trains is hugely connected with the development of the United States as a singular entity. So, my first suggestion would be: find some time period appropriate museums, and go there. If you have a train museum nearby, visit one. There’s nothing quite like seeing the history to put you in the right frame of mind.
After that, I would suggest reading. I have several history books on the Civil War and the period of the Silver Boom (and a few more about the Victorians and their dress–again, it’s all about the underwear). But I didn’t read just nonfiction. I read a lot of fiction, too. Seeing what else is out there really helped me figure out how to describe things–places, events, clothes–that nonfiction really just wasn’t able to capture.
7. How did you develop the characters in Jessie’s War?
It’s interesting you should ask this, and I think I’ll be answering question 8 in this one.
Ironically, it was Jessie’s dad whom I developed first, even though he only plays a minor role. After that, I developed the doting daughter. While most of my female characters have baggage, I’d never written a character as gritty as Jessie. I tortured that poor girl. I loosely outlined the entire plot, with the intent of giving Luke his own chapters.
And then that jerk wouldn’t talk to me.
Every time I’d sit down to write him, flashes of what Jessie was doing would pop into my head. I’d see what he was doing, but only through her eyes. It was hard to manage at first, and, at about chapter eight, I wound up switching Jessie’s War to first person. Jessie was like Athena, springing out of my head fully formed. I knew her whole life, I understood her pain, and she just flowed.
So I finished the story from her perspective only, and I realized I needed him. He balanced out Jessie, loosened her up. Made her less melancholy and more like the tough woman she was. So then, I had to sit down and force him to open up.
I am so glad I did, because his perspective really gave me some balance. I knew he had his own baggage–after all, he was the son of a prostitute, who went to war and abandoned the woman he loved. Suddenly, Luke took on a life of his own. I knew how he looked from Jessie’s perspective, but now I knew him. He became a more well-rounded character.
8. Can you tell us a bit about your editing process?
Editing… Yes, the bane of my existence. Third person. First person. Back to third person. Editing Jessie’s War was a labor of love… and super painful. I cut some of my favorite lines. There were times when I would cut scenes and I’d almost cry.
In a nutshell, here’s my process:
Try to cut everything unnecessary from the chapter.
Cut some more, based on autocrit’s suggestions.
Send to my CP.
Make changes based on her suggestions.
Send to my other CP, who tends to be very minimalistic in her approach.
Commence gnashing of teeth!
Cut some more, make changes.
Change dcoument based on autocrit’s suggestions.
Drink some wine.
Then it’s perfect until the editor gets her hands on it, and then we begin the process again!
9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?
Write. And read. But mostly, write.
And seriously, don’t give up. Some people make it look easy, and it’s not. Writing is not about hanging in the coffee shop, drinking a cappuccino and typing out your magnum opus. I mean, maybe for some people, but not for me. For me, writing is staying up until one in the morning, because I worked all day and then spent time on dinner, laundry, dishes, kids’ homework, piano lessons and baseball practice. There are days when it’s so hard, and you want to give up. And then you see your name in RT Book Reviews, and you’re like, “Oh, this is so worth it.”
I must say, I felt like Sally Field. “You like me! You really like me!”
10. What are you working on that readers can look forward to next?
Right now, I’m in the final chapters of a Highlander romance, so I’m branching out a little from my 1864-1884 time frame. It’s a prequel to my story Wandering Heart, which is featured in the Highland Sons Anthology. It’s tentatively called Highland Deception, and it’s a about a man who, upon his brother’s death, assumes not only his place as laird of the clan, but also the wife his brother didn’t want.
Hopefully, I get it done in the next week or so, and then it’s off to the editor!
Bio: Meggan Connors is a wife, mother, teacher and award-winning author who writes primarily historical and steampunk romances. As a history buff with a love of all things historical, she enjoys visiting both major and obscure museums, and reading the histories of the Old West and the British Isles. She makes her home in the Wild West with her lawman husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow, or with her nose in a book. Favorite vacation destinations include the sun-kissed hills of California, any place with a castle or a ghost (and both is perfect!), and the windswept Oregon coast.
You can purchase a copy of Jessie’s War here.