Faced with financial ruin and the loss of her good name, Rose Chadwick decides to make a new start for herself and her young daughter, Hannah, in the rough and tumble gold rush town of Barkerville, British Columbia, in 1867. However, making a new life is not so easy when it’s built on lies. And, long suppressed emotions within her are stirred when she meets a handsome young Englishman. Such is the premise of author A.M. Westerling’s new historical romance, Barkerville Beginnings.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Growing up in Alberta, both of your parents had an influence on your reading choices and the passion that eventually drove you to start writing books of your own. Tell us about that.
A: Both my parents were readers – books, the daily newspaper, Time and Life magazines. My dad would always buy me a comic book or book if I asked unlike, say, a toy or something else, especially if we were on vacation. All of my siblings read as well so obviously the apple(s) didn’t fall far from the tree. My mom introduced me to romance novels in my early teenage years and I read every single Harlequin romance in our local library. When I was a bit older, my dad started suggesting historical novels, particularly Catherine Cookson. Once I hit university, I started reading Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Bertrice Small and that was it – I was hooked on the historical romance genre.
Q: What titles might we have found on the nightstand of your teenage self and which ones stand out as fond favorites to this day?
A: Hmm, I really can’t remember. I do recall reading The White Mountains and the Tripods Series by John Christopher. I was pretty excited when my boys had to read it for English but they were like, meh. I was crushed, haha. I did read a fair bit of science fiction; i.e., Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. My dad also introduced me to Alistair MacLean and I read every single one of his books.
As mentioned earlier, my older teenage self discovered historical romance. I think my favorites from that time were The Wolf and the Dove, and The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Plus I really enjoyed Rosemary Rogers` Sweet Savage Love and Wicked Loving Lies. Sigh, such titles, those were the good old days!
Q: I’m always intrigued by the day-jobs our authors have held prior to pursuing writing as a full-time career. What was yours and why did you choose it?
A: I have a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary. I chose engineering because I wanted to graduate with a degree that would actually get me a job. I worked for a number of years in Alberta’s oil and gas industry and then my husband – a mechanical engineer – and I started our own engineering company. We specialized in heavy oil facilities and hit the market at the right time. Fifteen years later, we sold the company and now I’m retired. Too busy to work, thank you very much!
Q: What appeals the most to you about the historical romance genre?
A: I love history and I love romance. Win win.
Q: Obviously anything that transpires in a time period other than the present requires diligent research in order to feel “authentic” for one’s readership. Is it your preference to do all of the research first and then start writing or to look up details as you go along? Why does your chosen method work well for you and how does it correlate to working from an outline vs. listening to your muse?
A: I do the research first because I need to become familiar with the time period before I can feel comfortable writing it. Of course, from time to time I will look up details as I go along. Also, research gives me story ideas so it helps with developing the plot.
Q: Too much research, though, can slot the pacing of the plot. How did you go about deciding what to keep and what to set aside (and possibly for another book)?
A: I always keep in mind that the romance between the main two characters is the focus of the story, and not the history. I only need to provide enough historical detail to make my readers feel as if they’re in that particular time period. Quite often, I’ll include an author’s note at the end of the manuscript to elaborate on the historical aspects of the work.
Q: The backdrop of your story, Barkerville, is a real place that dates back to Canada’s Gold Rush days. What did you learn about it that you didn’t know before you started writing the book?
A: That in the 1860s it was thought to be the largest town west of Chicago – estimates put the population in Barkerville and area as high as 10,000. Which is pretty amazing, considering how remote Barkerville was at the time. It still is, actually, as it’s in the interior of British Columbia and pretty far off the beaten track. Because of Barkerville and the Cariboo Gold Rush, the British Parliament put forward a bill making the area formerly known as New Caledonia into a crown colony, British Columbia.
Q: Surprises, of course, are inherent in the craft of writing. Do/did your characters ever nudge you to take a different route than the original journey you have/had planned for them?
A: Oh yes, all the time. That’s when I know I’m on the right track, when my characters take over the story. Makes my job a lot easier.
Q: What comes first for you—the characters or the plot?
A: Hmm, I suppose the characters. All of my books have started with a scene that pops into my mind and I take it from there. For example, in my Viking romance A Heart Enslaved, the scene I worked around was the scene in the slave market where the hero Thorvald is about to sell the heroine, Gisela. My challenge was to set up the story to get them there in a believable manner.
In Barkerville Beginnings, the scene that popped up was the opening scene, where Edmund, the father of Rose’s daughter Hannah and who up until now has had nothing to do with her, shows up at the rooming house in Victoria where Rose and Hannah live and threatens to take away Hannah. The only solution Rose can see to avoid that is to escape with her.
Q: Was “characters first” the case with Barkerville Beginnings? Please explain what it was that set this particular story in motion for you.
A: Further to my previous answer, Rose decides to make her way to Barkerville. She’s heard a lot about it from miners passing through Victoria and she thinks it’s the perfect place to hide from Edmund plus a big enough town to provide a living for her.
Q: So give us a teaser of what this novel is about and who the main characters are.
A: My heroine is Rose Chadwick, a single mom in a time when unwed mothers were frowned upon. As you already know, she’s on her way to Barkerville to make a new life for herself and her daughter. Her experience with Edmund has left her wary of men which will prove to be a challenge in a town full of lonely miners and very few women.
The hero, Harrison St. John, was expected to marry the daughter of a wealthy industrialist to bolster the family’s sagging finances. However, he is left standing at the altar and instead makes his way to Barkerville in search of the fortune which will save his family from financial ruin. Because of his wedding fiasco, he has no use for women in his life.
They meet on the Cariboo Road after Rose and Hannah have been tossed from the stage coach because of an altercation between Rose and the driver. Unable to afford passage on another coach, Rose grudgingly accepts Harrison’s offer of a ride for Hannah and her into Barkerville. Once there, she and Harrison part ways. Or maybe not…
Q: Are any of them modeled after people you know (including aspects of your own personality) or are they purely works of fiction summoned from the ether?
A: I’m sure my characters include some aspects of my own personality, after all, I created them. But yes, they are purely works of fiction summoned from the ether. I will sometimes include real people. If so, I will add a comment about them in my author’s note.
Q: Do you allow anyone to read your chapters while they are still a work in progress or do
you make them wait until you have typed the final page?
A: I work with critique partners. That way, they can set me straight if something doesn’t make sense or isn’t true to the characters. If changes are needed, I prefer to do minor revisions as I go rather than one big revision at the end. It’s more manageable and not as intimidating.
Q: What are you doing insofar as marketing to get the word out about your titles? Of these efforts, what do you feel has been the most successful?
A: Gosh, I wish I knew. Of course, I have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. I have used FB ads with some success and I’ll try running a contest on my FB page. I might also do a promo spot on Book Bub as I know other writers have had success with that. I’m also going to try my first Goodreads giveaway and I’m guesting on more blogs, which I really appreciate.
Finally, more book signings. I’ve done one already here in Calgary for Barkerville Beginnings and will be participating in another one in July, plus I hope to have a signing in Barkerville itself.
My publisher also does a bit of promotion for their authors, and that’s definitely been effective, particularly for Kobo books.
But I’ve heard many times not to focus too much on social media as the best promo is to write the next book.
Q: You have a lovely first name and yet your books are published under initials. What governed that choice?
A: I write under a pseudonym because my real name is distinctive and I wanted to stay as anonymous as I could. Although in this day of the Internet, I’m sure anyone could figure out who I really am. Hmm, I’ve been spelling both my first and last names my whole life so I wanted something a bit easier. A.M. are my initials, and Westerling was my mom’s maiden name. In hindsight, though, I would probably go with Astrid Westerling as it’s a bit odd to receive emails addressed to A.M.
Q: When and where do you feel you are at your most creative?
A: I like writing in my office, I’m comfortable there, my research books are close at hand and the window looks out to the western sky. No particular time although I do prefer having a quiet house so I love writing when my husband is out. I don’t have a day job so I am fortunate to be able to write when the whim strikes me.
Q: What’s the biggest distraction when you’re in your “writing zone”?
A: Email! Facebook! Laundry! Dust bunnies!
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I always buy fresh flowers when I’m grocery shopping for my dining room table.
Q: What do you do for fun and why does it bring you joy and/or recharge your batteries?
A: I really enjoy walking and I try and get out for a walk every day, even if it’s only for 15 or 20 minutes. In the spring and summer, I love working in my garden and better yet, enjoying the fruits of my labor with a cold beer in hand on the patio. I enjoy a good movie or TV series and yes, I will analyze the plot development, much to the annoyance of my husband. I don’t read nearly as much as I should but love it when I find a great book to immerse myself in. A recent read that comes to mind is Juliet Waldron’s Roan Rose.
We do a bit of traveling in March when spring refuses to come to Calgary and although I’ll bring my little laptop, I rarely sit down and use it. Vacations are for replenishing the well. And I totally love camping, especially in northern British Columbia. My idea of heaven on earth.
Q: As an insider tip to aspiring writers, what do you know now about the publishing industry that you wish you had known when this journey began?
A: Hop onto Google and find a local, or online, writing group. Writing is a lonely occupation so it’s nice to connect with others who share the same passion you do. I’ve found nobody is more willing to help a newbie author than other authors – the advice, shared experiences and support are invaluable.
Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10-20 years, and do you think it will be harder or easier for authors to get their work in front of an audience?
A: Indie publishing is definitely here to stay and I think you’ll see more authors going that route if for no other reason than getting your work out and available a lot quicker.
Traditional publishing (i.e., finding a publishing house to publish you) will always be around, too, of course, and although in this day of indie publishing they’re crying for new authors, it will still be difficult to break into. For one thing, the big publishers are too afraid to take a risk. They’ll say they want something new and exciting but when push comes to shove, it’s the same old same old. Just take a look at the shelves at your local supermarket – you’ll always see the same names, particularly in the romance genre.
As far as getting your work in front of an audience, no matter if you’re indie or traditionally published, it’s hard enough already. Publishers expect authors to do their own promo work.
Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?
A: Go for a walk.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m working on another Viking romance, this time set in Vinland aka L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. I was working on it when I got the opportunity to participate in the Canadian Historical Brides series so I put it aside as I like to work on only one project at a time. Something about my attention span… ha ha.
I have a few ideas percolating for two more Regency set romances. Here’s the scene that’s popped into my head from one of them:
The brig. His own crew – the mutinous scurvy bastards! – had tossed Captain YY in his own brig. His ship. Therefore his brig.
He slammed a calloused palm against the rough planked wooden door then pressed his face to the small grated opening that passed for a sorry excuse of a window. The ship rolled and water sloshed around his ankles. The single lantern swung, casting erratic shadows on the wall and a rat swam by, its black eyes shiny in the feeble light.
With a muttered curse, he dropped down on the narrow bench and swung up his legs. He wedged his feet against the wall and leaned his head back.
Then he proceeded to think about how many enjoyable ways he could do away with the interfering Miss XX.
Because after all, it was her fault he was here.
And from that will grow an entire book!