QUESTION: From talking to you before, I know you were a teacher. Did you start writing after you retired or while you were still teaching?
I wrote my first two books while on a two-year hiatus from teaching Title 1 reading in Austin, TX. After those two came out, I didn’t write any more books for children for years, simply because, by that time, I was a professor of reading/ language arts at the U of Wyoming and it’s a publish or perish institution I had to write for academe. But I never stopped wanting to write for children and I retired early so I could get back to doing so.
QUESTION: What got you writing historical fiction?
I love local history and historical research. I’ve been an avid genealogist for many years and my master’s thesis was historical. I guess it was inevitable that I would draw on that background. Those first two books were picture books. The second was based on stories my mother told me and, since they reflected rural life in the first part of the 20th century, they were considered “historical.” I’ve written several contemporary novels but I evidently don’t do those as well since they’ve never been published.
QUESTION: I understand your books are published by Eakin Press. What made you choose an independent publisher?
My first two books were published out of NY – Parents Magazine Press and Lothrop, Lee & Sheperd. Selma Lanes and Dorothy Briley, respectively, were my editors. By the time I began writing again, Lanes was retired. Dorothy had become editor-in-chief of Clarion and was eager for me to send her manuscripts. But she died suddenly and I was an “orphan” in New York. About the same time, the Harry Potter books turned children’s publishing upside down and the marketing of historical fiction became quite difficult. Eakin Press made a presentation at the Ozark Writers League and they were looking for historical books about Texas. I had a completed manuscript called “Gone to Texas: From Virginia to Adventure.” My pitch was successful so I went with them in order to get a foot in the door after such a long time between the first two books and the third one. I liked what they did and sent them “Exiled!” This one received the WILLA award last fall from Women Writing the West. I may now use this recognition to attempt a move back to the national level, but I’m not sure. I like having easy access to the editor and being consulted on the cover. We’ll see.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit about how you do your research for historical fiction?
It varies with each book, but I tend to use a concentric circles approach. I consult all the local sources first, then the particular state’s archives and collections, then email the Library of Congress. To the extent that original sources are available on the Internet, I use those as well. The Internet works particularly well for sudden needs that come up during the writing. At some point, I always travel to the various settings. The setting for the first part of “Exiled!” was East Tennessee. I went there, spent a week, found the perfect place for Ruthy’s farm setting and returned via the old roads, most of which were in place in 1837. (I got an 1837 map from the LOC. They had road maps back then. Who knew?) I kept a blog while writing “Exiled!” and it details my research steps for that particular book. Interested readers can find it via a link on my web site: www.louiseajackson.net. They may also be interested in my daily blog titled “Living a Writer’s Life” [www.news-leader.com/blogs/louisejackson]
QUESTION: You’ve lived in Texas, Wyoming and now Missouri. What brought you to Missouri and how long have you lived there?
About 30 years ago, Don & I needed a tax write-off and decided to invest in land in the Ozarks since Don’s research indicated it was going to grow as a retirement area. We thought it might also be a place in which we could retire someday as well. It was a day’s drive from our Texas relatives, had hills, trees, streams and rocks like our Central Texas home places, and was within 50 miles of a university library. (University libraries are my security blanket. What if I needed one and it wasn’t near at hand? Of course, we made this decision before the advent of the World Wide Web.) We ended up loving the area. We lived on that original country acreage for the first 7 years, then moved into Springfield 8 years ago.
QUESTION: What’s your current work in progress?
I’m working on a book about a boy living in a post-Civil War Orphans’ Home. The first four chapters have been enthusiastically received by both an agent and a New York based editor. I don’t have a title yet. I’m not good at titles. Right now, it’s just “the orphan novel.”
QUESTION: Do you have a writing tip to share with our readers?
Read, read, read – both novels and books/websites about writing. Write, write, write. And be prepared to be in it for the long haul.