The Crown in the Heather, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Crown in the Heather?
N. GEMINI SASSON: The Crown in the Heather is about the early years of Robert the Bruce’s struggle to gain the throne of Scotland. After losing his first wife, Isabella of Mar, during childbirth, he later falls deeply in love with Elizabeth de Burgh. But in order to marry her, he must abandon his rebel ways and acknowledge Edward I (Longshanks) of England’s overlordship of Scotland. For years, Robert patiently waits for Longshanks to honor his hereditary claim to Scotland’s crown. But when it becomes clear that will never happen, he begins to plot another rebellion. Betrayed by one of his own countrymen, Robert flees to Scotland, where he meets the disinherited young nobleman, James Douglas, who will later become his most valued friend and cunning commander. As he struggles to unite Scotland against a common enemy, he endures many hardships. He is a man who loves deeply, rewards those who are loyal to him, forgives those who have wronged him, and grapples for his dreams in the face of adversity.
DAVID WISEHART: What historical research did you do for the book?
N. GEMINI SASSON: Over the years I’ve collected a small library of non-fiction: biographies, general and event-specific history, and books on architecture, costumes, customs, food and weaponry. The stories, though, really start with the biographies—there has to be a person worth writing about who was somehow extraordinary, even by today’s standards. I spend months reading, highlighting, dog-earing and writing notes before I even begin an outline. All that information often leads to more questions, which leads to more research, etc., but at some point the research itself can become merely procrastination. Details can always be uncovered later, but the first challenge is to discover where the story lies.
I have been to Scotland and England twice and while it was supposed to be to visit friends, I managed to drag my non-history-loving travel companions to historic sites like Stirling Castle, the Highlands and Edinburgh. Somehow, being there makes the past real.
N. GEMINI SASSON: The trick is to do more than write about well-known historic events; it is to delve into the internal conflicts of the characters and make them relatable. Robert the Bruce was, at times, an opportunist. He rebelled, acquiesced and rebelled again. When he submitted to Longshanks at Linlithgow, it was so he could marry the woman he loved. But in doing so, he lost the respect of many of his fellow countrymen. His ambition to take his rightful place as King of Scots conflicted heavily with his desire to be with Elizabeth. He thought he could have both. He was wrong.
Contrast that sort of conflict with the relationship between Prince Edward and his father, Longshanks. The younger Edward’s intimate friendship with Piers Gaveston is a source is disappointment for his father. Cowed and incessantly criticized, Prince Edward tries desperately to fulfill his father’s expectations, yet he never can. Humiliated and angered, we expect to see Prince Edward erupt all out at his father at any moment. The tension is always there, their differences apparent, but always unspoken.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
N. GEMINI SASSON: So far I’ve written my stories in first person and that allows me to get inside their heads and figure out why they did what they did. When I see things from the individual’s perspective and not just that of some historian writing about them hundreds of years later, it really helps me understand them. Robert the Bruce has often been portrayed as ambitious and heroic, but while he was those things, he also wasn’t perfect and at times was very conflicted. Prince Edward (later Edward II) is frequently portrayed as a weak king and generally unlikeable person, but in truth he valued his friendships more than playing politics. James Douglas is probably the least complex of the three. He has no binding loyalties or lovers to distract him. Revenge is his motivation, but he can’t accomplish it alone, which is why he needs Robert. Three very different men, all embroiled in the same tangle of politics and battles.
N. GEMINI SASSON: My ideal reader is someone who says, “You know, I never liked history before, but this has made me change my mind.” Converting someone to historical fiction is the biggest compliment of all.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
N. GEMINI SASSON: I’ll try to give you the abridged version. My first writing was actually in scientific journals as a grad student in biology many eons ago. I later moved on to writing articles for dog publications. Somewhere in there I began writing fiction secretly, but it wasn’t until I’d written my third book, The Crown in the Heather, that I figured I had something. The story evolved into a trilogy and for over a year I queried agents and finally landed a great one. He sent The Bruce Trilogy off to publishers and while we got as far as acquisitions meetings and some very encouraging responses, in the end they all passed for various reasons. In the meanwhile I’d written Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer. The response on that one was even quieter. The publishing industry had hit on hard times and the big houses were taking on fewer new authors than ever before.
By then, discouraged by the length of time it had taken just to get rejected at the final level, I decided to become an indie author. I am extremely thankful for the opportunities that Kindle, in particular, gives to indie authors and for all the readers out there who have bought indie books. It really does make readers the gatekeepers and lets them choose what they want to read, not just what big publishers decide to offer them.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
N. GEMINI SASSON: Rather disorganized, actually. After the research, I start writing a pivotal scene—which is not necessarily at the beginning. I jump around in the storyline a lot, writing whatever scene matches my mood. Some chapters come easily; writing others is like dangling a fish hook down my throat and pulling out my entrails. From there I just fill in the holes (the story, not me!).
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
N. GEMINI SASSON: Mitch Albom, for his simplicity and ability to cut to the soul. Few books move me like his do. As for historical fiction writers, Bernard Cornwell, for the vividness of his scene setting and action. Plus, I like a good antihero like Lord Uhtred.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
N. GEMINI SASSON: Parke Godwin’s Lord of Sunset. It’s about Harold Godwineson before and during William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066. Probably not the most well known historical, but I very much admire his skill with language and how deftly and seamlessly he managed multiple viewpoints.
DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?
N. GEMINI SASSON: I started with a stock image photo that represented the story, then using a font that was appropriate to the time period, I laid out a general cover idea. A graphic artist created the final covers for The Crown in the Heather and Isabeau. I did Worth Dying For myself using a desktop publishing program.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
N. GEMINI SASSON: Both The Crown in the Heather and Isabeau were featured on various blogs, some specifically for historical novels, others for Kindle books. I think doing giveaways on Goodreads was great exposure. I’ve listed my books on threads on Amazon discussions, but as the books have started to appear on the “Customers who bought X, also bought …” I’ve had to do less and less promoting. I also created a book trailer for The Crown in the Heather and while it’s had over 800 views, it’s hard to tell what impact that may have had on sales. On a daily basis, I participate in discussion lists, on Twitter and occasionally blog, but I see these as making more of a social connection. If you’re always talking about your book instead of taking an interest in other people, you can quickly be seen as an annoyance by others. Whatever the activity, I only do things that I enjoy.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
N. GEMINI SASSON: For one, it’s easy. Formatting isn’t difficult, but if there is some glitch you can quickly make corrections and re-publish. For another, it’s just great to have readers. Kindle has such a huge share of the e-book market and Amazon and discussion boards like Kindleboards.com makes it possible to let readers know directly and immediately when you have a book out.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
N. GEMINI SASSON: Make sure you’ve had plenty of beta readers first, then edit and proofread until you feel like you’ll go blind. Find a good cover artist, but if you choose to do it yourself, ask for feedback from other authors. Forums like Kindleboards.com are fantastic places to get advice and find support. The indie author community is amazing, so don’t feel like you have to go it all alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gemi's non-fiction writing has appeared in Aussie Times, Australian Shepherd Annual, History Magazine and Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
She is the author of Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer, The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), and Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II).
Visit her website, read her blog, and follow her on twitter.
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