We are very excited to welcome Martha Conway to the Lit Ladies today with her historical fiction literary novel, Thieving Forest. It’s FULL of strong female characters, which we love. Here’s a snippet from the WOW! blog post that launched the book almost a month ago:
“When a band of Potawatomi Indians kidnaps her four older sisters from their cabin in June 1806 at the edge of Ohio’s Great Black Swamp, seventeen year old Susanna Quiner is the only left to rescue them. Thieving Forest is the story of her quest to find her sisters, and the parallel story of her sisters’ new lives. All five sisters change so much in the five months that they are almost unrecognizable from the young women who argued over petty things on the morning of the kidnapping.
Thieving Forest follows five pioneer women and one man as they contend with starvation, slavery, betrayal, and love. It paints a startling new picture of life in frontier Ohio with its mix of European and Native American communities, along with compelling descriptions of their daily lives. Fast-paced, richly detailed, with a panoramic view of cultures and people, this is a story of a bygone era sure to enthrall and delight.”
***After the interview, please be sure to enter for your chance to win a print copy of Thieving Forest!
Lit Ladies: Welcome, Martha, and congratulations on Thieving Forest. Tell us the inspiration for your book!
Martha: I’d been reading the literary nautical novels of Patrick O’Brien, and got the idea of writing a quest novel with a female protagonist. I started looking around for quest stories with heroines (rather than heroes) outside the fantasy and science fiction genres, but I couldn’t find many. I thought: uh oh, maybe a woman on a quest is just too strange. But creative writing is all about trying new things, at least in my mind. So I decided to write it anyway. I put the novel in the past (I love historical fiction), and found that my biggest obstacle was my own prejudice: a woman wouldn’t do that then, I kept thinking. But I pushed through that, and hopefully made a case why a woman would do exactly what Susanna Quiner, my heroine, did.
Also, my novel revolves around five sisters. I have six sisters myself, so that was a huge inspiration.
LL: We love that you put this woman on a quest in a historical fiction book and really tested the boundaries and thought outside the box! This is exciting! Who is the perfect audience for your novel?
Martha: Women, especially women with sisters, have been very drawn to Thieving Forest. I think it speaks to those who enjoy books by authors like Geraldine Brooks, Tracy Chevalier, and Charles Frazier. However, it’s also been selected for some mother-daughter book groups, so I think younger audiences enjoy it, too. It’s a novel about transformation, and people can transform at any age (my grandfather did it at age 92).
LL: It is truly never too late. How did you do the research for this novel? What resources and how do you keep all those facts organized?
Martha: I read over two dozen books, journal entries, and magazine articles, and kept notes on 4 x 6 notecards. The notecards I arranged by subject matter (“Pioneer diet,” “Potawatomi,” “Great Black Swamp,” etc.). When I used a detail, I moved that card over to another file box. One benefit to writing historical fiction is that you have to immerse yourself in the research, and that in turn leads to immersion in the story. Whenever I felt stuck, I read another first-hand account of life at that time, and that always gave me ideas.
LL: Thank you for that tip for any of our historical fiction writers out there. We like to talk about strong female characters on our blog. So, what makes Susanna strong?
Martha: Great question. When the novel opens we learn that her older sisters have nicknamed Susanna the Princess because she doesn’t like to get dirty or do any work if she can help it. But it turns out that Susanna’s inner self—the one who wants to re-claim her family—is stronger than these exterior attributes. Her strength also comes from her confidence. In the beginning, this confidence is fairly shallow—she believes herself to be lucky, and takes risks because of that—but as the novel goes on she relies less on luck and more on the skills she’s learned on her journey.
LL: What has your publishing experience been like?
Martha: Publishing Thieving Forest has been very empowering for me. It is amazing to work on a project for so long (almost 10 years), and see it come to fruition. A writer’s life is by necessity very private, and while you’re writing a book it feels like you are hiding something from the rest of the world. Which you are. But now I finally get to present what I’ve been up to all these years. It feels great.
LL: We are happy to help you share TEN YEARS of hard work! Anything else you’d like to add about Thieving Forest?
Martha: While I think of Thieving Forest as a literary novel, it is definitely also a plot-driven novel. In graduate school, I got a bit tired of writing literary stories where nothing really happens. I then wrote a mystery, and after that Thieving Forest. My creative aim while writing Thieving Forest was first and foremost to write a good story, a story where the reader really wants to know what happens next, but I also I wanted to make it well-written. Hopefully I’ve done that.
LL: We wish you the best of luck. Readers, don’t forget to enter to win this amazing novel. Thank you, Martha!
Martha: Thank YOU! It’s been a pleasure.