David LeRoy is the author of The Siren of Paris which tells the story of 21-year-old Marc Tolbert who was born in Paris and raised in the United States. Marc enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe — along with the rest of the world — is on the brink of an especially devastating war.
Today, David LeRoy talks about his writing.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction? I did not set out to write historical fiction as a genre, but I have a strong connection to history, and specifically World War II.
Why this particular book – The Siren of Paris? Because the story is untold. No one else has told any story that features the RMS Lancastria sinking. I could not find any modern novels or stories about betrayal of members of the French Resistance. We have a bias towards the warrior hero who is triumphant, and tend to ignore other types of stories. I wanted to write something that shows the victims, who lost the war, transcending these experiences and finding a state of peace. To do this, I chose a wounded healer as a protagonist, and not the warrior hero we are most familiar with today.
How long did it take for your book to be published? The Siren of Paris is self-published through Amazon, so not long. However, it took six months to find the right editor for the project. I went with Tom Lemons because he had experience working with texts that have religious, moral and philosophical themes. When I started the projected, I intended to have it published traditionally, but the publishing world had changed so much that no longer seemed like the best option for this project.
What do you think attracts readers to The Siren of Paris? Off hand, two things: Paris and World War II. What causes the reader to talk about the book and recommend it to others is the allegorical story and unique plot structure.
Have you developed a particular approach to research and writing? For the Siren, research ranged from scholarly books about the politics and religion of the time to primary documents such as newspapers and pamphlets. I break down my writing into chapters, with scenes, and put everything into an Excel worksheet. In Excel, I can track my progress, assign goals, and record my word count so that at any time while I am writing, I know exactly where I am, what I have done, and how much more I have yet to write before I am finished.
Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you? I would say I have been more influenced by the classical writers of the epic myths.
What ingredients do you think make for a top historical fiction author? The ability to construct a good story. Yes, of course there are the facts – such as the clothing, food, politics and religious beliefs of the time — but at the core, I think it is the ability to deliver a story to the reader. To me, the historical part is the stage where the drama of the story is played out. The elements of story are timeless.
Did you deliberately plan for these ingredients in your writing? Yes. My focus is upon story, and I tend to develop that story through the characters’ relationships and dialog.
How do you select new stories to tell? I select stories that resonate with me on a personal level.
What techniques do you employ to write productively? I have to set goals first, and then those goals must be followed up with a concrete plan for completion. I must be able to track my progress toward meeting these goals. Without the goals, planning, and tracking, this entire writing experience would be an absolute mess for me. Other authors may not need these tools, but I must have them in order to produce anything of a substantial size.
Do you think of yourself as building a brand? If so, how would you describe it and how do you plan to reinforce it? I bring a specific moral and philosophical point of view to my storytelling . It comes from my educational background in philosophy and religion. The questions I raise and the themes I explore, along with the types of characters I am drawn to, are influenced by that philosophical point of view. Not all of the stories I will be writing are historical fiction, but I am always bringing up questions about existence and the core set of problems all of us face in life.
What do you do to connect with readers? Social media and actual face-to-face meetings. I have met with some book clubs in my area and done readings. Most of my connection is through various social media platforms.
What do you know about your readers? There is no one single type of reader. I am honestly surprised at how diverse they can be in terms of age, personality, education, and background. I know that most of these readers find me through Amazon, Facebook and Twitter. But some of them are just through word of mouth and there is no predicting how that happens.
What data do you collect about your readers? I collect email addresses and maybe profile information. When I published The Siren of Paris, I had nothing. I launched this book into a vacuum with only a modest following on Twitter and friends on Facebook. I was not even on Goodreads before this first book. When The Flower of Chamula is launched, I will have a mailing list and a group of readers to tell about the book before it is even available.
What strategies guide your writing career? To keep on writing. But aside from that, I am always a full time student, constantly searching out and reading new information with ideas for stories. I am currently finishing the book The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By, written by Carol Pearson. Oh, and within this book, she has mentioned a few other titles I am sure to read in the next six months. Just yesterday I picked up Trickster in the Land of Dreams by Zeese Papanikolas. This book looks at false dreams or hopes spun by dark Tricksters in the American West. I continue to pick through The Story Solution by Eric Edson. I am re-reading, for the third time, a book just published this year called Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. I was down visiting some friends over my vacation, and they recommended a book by Vernon Dvorak titled The Content of Human Consciousness. By the way, I drew upon some of Dvorak’s ideas when I wrote the first chapter of The Siren of Paris. I expect to be busy for many years, because I have at least four more novels to write. If you want to follow my crazy reading journey, friend me on Goodreads.
What would you do differently if you were starting again? When I published the paper version of The Siren of Paris through Create Space, I did not realize that I could order as many copies as I wanted of a proof version of the book for evaluation. So, next time, I am really using this to my advantage with beta readers. For just a few bucks per copy, I can send my beta readers a real book, instead of some PDF file, Kindle or word document file. I think it is a slick idea. Maybe it is not news to others, but for me it was a great discovery.
Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction? I am not an authority on this genre by a long shot. I think writers of historical fiction know it is a lot of work to craft a story and bring to life an entire world that is in the past, holding it together in a way that captures the attention of the reader. Writing historical fiction is really ambitious work, and I appreciate each book I have read. Because of my own experience with writing, I come to reading others’ work with a lot of understanding and grace.
Thank you, David, for participating in my ongoing interview series with writers of historical fiction. I can see some interesting books to add to my collection of books on writing. You sound very goal oriented – an important skill for today’s writer. I hope I can reach out to you for further advice based on your self-publishing journey.