Today we sit down with author Elaine Cougler. She gives us some insight into her work, her writing process and her personality. Please enjoy this edition of A Perfect 10.
If you want to check out past interviews, you can find them in the following links:
Also, if you are an author and you want to be part of this feature, I still have a few slots open for 2017. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing does for me what turning on the water tap does. It releases a creative pressure that often I don’t even know is there until I write for 2-3 hours on a new book, blog post, interview, lengthy email or anything else that allows me to experience my words pouring onto a page. A feeling of job well done washes over me at these times as though I’ve come just a little bit closer to explaining who I am to myself and to the world. Teacher, mother, wife, friend, singer—I’ve been all of these things and still am, but nothing quite touches my soul so much as being a writer of published work.
- Do you ever write under a pseudonym? If not have you considered it? Why or why not?
I write historical fiction and am used to paying close attention to the truth of my story. The details must be correct and if I need to adjust something for purposes of my storyline, I make sure to include notes indicating the actual history. That is probably why I’ve never even considered using a pseudonym. Also the fleeting thought that I’m leaving something of myself behind for my grandchildren demands that they can see my name on my work.
- Does a big ego help or hurt writers? Why or why not?
Such an interesting question! I’m pretty sure it demands a novel-length answer to consider all the ramifications, but I’ll be brief. Yes and no. While I love the actual writing I also get a lot of pleasure from speaking to large and small groups and talking to individuals afterwards. I sell a lot of books that way. So having the confidence to stand in front of strangers and speak of my book journey, answering whatever questions they might ask does require a bit of ego, I suppose. Some writers really hate crowds and everything that goes with speaking engagements, which can be a detriment.
Now, having a huge ego that forgets the most important thing is the reader/audience, that is not a help in my opinion although I know of one man, now deceased, whose name you would all recognize. When I met him many years ago (he was a first cousin of one of my best friends at university) he was full of himself to the point that we almost shunned him. No one likes a blowhard. Funny thing, though, fifty years later I realize he parlayed his considerable talents into a lifelong career in the entertainment business. And while I was chosen to sing at my friend’s wedding and not him, Alan Thicke rose to stardom. He proved that ego is often pretty darned important. He believed in himself and wasn’t afraid to parlay that into a life.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I have been careful about how I spent money along my road to becoming a published author but I have spent it to consistently move myself ahead at particular points along the way. I flew to Vancouver for a fabulous conference for writers just at the time when I needed a roadmap to point my way through the social media maze. I interviewed a lot of the presenters and when I came home started a writing blog with those presenters’ gifts to me as the first posts. I learned so much from them!
More money went out of my bank account for a three-day conference in Niagara Falls, Canada. Here I learned a lot about getting my work out to the world and was asked to join an American writers group which I ultimately found the strength to quit, thereby gaining the confidence to forge ahead trusting in my own decisions a lot more. Those experiences took me way way down the track towards my ultimate destination.
- What does writing success look like to you? Have you achieved it?
Most days I think I have achieved success in my writing journey as I get another call from a book store asking for more books or someone recognizes me from one of the many talks I’ve given or I get another email from appreciative readers of my books or even when my Google app shows me where my name has been mentioned online. And watching my book sales rise is wonderful. There are, though, always the goals I haven’t even set yet, let alone reached, and those can cause middle-of-the-night doubts. I am, however, happy with where the journey has taken me so far and I’m delighted still to be planning new books and pushing myself to the extreme as I ride the magic writing carpet.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? What sources do you use?
Historicals require loads of research online, in libraries, visiting historical places and finding those nuggets which switch on the imagine lights in my brain and help me find my story. I like to read and read first, researching the history of the times. When I see my first scene in my head it’s time to start writing. I try to write a 10-20-page story outline at this point but by then getting started is my prime goal. The story unfolds as I write and continue the research. At the bottom of my Word document I put nuggets to use later in the story so I won’t forget them; some of them ride there for months as pages and chapters develop ahead of them. Each day I reread those notes before I start writing that day’s pages. This works well as I don’t have the best memory and I don’t lose sight of ideas I’ve had. As the writing unfolds I know I’m getting close to the end of the novel when I see the sheer volume of those notes shrink.
- How do you select the names of your characters? Have you ever regretted choosing a particular name? Why?
Of course writing historicals means many of the names are already chosen and I stick close to names from the times for those characters I create. I seem to pull them from my background and give them a tweak or two. For example, my main female character in my first book is Lucinda, shortened to Lucy. I named her for my grandmother’s sister whom I remembered visiting in a hospital when I was a child. Lucinda seemed of an earlier time period. Just lately I borrowed the name and the portly physique of my singing teacher as it, too, seemed to fit in with 1800’s early Ontario—Henry Clark. I made him one of the rebels planning to upset the British (Rebellion of 1837 here in Ontario). So far I’ve not had any reason to regret a name choice.
- What is the hardest type of scene to write?
For me, the battle scenes were harder to write but reviewers have complimented me on them so I guess I succeeded. Writing scenes with lots of characters in them is difficult as you have to decide what conversation to put in and what to leave out. In one of the scenes in the home of my main characters I wanted to show lots of action but the whole thing could have been pages long. I thought of a camera panning around the room and used that to keep focused even though lots was happening with all the characters. Telling the scene through one character’s point of view is a help as well because he/she doesn’t see or hear everything in the room. For all of these scenes I sit at my desk and imagine I’m the POV character experiencing the scene myself. That keeps it fresh, I think.
- If you could have dinner with four people, living or dead, who would they be and what would you want to ask them?
I’d love to ask Dolly Madison just what she was feeling as she saved George Washington’s portrait and many others from the British who burned the White House. From what I’ve read of her, she was pretty spectacular and I’d love to hear the history of the times from her lips. I’d enjoy sitting opposite Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of one of Canada’s governors in the 1700’s. She left behind a fabulous diary, which is full of her paintings and sketches of early Canada and the day-by-day life of her family living in a glorified tent at one point and helping to choose Toronto (York back then) as the capital. Oh, and I’d ask her if they really pulled baskets of salmon and other fish out of Lake Ontario just by dipping the baskets over the side of the boat. I’ve already met one of my living heroes—Sharon Kay Penman—who writes fabulous historical fiction and who lives in the US. We had a 15-minute chat at the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver. Fabulous! Finally, I’d love to sit down to a meal with my mother one more time and ask her what she thinks of my books.
- What platform has brought you the most success in marketing your books?
Writing historical fiction has opened doors for me far and wide as groups linked to the Loyalists and history in general invite me to speak and conduct workshops. Afterwards my book sales soar. Writers’ groups are great fun, too, and book groups, both library and private. I am very happy to answer all of their questions and to help other writers get started. That being said my online endeavors are valuable in that they provide a great place for me to send prospective speaking groups who may need to know more about me and to meet other writers and those involved in marketing writing. All of these things work together and are invaluable to a writer who must market in some way every day in order to find the success he/she is seeking.
About Elaine Cougler
Elaine Cougler is the author of historical novels about the lives of settlers in the Thirteen Colonies who remained loyal to Britain during the American Revolution.
Cougler uses the backdrop of the conflict for page-turning fictional tales where the main characters face torn loyalties, danger and personal conflicts. Her Loyalist trilogy: The Loyalist’s Wife, The Loyalist’s Luck and The Loyalist Legacy.
The Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair selected The Loyalist’s Wife as a finalist in its Self-Publishing Awards. The Middlesex County Library selected the book as its choice for book club suggestions. The Writers Community of Durham Region presented Elaine with a Pay-It-Forward Award.
Elaine has led several writing workshops and has been called on to speak about the Loyalists to many groups. Through her website she writes a blog about the writing and reading world and more. She lives in Woodstock with her husband. They have two grown children.
Connect with Elaine:
The Loyalist Legacy:
After the crushing end of the War of 1812, William and Catherine Garner find their allotted two hundred acres in Nissouri Township by following the Thames River into the wild heart of Upper Canada. On their valuable land straddling the river, dense forest, wild beasts, displaced Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William knows he cannot take his family back to Niagara but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and their children, he hurries back along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return home in time for spring planting.
With spectacular scenes of settlers recovering from the wartime catastrophes in early Ontario, Elaine Cougler shows a different kind of battle, one of ordinary people somehow finding the inner resources to shape new lives and a new country. The Loyalist Legacy delves further into the history of the Loyalists as they begin to disagree on how to deal with the injustices of the powerful “Family Compact” and on just how loyal to Britain they want to remain.