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Friday, October 03, 2014

An interview with Historical Novelist Cindy Vallar
Today I'm pleased to bring you an interview with historical fiction (and non-fiction) author Cindy Vallar.

The interview is by Francine Silverman, who also conducted the recent interview on my blog with author and book publicist Patricia Fry as well as this one with author and illustrator Tina Howe and this one with poet and author G. Lloyd Helm.

Over to Fran, then...

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Cindy Vallar is a retired librarian, who first researched pirates for her upcoming historical novel about Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans. Today she is the editor of Pirates and Privateers, for which she writes a monthly column on the history of maritime piracy, reviews fiction and non-fiction books on piracy, and maintains an annotated list of the best piracy websites.

Her debut historical novel, The Scottish Thistle, is the story of the Camerons and MacGregors during Scotland's Rising of 1745.

Her comprehensive, award-winning website, Thistles and Pirates – includes links to her research sites, pictures and descriptions of Scotland, castles and much more, and is updated monthly.

Q - Where were you a librarian?

A - I primarily worked as a librarian at two Catholic schools, a private elementary school, and a level 5 school for severely emotionally challenged adolescents. I also worked in a special library and as a reference librarian in a public library.

Q - I imagine that your library skills come in handy in doing your research. Can you think of any that really helped you?

A - Knowing how to do research and where to find the needed information has been invaluable. It also saves time. Organization is also a big plus because it allows me to arrange my notes and resources in ways that provide easy access to them when I need the information.

Q - In 2005, the Commissioner of Clan Cameron in North America invited you to the clan's North American Rally, where he surprised you with the first Friend of Clan Cameron Award. Have you used this award to help promote your book? If so, how?

A - I include it in my promotional materials about The Scottish Thistle, and in biographies that promote my workshops on Scotland.

Q - When you travel to Scotland, I understand you don't buy many souvenirs, mostly books. Do you think you will see the day when your book is offered for sale there? What has to happen to make it so?

A - Actually, it's already available as an e-book from Amazon UK. Whether my publisher, who holds the English-language rights to The Scottish Thistle, intends to offer the book in print overseas, I don't know.

Q - You review books on maritime piracy of your own choosing, but general historical fiction must come from Historical Novels Review. Can you recall a book from each category that you gave five stars?

A - At Pirates and Privateers two recent books that received five stars are MaryLu Tyndall's The Ransom and Joan Druett's Judas Island. We don’t give 5-star reviews at HNR, but I highly recommended Dan Smith's Red Winter.

Q - How do you do your research? Internet, books, e-books, travel? Do you find useful information in the books you review, even historical novels not about piracy?

A - All of the above. I have an extensive library in my home, but I also use the public library and its inter-library loan privileges, as well as quality resources available on the Internet. I read books in a variety of formats and I often travel to the places depicted in my novels. Many stories, both non-fiction and fiction, have provided me with either information or inspiration for my own manuscripts.

Q - You have said that pirates of yore operated mainly after a war, whereas today's pirates operate anytime. Is there any other difference between yesterday's pirates and today's?

A - What I said was that the most prolific periods of piracy occur after a war, but pirates prowl even in times of peace, including today. A primary difference between yesterday and today's pirates is in the ships and 'tools' of their trade. In the past they used sailing ships and attacked using cannons, swords, and pistols. Today, pirates travel in speed boats and have modern technology and automatic weapons at their disposal.

Q - You teach on-line courses. What were the latest topics you covered?

A - The most recent have been...
  • Researching and Writing Historical Fiction
  • Age of Sail
  • Evolution of the Highland Clans from Medieval Times through the Clearances
  • Scottish Highlands of the 17th and 18th Centuries
  • Here Be Dragons
I also teach workshops, both on-line and in person, on piracy, Scotland's Otherworld, the British Royal Navy, Norse Scotland, and self-editing.

Q. What tips can you provide about writing historical fiction?

A - You have to like to do research and lots of it. You want to immerse yourself in the time period, the culture, and the way people lived and dressed back then. Study the craft of writing. Read historical fiction. When you write, remember that story comes first, history comes second; otherwise you're writing non-fiction rather than fiction. Most importantly, never give up your dream.

Cindy was interviewed by Francine Silverman, editor of Book Promotion Newsletter, an on-line publicist, compiler of 16 e-books of talk radio shows and host of a weekly radio show, Fraternizing with Fran – where interesting people come to chat. Visit her website at and her blog at

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Thank you to Cindy and Francine for an interesting interview on an area of fiction-writing that - I freely admit - I know very little about.

If writing - or reading - historical fiction is something that appeals to you, do take a moment to check out the links above.

And as ever, if you have any comments or queries for Cindy or Fran (or for me), please do post them below.

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