Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Interview with historical romance author Gretchen Craig

Today I'd like to welcome historical romance author Gretchen Craig.

Gretchen writes lush, sweeping historical novels. Always and Forever, set in Old Louisiana among the Creoles and the Cajuns, was awarded the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence and an Editor’s Choice designation from the Historical Novels Society. Ever My Love, which continues the saga of the first book’s families, was awarded the Booksellers Best Award from the GDRWA. Gretchen’s latest historical, Crimson Sky, is a story of love and betrayal set in the old, old West. She lives in Texas with her husband and two dogs.

Please tell us about your newest release, Crimson Sky.
Crimson Sky, a historical with romance elements, is a story about a love triangle. Nothing kinky, just lots of tender hearts. In the pueblos of the Santa Fe area, the people face drought and marauders, and then things get worse. The conquistadors march up the Rio Grande Valley, bringing metal tools, new seeds, new animals – new diseases and weapons.

Zia is a young mother of the pueblos, very much in love with her husband, TapanAshka. When he doesn’t return from the hunt with his fellows, he’s assumed dead. The reader knows he is not and we see him struggling with his injuries and with the Spaniard Diego Ortiz. TapanAshka wants two things: to get home to Zia and their son, and to exact revenge on Ortiz.

When the drought worsens and the pueblo faces starvation, the elders determine they will go to the Spanish for protection and food. Diego Ortiz, handsome and kind, offers Zia his protection and his love. She tries to love him back, but the cost of his love is her religion and her very identity as a Keres woman. She determines she must make her way without Diego’s protection, and then learns of his savagery at other pueblos. She flees.

Zia, Diego, and TapanAshka cross paths one more time for an emotionally satisfying ending.

What inspired you to write this book?
The first time I went out west, we visited Bandelier National Park in northern New Mexico. You can see the ancient adobe ruins of a pueblo on the valley floor. You can climb the cliff paths and crawl into the people’s cave dwellings. You can walk beside the stream into the tall ponderosa pines. In an arid land, this canyon is lush and green and watered. I wanted to move in.

I started my research with Bandelier and expanded it to include the pueblos in the area. The people of Bandelier migrated only a few miles south to what is now Cochiti Pueblo. I am most interested in studying cultures in upheaval, at times of great change. The arrival of the Spanish changed everything for these people, sometimes violently, certainly irrevocably. I set my characters in ancient Cochiti and watched what happened when the conquistadors came calling.

What exciting story are you working on next?
So glad you asked because I’m in love with my new story. Three sisters live in the wilds of South Florida when Miami was just a fishing village. Their mother is long gone, scandalously, and their daddy dies. Each young woman must find her way in the world. Jack is the moral compass of the story, the “hero” whose love and respect the heroine strives to earn. If judging by my sitting at the keyboard crying as I revise some of the poignant scenes, I guess this one is a tear jerker. It’s certainly a love story, but it’s also a story about hard-won integrity, and the pain of love and loss.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I retired from teaching high school on a Friday. The next morning, I was at the keyboard, and I’ve considered myself a writer ever since. Even though what I turned out at first was pretty amateurish, I have ever since sat myself down at the computer and written, always trying to be better.

Do you write full time? What’s your work day like and what do you do other than write?
I do write full time. I don’t know how women with children at home do it, but some of them manage to turn out manuscripts, too. As for me, my husband and I are empty-nesters and I have only him and two dogs to look after. I write anywhere from three to six hours a day, depending on when brain-fog descends. The rest of the day I do the usual stuff, go to the gym, cook, maybe even push the mop around. But my main pursuit other than writing is reading. That has been a constant all my life and I read several hours most days.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I guess I’m not all that quirky. I’m not unusual in that I find it difficult to plan my stories ahead of time. Pantsers, we call ourselves, as in writing by the seat of our pants. But I’m learning to at least have some plot points in mind to guide me through. I suppose my novels are a bit different in that they are not purely romances, though they certainly do have romance elements. I’m interested in exploring characters against a broad canvas of social issues, and writing is most exciting when I feel the character leading me through her story.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A ballerina, of course. Then a fighter pilot in a sleek black jet streaking through the skies (it was the 50s – we all wanted to be fighter pilots). And then I meant to be a doctor. Well, I’m not built for ballet and, oh yeah, no talent either. I outgrew the fighter pilot stage when I found the pilots more interesting than the planes and just wanted to be the beautiful honey the handsome hero comes home to. And as for medicine, I still sort of regret that didn’t work out, but when I was in college and the first “review” week in Chemistry II was way over my head, I rethought my direction. All I really wanted, I decided, was to sit and read, so I changed my major to literature.

Anything additional you want to share with readers?
What I hope for is that my readers come away from my novels with the feeling that the characters are/could be their very good friends, that they feel a close compatibility and empathy with them. I’m fascinated by the history behind each of my historicals, but that emotional connection is what I most want, both as a reader and a writer.

Crimson Sky is available in both Kindle and ePub formats.

Gretchen, thank you for chatting with us today. I wish you the best with your books. Come back again!

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