Friday, February 7, 2014

Feature Friday: Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY (Viking/Penguin winter 2014.  Sharon lived in England for six years, after falling in love with a British mounted police constable and marrying him.  She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, with the help of the curators of the Museum of London—when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer.  Today, she is a full-time novelist, and she has three non-fiction books published under her maiden name, Sharon Biggs: The Original Horse Bible (co-author Moira Harris, Bow Tie Press, 2011); Advanced English Riding (Bow Tie Press, 2007); In One Arena (Half Halt Press, 2001).  She’s also a classical dressage rider and trainer, and she lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana, just outside of Chicago, with her husband, Mark, two horses, five dairy goats, four cats, two dogs, 35 laying hens, and a hive of bees.

Interview:
A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?

Sharon:

Writing is a skill like anything else and it takes practice and knowledge, and it’s not something you can learn quickly. Whenever you get stuck don’t get frustrated, instead, try to figure out what is causing the problem. For instance, is it dialogue, description, plot, character? I had problems with plot several years ago and I started working with Martha Alderson, the Plot Whisperer.  So I always advise writers to take a long look at your skills and find someone to help you hone them.  I firmly believe in using coaches.  Top athletes, dancers, musicians and actors use coaches, so why not writers? You can find some great writing classes online through Writers Digest, or hire freelance editors.  And read lots of writing books. Three of my favorites are Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. These books should be on every writer’s shelf.

A.L.:
What's your favorite book and why?

Sharon: 

OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon. It’s a time-travel historical about a nurse from the 1940s who falls through standing stones in Scotland and ends up in 18th century Scotland.  It’s such a great book, rich in detail and as sexy as can be! The characters are wonderfully drawn and the male lead, Jamie Fraser, is swoon-worthy and the gold standard of male leads, in my humble opinion. You just get lost in this book and I love that.  I’m a real fangirl with this OUTLANDER, I must admit, I have a much-thumbed paperback that Diana signed for me, which I will never part with.  And it’s going to be a series on Starz this summer.  I can’t wait!

A.L.:
Where did you get the idea for A Mad, Wicked Folly?

Sharon: 

When I lived in England I’d often walk by Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue in London and I’d think about what life was like for women before they had the right to vote, and what did it take to fight for the vote? And then I started thinking about teens. What if you wanted to be something that was forbidden, what would you do? My character started to speak to me and the story began to emerge.  It took me three years to write and revise FOLLY. 

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing A Mad, Wicked Folly?  What were they and how did you fix them?

Sharon: 

FOLLY was a lot of work to write because everything was new to me.  I didn’t know very much about the Edwardian era, women’s suffrage history, or art. I was most concerned about getting the art details right. I’m a horse trainer and I can always tell when a writer hasn’t done her research (lots of kicking in the flanks, which is impossible) and I didn’t want to get things wrong. My dad is an artist and I have a lot of artist friends, so I talked to them a lot. I bought books on drawing, and bought some art implements, including the Conté crayons that Vicky loves. I wanted to know what the crayons felt like to hold and use and what they smelled like. I needed to know what kinds of things would be available in the Edwardian era so I found a place that sold vintage art supplies. I was relieved when an art professor friend of mine read the ARC and told me I had gotten it right.

A.L.:
Which one of the characters in A Mad, Wicked Folly is your favorite and why?

Sharon: 

Outside of Vicky, I’d say Will.  He’s such a good guy and he has this sense of fairness that colors his whole world, from the way he treats the suffragettes, to the way he handles Vicky.  I also like how he calls her out on things.  She really needs to hear it because she’s been so sheltered and knows little about the world outside of her class.  He’s very good for her. And she’s good for him too because she encourages him and believes in his talents.

A.L.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an author?

Sharon: 

I’ve loved writing stories every since I was a little girl.  I remember my mom coming home from a parent/teacher conference when I was in second grade and asking me about this story I wrote, which was about a little witch and her cat. She was smiling and telling me how proud she was.  I loved that I could make her smile like that.  But I didn’t get serious about writing until after I had shoulder surgery in the mid 90s. I was training lots of horses and my surgeon told me to think about another career because I might have to have my shoulder done again. It was a long and painful recovery and I didn’t want to go through that again, so I started writing novels and magazine articles.  I wrote several novels before FOLLY.  Many rejections, many, many rejections!  But it was good experience for me. I’m glad those early novels weren’t published, although I didn’t feel that way then.  I really wasn’t ready.

A.L.:
What are you working on now?  Sequel?  Something new?

Sharon:

I do have an idea for a companion novel or two for A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, but right now I’m revising a story set in Scotland in the 18th century and I’m researching another set in the early part of the Victorian era. That’s all I can say otherwise my agent will kill me!

A.L.:
Was it hard to write a historic YA novel?

Sharon: 

Writing is hard work, no matter the genre, but historical fiction does have the added element of history, which involves a lot of research.  I love research.  As a non-fiction writer research doesn’t scare me and in fact I look forward to it.  To me it’s all about excavating the story; uncover details that help create the character and her world.  Of course all of this has to serve the story.  Packing a book with details just because I think it’s interesting can really weigh a story down.

A.L.:
Is it exciting being a riding instructor at the Royal Mews?  What's it like?  Any fun stories to share?

Sharon:

I loved being a riding instructor at Buckingham Palace! It was so much fun to go the security gate, show my ID card, and I’d go in, leaving the bustling streets of London behind.  The indoor arena at the Mews is older than our country, and that was an endless source of fascination to me.  Also I could look at all the carriages whenever I wanted and visit the horses in the stables. As far as fun stories go, I used to visit Prince Phillip’s horse and feed her wine gums when I wasn’t teaching.  She’s a really pretty black Cleveland Bay mare that the queen bred.  She was born on Prince Phillip’s birthday so the queen named her Phillipa.  I also went to a childrens’ Christmas party at the Mews when my niece was visiting one year.  The queen suddenly appeared (there are lots of odd passageways in the palace she walks through) but the children were more interested in Father Christmas than in her.  She said to my niece: “The children rather enjoy this don’t they.” It was amazing. She’s so tiny, too.  You could pick her up and put her in your pocket.

A.L.:
Do you feel as though Victoria Darling is a character after your own heart?  Why, why not?

Sharon: 

I love Vicky, I really do. I love how she never gives up, and she has so much courage.  I’ve heard some readers have wondered where her ambition comes from, which kind of surprises me. Edwardian women had ambition, too, and they had to fight hard to achieve their dreams. Besides, Vicky saw her brother take the reins of his own life, and she knew her father did the same, climbing his way up the business ladder, so she had some wonderful role models, even though neither of those men would like to admit that they inspired her!  Well, maybe her brother, Freddy, would. 

The Giveaway:
A MAD WICKED FOLLY swag pack -- US entrants only

A Mad, Wicked Folly:  Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
           
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

  

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