Thursday, December 11, 2014

An interview with writer, Rosanne Higgins

Hi, Rosanne, thanks for being willing to be interviewed about your first book, Inmates and Orphans, which I’ve recently read ˗ and enjoyed.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
First of all, thanks for doing this, Mike!  I am glad you enjoyed the book. I am an anthropologist and small business owner living in Western New York. My husband and I own two doggy daycares. My business keeps me busy for about 60 hours per week so I do my writing and research in the evenings and on the weekends.

60 hours a week, and then you do your writing! So when did your passion for writing begin?
Very recently.  Until now, all of my writing has been for scholarly publications.  I have been a reader all of my life but I never thought I could write fiction.  It was a struggle at first, but after a while the characters just told their own story. Now I’m hooked!!

How many books have you written to date?
So far I have written Orphans and Inmates and A Whisper of Bones. These books tell the story of the Sloane sisters and their experiences at the Erie County Poorhouse and the Buffalo (New York) Orphan Asylum during the early nineteenth century.
Tell us about your first book. What was the idea that sparked it off?
For the past 15 years my scholarly research has focused on the asylum movement in the United States during the nineteenth century and the health consequences of poverty. While going through the inmate records for the Erie County Poorhouse, I came to know the people who sought refuge there.  I felt compelled to share their story, and I decided the best way to do that was to write a novel. 
Do you find your characters come alive as you write, or are they already real people in your mind before you start?
A bit of both, I think. I have a sense of the character before I begin to write, but often one or more of them will do or say something that takes me by surprise.

Yes, I know that feeling: in the first draft of my next book the characters kept arguing (as it were) as to who was going to be the real villain! Did your story change at all while you were writing it, or was it pretty much as you planned?
Orphans and Inmates came out much as I had planned, but that was not the case for Whisper. Some characters I hadn’t thought about showed up and a few threads in the story did not end as I had expected they would.

Was writing the book  a harder journey than you thought it would be?
Yes and no. Telling the actual story was easier than I expected, I suspect because I have been thinking about these people for so long. The problem for me is that I am terribly disorganized, and it took me a long time to develop an efficient system of notes that I could refer back to when I needed to recall certain aspects of a particular character, place or event.

Some people say that being a writer is the loneliest job in the world. Would you agree?
No, actually, I would not agree. I have become a “regular” in the research library at the Buffalo History Museum and I enjoy visiting with the staff and the other people who use the library. I have also met many kind and extremely talented people (like you!) along the way. I think now that we have so many social media options like-minded creative people can find each other very easily. When I am actually writing, I am never alone. My office is usually shared with two German shepherds and a standard poodle. Often I am stepping over furry bodies when I get up from my desk!!

I know that feeling. I've been babysitting two large dogs recently (we have a small dog of our own) and trying to find room to walk is sometimes an issue. 
What kind of writer are you, that is, do you write to a schedule or do it when the zone takes you?
I am very efficient and usually productive when I set myself to any task (I drive my husband and my son nuts!). I think because I juggled an academic career with a family for so many years I learned to use my time wisely. Those skills have served me well now that I juggle my business, family, research and writing. With a house full of dogs and kids, I learned to work well under pressure and in complete chaos. When I set aside time to work I always get something accomplished. If the characters are not talking to me, I try to outline the chapter I am working on or go back to organizing my notes (a never ending battle for me!).

Sounds like good advice for most writers. So apart from struggling to organize your notes, what's the most frustrating part of being a writer for you?
Marketing! I am still shocked that I wrote a few books that people outside of my family actually want to read! The hard part is taking this tiny amount of success and growing it larger. Like so many other writers I am short on both time and money. The trick is finding that cost effective way to generate interest in your work. I am trying to build a network of talented and innovative writers in the hopes that together we can figure it out!

Yes, a lot of self-publishing writers, I think, hear the stories of those who made it big in what seemed a matter of weeks. They don't hear about all the thousands who have sold just a few copies and wonder what they're doing wrong. So what has been the greatest lesson you have learned since becoming a writer?
I think the greatest lesson learned is that the self-publishing process is not that difficult. Any writer can produce a high quality book at a reasonable cost and distribute it through platforms like Amazon or Smashwords. Getting people to buy it is the trick!

How involved are you in deciding on the cover?
I am very lucky to have an incredibly talented husband and business partner. I describe to him my ideas for the cover and he puts together a sketch for the designer. We work with a company called Ebook Launch, and they have done a fantastic job translating the concept sketches for both books into great covers.

You sent me an example of how the cover of Whisper of Bones evolved from your husband's sketch to the finished product. I thought it would be interesting to let readers see this [sketch and final cover at left] 

What are you currently working on?
I am working on the third book in the Orphans and Inmates series. I am also working on a non-fiction piece on the cholera epidemics in Buffalo, New York, during the early nineteenth century.  I don’t think that will be a book, but there is a story there that definitely needs to be told.  I may just write a series of blogs.
How important is networking for you?
Networking is very important for all writers. I have learned so much from all of the people I have met along the way. Speaking as someone who grew up before computers were in every household (before computers at all!), I find it a small miracle to have connected with people like you, who live all around the world! I used to correspond with my cousins in Scotland as a child and it took weeks to receive a reply to my letters. You and I can communicate daily! In many ways that makes networking much easier, but the building of relationships still take time. A solid network of creative, innovative and motivated people is critical, I think.

Yes, I'd thoroughly agree, and it's not something that you can just jump in and do. You have to have online conversations with people, learn to trust what they're saying, and discover what you can offer each other. It also concerns me that some young writers ("I've written ten books" I saw one posting today) haven't really done more than produce a first draft. They don't realise that books take a lot of work. 

What, then, do you think is the biggest obstacle for writers getting their books out there today?
I think all too often people jump in the pond, so to speak, and become totally overwhelmed. There are so many other writers out there trying to do the same thing. I think the biggest obstacle is trying to build a network of like-minded people who can all help each other toward a common goal.

What advice would you give to any budding writer out there?
Go with your gut. If it make sense to you, do it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and say what you really think. Start with the people who know you and build your audience and your network out from there. Above all else, keep writing.

What platforms do you use to promote your work?
As far as social media, I use Facebook and Google+.  I also have a blog and a website. I am very fortunate that my scholarly research is similar to my novels and I do local speaking engagements to promote both.

Many thanks for being willing to be interviewed. Finally, where can people find your book?
Here are three places to start:

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