MICHAEL WALLACE: I WASN”T EXPECTING CROW HOLLOW TO HIT #1 AT AMAZON
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
The official release of Michael Wallace’s Crow Hollow is set for June 1. A month before the premiere the novel entered in Top 3 of Kindle Amazon Bestselling list and even reach the top spot. The book stayed in the prestigious ranks for several weeks.
The readers loved the story, which is currently valuated with av. 4.3 Amazon stars from almost 450 reviews. Thanks to the great assistance of our good friend Dennelle Catlett from the publisher Lake Union we are happy to welcome Michael Wallace at Land of Books.
– Michael, Tell us about your new book, Crow Hollow. What is it about?
– In 1676, an unlikely pair—a young Puritan widow and an English spy—journeys across a land where greed and treachery abound.
Prudence Cotton has recently lost her husband and is desperate to find her daughter, captured by the Nipmuk tribe during King Philip’s war. She’s convinced her daughter is alive but cannot track her into the wilderness alone. Help arrives in the form of James Bailey, an agent of the crown sent to Boston to investigate the murder of Prudence’s husband and to covertly cause a disturbance that would give the king just cause to install royal governors. After his partner is murdered, James needs help too. He strikes a deal with Prudence, and together they traverse the forbidding New England landscape looking for clues. What they confront in the wilderness—and what they discover about each other—could forever change their allegiances and alter their destinies.
– What was the biggest challenge in your writing process?
– This biggest challenge for this particular book was language. People wrote and spoke in a different dialect in 1676. I couldn’t simply use 350 year old English, or it would have been difficult to read, like when you see Shakespeare and you have to really pay close attention to follow it.
But at the same time, I couldn’t simply write in the modern vernacular, either. So I was walking a fine line between adding enough flavor of the times in authentic, but easily understood language, but keeping it modern enough to be readable.
I learned a lot about the history of the English language in the process. There were many cases where a word sounded archaic to my ear, but turned out to be coined in the 19th century or even earlier, and many other cases where a modern-sounding word turned out to be quite old. It was a real education.
– Tell us something more about your main characters, Prudence and James? Are they 100% fiction?
– These particular characters are fictional, but there are some comparisons from actual history. The earliest bestsellers in American history were the captivity narratives written by women who’d been taken prisoner during King Philip’s war, and who then wrote about their experiences for audiences in the colonies and England. Prudence is modeled after these women, who survived extremely challenging circumstances.
At this time, the crown really was trying to regain control of these renegade colonies, and it wasn’t hard to imagine what kind of character the king might have sent to New England in the aftermath of the war.
I have some ancestors who were part of that Puritan migration to New England in the mid-1600s. One of them was a prominent minister by the name of John Cotton, who was the grandfather of Cotton Mather, of Salem Witch Trial fame. I cribbed the last name and gave it to Prudence.
– How long did it take you to write Crow Hollow?
– I let my ideas percolate for a while before I start writing, but once I begin, I don’t mess around. I work every day and set word count goals, then start right in on rewrites the moment I finish. So it sounds a little deceptive, because it doesn’t include all of my reading and research, but the first draft of the book took about two months, with another six weeks of heavy rewriting after that.
Having said that, historical novels take longer to write than my other books, not so much in the first draft work, but in all the reading I have to do while working. I buy and check out a huge stack of books, which I read both before I start working, and then every evening while I’m writing that first draft. The best non-fiction resources don’t just answer questions, but they raise all sorts of interesting ideas that can make their way into my novel.
The second draft also takes more time in a historical. Because I write with the internet turned off so I don’t get distracted, my manuscripts are littered with notes of things I need to look up. All of these details lend a historical much of its flavor, but it takes a long time to track them down and get them right. Thank goodness for Google! I can’t imagine the effort it would have taken to write a book like this back before the Internet.
– Did you expect that your book would hit #1 on the Kindle bestseller list? What were you feeling when you found out?
– No, I wasn’t expecting that at all. I had a good idea that it would hit the top 10, since it was part of a big promotion on Amazon, but the top ranking was a surprise, and the first time I’d ever hit that high. It feels a little surreal when it happens, and I know there will be ups and downs in the future, but it’s always great when a story you love reaches a lot of readers.
– What are your writing habits?
Like everyone else, I’m naturally lazy, and most deadlines in this business feel artificial. But I’m doing the job that I love, and told myself I wasn’t going to fail because I didn’t work hard enough, so I keep myself on a strict schedule.
I write every day when I’m working on a first draft, and don’t take more than a week or two off between projects. Setting daily word count goals, getting the writing done early in the day, and forcing myself to finish my books on time helps me be productive.
– What should we expect from your next books? You have two coming out this fall!
– I don’t like to write the same story over and over, so my writing encompasses everything from historicals to science fiction and fantasy. The sf/f gives me a chance to have fun with my imagination, but I really love the full immersive experience of writing a historical novel. It’s so wonderful to dive into the research, and then feel almost like you’re living in that period as you write. Sometimes, I finish my daily writing and feel as though I’m stepping out of the 17th century, or Occupied France.
My fall release with Lake Union is The Crescent Spy, about a woman who spies for the Union in New Orleans in the Civil War. I’m really excited to see how it does.
– What was your inspiration for the Righteous Series?
– Before Crow Hollow, the Righteous was what I was most known for writing. It’s set in a polygamist community in the desert, and was such an unusual setting that a lot of people seemed to check it out from sheer curiosity. Finding themselves embroiled in an environment that was both utterly alien and yet dealt with familiar issues of loyalty, doubt, faith, family, and community, seems to catch many readers by surprise. It isn’t for everyone, but the ones who do appreciate the stories seem to love them. I get a fair number of emails from people asking me to continue the series, even though it wraps up fairly cleanly by the final book.
As for inspiration, I actually have some polygamist ancestors, and grew up in a small religious community, and so was able to dig into this setting with a degree of authenticity. Jacob, one of the two main characters of the series, is like a smarter, braver version of myself, filled with doubt, and yet connected with his people in a way that’s hard to deny.
– The Devil’s Deep is another great work. Any interesting stories to share from the writing or researching of that novel?
– I was once watching a science documentary where they were talking about people with high brain stem injuries who were 100% conscious within their own minds, but unable to communicate with the outside world. In many cases, loved ones think they are brain dead and do little to interact with them. It’s hard to imagine finding yourself in a more horrific situation.I immediately began thinking about that person as a victim of a crime, and a story came together in my mind. The big challenge was writing from the point of view of someone who is unable to talk or communicate. Coming up with a way to handle this is something I’m really proud of.