I was intrigued to learn more about the inspiration behind Jean Roberts’ new release, The Heron, and so am delighted to welcome Jean to Author Chats. Before we start, here’s some background to her novel:
The past calls to those who dare to listen…
An invitation arrives; Abbey Coote, Professor of American Studies, has won an extended stay in an historic B&B, Pine Tree House. The timing is perfect. Abbey is recovering from an accident which left her abusive boyfriend dead and her with little memory of the event.
But her idyllic respite soon takes a terrifying turn. While exploring the house, Abbey comes face to face with Mary Foss, a woman dead for 350 years. Through a time/mind interface, Abbey experiences the horrors of Mary’s life, living at the edge of the civilized world in the 1690’s New England.
As Abbey faces her worst fears, she struggles to free them both from the past.
The Heron is on sale here:
Amazon UK • Amazon US
Welcome, Jean, thanks for chatting!
If you could go anywhere for a year to be inspired for your next book, what setting would you choose and what would you write?
I love to write historical fiction so it would have to be some place full of history. Since my favorite historical characters are from the middle to late middle ages, I think it would have to be in Europe. Although, I’d love to live in Rome and write about the ancient Romans for a change of pace. Paris would be amazing, but I don’t have a firm grasp on French history and I’d likely end up spending my days in a cafe people watching. I guess, I’d have to choose England, but not London; somewhere in the countryside where I could go for long rambles and think about my plot points. London would be too distracting; I spend all day in a museum and get no writing done!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal and why?
A Heron, of course!
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
This is a great question! I love to read and write historical fiction and often include real people as characters in my books. I think we owe it to them to research as much as we possibly can about them, their life, their actions and if possible, their thoughts. When we write about them, even in fiction, I believe we owe it to them and our readers to keep their fictional actions within the context of our research. The same goes for writing about people alive today, I think we can only alter their character a tiny bit without doing them a grave injustice.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Writing historical fiction requires a significant amount of prep-work to get the setting right. There’s nothing worse than reading a book set in the past that is filled with anachronisms or impossible actions. My goal is to immerse the reader into the world of my characters; I want the reader to feel like they are there, part of the action. This means writing for all the senses; smell, taste, sights, sounds as well as the sense of touch. Whether you write about the daily life of kings and queens, peasants or the middle-class, I think the details matter and make for a better story.
About your latest book:
What did you edit out of this book?
Many writers, myself included, struggle with the first chapter; how to open the story and hook the reader. I rewrote my first chapter at least five times. Personally, I enjoy a slow build up to the action, but I am advised that today’s readers want action, action, action. I chipped away at my opening lines again and again. Now, the action begins in the first few pages. To tell the truth, I kind of like it and I hope my readers will too!
How do you select the names of your characters?
Because I write historical fiction, I make an effort to find names that were common to the period in which the story is set. In the late 17th century in New England, first names were the old standards; Mary, William, Elizabeth, Thomas, etc. In The Heron, my MCs from the past are William and Mary; rather ordinary names. What I like is that they themselves are far from ordinary, the direct opposite of their given name. The Heron’s MCs from the present time have strong times to the past, so I gave them ‘old fashioned’ names as well; Abigail, Jeremiah and Miriam.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Book reviews are nail-biting affairs. You want them, you need them, but you fear them. I tell myself, I am not going to look, but of course I do. I have been lucky that I’ve not gotten a terrible review, but I’m sure that day is coming. As an author I have to tell myself, I cannot please everyone; some will love my writing and some will not. The worst thing a reviewer can do is to give a book a starred rating, and not explain why. So readers, please remember that authors are humans with feelings that can be hurt and if you’re going to leave a negative (one or two star) review, an explanation would be so helpful.
What was your hardest scene to write?
The hardest scene in The Heron was the very last one. I rewrote the final chapter several times. I had to make a choice between a HEA (happily ever after) for one of the main characters, it could not be both. I went back and forth between Abbey and Mary, even asking beta readers what they thought should happen. I eventually made my decision, and I think it’s the right one for the story.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favourite? Why?
Ooh, this is a tough one. I have so many favorites! I especially like one in which my main character Mary, who lives in 1690s New Hampshire, walks along the river at night. She reflects on her life, her marriage and her lost love. It’s moody and atmospheric and brings out the best and worst in her character; she is a complex and conflicted woman and at the end of her walk a big surprise is in store!
With a passion for history, author Jean M. Roberts is on a mission to bring the past to life. She is the author of three novels, WEAVE A WEB OF WITCHCRAFT, BLOOD IN THE VALLEY and THE HERON. After graduating from the University of St. Thomas, Jean served in the United States Air Force, she has worked as a Nurse Administrator and is currently writing full-time. She lives in Texas with her husband.
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