Jody Hedlund joins Rachel to talk about the popularity of historical romance novels, the busy homeschooling/writer life, and differences between writing YA and adult fiction.
Rachel: Historical Romance has long been a staple of the Christian market. Readers don’t seem to tire of their happy endings, especially when they take place in the past. Why do you think the genre has kept its popularity over the years?
Jody: The simplicity of bygone eras is something many busy modern readers crave on a deeper level, especially as our culture’s demands on our time continue to increase. Readers long to escape to someplace that doesn’t remind them of their current situation or life. Historical fiction offers readers a chance to slow down and to enjoy a simpler life they wish they had.
Plus historical fiction allows a way to time travel. And let’s face it, history has some very fascinating eras and it’s just plain fun to learn about them. (You can’t tell I’m biased, can you?!)
Rachel: Up until this year, all of your published novels have been Historical Romances. Did you always hope to write for this genre?
Jody: I’ve always loved history. And I’ve always loved reading historical romances. But it wasn’t until I began homeschooling my children and teaching them history that my imagination turned on and I began to see story possibilities in everything we were reading and learning.
During the course of our history lessons, I began to learn a lot about some of the great heroes of the faith. I was particularly fascinated by the wives of these great heroes, especially those who were long forgotten by our modern world, women who had stood by their husband’s sides during dangerous times and had helped shape those men into the heroes they became. I wanted to bring these women to life for our modern generation.
Rachel: Many of your novels feature the more gritty aspects of history—be it heroes with a criminal history, or secondary characters who have spent time working in a brothel. While it’s fascinating to read novels where the historical facts haven’t been skimmed over, it can also be challenging or uncomfortable to learn the truth about the more unsavoury parts of our past. Which subject has been the most difficult to research and write about?
Jody: You defined my novels very well! The do contain some “gritty” aspects. I definitely don’t shy away from tackling those difficult issues, particularly issues that are still relevant today but perhaps in a different form.
For example in my second lighthouse book, Hearts Made Whole, the hero is coming home from serving in the Civil War. As a result of all he’s experienced, he’s scared both physically and emotionally. In order to deal with the pain of his war injury, he takes opium pills which doctors dispensed quite regularly at that time. Unfortunately, the pills had an addictive quality. So the hero starts off the book having some addiction problems that he must overcome as the book progresses. My hope is that readers will be able to relate to his struggles since addiction issues are still very real today.
Rachel: In your Author’s Note for Love Unexpected, you mention that you based several characters in this novel on real people. What challenges does an author face when turning historical facts into a work of fiction?
Jody: One of the most challenging aspects is to take the mundane of what really happened and make it exciting enough to last an entire book. I want to stay true to the structural pieces of what is known in historical records, but in order to create a riveting story I always have to fill in that framework with my imagination of “what else could have happened.”
I always try to explain in my Author’s Note at the end of my books, what people or events are true and then what I added in for the sake of the story.
Rachel: It’s clear that you spend a lot of time researching the history behind your novels. What has been the most interesting or enjoyable research experience so far?
Jody: By far the most exciting and enjoyable aspect of writing this particular lighthouse series has been the fun of visiting various lighthouses around Michigan. Since Michigan is a peninsula surrounded on three sides by Great Lakes, it has gained notoriety for being the state with the most lighthouses. It has over 120 compared to 500 total nationwide.
Last summer I had the wonderful privilege of staying in an assistant light keeper’s cottage for an entire week at the lighthouse that I’m using as the setting for Book #3 in the series, Undaunted Hope. It was a thrill to wake up every morning with the lighthouse right outside my window and to climb its spiral staircase whenever I wanted!
Rachel: As a homeschooling mother of five, how did you make time to write? Do you have any tips for aspiring writer mamas? (Particularly for those whose 5-month-olds barely give them time to check their email, let alone write a novel!)
Jody: It’s definitely not easy to manage my busy household of five children and squeeze in time for writing. But fortunately my husband is very helpful and pitches in to help wherever possible. We really work together as a team to support each other in our pursuits and work. For example, when he’s home he often takes over the household responsibilities, runs kids to activities, and pitches in with homeschooling so that I can have concentrated blocks of time to write.
We’ve also simplified our home life and outside commitments as much as possible. We expect our children to shoulder responsibilities around the home. And last but certainly not least, I rely upon my mom for lots of help too. She helps homeschool, cooks meals, and even does some of the transporting of kids to activities.
My encouragement to moms pursuing publication is that it is possible to juggle being a mom and writer. It’s NOT easy, but it is possible! We should try to set aside a little bit of time to write every day (even if it’s not at the same time every day). We may have to write in small spurts. And we can’t let interruptions derail us. Even if we only write 300 words a day, it’s something. Before we know it we’ll have completed the first chapter, then the first half of the book, and finally we’ll have a finished book in front of us.
Rachel: Your upcoming release, An Uncertain Choice, is aimed at the young adult market. How difficult was it to make the change from writing for adults?
Jody: The transition has been relatively smooth since over the past few years I’ve read an enormous amount of YA in order to keep up with my teens. Since I really enjoyed reading the genre, it seemed only natural to try my hand at writing it and doing so at a time when I still have teens of my own who could read and benefit from my books.
Writing historicals is very similar for teens and adults in many ways–including the need for historical accuracy, knowledge of the time period, and getting into a “time travel” mindset. However, I did notice some differences in my YA historicals. First I tended to border on more fairy-tale with a tiny amount of fantasy thrown in. The characters are also a little different in YA because they’re struggling with some “growing up” issues. Another difference is the length. My YA’s are shorter than my adult fiction.
However, all that to say, I think teens and adults alike will enjoy my new YA every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed reading YA.
Rachel: You mention on your website that you will be releasing your first straight Historical novel in October 2015. How will this novel differ from your previous Historical Romances?
Jody: I’m releasing a book called Luther & Katharina with Random House (Waterbrook) in October. It’s a book based one of the greatest untold love stories: the courtship and marriage of the great reformer, Martin Luther to a runaway nun Katharina von Bora. He’s a heretic wanted dead or alive, and she’s a noblewoman without a family or home. Amidst the dangers of pope, princes, and revolting peasants, the two must wage war to find a love of their own.
Those who’ve read my past historical romances know that I usually base my books on real people or real events. However, I’ve always changed names and fictionalized the story. Now, however, starting with Luther & Katharina I’ll be writing those “real life” stories without changing names or facts. Readers won’t have to wait until the Author’s Note to find out who the story is about. They get to know right from the first page!
Rachel: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! We greatly appreciate the opportunity to feature your interview as part of our February Historical Romance event. I just finished reading Love Unexpected and thoroughly enjoyed it, although Rebellious Heart is still my favourite of your novels 🙂
Jody: Thank you so much for having me!