Michelle Diener will be my Stories on Stage guest in November 2014. Michelle writes historical fiction and fantasy. Having worked in publishing and IT, she’s now very happy crafting new worlds and interesting characters and wondering which part of the world she can travel to next. Michelle was born in London, grew up in South Africa and currently lives in Australia with her husband and two children. When she’s not writing, or driving her kids from activity to activity, you can find her blogging at Magical Musings, or online at Twitter, at Google+ and Facebook.
Monique: Your latest historical fiction novel, A Dangerous Madness, has just been released. Can you tell readers a bit about it?
Michelle: A Dangerous Madness is set in London in 1812, and the plot revolves around the assassination of the British prime minister, Spencer Perceval. It was the JFK assassination of its day, complete with lone gunman and all manner of inconsistencies and cover-ups, which I found fascinating.
Monique: A Dangerous Madness is loosely connected to Banquet of Lies and The Emperor’s Conspiracy all of which are set in the Regency era. What do you like about this particular era?
Michelle: I find the social politics of the time incredibly fascinating. There was a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots and a great deal of social dissent. Men were coming back from fighting in the Napoleonic Wars changed and not as easily subdued as they were before, workers were feeling the first real pain of industrialisation, and through it all, the nobility danced the night away at glittering balls or gamed away their fortunes at the card table. Whenever there are great contrasts, there’s a great story.
Monique: You’ve also written a series set in Tudor times. Of the two eras, Tudor and Regency, do you have a preference?
Michelle: No, I love both periods equally well. I’ve steeped myself in both so thoroughly, and both hold a great deal of fascination for me.
Monique: How much time do you spend on research for your historical fiction?
Michelle: Probably more than I should. Months and months before I write, and then obsessively while I write, as well.
Monique: You also write fantasy. What attracts you to the historical and fantasy genres? Is it difficult to switch from one to the other? What’s your preference as a reader and a writer?
Michelle: I love both, and find that the world-building skills I need for historical fiction translates well to fantasy. No matter what you’re writing, you need to build a world for your reader to inhabit and make that world convincing. I am a voracious reader, and enjoy almost all genres of fiction. I do find alternating between historicals and fantasy helps keep me fresh.
Monique: How difficult is it to create a “world” in fantasy fiction?
Michelle: No more or less difficult than for historical fiction. While I may be drawing from research to build a historical world, it is no less difficult to make it real to the reader, especially one not familiar with that time period. I tend to have a very clear idea of the fictional world of my story in my head when I write, which is why I stick to writing one book at a time. I really feel like I’m living in that world myself while I write, and no matter whether it’s historical or fantasy, I don’t find one easier than the other to write. I do find fantasy less time-consuming on the research side, so it is quicker to write a fantasy because the months of research aren’t necessary, but no less difficult, for me, to actually write the story.
Monique: What tips would you give someone who wanted to write fantasy?
Michelle: Be very sure of the ‘rules’ of your world before you start and stick to them. Don’t bend them or change them if it doesn’t suit your story. Be consistent in the world you’ve created.
Monique: Tell me about your road to publication. What are some of the highlights and lowlights?
Michelle: I’ve always written, but it was only when my daughter was born that I started seriously working on a project with the intent to submit it for publication. I joined a few writing organisations, and that helped me a great deal. I used to live in South Africa, and found it very frustrating submitting to literary agents in the US. I kept getting ‘good’ rejections. ‘This is great but not for us’ letters. When I moved to Australia and started submitting again, I got six offers of representation almost all at once, and since then, I’ve had a deep-seated suspicion my previous location was working against me. So moving to Australia was incredibly positive for me in my writing career. 🙂
Monique: How much time do you spend writing or working on writing-related projects?
Michelle: I write full time and work all day while my children are at school. Once they’re home, though, my afternoon is usually taken up by after-school activities. I sometimes work at night, too.
Monique: What do you do when you’re having doubts about your writing?
Michelle: Read. Write an outline for another story. Or sometimes read the great letters I get from readers, telling me how much my books have touched them. That always helps.
Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?
Michelle: Try to remember it. I have only gotten up about twice to write down an idea. I have a pretty good memory, so I usually don’t have to rush off to write it down.
Monique: Do you become emotionally attached to your characters? What happens when the book is finished? Do you close the door or wonder what they’re getting up to?
Michelle: I love all my characters. I don’t think what they’re getting up to, but I do look at their reactions and motivations over and over before I submit my work to my editor. I like to think that I stay true to them in the story.
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Michelle: My ability to get distracted. I usually switch off my internet so I won’t be tempted to ‘just look something up’. I can lose hours doing that.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Michelle: That it’s all swanning about in your pjs and being creative. Writing is hard work, and sometimes I would rather do anything else. It is also not just about creating. Whether you’re self-published or with a publisher, no-one in the world cares as much about your book as you, so you have to be willing to do things like promotion, advertising and using social networks to get the word out. No-one can read your book if they don’t know about it.
Monique: Which books have impacted on you in your life?
Michelle: Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is one. The scope and depth of it is awe-inspiring. Terry Pratchett is another. The way he uses humour and imagination to illuminate serious subjects is wonderful. Beyond that, there are literally hundreds of books that have influenced me in some way, for their scope, their characters and their amazing world-building, no matter the genre.
Monique: Which authors do you admire the most?
Michelle: I really can’t answer that fairly. There are too many.
Monique: Which book are you reading now?
Michelle: I’m reading And Justice There is None by Debra Crombie.
Monique: Do you ever skip ahead a few pages or read a book’s ending?
Monique: Which book in your collection would you most like to have autographed by the author?
Michelle: Terry Pratchett’s, I think. My brother has met him and he sounds like an amazing person to talk to.
Monique: Where in Perth or Western Australia would you take an overseas visitor?
Michelle: I love The Valley of the Giants near Denmark. There is something really magical about that place.
Thanks for answering my questions, Michelle. If you live in Perth and you want more information about Stories on Stage, click here.