Interview: Diane Haeger

You know the mark of a great writer? It’s when you read something they have created, and it stays with you. You remember the characters, and not just the story, but the detail of their lives. That’s the kind of writer that Diane Haeger is. I read her book The Secret Bride, and fell in love with the detail. The story has remained with me, and she was able to highlight one of the most interesting women in history.

Diane is one of the those writers who is so talented, she’s able to tell a great story in a variety of genres. Her advice for other writers is excellent, and I know you’re going to enjoy this interview.

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I loved The Secret Bride: In The Court of Henry VIII. You did a great job with it. The story of Henry VIII’s sister Mary isn’t written about too often, but it is equally as fascinating as the rest of the Tudor happenings. What drew you to this story?

Thank you very much for the kind words. I actually loved that story, and the idea that Mary was the one woman to go up against Henry VIII and keep her head. Not an easy feat! Also, Henry’s younger sister had a certain moxie that I think translates well into today’s times. They were incredibly close as siblings, but she did put that to the test in a rather dramatic way, as did his best friend, which I loved. And her love affair with Charles Brandon was certainly something fun to write about as well.

You’ve got quite a selection of different genres in your writing repertoire. What draws you to each one? How do you decide which story you will tackle next?

True! I really have been all over the map; Renaissance England and France, Georgian England, current day Scotland, Italy, India and even the Civil War! I certainly never intended to do that but it has been quite a journey.

I suppose what always draws me first is the love story. I have always found that truth is better than fiction in that regard, and there are so many incredible stories throughout the pages of history that it is great fun to find those and then to share them with an audience. I suppose that is the initial draw. But there is most definitely an element after finding a great story of determining what readers will be open to reading, and some stories can be either too dark or set in a country that does not statistically sell well, and then sadly those stories remain on my desk. Sometimes, like with my novel The Secret Wife of King George IV, they can sit there for years before they find a place, but it was definitely worth waiting for since, I am proud to say that book became my first hard cover novel. So patience, in the writing world can be a virtue.

Is there a specific time of day you like to write?

I have two teenagers, and all of their situations, groups, clubs etc… so my life is extremely full, therefore that I write in the mornings, generally from 6am until noon. But I do editing and research after that. Whenever there isn’t a football game or a dance show, I’m usually in my office.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

Hmm great question. By book, if you mean a novel, well it’s no secret that one of my favorite books of all time is Karleen Koen’s Through a Glass Darkly: A Novel. From every perspective for me, that was a brilliant story, absolutely flawlessly written. But my idol was always Irving Stone, who I was blessed enough to meet before his death during the process of writing my first novel. The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo is the sort of pinnacle of research and bringing back to life of an historical figure and his times to which we historical novelists can only aspire. In my research and care of my subjects, I try always to keep his level of detail in mind when I work.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

That was very early. I wrote my first novel long-hand when I was sixteen. It was awful, more a stream-of-consciousness, looking back, but it was the process that I developed a love for even back then, telling a story of other people’s lives from beginning, middle to the end. It took me another decade to believe I could actually write professionally and to go for it.

Favorite authors?

Irving Stone, Karleen Koen, of course, Philippa Gregory is brilliant, Robin Maxwell, Joan Wolf, and others outside the genre like Barbara Delinsky, Katherine Lynn Davis, Eileen Gouge especially.

Book you’re currently reading?

There seems always a new Philippa Gregory novel to tempt me. Right now I’m half way through The Boleyn Inheritance and also two Renaissance manuscripts I’ve been asked to give a quote to. Very good writing in both.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

Write every day, no matter what. Otherwise I lose the flow of the story. Write at least five pages a day. They don’t have to be great in the rough draft form, but as another author once wrote, “the purpose of the rough draft is not to get it right but just to get it written”, and I couldn’t agree more. That has helped me so much I can’t tell you. I have remembered it for 20 years and cut out the quote!

And I do listen to a lot of Renaissance music to get me in the right frame of mind.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

For me, writer’s block happened mainly when I thought too much about the process, if that makes sense, or if I concentrated too much on the big blank page on my yellow legal tablet. For sure, that can be daunting, horrible some days. Over time though, I learned to take it literally a sentence at a time. There is a certain communion with the pen and paper for most writers, and I am one of them. I totally cannot write on the computer. If I am not feeling it initially, I write a word, sentence… sometimes I scratch it out, but there is something there, something to change, something to add to, a beginning. That usually works.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

Another great question! My first reaction would probably be the measure of a successful writer is artfully telling stories which publishers want to buy, which they actively will promote, and doing that regularly—being part of the publishing game, I guess, and staying there. But as I think about it, the greater measure of success I think for a writer is to be able to tell the stories that you want to tell, telling them honestly and fully, improving your craft every time you do it, learning from each book, and feeling that you are sharing something people really want to read and react to, something that will touch them. Hearing that I have touched a reader is the greatest feeling there is, seriously. It does keep me going with those blank yellow pages!

Advice for other writers?

Cliché maybe, but I would say enthusiastically never give up if you believe you have a story to tell. My favorite quote is from Thomas Edison : “Many of life’s failures were people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” That has most definitely been something I can relate to. My career has been long, difficult challenging and most definitely a winding road dotted with failure, frustration and, ultimately, success.

If I had any idea 18 years ago, where my first novel, Courtesan, would take me, or where it would not, I don’t know if I would have had the strength to keep going. Thank goodness for one day at a time.

Where can we learn more about you?

I would love anyone to visit me at my website and feel free to email me. As I said earlier, hearing that someone has been touched by my stories is the very best thing in the world.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you for asking me to do this. It has been a delight.

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