I blundered into writing historical novels from an eccentric starting point – contributing to a military blog, or mil-blog. In 2002, I began writing for a mil-blog that had been started by an Air Force mechanic. This interested me because I was myself retired from the Air Force. All that was required to write for the blog was to be a veteran or active-duty military – and to write. I liked to write, had opinions, and a background in public affairs as a military broadcaster, so I took the plunge.
I set myself a weekly target of three essays of 500-800 words each, on any topic I felt like writing about. The essays readers liked most were about my own eccentric family and growing up. In response to reader demand, I worked them into a short memoir, which I think of as my ‘training wheels’ book. I never really expected it to have any appeal beyond readers of the website.
A year later, I wrote a long, historical essay about a certain pioneering wagon-train party. One of my regular readers liked it very much, saying, ‘Oh, why don’t you do a short movie treatment, and I’ll show it to some people I know – I did – and she did, but nothing much came of it until a year later, when she showed it to a professional writer she was doing publicity work for. He was absolutely blown away. Via email, he coached me through transforming it into a novel.
That experience, of writing a historical novel about the American frontier – something that had always fascinated me – was so much fun that, as soon as it was finished, published, and launched, I turned around and started another! This one was set in Texas, and expanded to become a trilogy. This year, I have begun work on two more novels with a frontier setting – and my first novel, about the wagon-train party, continues to sell very well, even though I do very little marketing of it. Although my novels are published by a combination of POD and boutique presses, they continue to sell very well locally.
The value of having started as a blogger was two-fold. First, I became accustomed to writing in a disciplined way. Second, it allowed me to connect to a larger audience. I had fans, regular readers who loved my writing, and connected with my passion for history. I have to say it was their interest that encouraged me to think of myself as a professional novelist.
Julia Hayden, who writes professionally as Celia Hayes, spent twenty years as a military broadcaster in the Air Force before retiring. She contributes to a variety of online magazines and websites, and is also on the board of the Independent Authors Guild, a non-profit association of writers published by small or regional boutique publishers. She is the author of four novels set on the 19th century American frontier. Julia currently lives in San Antonio with her daughter and an assortment of dogs and cats, Her literary website is at https://www.celiahayes.com.
BAM Advanced Fiction Techniques: First Pages
There are three basic ways to hook readers. Do you know what they are?