Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance. This week, I am excited to introduce to you Cindy Vallar. As a person of Scottish heritage (the clan McCay), I LOVE almost anything Scottish. Cindy’s debut novel is a historical novel set in Scotland. She also writes about maritime piracy. I have a brother who is an expert on maritime history and who was married in the Maritime Museum chapel in New York City. It’s always fun to find someone with so many common bonds. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Cindy Vallar is the author of The Scottish Thistle, her debut historical novel about the Camerons and MacGregors during Scotland’s Rising of 1745, and Odin’s Stone, a romantic short story of how the Lord of the Isles settled the medieval feud between the MacKinnons and MacLeans on the Isle of Skye. In 2005 she received the first Friend of Clan Cameron Award from the Clan Cameron Association North America.
A retired librarian, Cindy is also the editor of Pirates and Privateers (www.cindyvallar.com/pirates.
html), a monthly column on the history of maritime piracy. She is a freelance editor and a workshop presenter, as well as a reviewer and columnist for the Historical Novel Society’s Historical Novels Review. She belongs to the Historical Novel Society, Clan Cameron Association of North American, Scottish Clans of North Texas, National Maritime Historical Society, Laffite Society, EPIC, and the Louisiana Historical Society.
She invites you to visit her award-winning website, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com/), which includes an excerpt of The Scottish Thistle, as well as pictures of the places in this novel.
Tell us about your current release.
Set during the Rising of 1745, the last civil war fought in Britain, The Scottish Thistle is a historical novel intertwined with a love story.
Loyalty and honor. A Highland warrior prizes both more than life, and when he swears his oath on the dirk, he must obey or die. Duncan Cameron heeds his chief’s order without question, but discovers his wife-to-be is no fair maiden. Although women are no longer trained in the art of fighting, Rory MacGregor follows in the footsteps of her Celtic ancestors. Secrets from the past and superstitious folk endanger Rory and Duncan as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his uprising to win back the British throne for his father. Rory and Duncan must make difficult choices that pit honor and duty against trust and love.
What inspired you to start writing, or did you always want to write?
When I was a toddler, my dad wrote a story about me, sitting in my playpen, perusing page after page of magazines. My mom kept what she called a scribbler notebook in which she collected inspirational passages from books and magazines that she read. They taught me the joy of reading, but Walt Disney inspired me to write a novel. Before that, I often wrote poems anytime I was bored in school, instead of doodling like most of my classmates. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine inspired me to try my hand at writing a crime short story, but like most of what I read, it was set in the past. When Disney described a gentleman pirate with a mysterious past, I decided to write a story based on Jean Laffite. I even took over the dining room to spread out my research. Marriage and career intervened until I began working for a school for seriously emotionally challenged teenagers. Stress is a given in that environment, so I turned to writing historical fiction to relieve that stress. While sitting in a boring staff meeting one day, I penned the opening scene of The Scottish Thistle. Now, I’m working to finish that Jean Laffite novel.
Not really. My stories are centered on an historical event, so that provides me with a timeline of what happens historically. I have my hero and heroine partially drawn and I know how they meet and how they end up, but they and the plotline develop as I write.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write every day. The more you write, the better your writing becomes.
Don’t give up. No matter what others say or the number of rejections you may get, if you want to write, write. Take workshops that help hone your writing style and improve your technique.
Join a critique group. Your partner(s) will give you invaluable feedback that will improve your story and perhaps suggest parameters you never considered. They also keep you from being lazy with your writing.
What is your preferred method of writing? (computer, pen & paper, etc.)
It’s easier for me to create the tale when I see it on the screen now, so I prefer to use a computer. But that’s not how I initially started. When I first started writing, I always used pen and paper. Now, I tend to only use those implements when doing research, because it’s still easier for me to find the information I need if it’s beside me while I type than if I have to shift from one document to another on the screen.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had a great writing idea?
I wouldn’t necessarily call these strange places, but my next story idea, for a novel set during the 1930s, came from unusual sources: a dumb law in a mystery magazine, a documentary, and a country music concert. Mary Higgins Clark used to publish a mystery magazine, which included dumb laws still on the books. The particular law that intrigued me concerned kissing in public. If you did so ten times, you were considered engaged and had to marry.
My husband’s company transferred him to Kansas, and while I was unpacking, I watched a PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl. It was April, a windy month in Kansas, and we lived in a new subdivision with a lot of construction. Even with the windows closed, dust collected on the sills, just as it did during the Dust Bowl. I realized this would make the perfect historical backdrop for the story. The title came from a Diamond Rio concert and one of the songs they sang, “Two Hearts Against the Wind.”
Who were some of your favorite authors as a child? (Book series, maybe?)
As a child, my favorite books were Marie McSwigan’s Snow Treasure, a story about a rust-colored Cocker Spaniel – which is why my first dog had to be this particular dog that I called Rusty because of his coloring – and several series: Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Nancy Drew. I also read a lot of Little Maida books growing up. We had a cabin in the woods, and each night my sisters and I took turns reading chapters from the books using a flashlight, before we went to bed.
Which of your characters most reflects your personality?
There are elements of me in all my heroines. I’ve always been a tomboy and something of a rebel, which is what my heroines tend to be.
What do you do when you hit a roadblock and have NO idea what to write?
I usually work on one of my pirate articles for Pirates and Privateers. Setting aside the novel for awhile usually disperses the block. If it doesn’t, it may mean I need to do some additional research. Sometimes, discussing the problem with my critique partners also helps. They’ve suggested avenues I hadn’t considered before.
I assume when you start a book, you pretty much have the plot laid out. Do you ever change your mind later on in the book, and go in a different direction?
All the time. For example, in doing one of the revisions of The Scottish Thistle, I introduced a new minor character named Fergus. Before long, he was telling me how he would work in several different scenes. Instead of being just one of Duncan’s comrades who guarded Sir Donald, Fergus decided he should meet one of the MacGregor lasses. He also chose to become one of Thistle’s men. When my characters assist in writing the scenes, the story is usually far better than I expect.
The Scottish Thistle
Highland warrior weds woman of outlawed clan. Past secrets, witchery, and civil war endanger their lives. Pits honor and duty against trust and love.
Read an Excerpt: http://www.cindyvallar.com/