Monday, March 29, 2021

Author Interview: Elizabeth Bell

Hello and happy Monday! Today, I am thrilled to welcome Elizabeth Bell, author of "The Lazare Family Saga." All four books in the series are out now!

1. All four books in the Lazare Family are now out: did you know from the beginning that you wanted the series to be four books? Did you write all four books before publishing the first book?

When I started this project back in the 1990s, I thought I was writing a single novel. I knew it would be doorstopper-sized, but so were my inspirations: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, Alex Haley’s Roots, and John Jakes’s North and South. My final word count is over half a million, so I broke up the narrative into four books of 400-500 pages each. Because the characters’ lives are so interconnected, because I wanted to include both foreshadowing and callbacks and truly make the story satisfying, I waited till I’d written a complete draft of the whole series before publishing Book One, Necessary Sins.

2. Tell us about your latest, "Sweet Medicine," which just came out in February. Who is your favorite character? What is your favorite scene?

I'll pick my blood transfusion scene, an incredibly risky procedure in 1860 before doctors understood either blood types or infection. I consulted with real medical professionals in a Facebook group called Trauma Fiction, and I took a deep dive into Victorian medicine. So many 19th-century medical texts have been digitized by Google Books—with illustrations! They're not for the faint of heart, but they're invaluable. The final blood transfusion scene works on both literal and symbolic levels, and it epitomizes the book's title, Sweet Medicine.

A fan-favorite character is the patriarch of the Lazare family, René. The saga begins with his conception, and the final Epilogue is from his point-of-view as an octogenarian. Those are the only pages in the first-person. I didn't plan them that way, but that's how René gave them to me. That Epilogue really felt like a gift, and it ties the whole saga together. Not wrapped up with a bow—history and life are messier than that—but nevertheless in a satisfying conclusion. René is the most progressive of the characters, and he's got the best sense of humor, both of which are essential to his appeal. So if I have to pick one character, it would be him.

3. What was your research process like for "Sweet Medicine?" Has your research process changed at all from the first book to the last?

Because I was already familiar with my time period and settings, much of my research for Sweet Medicine was refreshing and deepening what I already knew. I went back to my research notes from years ago to guide me. What did I want to emphasize? What did I need a better understanding of? I've always cast my research net wide, so I was also reading—and listening to—new books. I discovered Clara Brown, an important real-life supporting character, through an audiobook called Frontier Grit about strong women of the American West. Then I chased down other sources about Mrs. Brown, a formerly enslaved woman who was a true entrepreneur. Fortunately, I work in a university library.

4. How are you feeling about the Lazare series ending? Do you have any future books planned?

I'm experiencing something akin to empty nest syndrome! My babies are all out in the world! The Lazare Family Saga is the culmination of nearly three decades of research, revision, and persistence. I've had some people try to tell me I have more books in me, but I don't think I do. These characters' struggles and triumphs are so personal for me. I feel as if every word of this series is written with my blood. It's also a matter of having limited time and energy. My challenge now is to make the most of this magnum opus. I'm planning new formats, audiobooks and hardcovers, and I'm striving to reach new readers.

5. I know your path to publishing was not clear cut. Why did you end up choosing the path you chose? Do you have any words of wisdom for other authors trying to get published?

After nearly three years of knocking on the gates of traditional publishing and receiving only rejections, my choices were: 1. Throw your life's work into a trash can, or 2. Publish your work independently. I hate that this is the case, but it doesn't matter if you've written a good book. It matters if you've written a low-risk, easily marketable book. Aspiring authors should decide whether they're going to write the books that are in their hearts or if they're going to write to market. Occasionally, these two things align, but often they do not. For me, they did not. Agents and editors looked at my work, saw risk, and dismissed it as worthless to them. That's why it's been so gratifying to receive glowing reviews, including two Editors' Choice designations from the Historical Novel Society. My work does have merit and it does have an audience; it just doesn't fit into traditional publishing's pigeonholes. My advice to aspiring authors is: If you don't write to market—and if you don't know someone in publishing—be prepared to publish your work yourself and find your own audience.

6. If you could bring three people, real or fictional, with you to a deserted island, who would you bring with you?

Instead of company, can I have a library?


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