Inspiration for Writing Historical Fiction Tweet This

historical fiction writer Lynne HenizmannLynn Welch:  What inspired you to write Frozen Voices?

Lynne Heinzmann:  A few years ago, I was surfing the Internet, curious about what historical events had happened on my birthday, February 11th. One website listed the brief entry, “1907 – Passenger ship Larchmont sinks off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, hundreds die.”  Having lived in Rhode Island for more than twenty years, I was surprised that I’d never heard of the Larchmont. I quickly dashed off a query letter to a local magazine, asking if they would be interested in an article about the disaster.  They agreed and I began researching the facts of the event.
 
One source, Edwin L. Dunbaugh’s The Era of the Joy Line: A Saga of Steamboating on Long Island Sound, proved invaluable.  Not only did this non-fiction volume provide the history of the steamship line, the Larchmont, and the accident, but also included snippets of information about some of the passengers onboard the ship on the night of the disaster.  I began to wonder what those people—especially the ones who died that evening—would like us to remember about them.  If their frozen voice could be heard now, what would they say?
 
I wrote my article for Rhode Island Home, Living, & Design, which appeared in their February 2009 issue, and then continued to do research on a topic that now fascinated me. After two years and hundreds of hours of writing, research, and revision, my manuscript for Frozen Voices won the Fairfield Book Prize and was published by New Rivers Press.

Lynn Welch:  The Larchmont disaster, is this a well-known story in RI or was this something you ran across in search of a story?

Lynne Heinzmann:  Many native Rhode Islanders know the story of the Larchmont, especially those with long-standing ties to Block Island. On February 12, 1907, the day after the disaster, many Block Islanders mobilized to try to rescue victims from the water or to assist survivors who had found their way ashore. This made the Larchmont Disaster a major event in Block Island’s history.

Lynn Welch:  What was it about the Larchmont sinking that made you decide THIS is THE STORY?  I will write about their Frozen Voices!

Lynne Heinzmann:  While writing the novel, I spent a great deal of time contemplating each passenger’s voice. For example, did a seventeen-year-old boy have anything to teach the rest of the world?  How had his brief life impacted the lives of those around him?  Did he have to do something heroic to be remembered or could his legacy be simple human kindness? I used the novel to examine the value of my four character’s lives and to try to show how their voices affected their friends, relatives, and even the strangers around them.
 
Also while writing, I was fascinated with the question of why some people on the Larchmont survived and others did not. The outcome did not seem to have much to do with the physical condition of the passengers since so many of the able-bodied seamen died while one fairly frail teenaged girl survived. So what was it about the survivors’ personalities that made them fight for life just a little harder than their fellow-passengers? I attempted to show the unique strength of my characters, the strength that allowed some of them to survive.

The Writing Process For Historical Fiction Tweet This

Lynn Welch:  How intense was the research process for Frozen Voices? Was the information readily available or did you have to do a lot of digging to ensure historical accuracy?

Lynne Heinzmann: Very! In addition to finding much valuable information in the Dunbaugh book mentioned above, I felt I had won the literary lottery when I located a copy of the January 1908 House of Representative report, “Finding in Investigation of Collision Between Steamer Larchmont and Schooner Harry Knowlton” on-line at a Brown University website. And then a few enjoyable afternoons at the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Library yielded some more fascinating material, including a newspaper article about a letter Harry Houdini had sent to Millard Franklin’s family. Imagine my glee when I even found photographs of three of four of the main characters that I wanted to include in my novel!  (Yes, they are all “real” people.) The United States Life-Saving Service Report for the Year 1907 and the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission Report about the Block Island fishermen both provided me with additional factual information about the valiant efforts necessary to rescue the passengers from the frigid waters of the Block Island Sound.
 
Although much of my research focused on the specific facts of the Larchmont disaster, a great deal of it dealt with the details of the story, too. What did people wear in 1907? What would they eat? What sights would they see in Boston? How did they speak? What modes of transportation were available? Much of this information was obtained via online research, but I also consulted other print resources, such as The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. By the time I’d completed writing my novel, I’d researched thousands of bits of information to ensure the story was as accurate as possible.

Lynn Welch:  Surly Millard, Sadie, George had living descendants.  Were you able to speak with them about your book and if so what was that like?

book launch Frozen VoicesLynne Heinzmann:  Since 2016, when Frozen Voices was published, I’ve given dozens of presentations about the novel all around Southern New England. Quite often, after I finish speaking, someone from the audience comes up and tells me about a tie they have with the Larchmont Disaster, a relative who was on the ship or someone from Block Island who attempted to rescue the victims. I’ve also been contacted via my website by others with connections to the story.
Through these types of contacts, I’ve heard from relatives of two of my narrators: Sadie Golub and George McVay. In both cases, the descendants were thrilled that their relatives were characters in my book. George McVay’s nephew even thanked me for allowing his uncle’s voice to be heard, since the captain had been vilified by the press in the months and years following the disaster. After writing about these characters for years, speaking to Sadie and George’s relatives was extremely special to me; I felt as if I’d reconnected with long-lost members of my own family.

Lynn Welch:  In Frozen Voices we meet the four main characters as well as auxiliary personalities such as children, spouses, and others.  I’m impressed at how you told separate stories but merged characters and stories so seamlessly throughout the book.  How did you do this?

Millard Franklin NarratorLynne Heinzmann:  I wrote the story of each of my narrators separately—beginning to end—to ensure that each of their tales made sense on its own. Then, I carefully interwove their narratives in chronological order, focusing on the dates and times that the characters’ lives intersected with each other, such as at the party at the Parker House Hotel in Boston and—of course—aboard the Larchmont. Throughout my writing of the book, I maintained a detailed cork storyboard full of photos and notes, which I used to keep track of all the information about each character. 

Lynn Welch:  When do you do the majority of your writing?

Lynne Heinzmann:  My favorite time to write is in the late evenings/early mornings, when the rest of the world (and my family) is asleep and I can concentrate on my characters. At those times, I enter the world of my book, look around, and write about what I see, feel, and experience. 

Lynn Welch:  Do you have a favorite writing ritual to get in the groove?

Lynne Heinzmann:  Whenever I finish writing for the day, I make sure to stop in the middle of a scene or chapter. That way, when I begin the next day, I have some momentum going already and have a much easier time writing new passages.

Decision Making Aspects For Historical Fiction Tweet This

Character Development

Lynn Welch:  With only historical documents to go by, how did you decide on a personality for the main players in Frozen Voices?

Sadie GolubLynne Heinzmann:  After doing extensive research on a character, I find that a personality type generally emerges. For example, Sadie must have been a very strong woman to travel alone from Russia, establish a trade, and endure the Larchmont Disaster. Other elements of her character, I inferred from personal experience (having an older brother, starting my own business, etc.), or from reading books about other women from Sadie’s era.

Lynn Welch:  Each person had such a strong and distinct identity.  When writing, how did you tap into your inner Sadie, George, Anna and Millard?

Lynne Heinzmann:  I carefully selected four characters who I knew would have very different personalities and voices. George was career-driven and wanted to be respected. Anna was a doting mother, who cherished her own Swedish upbringing and wanted to impart those old-world values on her daughter. Millard was committed to financially helping his family but needed to pursue his career in magic; it defined him. And Sadie was a woman before her time: smart, strong-willed, and determined to make it, with or without the help of others. In my own personality, I share many of those traits of the four characters, and so was able to draw upon personal experiences and feelings to flesh-out the story lines in Frozen Voices.

Stories Within Stories

Lynn Welch:  While writing the Larchmont saga, you wove sub stories within FrozenVoices.  For instance, this quote from Sadie’s brother: “No man will marry you,” he said.  “You’d make him feel like half a man, since you don’t need him to support you.”  Were you trying to make a social statement for women or did it work out that way?

Lynne Heinzmann:  Many of my stories and books are about strong women or about women finding their own voices, so it felt natural to incorporate this theme as a sub-plot to the novel. I really enjoyed taking the sub-stories of each character and interweaving them to create the whole novel. I found it similar to completing a jigsaw puzzle, making sure each piece fit with the others perfectly.

Scene Selections

Lynn Welch:  The New Year’s Eve party where Louise learns the truth…How did you decide that a party should be the revelation instead of a wedding announcement?

Lynne Heinzmann:  I wanted to show that Louise had recovered enough from her breakup with Hans to go out to another big party in a major city. I felt this would make her collapse afterward all the more dramatic. I also wanted to include the Times Square Ball Drop in the story, since 1907 was the first year that took place, so New York City seemed the ideal location.

From historical fiction, Frozen VoicesLynn Welch:  As a parent, the details of Anna and Louise on the top bunk really struck a blow. What plot line had the most impact on you?

Lynne Heinzmann:  The scene that affected me the most—I sobbed while writing it—was the scene where Louise’s baby dies. Even now, I tear up when I read it.  

Lynn Welch:  In my mind’s eye while reading, I could see the posh surroundings of hotel suites, the weight of Millard’s lock bag, the cold bitter bite of winter. How did you develop your voice as a writer in order to make the details of your book so vivid?

Lynne Heinzmann:  First of all, thank you for those kind words. I work very hard to try to paint each scene as vividly as possible, while using the minimum number of words. And I do it by adding details in layers. I start with a general description of the setting. Then I add colors, sight details, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations, one layer at a time. Finally, I do one last edit to remove any details that feel extraneous and aren’t necessary to understand the scene. I edit my books, beginning to end, many times (5 to 10 or more!) before I feel confident that I have the correct amount of detail and description in each scene.

Lessons of the Book

Lynn Welch:  Millard, Sadie and Louise were teenagers in 1907.  In present day, the characters should be in high school yet here they are working, learning a trade and becoming a mother.  Do you feel our current teens are less prepared for the world than Millard and Sadie?  Do you think teens were more mature and had a stronger work ethic than today’s youth?

Lynne Heinzmann:  Back in 1907, life was so much simpler. Without our modern conveniences, people had to work hard just to survive—to provide themselves with food, clothing, and shelter. But nowadays, life has become so much more complicated and teenagers have so many more things to learn and worry about before they can count themselves as adults. And with all the information we receive from mass media and social media, they have to consider their global environment rather than just their families or communities, which involves learning a lot more information. When you add in all the new technologies that teenagers have to master, it’s a good thing people are living much longer now (78 years versus 45 years), so they have time to get up to speed on everything. Yes, teenagers in 1907 were forced to grow up faster than modern teenagers, but their adult lives were shorter and simpler and did not require the preparation that our modern world demands. From what I see, our children today are working very hard to understand how to become the successful adults of tomorrow.

Lynn Welch:  What lessons did you learn while writing Frozen Voices that you apply to your life and writing today?

Lynne Heinzmann:  At one point, the manuscript for Frozen Voices was over 500 pages! In the editing process, I learned that a story becomes much stronger and better when all unnecessary words are eliminated. Every word must carry its weight and contribute to the overall tale.

Comparing Book Writing Projects

Lynn Welch:  Which is more fun to write, a single book like Frozen Voices or a series such as Rose Island Lighthouse?

Lynn Heinzmann:  I wrote Frozen Voices by myself over five years, including the two-and-a-half years I went back to school for my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. Although it was often lonely, solitary work, I loved learning all of the wonderful things it taught me about writing and editing. The Curious Childhood of Wanton Chase, the first book of the Rose Island Lighthouse series, was written in about two years, working with my mother, daughter, and a good friend of mine. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the four of us working together but found that I had to spend far more time organizing and directing than I had while working on Frozen Voices. So, both projects had their joys and challenges.

Lynn Welch:  As an architect, mother and writer, what have you learned over the years in terms of time management?  There are only twenty-four hours in a day.  How do you find time to fit life into your schedule?

Lynne Heinzmann:  Fortunately, I have never required much sleep. And I am a very organized person. Before I go to bed, I write a list of the tasks I hope to accomplish the next day and I prioritize them. When I get up the next morning, I dive right into my list and complete as many items as I possibly can. Whatever I don’t finish is transferred to the list for the next day.

Lynn Welch:  Has your writing process changed over the years?  If so, how?

Lynne Heinzmann:  Yes! I used to write whatever came to mind and then heavily revise it later to try to make sense of it. Now, I tend to craft my books more carefully, selecting just the right words, which cuts down significantly on the revision process.

Publishing Historical Fiction

Lynn Welch:  Describe your process for finding a coach, agent and editor for FrozenVoices.

Lynne Heinzmann:  I was fortunate that Frozen Voices was selected as the winner of the Fairfield Book Prize. As part of my award, New Rivers Press (Moorhead, MN) edited and published the book. First, the manuscript was edited by a class of students at the University of Minnesota at Moorhead. Then another class designed the cover, text, layout, etc. Finally, a team of professional editors reviewed the students’ work and made the final edits. To me, the whole process was fascinating and educational, and it allowed me to realize my dream of having my first book published.

 

Lynn Welch:  Is historical fiction a more difficult market that other genres?
Lynne Heinzmann:  Since only 3% of books sold are historical fiction, it can be a challenge finding an agent or publisher willing to take a chance on this type of novel.

Promotion of Frozen Voices

Lynn Welch:  How involved were you in the launch and promotion of your book and who does the bulk of promotion—the agent, publishing house, you?
new rivers press
Lynne Heinzmann:  Because New Rivers Press is a very small independent press with a very small staff, and because they are located in Minnesota, most of the promotional work for Frozen Voices was done by me. NRP invited me to a launch reading/party at the University of Minnesota Moorhead, which was my first experience performing a reading outside of school. After that, I planned, organized, and attended dozens of events for the novel all around Southern New England in such venues as libraries, bookstores, historical societies, book club meetings, and writing seminars. And I greatly enjoyed all of these events.
Lynn Welch:  Are you active in any social media communities such as Goodreads or other online sources?
Lynne Heinzmann:  I actively maintain a website where I blog and post upcoming appearances. I also post events and notices on Facebook quite often, targeting some of my writers’ groups.
Lynne Heinzmann Speaking about "Frozen Voices" at the Women's Club Author Luncheon

Speaking about “Frozen Voices” at the SC Women’s Club Author Luncheon

Lynn Welch:  What are some of the exciting opportunities that have come out of writing Frozen Voices?  

Lynne Heinzmann:  I have thoroughly enjoyed doing author events all around the region and getting to meet people with ties to the events and people depicted in Frozen Voices. Also, becoming a published author has opened doors for me, affording me the chance to teach for such organizations such as GrubStreet and the University of Rhode Island. I am very grateful.

Advice for Authors

Lynn Welch:  Each passing day creates more history in the world.  What do you tell unseasoned authors in terms of finding THE STORY?  The story that will set their hearts and readers on fire.  How did you decide on Frozen Voices?
Narrator
Lynne Heinzmann:  Many writers have asked me what types of books they should write in order to create a “marketable” book. But writing a book takes at least a year, often much longer. By the time an author finishes writing a novel to suit the latest fad—sparkly vampires or flying wizards—that fad will have run its course and a new genre of book will be popular. So, instead, I advise new authors to write about something they are curious about or something they care about. And I suggest they write books they would want to read. When I wrote Frozen Voices, I wrote it so I could get to know those four unique characters and to answer the questions I had about them.
Lynne Heinzmann signing copies of "Frozen Voices"

Signing copies of “Frozen Voices”

Lynn Welch:  What advice would you give to authors that have “day jobs” to stay with writing and make it work?  How would you empower them to stick with it and get published?

Lynne Heinzmann:  I would tell them that all of the hard work that goes into writing, editing, and selling your book is instantly rewarded the first time you see your name on the cover of a book. I clearly remember ripping open the padded envelope that contained my galley proof of Frozen Voices, seeing my name on the front cover, and bursting into tears of joy. It was one of the happiest/most fulfilling moments of my life.
Lynn Welch:  Historical accuracy is key to a great novel, what information can you share that will help others research and find the information they need?  Are there any not-so-known sources?
Lynne Heinzmann:  In this age of the Internet, information has become so much more available than even twenty years ago. I would caution authors to carefully check the accuracy of their information, though, and make sure to find multiple sources for everything. One source of information that I feel is often overlooked is the personal interview. Chances are someone had done or experienced whatever it is an author is trying to write about. Find someone who has and interview him to obtain first-hand knowledge. People usually love to tell their stories to someone, especially an author who is listening carefully to every detail.
Lynn Welch:  What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction when it comes to research:  How much research should one do before writing?  Can the research end up preventing an author from ever getting to the writing?  How does an author know when it’s enough research or time to start writing and research later?
Lynne Heinzmann:  Historical fiction does require a great deal of research, more than any other type of fiction. Before I began writing Frozen Voices, I compiled background information on the major aspects of the novel (the Larchmont Disaster, Providence, Boston, the early 1900s, the lives of the individual characters, etc.) and then started to block out the individual chapters. I did further research whenever I came to something specific I didn’t know, like when chocolate chip cookies were invented or what sort of underwear a ship’s captain would wear. I found it hard to predict exactly what historical research I needed to do until I was actively in the process of writing the book. And I often reminded myself that I was writing historical FICTION. Although I worked very hard to make Frozen Voices as historically accurate as possible, readers wanted interesting characters and a good story, not a history book.

 

Authors Nancy Thayer, Bill Harley and Lynne Heinzmann. SC Women's Club Author Luncheon (July 10, 2019)

Authors Nancy Thayer, Bill Harley and Lynne Heinzmann. SC Women’s Club Author Luncheon (July 10, 2019)

LYNNE HEINZMANN is a professor of writing and rhetoric at the University of Rhode Island and a professional author/book coach/editor. She has written two books:  a historical novel Frozen Voices (New Rivers Press, 2016) and The Curious Childhood of Wanton Chase (Woodhall Press, 2019), a work of historical fiction for middle-grade readers (ages 8 to 12). Lynne lives in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. 

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