Sarah Introduces Herself
I am a homeschooling mom of four kids (ages 7 to 20), married for 21 years. I came to fiction writing 5 ½ years ago, having done the academic thing up until then, culminating with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Until I was in my thirties, I would routinely tell people “I haven’t a creative bone in my body.” I believed it! I don’t anymore. According to my extended family, I’m now so far off the map in being arty and alternative, that I’ve forgotten there even is a map.
Sarah, since my blog is about creativity, that’s a great introduction to yourself. What created the shift in your belief about your creativity, and what did you do to encourage taking action?
When I was in graduate school, I remember talking with my sister-in-law (also in grad school), about my committee’s desire for me to come up with an original research project for my dissertation. I didn’t know how they could expect that when I hadn’t had an original thought in 12 years! We laughed because it felt so true.
Undermining that certainty, however, were my children. My daughter was born after my first year of graduate school, and my son two years later. Because of them, I postponed looking for a ‘real’ job as a professor, and then decided that staying home with them and homeschooling was a real job.
My focus had been on academics. That was my identity. That was my value as a person. With academia in the rearview mirror, I was only a mom. And that’s where my creativity began to sprout. Tiny at first. Ten years ago, we bought a house that needed a complete makeover, inside and out, and we did the outside first. Which means I designed the garden and planted it. I had told myself for years that I had a black thumb and all of a sudden, the plants grew! And were beautiful.
My daughter, in particular, has always been very creative and my next foray was into quilting, entirely because I was looking for something to do with her. Was writing a logical extension of that? I don’t know if it would be for anyone else, but on April 1, 2006, I sat down at my computer and wrote the first line of my first book. And changed my life.
I love the idea that the act of gardening and resultant success helped to make inroads into the “black thumb” belief.
You discovered that you could create beauty. That’s so powerful.
Let’s move on to the flowering of your literary imagination. Tell us about that first book: why you chose the subject you did and how it played an integral part in your creative journey.
I wrote that first book in six weeks, just to see if I could. I’m thankful that I didn’t have any desire to write the great American novel, or to exorcise demons from my past because it might have made the book harder to abandon. Again, it was my children that drove my creativity and I wanted to write something that they might enjoy reading.
This book had elves and magic in it and will never see the light of day. It is locked at the bottom of the proverbial trunk. It was very bad. Unsalvageable. At the same time, it showed me that I could write a novel (bad though it was), and gave me hints as to how I might go about writing a second one.
It is my second novel that set me on my present course. I had a dream about driving my mini-van into medieval Wales. I woke up and knew I had to write the story. This book eventually became Footsteps in Time. It is a young adult novel about two teenagers who do exactly what I dreamed: drive a mini-van from our world into thirteenth century Wales.
It is Footsteps in Time that I wrestled with and that haunted me for four years. I queried hundreds of agents about it, acquiring 72 rejections before one took me on. I read it out loud to find typos. Twice. I cut 1/3 of the chapters from it three times. I rewrote it a fourth time (cutting out 15,000 more words) before I published it in 2011. I’ve sold over 7000 copies of the book this year. And every one is like a little miracle.
I’m so glad you raised the subject of dreams, because they have always been a powerful source of creativity for me. The story of your second novel also reveals a fascination with Wales. Would you like to tell us more about the source of that fascination?
Some of my ancestors were Welsh, and that tradition is one of the stories that my family has always told about itself. That we came from Wales, even if it was 400 years ago, is a source of pride, as well as curiosity as to what that means and who those people were. My daughter and I (as a homeschool project) began researching our genealogy in the late 90’s and that’s when I began to read more about Wales. I also lived in the UK for a year while in college, visited Wales, and fell in love with the country and its people. So to dream about it was natural.
The dreaming is also one of those double-edged swords. I dream vividly (and some time horribly) every night. I don’t sleep well—to wake up a dozen times in a night is normal for me—and this pattern started about the time I started writing. I think it’s clear that my dreams inform my writing, and in turn, my writing seeps into my dreams. I’m not sure now if I could have one without the other.
Getting more specifically into your novels: While I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the Arthurian era, I am aware that probably countless novels have been written on the subject. It’s obviously a story/saga that captures the human imagination.
Why does it capture your imagination? Why do you think it has so great a universal appeal?
It is my sense that the King Arthur story appeals to different people in different ways, and on many levels because it’s got a little bit of everything in it. There’s the beginning—the young boy who becomes a king. It’s the child’s story of the mythic hero; then there’s the sophisticated interplay of politics, the machinations of Merlin, magic, and treachery—the dark side, if you will; and finally, there’s the tragic downfall.
But that’s not the King Arthur story that appeals to me, actually. King Arthur, as usually written, comes off as either as a flat character, someone whom the author employs as a backdrop to explore the personalities of other characters (Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot), or as unheroic and human, tripped up in the end by the overwhelming burden of his imperfections. Arthur is either a pawn, buffeted by the winds of fate, or so flawed, one has to ask how he was remembered as a hero in the first place.
There is a simple reason for this: it is very hard to synchronize the different aspects of Arthur’s story into a complete whole because the essential, heroic element of Arthur’s story—his defeat of the Saxons for a generation—has been grafted, at both the beginning and the end, to a romantic tale told for reasons having more to do with the medieval authors who were telling the story, and the time in which they were living, than with Arthur. In so doing, his character is incomplete and inexplicable, one who reacts instead of acts, and who never has a say in his own destiny.
Instead, it is Merlin who is the active character. It is he who sets the whole plot in motion, whose behavior acts at times like a ‘get out of jail free card’ for Arthur, who manipulates everybody else, but who is powerless to stop Arthur’s downfall in the end. In the classic Norman/French tale, it is through Merlin’s actions at the beginning of the story that Arthur becomes high king, and because of Merlin’s abandonment at the end of the story that (in rapid succession), Arthur loses his wife, his best friend, his son, and his life.
In the Welsh tales, on the other hand, Arthur is nearly super-human. He may have a few flaws, yes, but he is a ‘hero’ in the classic sense. He takes his men to the Underworld and back again, he finds the 13 treasures of Britain, and he rescues his friends and relations from danger and death. It is these tales, that appeal to me and the stories upon which I base my books.
I have three books related to King Arthur. Cold my Heart, which is set in the end of his reign: By the autumn of 537 AD, the autumn of 537 AD, all who are loyal to King Arthur have retreated to a small parcel of land in north Wales. They are surrounded on all sides, heavily outnumbered, and facing near certain defeat.
But Myrddin and Nell, two of the King’s companions, have a secret that neither has ever been able to face: each has seen that on a cold and snowy day in December, Saxon soldiers sent by Modred will ambush and kill King Arthur.
And together, they must decide what they are willing to do, and to sacrifice, to avert that fate.
The Last Pendragon/The Pendragon’s Quest, two books about the heir to Arthur’s throne: He is a king, a warrior, the last hope of his people–and the chosen one of the sidhe . . .
Set in 7th century Wales, The Last Pendragon is the story of Arthur’s heir, Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon (Cade), and his love, Rhiann, the daughter of the man who killed Cade’s father and usurped his throne.
Born to rule, yet without a kingdom, Cade must grasp the reins of his own destiny to become both Christian king and pagan hero. And Rhiann must decide how much she is willing to risk to follow her heart.
My other books are a medieval mystery, The Good Knight, and a time travel fantasy series about two teenagers who travel back to medieval Wales: Footsteps in Time/Prince of Time/Daughter of Time.
My web page: http://www.sarahwoodbury.com/
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