Another author joins me today as part of a week-long shout-out about the James River Writers Conference this coming October 17-19th in Richmond. Susann Cokal is also a member of our JRW organization. Her newest book, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, is set in the Scandinavian Renaissance. She’ll be a speaker at our conference and happily answered a couple questions about her writing process.
Do stories find you, or do you go in search of them?
I’m always in search of a story—or at least I let the gods of story know that I’m open. I think ideas find me because they know I’ll give them a loving home. Sometimes an agonized one, of course; writing is a series of ups and downs as I often doubt I’ll be able to match the ideal that first glimmered in my mind.
The idea for my latest novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, came to me about eighteen years ago. A sentence sprang up: “The children in the royal nursery were sick.” That was the tip of a big concept—the kingdom might easily dissolve into chaos if the king dies with no healthy heir. I’d already read for pleasure about Renaissance kings and queens and commoners; of course, I needed to do more specific research in order to write about Renaissance courts, seamstresses, slavery, food, fashion, astronomy, medicine, and so on.
I try to have a nice chat with each of my favorite ideas every day. I wrote two other novels before beginning The Kingdom. I didn’t know the third novel would take as many years as my first, but there’s no predicting the course of art. Especially when a lot of writing energy has to go to my job; I teach at VCU, so I’m commenting on fiction-in-progress every day. Time and confidence, the confidence that I can bring a project to the end—those precious entities come in spurts.
What has attending the JRW conference done for you?
At the JRW conference, the air crackles with energy. The conversations and panels breed a lot of ideas and hope. This year, like every year, I look forward to sharing encouragement and enthusiasm.