Q&A With Renee Ryan

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Q&A With Renee Ryan 

Tonight’s Q&A is with author Renee Ryan. Renee Ryan is the author of over thirty novels. Some of them include “The Widows of Champagne,” and “The Secret Society of Salzburg” which I’m looking forward to reading. 


Q: So what made you want to write historical fiction?

A: I grew up in Florida where I spent my summers on the beach losing myself in a good book, mostly romance. It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. I was immediately enamored with the simpler way of life. The way the characters spoke captured my imagination. These amazing authors introduced me to a world I wanted to inhabit over and over again. A few years later, when I discovered I had a knack for storytelling, and a desire to see my words in print, it was inevitable that I chose historical fiction as my preferred genre.


Q: “The Secret Society of Salzburg,” is loosely based on true events during World War II Austria where an opera singer from Austria and an English typist team up to rescue Jewish people being persecuted in Europe. How did you come across this story? Did you speak to the real people involved? Or did you research this?

A: It didn’t happen in a flash of inspiration. It started several years ago when I stumbled across a newspaper article about sisters Ida and Louise Cook. These daring British women orchestrated the rescue of 29 Jews from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. What originally drew me to their story was my indirect connection to the younger sister, Ida. Between 1936 and 1985, she wrote 112 romance novels as Mary Burchell for Mills and Boon, most of which were later reissued by her publisher Harlequin. Unfortunately, neither woman is alive today. I had to research their story in the library. As I dug deeper into their lives, I started asking by myself, what if (an author’s favorite question), and so began my reimagining of their brave feats in what ultimately became The Secret Society of Salzburg.

Q: At what point in your life did you realize that writing was your calling?

A: I had my first glimmer in the sixth grade when I wrote my first serial about my dog and her new best friend. Gussie was a sweet hearted boxer who loved everybody. Well, everybody but cats. She hated cats with a passion. I could never understand her distaste, or reconcile it with my own love for the feline persuasion. I decided to give Gussie a change of heart, via a new best friend—a feisty kitten named Squinky. I sent the two on wild adventures. And yet, I didn’t know writing was my calling until I became a high school teacher. My subjects were Economics and American Government. Not exactly riveting and teenagers are a tough crowd. I learned to engage their interest through storytelling instead of lectures. That’s when I found my calling. 


Q: What do you like most about writing historical fiction? What do you like least about writing historical fiction?

A: I love losing myself in historical research. I never fail to discover little known facts that beg for me to explore deeper. I have yet to regret falling down obscure rabbit holes. Some of my best stories started that way. In fact, all of my stories begin either in the library or on the internet. This phase can take months. When I actually start plotting my book, I have at least three thick binders filled with all the data I’ve uncovered. And that’s when my job becomes, well, a job, and I have to wade through pages upon pages of my glorious research to decide what I can keep and what has to be discarded. 


Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to write historical fiction? What is your advice to anyone dealing with writer’s block?

A: Do your research! I mean it. Take the time to know everything you can possibly know about your novel’s settings, cultural mores, historical context, language quirks, etc. Then, use a light hand. Sprinkle those wonderful tidbits sparingly and with ruthless intention. You aren’t writing a history paper or lecturing the reader. Seventy-five percent of what you uncover won’t end up in your novel and that’s really, really okay.

As far as writer’s block, my advice is to take a break. Walk away from the computer. Take a shower, go for a hike, watch a movie, play with your cat. Then, instead of picking up where you left off, go back to the beginning of your novel. Take a breath and analyze your plot. More than likely, you took a wrong turn early on and that’s what’s holding you back. It could be something is missing in your main character’s backstory, or her story goal. Or perhaps the reason she wants what she wants isn’t sufficiently layered. Bottom line, at least in experience, writer’s block is almost always due to a misstep in the original planning of the novel. 

*As an aside, writer’s block is not the same as burnout. Burnout requires a longer break and lots of activities to refill your creativity well.


Q: What advice do you give to new and aspiring authors putting up with negative feedback whether it’s from bad reviews, unsupportive family members and friends and online trolls? 

A: I wish I could say I have the key ingredient to navigate the harsher side of this business. I don’t. Storytelling is subjective. What one reader loves about your book, another will absolutely hate. I could say ignore the negative feedback. I could say don’t read reviews. Don’t go on social media, and definitely don’t get into it with an unsupportive family member. But that’s nearly impossible for most of us. So, instead, reframe your approach. Celebrate the wins, even the small ones. Did you just nail that scene that took three times as long as the one before it? That’s a win. Celebrate. Did you get a review that filled you with happiness? Print it out and read it whenever you feel down. Did a reader contact you personally with the news that your book changed her life? Remember her words when your efforts are dismissed. 


Q: If you were to collaborate with another author, who would it be with and why?

A: I could name ten off the top of my head. However, I would never—not ever—shackle a fellow writer with my twisted, chaotic route to The End. While I’m very organized at the beginning (I’m a plotter, mostly), I never follow a consistent path. Some days I write 18 hours, others I can barely concentrate for 15 minutes. Some books I write in chronological order, aka in the order the reader will read the book. Some books I write out of order. After thirty novels, I’ve come to accept that my process is my process and it’s never the same from one book to the next. Collaborating with another author would be a disaster for us both. 


Q: If you were to write in another genre other than historical fiction which genre would you write in?

A: I would love to explore a dark, contemporary mystery/thriller that involves intrigue, secrets, unexpected twists, and a surprise ending. Ruth Ware is my hero. 


Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your novels?

A: Not yet, but I’m open to making a connection that would result in a deal.  


Q: Are you writing your new novel now? If so can you reveal any details?

A: I’m in the revisions phase of my December 2023 release, The Paris Housekeeper. The story opens on the morning the German army marched on Paris in June, 1940. The story is told from the perspective of three women. One is a chambermaid at the Hôtel Ritz who sends money home to her struggling family in northern France. The other is a young Jewish woman trying to stay alive. The third is a wealthy American widow with her own secret agenda. The three learn to rely on each other in the face of personal tragedy and difficult loss, until one of them makes a dangerous alliance that puts all their lives in jeopardy.