As I posted last time, I've been reading, Spires of Stone. Annette Lyon graciously agreed to an interview. Thank you, Annette. If you haven't read Spires of Stone, yet, you're in for a great read.
What made you decide to write for the LDS market?
To a large extent, it was reading some of the books in the market and realizing that there were stories I could tell for my own people. I knew some LDS authors that had become successful—in particular, I got to know Rachel Nunes before her first book ever came out, and I watched her career blossom. Seeing their success from the sidelines turned my mind to the kinds of stories I’d like to tell in an LDS framework. It has been rewarding on so many levels; I’m so glad I decided to write for this market.
Have you written for other markets?
I have. I’ve got a couple of young adult fantasy stories on the shelf that have yet to be published since I’m focused elsewhere right now. But I’ve published quite a few articles in various magazines and newspapers, and I have a children’s book I co-authored that should be published soon. I also write a weekly e-letter for the Utah Chocolate Show. Non-fiction is a very different animal than fiction, but I enjoy using a different part of my writer brain. It’s good exercise.
What was it like to submit your first novel?
An exciting waiting game. I had tried to learn the market and the procedures for how to submit things. Then came the rejections—often after getting encouragement to send in complete manuscripts or getting rejections that were glowing but still rejections. I got lots of them.
How did it feel when you first saw it in print?
Surreal. I couldn’t quite grasp what it meant. This was something I had tried to reach for so long, and when it arrived, I was so wrapped up in the anxiety of the experience that I don’t think I really took a deep breath and enjoyed the ride as much as I could have. I still remember the first time I held my book, though, and what it was like to see it on a real store shelf. But I’m having a lot more fun now that I have five books published than I ever did with that first one. I’ve finally been able to sit back and appreciate the experience.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Heavens, yes. Lots of times. Every so often I still get a day or two when I question my sanity and my ability, but it’s no longer the debilitating, crushing sense of hopelessness I used to feel when I’d get a particularly hard rejection or face a brick wall of writer’s block.
What inspired you to write about the temples?
The first time was simply a love of the Logan temple. My father grew up in Cache Valley , so I’d go up there to visit relatives as a kid, so I grew to love the area. After reading a book about the temple, I knew right away I had to tell a story about it. I had no idea at the time that the resulting book would launch an entire project of studying other temples, but after learning about the Logan temple—and feeling like I had really come “home” with the historical genre—it made sense to keep going with researching more temples.
Are the characters in your temple books purely fictional or are they based on real people you found during your research?
The main characters are all fictional, but they often run into people who really existed. Anyone who is real is identified in the historical notes section of the back of each book. I prefer not to base entire books on real people, because I try hard to reflect what they were really like and what they really said, and that would be tough to keep up for an entire novel. That, and I’d miss making up my own stories.
How do you conduct your research? Internet? Library? Interviews? Family histories?
A bit of all the above. The internet is certainly a life saver. I’ve been able to search on-line library catalogs to find information, and sometimes I go bury myself in an actual library. I’ve found great help from web masters on various topics. People are really willing to help if you just ask. My greatest sources have been graduate theses written specifically about various temples. The bottom line for me is I don’t have the time or the resources to do primary research most of the time. That’s why I rely on the real historians’ work—I find what they’ve already spent years looking up and then use that.
How do you keep all of your research straight and organized?
I’ve got binders lined up on my bookshelf. Most of them are by book location. For example, I have ones that read, “ Logan ,” “St. George,” “ Salt Lake ” and “Manti.” Sections are divided by topics. I also have a binder that holds miscellaneous historical tidbits that aren’t book specific. That one has stuff about the history of denim, horse colic, and more. Then there’s the shelves I have lined with writing books, many of which have historical facts in them that I rely on for period details.
Has researching the temples changed your own life in some way?
I have no pioneer blood in me, but learning about the temples and the stories behind them has made me feel a part of that heritage in a way I never felt before. I have a greater appreciation for what the early settlers did, of their commitment and their drive to make this experiment work because of their beliefs.
And then there are life lessons I’ve learned from the stories. One example is with the SLC temple and when the quarry was closed for several years. It looked like a major delay, that construction would take even longer, but in the end, that railroad sped things up tremendously. That’s a reminder to me that what may look like a dead end from my perspective might actually be a shortcut if I just had the Lord’s view. There are tons of life lessons like that to be learned from the temples.
Have you always been interested in historical fiction?
I have—at least, fiction from that era, whether it was written then or set in that period—ever since eighth grade when I discovered L. M. Montgomery. Since then, my favorite authors list has expanded to include a lot of writers from the 1800s
What is your writing routine?
That depends on the time of year it is, whether I’m in research, writing, revision, or editorial mode. It has also varied over the years according to the ages of my children. I had to be more creative to find writing time when they were all little. Now my youngest is in preschool three days a week, so that time is reserved for writing. I also do a lot of writing on my AlphaSmart Neo on the fly when I’m running around.
When I’m in full-fledged drafting mode, I try to get in about 1,000 words a day. But when editing deadlines and such hit, I just have to get whatever done whenever I can, although I try “put it to bed” by the time school is out and the resulting chaos descends on the house.
What authors have most influenced you?
L. M. Montgomery, definitely, has had the most influence. I’ll reread some of her work and only then realize that something there impacted one of my books that was published a year ago. Other writers that span the 1800s also slip in: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and so on. I just love that period, so it feels natural to write for it.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Learn as much as you can about the craft, write regularly, and get honest feedback. The best thing I ever did for my work was join a good critique group. My next advice would be to develop a thick skin, start submitting, and don’t give up. And then brace yourself—rejections will come, and even when you get that acceptance, it’s just the first step on a long road.
If you had to choose between writing and chocolate which would you choose?
For a dyed-in-the-wool chocoholic, you’d think that would be a tough one. But I’d have to pick writing. The satisfaction of writing lasts a lot longer—and is much sweeter—than any truffle.
Other than the scriptures, if you were stranded on an island, which book would you choose to have that you could reread over and over again?
The collected works of C. S. Lewis. Actually, I don’t know if there’s a collection like that, but I’m going to assume there is. I could read C. S. Lewis a hundred times and still find new things in the pages. The Great Divorce and The Screwtape letters are like that. And with his Miracles, I could only read about ten pages a day before my brain was ready to collapse from overload. I had to put the book down and think through what I had read before I could go back and absorb more. He’s amazing.
Are you planning to write a novel based on each temple?
Not every temple. For starters, I couldn’t keep up with the rate they’re being built, and for another, I want to stick with the historical thing for now, and only certain temples fall into that category. I will likely write something about early temples outside of Utah ( Mesa , Alberta , Hawaii ) and perhaps back up and do Nauvoo and Kirtland. I may even revisit temples I’ve already written about, jumping ahead ten, twenty, or more years to tell stories that never made it into the first one.
As you know, I’m finishing up the one on Manti right now. After that I’ll do Vernal, because the tabernacle it came from was built in the early Utah years, even though it wasn’t a temple yet.
I may eventually do other historical novels not necessarily centered on a temple. For a long time I’ve wanted to write something about the Scofield Mine disaster in 1900. But that’s way down the road.
2007 Best of State Fiction Medalist