Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tales of the Irish: Author interview with Juilene Osborne-McKnight


Juilene Osborne-McKnight is a Professor of Celtic Studies and creative writing. When she is not teaching, she writes Irish historical novels and to date has published four of them.

Thinking back to when you wrote your first book, in what ways have you seen publishing change over the years?
Oh my has publishing changed! Authors can publish themselves, which means that the number of books published each year has jumped from about 100,000 a year to over a million. This makes it much harder for readers to find a writer's work, so writers must now work diligently at platform and visibility. This makes it much harder to balance writing time and promotional time.

I love all things Irish, including my Irish husband, so I am naturally drawn to your books. What do you think are some of the common misconceptions about Irish history?
Honestly, I think most people don't know that the Potato Famine of the middle 1800's reduced the population of Ireland by almost half. Nearly 4 million people died or emigrated. That's why there are so many of us Irishers in the U.S. and Canada. I also think most people don't know that the King Arthur legends are Celtic myths; Arthur's code for his knights was a code that Fionn Mac Cumhail used with his army in the 3rd century A.D.!!

What type of research do you do in writing your book?
I do years of research; I learned to speak and read the Irish language in order to understand the times and the people in my novel. I'm a very old-fashioned researcher - books and notecards. The advantage is that I keep my research forever that way.

Who are your favorite contemporary Irish writers? I happen to be a fan of the late Maeve Binchy works and I love her husband, Gordon Snell's picture book stories.
I read a LOT of contemporary Irish writers. I did my graduate work in Ireland and have had the great good fortune of studying with a number of contemporary Irish writers. I read Seamus Heaney (may God keep him), Vona Groarke, Conor O'Callaghan, Edna O'Brien, Pat Boran, Nuala ni Dhomhnaill, Morgan Llywellen, Anne Enright, Marina Carr, and glorious John Banville, among others.I have read Maeve Binchy and one semester I taught her Whitethorn Woods; I think she must have been a lovely warm person.

 
Your previous books were historical and now you’ve done a contemporary Irish novel. Why the change? Was this easier to write than the historical novels? Will you continue to do historical novels?
I wrote the contemporary because I want to bring the ancient myths into the modern world. Myths retell themselves over and over again, just in different languages or different costumes. I thought it would be fun to see the myth retell itself in modern technological America.

Right now, I've been commissioned to do a non-fiction on Irish history called The Story We Carry in our Bones: Irish History for Irish Americans.
How did you get involved with the Tor and Forge imprints of Macmillan?
I have been with Macmillan's Tor/Forge divisions for all of my historicals and they have been wonderfully good to me. I do have an agent, a former editor from Macmillan!!

What type of promotions do you do for your books?
Promotions have become much more time-consuming over the years. When I started, promotion consisted of going to bookstores to do book signings. Now, it includes blogging, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. I haven't succumbed to Twitter yet, because there is only so much time in a day! Plus, how would a novelist say anything in 140 characters? Or any Irishwoman for that matter?

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I NEVER outline, which means that my revision process is slow and laborious, but I love the sense of the story telling itself to me. I actually write with my eyes closed and I do most of my writing in the summer, when I am not teaching. That means that I can write for eight hours a day or more if the story is telling well.

I believe that all good writing arises out of character so I try to constantly ask my characters two questions: What do you want or need? What are you willing to do to get it? The answers determine both the characters' actions and their moral character.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
"Write what you know" shouldn't be taken to mean time, place, work knowledge etc. It means what you know about human nature, about life.

If you would like to know more about Juilene's writing and her upcoming books, here's some ways to do it... http://www.juileneosbornemcknight.com.           juileneosbornemcknight.blogspot.com