Wednesday, December 30, 2015

An approach to writing: Lord Esterleigh's Daughter

by Kathy Fischer-Brown

Available on Amazon
One of the most common questions readers ask writers is, “Where do you get your story ideas?” 

For me, most of the time, they come from dreams. In the case of Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, the first book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, published by Books We Love, this couldn’t be truer.

Many years ago, a dream left an image on my waking mind that haunted me for months, of a coach-and-four racing through an English coastal town in the misty dark of a moonlit night, while a three-masted ship sat, moored in the harbor. For the longest time, I had no idea what it meant, or even what to do with it.

I was in my late 20s, recently earned MFA in Acting in my pocket, when husband and I relocated from Connecticut for a teaching gig at a small, private women's college in Indiana. I hadn't written fiction since I was in my teens; my mind was focused on teaching acting and theater history, performing on the stage for the local community theater, and adjusting to the change in culture and environment. Yet, above all else, this dream haunted me. I needed to know who the young woman in the coach was, and why the secretive nature of her nocturnal journey. Was she running away? To be with her lover? Or was she escaping something more sinister? Had she been abducted? Who were the others in the coach with her—people fearing for her wellfare, or those wishing her ill? And what significance did the ship play? What was its destination?

By starting at the beginning of the story, long before the racing coach scene, I became acquainted with Anne Fairfield, who was to become the protagonist of a three book series. Her life and eventual fate became clear. She led me down a path she wanted me to investigate and thereby reveal her story and… What about that coach?

It’s always amazed me—and I know I’m not the first author to make this assertion—that writing a novel is an exercise in exploration. As one who professes to be a “pantser,” I rarely know where my stories are headed until the characters speak and I follow their lead. Some things never change, even as time and experience have helped me grow as a writer.

Ultimately this exploration lasted off and on for over 25 years, as I practically channeled the voices that spoke to me at the oddest times: in the shower, walking the dogs, changing the babies’ diapers, teaching classes, or waiting for my cue in the green room.

As the time period and setting emerged, I found myself immersed in enormous amounts of research into the Georgian Era England and then the American colonies at the onset of the American Revolution. And then there were the rewrites, innumerable rewrites.

With limited resources available (no internet, at the time), I scoured bibliographies and sought out-of-print titles from the local library and through inter-library loans. I wrote letters to authors of the research books that had been most informative, and contacted experts in this particular area of history. I visited historical societies and living history sites, searched old maps and documents, scribbling notes and making photocopies of my prized findings.

For example, even though as a child Anne had been led to believe that her birth was illegitimate, I discovered that her parents had been married, in secret. Up until the early to mid-1750s, a “Fleet Street Marriage” was the choice of those who, for any number of reasons, wished to bypass the posting of banns and acquiring a license. Administered in the Fleet Street Prison or in inns and taverns in its environs, such a union was naturally steeped in speculation and scandal. In March 1754, the Marriage of Act of 1753 went into law in England, effectively putting an end to these clandestine marriages. 

Years later, after a number of moves before finally settling down back in Connecticut—and two small kids who had miraculously grown into adultswhen I picked up the trilogy again prior to its publication with Books We Love, I availed myself of the resources that had become available on the internet. This in turn compelled me to rewrite large portions of the books to incorporate nuggets from the gold mine I’d found online, which helped add detail and immediacy to the books.

In the end, the image of that coach—still amazingly vivid in my mind after all this time—played no part in the tale. Instead, it provided a key to the second and third books in the series, Courting the Devil and The Partisan’s Wife.

But that’s a whole other story:-)


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, and The Return of Tachlanad, her newly released epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her The Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of her books are available in a variety of e-book formats from Books We Love, and from Amazon and other online retailers retailers.