Note: This article used with permission by RWA Online, Chapter #136 from their January/February 2013 issue of LoveBytes.
Interview with Willa Blair
By Karen Jones
Willa, would you tell us a little about Highland Healer?
In 1513, Scotland’s King, James IV, led most of his nobles, lairds and their heirs to their deaths at Flodden Field just over the border in England. Afterward, most clans were led by younger siblings. And many clans near the border suffered so many losses that they broke up. Highland Healer takes place three years later, in 1516, when a lowlander army made up of broken men tries to conquer the highlands.
HE NEEDS HER FOR HIS CLAN.
HE WANTS HER FOR HIMSELF.
CAN HE HAVE BOTH?
Toran Lathan never expected to become Laird, and never expected to meet a woman like Aileanna Shaw. Her healing ability is just what his people need, but Toran cannot resist her beauty. Yet will loving him destroy her ability to heal?
Aileanna Shaw has a healing touch – and a special talent she must keep secret. Stolen from her home by a marauding army, she’s kidnapped again by the Highland Laird she heals. Is she a prize of war, or the prize of his heart?
While Toran battles the invading lowland army, he also battles his desire for Aileanna. And Aileanna must decide if she can trust her secrets to this fierce warrior who needs her talent, but wants her love.
How did you come up with the idea for Highland Healer?
I saw the opening scene in my head: a woman standing in a tent while a big man is carried in on a makeshift stretcher. At first, I didn’t know if it was going to be a fantasy, an otherwordly scifi/fantasy or set in the highlands. But once I had a page or two written, I knew.
Why did you decide to make it part of a series?
The time period following Flodden is so chaotic, especially in the highlands, that little of the history remains. The new king was a toddler, the Queen Mother was Henry VIII’s sister, and the Regent preferred to spend time in France. All of that gives me a spare scaffolding, if you will, of the historical record for me to build stories upon. And several of my secondary characters cried out for stories of their own. Book 2 is written and with my editor. I’m writing Book 3, and there are at least 3 others I’m developing ideas for, perhaps more than that.
What was it about your book that made your editor want to buy it?
You’d have to ask her that question. She loves Scottish historical romance. The changes she requested were minimal, so she must have liked the story and my voice.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing Highland Healer?
Finding the right time period. The vision I had of the opening scene could have taken place in any period of Scottish history when bladed weapons were still the only game in town. I definitely did not see firearms in my world.
How much research did you conduct for Highland Healer and what was the most interesting thing you did while conducting your research?
I read a lot, googled a lot, bought some Scottish history books, studied castles (and thought about ones I’ve visited in England), looked at pictures, and played with a few time periods until I settled on the post-Flodden years. The upside of the time period is that there’s not much historical record of life in the highlands. That’s the downside, too. I’m eager to walk the ground – go to Scotland and literally make it part of me – breathe the air, eat the food, see the sights. Maybe this coming spring or summer. I think being there will improve the sensory detail of my books, as well as the sense of place – and time.
Why did you decide to write a historical with a touch of paranormal?
I grew up reading science fiction. In my favorite books, psi talents played a role. I thought it would be fun to explore them in my own writing – and it is! Added to that, psi talents such as healing, precognition, dowsing (i.e., water witching) and so forth have a big place in highland myth and legend, and remained respected there much longer than elsewhere in Britain.
What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantzer
I started life as a pantzer – visualizing a first scene and then running it with it. That and the fact that I was still working my day job meant that Highland Healer took more than a decade to write and sell.
Book 2, Highland Seer, was finished and sent to my editor in less than a year because I decided to try to outline the book before I wrote it. It worked like a charm. That’s not to say that I stuck completely to the outline – I did adjust when the characters led me onto a new path. I got to know the characters as I wrote and they showed me how they wanted to react to the situations I put them into – sometimes not in the way I intended.
I tend to write sequentially, at least in the first draft. As I’m editing, I may decide to add a scene here or there as something occurs to me that needs to be addressed. I think I’m plot driven by training – my long-time critique group is made up of authors I affectionately call “plot-meisters” who have years of experience and hundreds of books published.
Do you use any techniques, tools, or aids to help you write?
Synopsis and outline. Keyboard and computer. Kidding. No, I don’t use Scrivener or anything like that – although I do have a trial copy of it, I haven’t figured it out yet well enough to want to take the time to use it. I need to get one of my writer friends to walk me through it.
How do you make time to write?
I have an advantage in that I retired from my day job, so I can focus on writing. Anyone who knows me knows I am NOT a morning person. So in the morning I do email, social media promo, etc. I’m more productive in the afternoon and evening. But I rarely get to write in the evening since my husband does deserve some of my attention.
When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?
At a macro level, I am. At a micro level, I’d say the characters are. They sometimes surprise me. They show me sides of themselves that I didn’t suspect or expect.
Who has had the most influence on your writing?
My critique group, first and foremost. They’ve taught me plot, conflict, point-of-view, layering in senses and emotions, pretty much any aspect of the craft you care to name. I think my voice was greatly influenced by sci fi writers such as Arthur C. Clarke, but I’m a voracious reader, so there’s really no telling. The RWA chapters that I belong to have also been terrific resources, offering classes, speakers and camaraderie with other writers who are at different points on the same path I’m walking.
Have you had any “ah ha” moments as a writer?
Absolutely. When I finished the first draft of Highland Healer. I finally realized what it felt like to complete a book. It had taken me a long time to do that. And it’s a powerful feeling, much more powerful than you’d expect if you haven’t gotten there yet. I put it right up there with any “rite of passage” you care to name.
What advice do you have for other writers?
I have total sympathy for writers who can’t seem to get to “The End,” but I have to say, Do It. Yes, you’ll have tons of editing in your future. Your first draft won’t be pretty – or publishable. But that’s what editing is for. What’s the famous Nora Roberts quote? Something like this: I can edit crap. I can’t edit a blank page.
Why did you decide to become an author?
I always saw myself as a writer. I used to play my 45 of the Beatles’ Paperback Writer over and over. (Now that I’m in TX, I need to play the flip side, Rain.) I won a national essay contest in the 7th grade – there was only one winner per state, and I was it for Florida. I still have “books” I started in long-hand, in pencil. They’re getting pretty faded, but every once in a while I look them over. Not bad for junior high and high school. College killed my writing, as did climbing the career ladder, especially in those years when my commute was 100 miles a day. One of the best things anyone ever did for me was during that time, when the leader of our critique group gave me permission not to write. That was a relief. It was more than I could handle then, but until she absolved me, I still felt guilt-ridden that I wasn’t producing.
Why did you decide to become a romance author?
I have to say that I stumbled into it. I thought I’d write science fiction. But a mentor at work was the writing partner of the woman who runs the critique group I belong to and she introduced me to it, and to Washington Romance Writers. I’ll be forever grateful that she set me on this path. So I joined RWA and except for several years where my day job left me too worn out to write, I never looked back. Then I discovered Catherine Asaro and Linnea Sinclair. I see some SFR books in my future, too. RWAOL, Celtic Hearts and the local chapter SARA, are all terrific. Romance writers support each other in ways other genres can only dream about.
Would you tell us your story of getting “the call?”
It wasn’t a call – it was an email. But it was breath-taking, nonetheless. I do seem to recall copious amounts of champagne being consumed that evening. I did get “the call” when I finaled in WRW’s Marlene contest. All I can say about that is that now I know what actors feel like when the Academy calls to tell them they’ve been nominated for an Academy Award. I only regret that my husband arrived home after I hung up the phone. He didn’t get to see my face as what the caller was telling me finally penetrated my brain.
What was the most exciting thing that happened to you after you signed your contract – besides receiving your first check as a published author?
It’s a tossup between getting the first cover (fabulous!) and the final galley, complete with ISBN numbers, cover, dedications, and all that stuff. There’s nothing like seeing your words in a format that looks like a book, even if you don’t have an actual paper book in your hand yet.
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
Getting more exercise? Volunteering at an animal shelter? (Don’t tell my husband. I could be a crazy cat lady if it weren’t for him.) Becoming a not-so-famous artist?
How does your husband feel about having a romance writer for a wife?
Judging by the fact that he’s always telling people about my book and the latest news about how it’s selling or what else I’m working on, I’d say he’s okay with it.
What are you doing to promote your book?
Right after I signed the contract, I settled on a pen name and cleared it with my publisher, started a FB author page, set it to tweet, and started getting the brand out into cyberspace. I always comment on blogs as Willa Blair, for instance. I’ve been blogging on my website/blog as well as guest-blogging, joining group marketing pages on Facebook, and so forth. I’m going to participate in a group book signing with my local SARA chapter in February and may do some on my own.
What support are you receiving from your publisher, Wild Rose Press?
They’ve been terrific. Besides fabulous cover art and editing, they send their books out to a lot of reviewers. They’re quick to answer questions about marketing, business, or whatever a first-time author like me needs to know. And they do a retreat at a ranch in Bandera, TX every other year that is tons of fun, and a great opportunity to meet other Wild Rose Press authors and other editors. Or just to have time to write, away from everyday distractions like TV, phones and family.
What books can we expect to see in the near future?
Book 2 in the Highlands Talent series is Highland Seer (working title). It will, I hope, be available in 2013. Book 3: Highland Troth (working title) and others will follow as long as TWRP and my readers want to buy them.
Is there a question you would like to answer but it wasn’t asked?
Yes, my question is: What are you doing to give back to the Romance community for the support you’ve gotten over the years?
I’m happy to say I am giving back as best I can. I mentor other authors, I’ve started an in-person critique group here in TX to supplement the online critique SARAs were doing, and help run the SARA website and write blog posts, mostly on craft, for it. I’m not an official officer in my local chapter, and frankly, I prefer that. This way, I’m free to meddle (kidding) as ideas and opportunities come to me. I’m helping a couple of days a week with WRW’s twitter account, retweeting interesting and useful tweets. I’ve gotten a lot of whole-hearted help along the way. I owe it to the romance community to give back. And to write!
Willa Blair is the award-winning author of Highland Healer, her debut novel, the first in a series set in the 16th century Highlands, when the old ways, and old talents, still shaped events. She always wished she had several psi talents, such as reading her husband’s mind, cleaning house by simply thinking about it, and flying. But alas, no. So she endows her characters with special talents and lives vicariously through them. She loves reading and writing romance novels set in the past, present and future.
Highland Healer, Wild Rose Press, January 4, 2013, Print ISBN 978-1-61217-678-9, Digital ISBN 978-1-61217-679-6
To learn more about Willa Blair and her writing, visit her at her web site http://www.willablair.com
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