“Not all who wander are lost.” And Juliet Waldron has certainly been a wanderer. She earned a BA in English, but worked at jobs ranging from artist’s model to brokerage. Then, twenty-five years ago, after the kids left, she dropped out of 9-5 and began to write, hoping to create a genuine time travel experience for herself—and her readers. I think you will agree that she achieved her aim when you read about her books and listen to what she has to say on The Casting Couch.
Juliet loves cats and grandkids and when she's not writing she enjoys taking long, long hikes through fields and forests, and making messy gardens. She also hopes to make a few more pilgrimages abroad, and often rides behind her husband on his absurdly fast 'bucket list' sport bike.
* * *
Welcome Juliet. Just reading your personal history makes me breathless. You have achieved so much in your writing career too so I am looking forward to finding out a whole lot more about you on the Casting Couch.
First, Sheila, Thanks for the invitation to join all the other great writers on your Casting Couch.
It's my pleasure. Now to the questions. Which characters are the hardest for you to develop? Is it the hero, the heroine, the villain, or the secondary characters?
My secondary characters walk on without much hassle by the time a story has begun to 'run' movie-like in my head. I often find them so obliging and talkative that I have to shut them down. Christoph, who began as a secondary character in Mozart’s Wife, proceeded to be so bull-headedly charming and persistent that I wrote Red Magic to wind up his story.
Sometimes writing heroes can be a toughie, especially if I’m trying for a romantic historical which involves cross-over into genre writing techniques. Beta males aren’t that popular, but it always seems to me that a real life Alpha male is not exactly as pleasant a guy as he is often cracked up to be. (Too much testosterone -- not quite housebroken.) I have written a couple of true alphas that I’m rather proud of; Christoph, above, and Jack in Angel’s Flight.
When an idea strikes, do you work through the plot first and then cast the characters, or is it characters first? Or does it vary? Perhaps you develop the plot and the characters together.
Of necessity, plot and characters grow together, because I write historicals. In that case, the plot is already written for you—at least, if you’re going to follow the lives of real people, or use historical events for the storyline. In historical novels, characters are deeply enmeshed in the period in which they live. People are, after all, shaped not only by unique personal circumstances, but by the world view they grow up with.
Can you give an example from a published story?
In Mozart’s Wife, the feckless young couple leave their first born, only a few months old, in the care of a 'baby farmer' while they travel to Salzburg to visit his family for two months. In the 18th Century, this was normal for theater people who had to travel on business. It seems heartless, even criminal, to us today, but this was accepted practice. Infant mortality in the packed, dirty cities was necessarily high, and, pre-contraception, there would always be another baby quickly on the way. It was a tough part of their story to tell, and it had to be done in a way that a modern reader could understand and still maintain sympathy for the principals.
Do you have a system for developing their character traits? I know some people use Tarot or Astrology. Others produce detailed life histories. There are also writers who allow their characters to develop as they write. What's your method?
I fret a lot over my characters. In writing historicals, however, you know the facts, (or think you do) but sometimes you’ve got to continue to ponder the puzzle pieces, in order to understand their actions. It took me over a year to produce a fair portrayal of Stanzi Mozart, to satisfy myself that I understood some of the things we know she did.
All characters have goals. Can your character’s goals usually be summed up in a word or two, or are they multi-layered? Do they change as you write the book? Could you give some examples?
Multi-layered. The characters grow in the course of the stories, as they experience the unfolding of their lives. Nanina, in My Mozart is a sensitive, talented, musical little girl when the story begins. She is innocent, naturally sensual and obsessive. In the crucible of her love affair with the remarkable musician who has been her beloved teacher and friend, she realizes her greatest passion, but the suffering which follows, combined with the strength of her obsession, tip her into madness.
Motives drive a character. How do you discover your character’s specific goals? Are they based on back story or do other elements influence their motives?
Back story plays a big part for me, as well as qualities innate to the characters, which will push them in a certain direction. In Genesee, the heroine, Jenny, is Dutch and Iroquois. Acceptance and inclusion elude her, whether she is at an elegant ball in a fine house in Albany, or in a long-house deep in the wilderness.
And last but not least, do you like your characters? Are they people you would want to spend time with? Assuming they are not just a paper exercise, which of your characters would you most like to meet, and why?
Roan Rose just released, is set in medieval times. It is the Ricardian novel (Richard III) I’ve wanted to write since my teen years, and it is full of characters I’ve imagined for a very long time. Of course, I’d like to meet Richard and his wife Anne, just as I’d like to meet Mozart and his Stanzi. (In a way, I feel I’ve “met” fragile Nanina, as that story was—yes, it sounds nuts--channeled.)
However, the character I’d most like to meet is Roan Rose herself, a freckled Yorkshire peasant woman who is servant to Anne, and the narrator of the story. Rose is a gardener/herbalist and a lover of wild places, who draws strength and courage from Mother Earth. I’d love to dig with her, to plant with her, and to follow her sheep as they wander the dales. But heck, I’d love to spend time with all my 18th Century creations: Angel, pondering a quilt as a civil war tears her world apart; Jenny, who loves to climb trees and knows how to swim; Alex, the brilliant, brave West Indian; Red Caterina, who loves her horses far more than people…
Well one thing's for sure Juliet, there are a whole lot of your books I now want to read. I am also intrigued by the fact that when you write historicals you not only have to imagine yourself into a life very different from modern day but you also have to put yourself into the mind of a real person and try to imagine why their story unfolded as it did. It has been fascinating to learn how you do it. Thank you for sitting on the Casting Couch.
* * *
Juliet has written a number of very successful books. Mozart's Wife won the First Independent e-Book Award, Genesee (an interracial love story) won the Epic Award for Best Historical. A companion novel, Angel's Flight is an on-the-road romance set during the American Revolution. Her other novels include Hand-me-Down Bride which is set in post-Civil War German Pennsylvania, Red Magic, a fantasy romance set in 18th Century Austria, Roan Rose which is a story of tangled loyalty and love during the Wars of Roses, and My Mozart, the 'mistress' companion to Mozart's Wife.