Until the beginning of July I’ll be chatting, as I have been over the last few months, with authors who, like me, write Family Sagas, (#familysaga) a genre that can cover many countries, years and cultures.I am thrilled that so many excellent writers have agreed to meet here with me. I’m sure you’ll find them as fascinating as I do. All I can say is watch this space. Your TBR list of books will be toppling over!!
Hi,Adrienne, thanks for joining us here today.
Many thanks for inviting me, Judith.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
My father was an Irish/German police officer who could entertain crowds for hours with his policing tales. He saw the humor, pathos and hope in every dysfunctional situation he encountered. My mother was the quiet storyteller. She told us about ourselves by retelling (as if things happened only yesterday) all the human events involving our gene pool going back centuries. My mother also loved to read to us. Pride and Prejudice was her favorite.
How long have you been writing?
My 1st grade teacher illustrated a story I wrote about a kitten who loved to take showers before taking tea. I envied writers throughout life but avoided doing it seriously until after a blood clot almost took my life.
What kind of writing do you do?
I’ve wrestled with what to call my writing. Family saga? Historical fiction? Big house story? I’m obsessed with family dynamics, history and flawed people. Once a reader said he was uncomfortable with how often my characters made the wrong decisions. Welcome to my world!
Peeling back the layers of my characters’ inner worlds is the most exciting part of writing. Beneath the respectable facades we all present there are mixed emotions and secrets we keep hidden. I find people almost always more lovable for their flaws. If you’re looking for perfect heroes and villains you won’t find them in my books. People are far more interesting than that.
What are some of the references you used while researching your first books?
My first novel, The House on Tenafly Road, was inspired by a partial copy of a 19th century missionary woman’s diary. Her husband was in the US military after the Civil War presumably fighting Indians or protecting the newly freed slaves of the South. My plan was to write a short story about the woman’s misguided attempts to “civilize” the Indians, but one day while doing laundry it came to me that her husband, John Weldon, had a secret morphine addiction due to treatment given to him during the war.
This led me to the Army War College where sober and kind old gentleman soldiers served up treat after treat of army memorabilia and precious relics. If I wasn’t writing I was reading (a great many 19th century army wives’ journals and books—back then they traveled in the field with their men). I joined a Civil War re-enacting group and donned corset and hoops to get a taste of the era (playing a nurse and writer (I was jokingly asked to play a prostitute once or twice but demurred). Many researchers at small institutions lent their help for little tidbits to include in the novel which grew and grew.
While my family went to amusement parks, I scribbled away taking notes in libraries anxiously glancing at the clock and not wanting the days to end.
What do you think most characterizes your writing?
My love of humanity shines through most, but it is a gritty love. My characters go through the wringer. Each has a burden to carry and scars to prove all they’ve been through. I couldn’t have written my books before going through plenty of trials of my own. My parents instilled in me a sense of compassion but were both crazy enough to give me plenty of dysfunctional material to work with.
What did you enjoy most about writing these books?
My favorite part of writing is when the characters take over and become real. Although I know where I want them to be in the end, I’m often not sure how they’ll get there. When reading a section later I’m sometimes surprised and delighted by a witty or awful thing said by a character. It no longer feels like I wrote any of it at all.
What inspires you?
Anything 19th century inspires me. A Civil War historian gave me an old nib pen and blue/black ink with a copy of the alphabet as it was written in the 1860’s. I wrote my first two novels using that pen and ink. As soon as I picked up the pen (even if it was in the loud classroom where I worked) I was immediately brought back into my story.
I also love old houses, Aaron Copland music and walks in the woods. I’m a people watcher and love hearing (and stealing) stories from friends and family. They don’t mind.
What did you find most useful in learning to write?
My four years of Catholic school education were a huge gift. The nuns and brothers were sticklers about good grammar. They didn’t expect us to magically understand gerunds. I loved grammar.
Writing every day was and is the best teacher.
Are you a full time writer?
I’ve cut out almost every activity in my life that isn’t a necessity so I can write. I do have a family, grow a lot of our food and take care of our dairy goats so my life is very full. Visitors love coming to the peaceful farm but leave feeling exhausted for me. I sometimes think of cutting back this or that thing but I love everything. That’s a good place to be in life.
What are some day jobs you have held? Have any impacted your writing?
I worked on a number of organic farms where people elevated the organic life to almost religious status. Only certain viewpoints were acceptable if you wanted to be embraced by the other workers. This inspired my character Buck Crenshaw’s trip to a 19th century utopian society where he gets taken in by a charismatic leader who convinces him that God has special plans for him.
As a teacher I helped my students to become more confident writers as I tried to become one myself. Their enthusiasm and courage inspired me. I also discovered the abandoned house that was the inspiration for The House on Tenafly Road across the street from the school I taught at.
How do you feel about eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
Now that I have a Kindle I enjoy eBooks, but I still prefer to read on paper. As a writer I LOVE eBooks! It’s so fun to be able to play with covers and make changes to your work. It’s great to have control over pricing and marketing. Indie publishing is a great way to go if you love adventure and learning new skills.
Who doesn’t dream of a big book deal? But once I realized how little control you have in conventional publishing and how few books ever make an author a lot of money I was convinced that alternative publishing was for me.
What do you think is the future of reading and writing?
Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time. Some people predict books and reading will fall away as people consume visual media, but there will always be readers. If we’re honest, a lot of people weren’t reading even before the digital revolution. There is a trend toward embracing retro things. Books may be part of that trend.
I remember getting an encouraging rejection letter once. The agent loved my book. She told me she put her heart into convincing her co-workers that it should be published but said that they could not get behind a big book that didn’t fit perfectly into a genre. They were afraid of my new author status as well.
Discoverability as an indie author is a challenge, but I was struck recently when prowling the local bookstore by how many books on the shelves probably wouldn’t be purchased or read. As writers we have to figure out how to remain sane despite not being JK Rowling.
I do this by reminding myself that I’m living the dream no matter the number of sales. I also greatly appreciate each review and each friend I make as I live the writer’s life.
What projects are you working on at present?
I’ve just finished editing the next book in The Tenafly Road Series. My cover designer and I met for a photo shoot. Our model was a little hung-over, I suspect, but it was a fun time dressing her in a ball gown I used when doing living history years ago.
Before starting the edit on the final book in the series I’m finishing up designing my author website (my husband gave me the challenge). This has been a scary thing for me. Plugins, security, etc. Not my strong suit but I’m really proud of the new site: adriennemorris.com.
What made you want to become a writer?
It was a calling. For all of my life it was there. I tried to escape it—such is the nature of fear of failure—but it kept coming back, this urge to write. Now I wonder what took so long!
What does your typical day look like?
Milk the goats, feed the sheep and chickens. Drive kid to school. Write. Pick the kid up from school. Milk the goats, feed the sheep and chickens. Make supper. Send kid to bed. Social media stuff or read. Bed.
This changes with the seasons. Some months are spent writing in the field as the animals graze. August is about tomatoes and cucumbers. Visitors usually swamp the farm then too so little writing gets done. Autumn is a good time for research and planting crops that come up in spring—like new books!
What is your writing style?
I’m not sure but my influences are Wallace Stegner, George Eliot and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The toughest criticism is the stuff you know is true. J When I published my first novel I did it as a dare. When it was reviewed and picked as an Editors’ Choice book for the Historical Novel Society I was thrilled, but I still knew that there were some grammatical and typo errors (I’d paid someone to edit the book but he confessed that he got too into the story to correct much and assured me that a publisher would take care of that—he assured me I’d get an agent easily–lol).
When a review came in saying that the book was “captivating, heartbreaking and inspiring but horribly edited,” I knew I had some more work to do. I revised the manuscript and felt much better about the whole thing.
What has been the best compliment?
I love when people tell me my characters feel like family to them.
What book that you have read has most influenced your life?
When writing about flawed humanity there’s no better book to read than the Bible. I thought the book was mainly about judgement until I read it. Now I see that it is about imperfect people being used in a great redemption story. I love happy endings. My characters are reflections of different parts of myself; the good, the bad, the ugly. I love writing redemption stories. We are all so messy, but I like believing that through love we can help to redeem each other.
Links to find Adrienne: