Q&A With Megan Chance
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Q&A With Megan Chance
My latest Q&A is with author Megan Chance. Megan has written many historical fiction novels. Some of her novels, “A Splendid Ruin,” “A Drop of Ink,” “Bone River,” and coming next month on February 7th is Megan’s latest novel “A Dangerous Education”.
Q: What interests you about writing historical fiction?
A: I grew up reading it and loving it, for one thing. It was my favorite reading pleasure even when I was a child. It was full of discovery; I liked knowing how people lived in other times, what they wore, the things they ate, the way they traveled. As I moved into other genres, particularly fantasy, it occurred to me that perhaps what I really loved was the world building that existed in both genres. It was the unfamiliar that fascinated me, especially because the unfamiliar world was peopled with characters who still thought as I did, who felt the way I did, who experienced an unfamiliar world just as I did. I loved knowing that people in the past were not much different than people in the present, except that the obstacles keeping them from what they want are different. For women, this is particularly true, and when I began to understand that history did not really include women’s stories, and that women’s history was truly much different than the history I learned in school, it became clear to me that, as a writer, my interests were in historical fiction. I wanted not only to learn women’s stories, but I wanted to illuminate them. I never cease to be amazed at the things I learn.
Q: When in your life did you realize writing was your calling?
A: I was about six. I was a voracious reader even then, and I used to assign myself research projects. One week would be “prairie week” and the next would be “ocean week,” for example, and I would check out books from the library about those things and read them all. I was not only voracious, I was also obsessive. I buried myself in stories until I almost couldn’t breathe with the yearning to live in them. I remember announcing to everyone that I was going to be writer when I was six, but I honestly had no real conception of what that meant, or how I was going to achieve it. I had no roadmaps to follow; it was just what I knew I was meant to be.
Q: What advice do you give to anyone wanting to write historical fiction? What’s your advice to anyone struggling with writers block?
A: My advice to anyone who wants to be a writer, no matter what genre, is read. Read widely, and read widely in your genre. There’s no real way around that. You have to read to know what’s out there and to know if what you’re envisioning fits there or fits somewhere else. You need to know the constraints of whatever genre you’re writing and if you want to do something differently, how flexible that genre is in accepting it.
As far as historical fiction in particular goes (though this is also true of almost any genre), you can’t get around research. In historical particularly, it’s intensive. You have to do it, you have to do it well, and if you’re not interested in research, then I might gently suggest that historical fiction is not for you.
In terms of writer’s block … There are always going to be times when you don’t feel like writing, or when life gets in the way. That is not writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you cannot think of the next thing to write, when the words won’t come, when staring at a blank page is all you can do for days at a time. In my experience, writer’s block happens when you’ve written yourself into a corner, and that generally happens when you’ve written a scene that’s contrary to a character’s goals, when you’ve removed conflict, when you’ve solved something you haven’t meant to solve. In almost every case, it’s about conflict, and it’s almost always because you don’t have any. When it happens to me, I go back over the manuscript to find out when the story starts to lag, and that’s generally when I find that in some way I’ve removed conflict. It helps sometimes to diagram a book chapter by chapter, to ask yourself in every scene what the Goal/Conflict/Disaster is, and how it leads to the next scene in the action. Elements of Writing Fiction by Jack Bickham is a helpful tool in learning how to do this. When I fix it, I can go on again.
Q: Which era did you have the most fun writing about and why?
A: I loved writing the 19th century, which is why I wrote about it for so long. I related to that era in so many ways and found in it endless ideas. My favorite part was probably the 1870s/80s, because the world was changing so much culturally, economically, scientifically, and artistically. There is just so much there, particularly in terms of women’s stories. I did start to feel hemmed it by it. Given that the way we perceive that time means that publishers and readers have certain expectations about plots and characterization, veering from those expectations can be unacceptable. I’m having a good time writing about the 1950s right now for some of the same reasons, but it is a very limited period.
Q: If you were to write in a different genre entirely which genre would it be and why?
A: Probably fantasy of some sort. It’s always been my other most-loved genre, and, as I mentioned earlier, it too relies on world-building, which is what I love to do. I think also because it too has a strong emotional, character-focused core and big drama, both of which I’m drawn to.
Q: If you were to collaborate with another author who would it be with and why?
A: I really can’t think of a bigger nightmare than having to collaborate with anyone. I am very much writer who likes my own space. But I do work well with editors, and I brainstorm very well with other people, so I’m creatively open to working with others; it’s just that when it comes to the actual words and structure of a book, I like it my way.
Having said that, however, I’ve worked with Kristin Hannah as a brainstorming, editing and general writing partner for over thirty years, and we’ve often talked about collaborating on a project. It never quite works out for one reason or another, but we have compatible brains and we understand one another. Also, my daughter is a writer, and we think very much alike. I think I could probably collaborate with her as well.
Q: Are you writing a new novel now? If so can you reveal any details?
A: Yes! I can’t reveal much at this point, because I’ve just started it, and things will change, but it’s set in Hollywood and Rome in the 1950s, and it deals with issues of friendship, betrayal, identity and the insidious propaganda arm of the CIA, and I’m having a good time with it.
Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your novels?
A: Not at this moment. An Inconvenient Wife was optioned once upon a time, but that’s run out now. Currently all’s quiet on the Hollywood front.