Q&A: Kathleen Y'Barbo (Millie's Treasure)
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE SETTING OF MEMPHIS IN 1890 FOR THIS BOOK?
The entire Secret Lives of Will Tucker series takes place in the South along the Mississippi River, so Memphis was a natural choice. I love the history, the location, and the way the setting just naturally worked with the plot. It's an amazing city that rose from the ruins, almost literally, after a horrible yellow fever epidemic in the 19th century. I loved that my heroine's family would have risen above those awful circumstances in order to survive. To me, that survival instinct is the essence of what makes up the character of Millie Cope.
WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO WRITING A GOOD HISTORICAL NOVEL?
Accuracy, entertainment, and great characters in equal measure. If any of those are missing, there will be trouble, and that trouble usually goes back to the amount of work an author has put into his or her research. Just as an author of science fiction must build a world and stay true to it, so an author of historical fiction must also do the same. The difference, of course, is that the world the historical author is building is one based in fact and usually well documented elsewhere. The trick comes in building on those facts to create a world for readers that is as familiar as their own. Again, that goes back to accuracy, entertainment, and great characters.
To be fair, sometimes things are changed during the editorial process that are out of an author's control, and that can affect the final product's accuracy. For example, sometimes an editor decides to add some variety to a manuscript by changing up a certain word so as to avoid repetition when only the one word is correct. If that isn't caught by the author during galleys or is done after the author has finished a final look, then inaccuracies can show up in the final product. Unfortunately there is no way for the reader to know whether the author made the mistake or whether an editor inadvertently caused the problem with what appeared to be a simple change. Thankfully, I think most readers are understanding of these things and will offer some measure of grace to authors.
WHAT TYPE OF RESEARCH DO YOU CONDUCT?
I do extensive research on all my books. If I say it is raining on a certain day, it's because I have found weather records to indicate this. I work hard to make my characters sound true to their time period while also being understood by modern readers. I learned early on from the amazing author Tracie Peterson to use a "Rule of Three" approach. Whenever possible, find three independent sources to verify a fact.
HOW IS THIS BOOK DIFFERENT FROM PREVIOUS PROJECTS FOR YOU?
In this series, unlike other books I have written, I get to add an element of steampunk that has been so much fun. For those who might not recognize the term, I would offer the example of the old television show The Wild, Wild West. The main characters had access to gadgets and inventions that ordinary citizens did not. By making my Pinkerton men inventors who held patents for all sorts of inventions, I got to incorporate such things as metal detectors, guns that shoot filament line to add in climbing, spectacles that can see long distances, and all sorts of other fun things. To be sure that I wasn't too far off the mark in creating these gadgets, I searched the United States Patent Office files for records of inventions that were patented within ten years of my series time line. That way it is plausible for my Pinkerton heroes (and heroine) to be using prototypes that would have been in creation although not yet patented at the time.
ARE ANY ELEMENTS OF THIS STORY PULLED FROM YOUR REAL LIFE?
Always! Three years ago, the Lord brought a romance into my life that was both unexpected and amazing. After seven years of being single and two years of living in an empty nest, I thought He had a different plan for the rest of my life, so imagine when He brought marriage! I write romance, but living one? At my age? But God is good, and as my friend Robin Jones Gunn reminded me recently, He loves giving gifts to His children. The gift of marriage was a recurring theme in my books, and had become a theme in my life. That's a gift I gladly embraced!
WHAT ROLE DOES YOUR FAITH PLAY IN YOUR WRITING?
Faith is essential to my writing. From the moment I begin plotting a book, I know where the characters are spiritually. Are they searching, grounded in their beliefs, somewhere in between? Knowing this opens up the rest of the book's plot and gives the foundation on which the story rests. Sometimes the spiritual storyline is overt and other times, it is less obvious, but always it is there. Bottom line: I cannot imagine doing this without the Lord.