Every once in a while, an author comes across a website or page and simply captures my attention. Upon further investigation, I usually find new books to read, new inspiration from a fellow writer, and a desire to know the person in the real world. That is exactly what happened with my November author — Barbara Kyle, whose amazing mini-lessons through her newsletter offer aspiring and established writers excellent advice and clear instruction in improving their work. Let me share with you her brief bio. Kyle is the author of the bestselling Thornleigh Saga series of historical thrillers (called “Riveting Tudor drama” by USA Today) and a host of acclaimed contemporary thrillers. Over half a million copies of her books have been sold. Her latest is The Man from Spirit Creek, a novel of suspense. Barbara has taught hundreds of writers in her online classes and many have become award-winning authors. Page-Turner: Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy, her popular how-to book for writers, is available in print, e-book, and audiobook.
Janet E. Irvin: Welcome, Barabara. It’s great to have you visit us this month, so let’s get right to the questions! You had an amazing twenty-year career as an actor before you began writing fiction. How does your experience as a performer inform or enhance your writing? What can it teach new writers about dialogue?
Barbara Kyle: My acting career gave me a deep appreciation of strong story structure, because it’s hard to act a role in a script that has weaknesses like unfocused conflict or unmotivated turning points, or a feeble climax. So that’s really stayed with me. As for dialogue, the best advice I can offer emerging writers is: don’t force subtext, a character’s deepest thoughts and feelings, into their spoken words; it will seem stilted and unnatural. In a novel, the place for subtext is in the narration; that’s where the writer can expose a character’s emotions, their motivating hopes, and fears.
JEI: Your Thornleigh Saga is set in 16th-century England and follows three generations through the Tudor times. What intrigued you about this time period? How did you research this era?
BK: The Thornleigh Saga is a series of seven novels, and what drew me into writing the first book in the series was a fascination with the dramatic events around Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome to divorce his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. The series follows a middle-class family’s rise through three turbulent Tudor reigns, so the research was hugely important.
However, it was so engrossing I actually had to make myself stop doing research. It leads you down a fascinating rabbit hole that opens to myriad tunnels of facts about the era’s culture, politics, and military events. But, much as readers of historical novels love the history, they don’t really want a lecture, they want a story about characters they care about. So I had to crawl back up, out of that mesmerizing rabbit hole, and march on with crafting an exciting story about my fictional characters.
JEI: Your new novel – The Man from Spirit Creek — takes place in the Alberta oil fields. Which influenced the development of this novel more — setting or plot?
BK: Oh, definitely plot. Because plot springs from the characters, and I fell in love with this book’s characters. The spark for this story was a real-life event of oilfield sabotage that led to tragedy. So I invented characters who would live out the theme of “How far would you go to protect your family?”
JEI: I first learned about you from your teaching courses. From Master Classes to free YouTube videos to private mentoring, you have created a wide range of opportunities for writers to improve their craft. How do you balance your own writing with these varied ventures?
BK: It is a bit of a juggling act. I recently finished writing my twelfth novel, a mystery featuring an animal rights activist – it’s the first book in a planned series – but I’ve also been giving my online Novel Writing MasterClass Series for writers around the world, and it’s a challenge to organize my time to carry on these two “businesses” concurrently. I love doing both, but each requires intense personal commitment, so it sometimes feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day.
JEI: You also have a well-acclaimed book for writers – Page-Turner. Why did you decide to offer this to aspiring authors?
BK: Often, after I’d given a master class or a workshop at a writers conference, people would ask me, “Is there a book where can I read what you teach?” and I’d have to say “No”, so I thought it was time I made that a “Yes.” In Page-Turner, I share the techniques that have shaped the art of storytelling for centuries and have helped my own novels sell over half a million copies. My approach – from an examination of “deep character” and the essentials of story structure, to tips about creating dynamic dialogue and mastering POV – is for writers who are serious about achieving success.
JEI: Thank you, Barbara, for taking time from your demanding schedule to share your thoughts with us. Now for my ‘fun’ questions. What is your favorite color?
BK: My favorite color is cornflower blue.
JEI: When the workload overwhelms, what do you do for fun?
BK: For fun, on a sunny day I love driving my 2003 Miata with the top down. And I play the violin. But I don’t do both at the same time!
JEI: Now I wish I’d asked about the violin! For more about Barbara and her writing, visit her at www.BarbaraKyle.com