We’re here with Michelle Shocklee talking about her new book, The Widow of Rose Hill. Tell us a little about your new book. What is the main storyline?
Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance, she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?
Sounds very interesting. How long have you been writing?
Storytelling has been part of my life as far back as I can remember. I attempted to write my first novel at the age of ten. I truly wish I still had that manuscript. I’m sure it would give me a good laugh! I had my first magazine article published in 2003. Since then I’ve had stories in various publications as well as six Chicken Soup for the Soul books. My debut novel, The Planter’s Daughter, released March 2017.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Growing up, it never occurred to me to be a writer. My mom was a wonderful elementary school teacher who made teaching seem easy, so I chose Elementary Education as my major in college. Unfortunately, I didn’t have her gift or patience, and I quit school after three years. After I had children I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom. It was during their naptimes and other quiet times during the day (few and far between with two rambunctious boys!) I began writing a novel on notepads. When my husband purchased our first computer (seems soooo long ago!) I ramped up my writing. I joined American Christian Fiction Writers and soon realized I had a LOT to learn about the craft of writing.
What inspired you to write this book?
Years ago my husband and I took a trip to the southern part of Texas where I learned there had once been cotton plantations. That fascinated me. I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico where such things don’t exist, and I didn’t know a lot of Texas history beyond the Alamo. I dug into research—one of my favorite things to do!—and discovered there had once been plantations in the very county where I lived, Williamson County. Long story short, the idea for the historical series The Women of Rose Hill was born. Natalie, the heroine in The Widow of Rose Hill, is a secondary character in the first book, The Planter’s Daughter. Readers will see many changes take place in Natalie, as well as Rose Hill, once the war is over and the slaves are freed.
Did it turn out the way you first thought it would? If not, what was different?
June 19, 1865, is an important date in Texas’ history. It’s the day Union soldiers arrived in Galveston with a proclamation freeing over 250,000 slaves still in bondage in the state. As I read true accounts of that day and the days following, as slaves were told they were free, I knew the second book in the series had to be about those events. So, yes, this book turned out exactly as I’d envisioned it, which is truly an answer to many prayers.
How long did it take you to write? Tell us a little about the process.
This book took me about five months to write. Typically, a book will take me almost a full year to write, but I had a deadline from my publisher to meet for this one, so I couldn’t dawdle. Research is always first. When you write historical fiction, getting the facts straight is vital. Authors sometimes take a little creative license and fudge dates or other information here and there, but for the most part, I want the history in my books to be as accurate as possible. Once the research is underway I’ll start writing the book. Normally I am a “seat of the pants” writer, meaning I don’t know the full story when I begin the book and just let it unfold as I write. For this book, however, I had already submitted a synopsis to my publisher, so I knew how it would end. There were a few little surprises, though, that I absolutely loved.
Did you need to do any special research?
For this series, I discovered an amazing book called I Was Born in Slavery; Personal Accounts of Slavery in Texas. In 1936, the government sent out-of-work writers to the south to interview former slaves in order to preserve their stories. The interviews are written exactly as the former slave told it, some with heavy dialect and mispronounced words. But the tales they tell are amazing, and I relied heavily upon this little book in order to get the slaves’ stories accurate. I named many of the slave characters in both books after real Texas slaves.
Do you have a special place or atmosphere you like to write in best?
I have a writing chair and a writing room, but more often than not I just stretch out on my bed with my laptop and write.
Are you like your main character?
I think it’s impossible to create a heroine without a little bit of myself in her. While she and I will differ in many ways, some commonalities will be our faith in God, growth, and maturity through experiences, and how we see the world.
What character do you relate to or like best?
I love Moses, a slave who appears in both books. His faith despite difficult times amazes me. I also enjoyed creating Carolina, a young slave woman whose happily-ever-after was very important to me.
Did you learn anything new about yourself while writing this book?
I don’t know that I learned something new about myself through the process of writing this book, but I did often wonder what I would have done had I been in the same situations as my characters. Would I have persevered? Would I have chosen to do what was right, despite the path being a difficult one? Those types of reflections often come when I’m reading fiction as well as writing it.
What project are you working on now?
I’m working on the third book in the series, A Daughter Redeemed. It takes place twenty years after the first book. I hope to have it available to readers in early 2019.
What advice would you give a new author?
Keep writing! Keep learning about the craft. God has a timetable and a plan in place, and He won’t be rushed. Trust me, I know this from experience! Try to get to a writers’ conference every year or so. They can be expensive, but the things you learn and the people you meet are well worth it.
How many books have you written and how can we find your books?
I have three books available on Amazon and in bookstores: The Planter’s Daughter, The Widow of Rose Hill, and The Mail-Order Brides Collection (To Heal Thy Heart)
Do you have any closing comments for us today?
Thank you for hosting me on your blog! I love connecting with readers, so feel welcome to pop over to my website and shoot me an email if you have any questions or comments. Happy reading!!