Interview with E. A. Haltom

Writing a novel is hard. Why did you write Gwendolyn's Sword?
I love a great hero's tale. I love reading about the tight-lipped, grimly committed person of strength, courage, and honor, who never gives up, always puts themselves in harm's way to spare others, and who seeks only to be left alone as their reward. Growing up, when I could find these stories, the lead character--the hero--was male. When I watched Star Wars I was always mentally changing the gender of the characters, with a female Luke Skywalker and female Han Solo rescuing a male prince from the villain. Just writing out that sentence, the implications for the story immediately start to come to mind. So much changes when the hero is a woman, even if the arc of her story is identical to the male hero, because the people around her will react differently to her than they would to a male, and because her options as a woman may be very different, as well. Today, this type of female lead is more common, thanks to Joss Whedon and Suzanne Collins, among others. (And Linda Hamilton in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was a revelation, as was Sigourney Weaver in the "Aliens" series--thank you ladies!) I had my own tale to tell in this developing trend, so I wrote "Gwendolyn's Sword."

When I set out to write my own hero's tale, of course I had to turn to the legend of King Arthur--perhaps *the* iconic male hero for western civilization. But that territory has already been deeply plowed over the centuries, so I had to come up with a new way of approaching the legend. And it had to be historical fiction, set in one of the most violent times of our history. Historical fiction, as a genre, is particularly ripe for this type of gender-bending re-visioning. With the exception of accounts of Jean d'Arc and the incredible "alternative history" written by Mary Gentle ("Ash: A Secret History"), women in historical fiction generally don't get to be the sword-wielding, martially trained, rough heroes that the men are. So I posed the question, what if there had been this type of sword-wielding woman, unacknowledged in the historical record (not a far-fetched proposition in itself), who had actually been the driving force behind the major historical events of the time? Answering that question faithfully to the history and the characters became "Gwendolyn's Sword."
What do you like most about writing historical fiction?
The research, hands down. I find out the most fascinating random details, plus I get to spend time learning about swords, and it's my *job*. I love what I do so much I'm a little embarrassed by it. Next to that, I'd say it's the room for speculation in the gaps in the historical record. I had a challenge writing "Gwendolyn's Sword" in that I wanted the tale to take place among known people and places and to be shaped and pulled by actual events, and I had to keep the plot and action true to what is actually known about those people and events. But, delightfully, there are oceans of unanswered questions swirling all around the known facts from the record. This is where a writer's mind can run free. The challenge was to stay true to *both* the known facts and the arc of the fictional characters that I created.
What is most challenging about writing historical fiction?
I'm glad I asked that. One word: anachronisms. They are hard to avoid, but I feel it's our duty to our readers to take them to another world, because they wouldn't pick a book set in a far away time and place unless they were looking for exactly that. The easy ones to avoid are things like a reference to "sailing two hours before dawn" in a book set in ancient times, or someone discussing "superstition" in a story set in a time before the concept of "reality" as something distinct from "superstition" had emerged. Having said this, writing without anachronisms is impossible. We authors are products of our time and a specific historical setting, already pre-programmed with a specific mindset and way of looking at the world and human intercourse and events. I absolutely know that there are anachronisms in my book, if only (hopefully only) epistemological anachronisms in that I bring the characters' attention and thoughts to life with a 21st century voice. Finally, some level of anachronisms are necessary to avoid confusion. For example, at the time of my story, there were herbal healers and practitioners of traditional medicines who, a couple of centuries later, evolved into the profession of "apothecary", but the word "apothecary", according to dictionary.com, did not enter the Middle English lexicon until 1325 at the earliest. At the time of my story, the word for this type of healer was most likely "spicer", from what I've been able to sleuth out. But if I had used the word "spicer" in my story, readers would probably have a strange idea of what this character did, or they would have to run to their computers to look up the word's use in the late 12th century. I feel using the word "apothecary" in this case was a gentle anachronism, hopefully not offensive to the reader, and hopefully I will be forgiven for those deliberate digressions from the historical record to aid the flow of the story.

The other thing that I find challenging about writing historical fiction is not to become so enamored of the setting that the attention to detail starts to get in the way of the characters and their story. I have a strong preference for character-driven stories, so that's what I write. Historical fiction, like science-fiction (my other favorite genre), can sometimes have the setting itself really as the main character of the story. Some readers love this. For me, the holy grail of books is a gripping story full of strong, inspiring characters, that also happens to be set in a completely new and different world, whether historical or imaginary.
What do you read for pleasure?
My reading tastes vary widely. As a child I read everything about horses that I could find in the school library: the "Black Stallion" series, "King of the Wind," "Black Beauty," "Smokey the Cowhorse." Now I read everything from Douglass Adams (actually got to see him speak at UT!) to Barbara Kingsolver to Owen Egerton to William Napier (excellent series on Attila) to Elizabeth Gilbert. I also read, of course, a lot of historical fiction from my own period, particularly the books of Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman. I've recently discovered Stephen Baxter, too, and I'm a huge fan of Gabriel Garcia Marques and Neil Gaiman. I also like the classics quite a bit. I read Jane Austen for fun, but I have to be careful because her voice gets in my head and influences my writing away from my own voice.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
This is one of the prompted questions from Smashwords, and I'm guessing it's so that I can be of support to other authors. I'll be honest, my marketing has been to my friends and family and neighbors, via Facebook and the neighborhood listserv. I only have one book out so far, so I haven't made much of a marketing push yet because I just haven't got anything else to offer beyond this. I've sold 7 books so far in the first few days, and I know 5 of the purchasers firsthand! But when I have the second book ready, I'll do more, primarily via social media because I have young kids, and I have no plans for book tours or other of the "traditional" marketing efforts.
Describe your desk
Right next to the kitchen table and den, stacked with filing, kids' drawings, school papers, and batteries that I keep meaning to safely store somewhere else.
Published 2014-05-10.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.