Happy to post this author interview with Anne Clare! Anne stopped by last year and wrote about being a new author, which you can read here. Today, she’s here to talk about romance and her WWII novel, Whom Shall I Fear? Welcome back, Anne!
Which came first when writing your novel Whom Shall I Fear?—the history or the romance?
While the history ended up driving much of the final story, I must admit, the romance came first. My initial idea for Whom Shall I Fear?came from a half-recalled snippet of a dream. It was a dramatic scene set in WWII London… which I can’t detail because it would include major story spoilers. From that scene, I worked backwards. How did James and Evie—my protagonists—know each other? What had they been doing during the war? How did they wind up in that dark alley? (Oops! Right. No spoilers.) I filled two journals with their love story, and then the history—the true stories of the muddy slog through the Italian front and the struggles on the British Home Front—gave the story flesh.
On a side note, my current project began in the opposite way—the history of the Anzio beachhead first, the characters and their stories later. Each method has had its complications, but at least this time around I haven’t had to rewrite huge chunks due to timeline issues!
Was it difficult writing from a male perspective?
I find that no matter the character, it takes some time to find their distinctive voice. I spent a great deal of time reading memoirs and recollections of people who lived through the events I wrote about—especially James’s part of the story—trying to get the right tone and timbre for his voice. My husband is also an amazing beta reader and helps kindly point out if occasional things “don’t sound like a guy.” As to the romantic side of things…well, that can be tricky to do well from a male or female perspective. But that leads into your next question…
What do you think is the key to creating a romantic couple readers can root for?
So. A Midwestern man found his wife crying. When he asked her what was wrong, she sniffled and said, “You never say you love me.” He stared at her, shocked. “But, honey, I told you on our wedding day. If something had changed…I would have let you know!” Ba-doom-ching.
Why bring up an “Ole and Lena” joke here? (And if you don’t know what I mean by an “Ole and Lena” joke, well…they’re the “dad jokes” of the upper Midwest. There seems to be an unlimited supply of them, and they are all pretty painful.) I do not come from particularly emotive people. Writing “love stuff” doesn’t exactly come easily. Embracing the romantic element of my story took some time. Fretting over finding ways to write believable romantic scenes for my characters took more time. How should they talk to each other? How could I show that they were attracted to each other? How could I make the attraction justified? Would there be anything…physical?
I’ve found that I tend to focus on romance through action, meaning that I try to allow my characters the chance to show the characteristics that make their relationship believable. This took some trial and error.
In early drafts, I caught myself telling about James and Evie’s admirable attributes. Occasionally, I’d have other people talk about how nice they were, etc. It was…not great. I worked to improve this by giving them opportunities to show their personalities instead—chances for them to spend time together, to talk, to see each other at their best and to see each other struggle. Taking time to strengthen each of their scenes together, making the dialogue and action count, helped the story as well as the romance.
I also found that it can be tempting to try to “sell” the suitability of the romance too hard. I ran into that with Evie especially. I found myself writing a caricature, not a character—she was too perfect in the early drafts. Thankfully, my first comments on the novel by a professional pointed this out. After the initial “oh no!” of receiving criticism, I used it as an opportunity to explore her flaws, make her into a more well-rounded character, AND to improve the love story. A couple with flaws as well as strengths can complement each other, creating a more balanced relationship.
It can be so hard to let our favorite characters have flaws! It really helps to get the opinions of others.
All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.
All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.
All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves.
However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt. Weaving in historical detail from World War II in Britain, Italy and Egypt, WHOM SHALL I FEAR? follows their individual struggles with guilt and faith, love and family, and forces them to ask if the greatest threat they face is really from the enemy abroad.
Anne Clare is a native of Minnesota’s cornfields and dairy country. She graduated with a BS in Education in 2005 and set out to teach in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband still live. She also serves as a church musician, singing in and occasionally directing choirs, playing piano, organ, and coronet (the last only occasionally, when she forgets how bad she is at it.) After the birth of her second child, she became a stay-at-home mom, and after the birth of the third she became reconciled to the fact that her house would never be clean again, which allowed her to find time to pursue her passion for history and writing while the little people napped. Although she’s back to teaching part-time, she continues to write historical fiction and to blog about WWII history, writing, and other odds and ends at thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com.
You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @anneclarewriter.