DUCK CHAT: Rediscovering Ciji WareWednesday, February 24, 2010 10:00
Welcome once again to Duck Chat!
What a treat we have for you today, Ciji Ware is with us!
Over the next couple of years, Ciji’s books are being re-issued by Sourcebooks, beginning with Island of the Swans this month, followed by several titles through next year. Wonderful news for long-time fans and a terrific chance for readers who haven’t yet discovered Ciji’s books.
Ciji lives in California with her husband, and when she’s not writing, she is a Scottish history and dancing aficionado. If you’d like to know other little tidbits about Ciji, be sure to ask her a question or leave a comment and we’ll put you in the running for a copy of Island of the Swans. Sourcebooks is giving away two copies.
Now let’s chat!
DUCK CHAT: Welcome to the Pond, Ciji! Our readers would like to know a little about you. Would you give them a quick look at both Ciji the woman and Ciji the author?
CIJI WARE: Well, Ciji-the-Author has written six historical novels and two nonfiction works, scores of magazine pieces, and was a producer-writer on a now defunct web start-up (and trust me, that particular year-long experience is a novel in itself!). Ware-The-Writer has produced and written news and public affairs television shows for PBS in LA; some 5000 radio commentaries over seventeen years for ABC in LaLaLand; and is the proud author of “Mardi Gras Madness”—an original musical for the Sausalito Woman’s Club—a worthy organization still going strong after nearly one hundred years.
I recently completed a piece for AARP The Magazine called “Decluttering Your Life” and an 8-Week Online series on the same subject for aarp.org. As you probably guessed by now, I am one of those people who will “Write For Food.”
Ciji-the-Woman has tap-danced for money, loves to cook, is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel fancier, enjoys figuring out delightful ways to live in small spaces (“Cottages R Us”); gives a lot of time to her alma mater; has been wed to the same man for 33+ years, and has happily married off her only child, 30-Something Jamie, to a beautiful brain scientist. Ciji loves going to Europe when she can afford it, and lives in a maritime village seven minutes across the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the greatest cities in the world: San Francisco.
DC: If you could retire any interview question and never, ever have it asked again, what would it be? Feel free to answer it.
CW: Probably the question I dread most—but one that is probably always worth answering, is: “Where do your ideas come from?”
In my experience, there is no one place ideas come from. Mine bubble forth from being curious, something that is probably in my DNA (I am the daughter of a crime reporter and writer and a descendant of several generations of professional writers). This innate curiosity is a character trait I developed very strongly during my twenty-five years as a print and on-air reporter and commentator for radio and TV. I was trained to look for the “who, what, where, when and why” in most situations in life—the result of which has been that asking questions usually turns up very interesting answers.
For instance, my great-grandmother, Elfie McCullough had long and loudly claimed that my mother’s family were direct descendants of Jane Maxwell, 4th Duchess of Gordon, the heroine of Island of the Swans. When I wondered if that were true and how that might be true, it launched me into writing my first novel after fifteen years in the journalism business. It even led me to wearing eighteenth century duds upon occasion as a means of promoting my books!
I was never, in the five years it took me to research and write this book, able to prove for certain that we were related, but what resulted from my curiosity to find out produced a novel that is, basically, “Gone with the Wind of Scotland!”
DC: Your first published book from 1989, Island of the Swans, as been reissued by Sourcebooks, hit the shelves earlier this month. We can see it received a new, updated cover. Did you do any revising or rewriting of the story itself? If so, is it major revisions/rewriting or just some tweaking?
When Sourcebooks Landmark (the historical novel division of the company, also publishing wonderful reissues of Georgette Heyer and my special heroine, Daphne du Maurier) made an offer to bring out a 20th anniversary edition of Swans, I delightedly agreed–with a couple of conditions:
1.) That I have cover approval so the “package” would finally fit the contents (here’s what the wonderful art department came up with, based on the portrait of the real duchess I had suggested), and
2.) That I be allowed to restore the one hundred pages about the “Madness Crisis of George III” and a section about women being drowned as punishment for disobeying their husbands in the eighteenth century that had been ripped out of the second edition of the novel by its previous publisher.
I also removed some of the Scottish dialect that I felt slowed down the reader’s enjoyment of the narrative. I kept in the Scottish lilt to the language and a few “Scottishisms” like the endearment “hinny”–but I think the prose reads much more smoothly now.
I was tremendously grateful to my wonderful editor, Deb Werksman, for the chance to produce this book as it was meant to be: an historical novel writ on the large stage of history that also had a strong love story at its core. In other words, I wrote what I love to read, as in Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber, Green Darkness, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Shell Seekers (I know, I know, not an” historical,” per se, but set during World War II and with depth and a sweep of events that I love), and, of course, du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.
Producing a good, juicy historical has always been my goal with every novel I’ve written. That, and answering the question “What were the women doing during the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment?
CW: Jane and Thomas, and certainly Alexander, the 4th Duke of Gordon, as well, are all victims of both fate and the choices they made as a result of the dramatic (and traumatic) events in their lives. All the key characters suffer almost unbearable losses, and yet (since this is based on the true story of their lives) the thing that interested me most was how they coped with those losses, and in many ways were transformed by them, especially Jane and Thomas. These two invariably exhibited what I call “grace under pressure.” Alex, with whom I sympathize quite a lot at various stages of the story, is conditioned by his upbringing and the power he possessed as a high member of the British—and Scottish—aristocracy, to avoid much introspective. Alex wants what he wants; will do what he must to obtain it; and when he is frustrated, becomes as punishing and self-centered as his mother, the Dowager Duchess, was toward him.
Toward the end of the novel, there is a scene where, for a tiny window of time, the Duke wonders what his life would have been like if he had merely accepted Jane for the amazing, independent-minded woman she was. But then, therein hangs the tale of this love triangle that endured for more than three decades.
DC: I’ve heard writers often say their stories take them in surprising directions, or dialogue flows from some unknown place. Is it the same with you? Do your characters surprise you sometimes?
CW: A lot of writers often discuss how their characters “talk to them.” Since Swans was based on the lives of people who actually lived on earth, I was constrained by the facts of their histories and I never put anything I the novel I knew to be untrue.
My characters didn’t talk to me, but they certainly appeared, in the course of my writing, to want their story told to the world. I know this sounds a bit woo-woo, but there were parts of the biographical narrative that I hadn’t been able to nail during the initial research phase, but I wrote certain scenes anyway with what I call “intelligent supposition” based on the information I did know. Time after time, (and in time to make any tweaks, if necessary), I would at a later date stumble upon cold, hard proof that I had “guessed right.”
During Jane Maxwell’s lifetime and long after her death, this eighteenth century “Woman of Fashion” had been castigated publicly for her “forwardness” in politics, for favoring military intervention in the American Colonies and even recruiting troops in the Scottish Highlands, and for her prominent—some would say flamboyant—role in the social life of her day. However, as with journalism, it behooves a reporter to see if there’s another side to the story.
In the course of my research, I found a significant cache of letters at the Scottish National Library and the Register House in Edinburgh, written in Jane’s own hand, that hadn’t been examined in a hundred and fifty years! These told a very different story as to her personality and the care she had for her children in the light of the caustic criticism by her contemporaries that she was merely a self-promoting, ambitious aristocratic mama called disparagingly “The Match-Making Duchess.” So much for the accuracy of some of the publications and political cartoons of her day. …
When I was writing Jane’s dialogue, it almost felt at times that she was attempting to “set the record straight.” For instance, I never could pin down even the name of her great childhood love—just that she’d had one and that rumors about her enduring affection for him grew poisonous around the birth of her daughter, Louisa (who ultimately married Cornwallis’s son of the Surrender at Yorktown fame). That she had always carried a torch for this person was definitely in the record, but the letters and documents saying precisely who he was simply weren’t there—or may have been hidden away or destroyed by her family during her lifetime or after her death.
However, by calculating births, deaths, and military records from the files of the 78th Fraser Highlanders regiment in which her brother Hamilton commanded a company, again, I think my sleuthing found the right man: Thomas Fraser of Struy. But, can I be certain? To date: no. Such is the pleasure of writing fiction, instead of biography!
DC: Do you ever argue with your characters while you’re writing? Who usually wins?
CW: No, I don’t argue with them….I allow the record of their lives, if they are historical characters, to lead the way. If they totally fictional, as with Arabella Delaney Boyd (a woman Thomas encounters in America when fighting in a kilted regiment during the American War of Independence) I had no doubt what role she would play in Thomas’s fate. In fact, I heard her speech in my head from the moment I introduced her on the page. Yes, she was the “bad gal;” however, a very wise editor, the late Beverly Lewis, once said to me, “Nobody cares about a cardboard villain…you must, as a writer, understand why they do the despicable things they do.”
I took that excellent advice and asked myself what the reasons could be that this “wicked” character changed the course of Thomas’ life forever by not posting to England a letter he’d written to Jane. The eventual answer to that question, while not excusing Arabella’s perfidy, made her actions understandable, her character richer—and ultimately—allowed Thomas to forgive her for basically ruining his life. Miss Arabella ain’t no cardboard character for sure!
DC: Will any of your other books be reissued in the future?
CW: The amazing thing about the arrangement I made with Sourcebook Landmark is, once I secured the rights back to all my backlisted historicals, this company that certainly “gets” the digital revolution wanted them all!
As with the Georgette Heyer series, my new publisher is basically “rebranding” my work with covers that often feature portraits of women of the era and telegraph to the reader “This is historical fiction.” On the other hand, given other cues and clues on the covers, my books, as reintroduced to a new generation of readers, are positioned as “literate” as opposed to “literary” fiction. Put more plainly: as good reads.
What I write is certainly intended for a mass audience, but my work has never quite fit in the category as pure romance either. My books are for people who still like big, story-and-character driven tales that sweep the reader into a different era. They are set on the broad stage of history that, hopefully, offers men and women that capture the imagination and teach a little bit about a period in the past that nevertheless relates to the modern day in surprising ways.
As for the other books in the Sourcebook pipeline, A Cottage by the Sea, set in Cornwall and Wyoming, debuts in June, 2011, and tells the story of a woman who must completely reinvent her life—but first she must discover who she truly is.
Another of my historicals, Wicked Company, comes out in Fall 2010. It’s about a rollicking group of eighteenth century women playwrights (based on historical figures) who struggle against what they see as the “marriage trap” set by too-charming fellow actors and writers. They fight royal censorship as well as overt disdain for their efforts, and revel in the accomplishment of having their works produced to great success at Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres during the era of the wildly successful comedies, School for Scandal and She Stoops to Conquer.
2011 in April will see the publication of my first new historical in a decade: A Race to Splendor, about two licensed women architects (again, based on real people)—who improbably win the assignment of restoring the fabled Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill in the wake of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. They have one year to accomplish this feat—and a very dashing and dangerous young hotelier is determined to see the heroine fail.
The other novels that will be reissued in 2011 clad in Sourcebooks’ truly marvelous covers are Midnight on Julia Street and A Light on the Veranda –both of which are set in the American South, but have historical links to eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe.
DC: What is sure to distract you from sitting down and working/writing?
CW: An invitation to lunch! Like my other favorite city, New Orleans, the San Francisco Bay Area, along with the wine country to the north, has an overwhelming array of great eateries—even a Wine Train. I mean, who wouldn’t pitch the day’s writing schedule to drink spirits and eat great, locally raised food while some very gorgeous scenery drifts by…?
DC: How do you feel your male or female characters have evolved over your career? Do you think you write them differently now than you did when you started?
CW: I think I’ve remained pretty consistent about the way in which I handle male and female characters and treating the subject of their interpersonal relations. I remain intrigued by the question: can men and women truly form an equal partnership? It’s been the quest of my own life, having married a fellow writer who evolved into an Internet Guru person. In each of my books, not only is the love relationship at stake; so is the day-to-day, how-do-we-treat-each-other questions of respect, acceptance of personal foibles, and forgiveness of the inevitable mistakes we humans make. After more than three decades of marriage, these issues are nearly settled, but it still “gets interesting” from time-to-time, as it certainly did in earlier centuries.
DC: Is there a genre you haven’t tackled but would like to try?
CW: Well, I’ve attempted, and not succeeded, as yet, writing mysteries, which I adore to read. However, I think that one day I’ll write an historical mystery in the mold of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, or Tasha Alexander’s Regency series. I’ve always put the mystery aside to do what I know how to do, but someday…
I’ve also written that one musical and I’d like to try another on a bit of a grander scale. I could probably keep myself busy with all the projects in mind till I fall off the perch.
DC: What advice would you give to your younger self?
CW: I would tell myself to stand up to the publishing authorities that told me what the trends are. Fight like crazy to have a genuine say-so about the ways in which your works are presented to the public, as in packaging (cover art, cover copy, positioning in the marketplace).
It’s scary to do this when your dream is to see your book between covers from a real publisher…but with tact and marshalling good, sound, economic reasons for your requests, the “other side” will respect a writer if she delivers a great book and then speaks up about how she’d like to see it presented to the public.
DC: If you were a book, what would your blurb be?
CW: This writer does her research and spins a tale of love and the vagaries of fate that you cannot put down.
DC: You began your writing career in the field of journalism. Did you find the switch to writing romance easy or did it give you a hard time?
CW: I had very little trouble switching from journalism to writing fiction, as I had honed the skills I needed to “get the story” – even if the story took place long ago. I also was blessed with having learned the discipline to meet all deadlines—no matter what. This endears you enormously with publishers. My problem has always been that I’m a hybrid: I write historical fiction that has a strong, romantic component, but, as Lance Armstrong said, “It’s not about the bike.” In my work, it’s not only about the romance, even though the love story in each of my novels is always a vital part of the package. I not only want my heroines to get their man; I want her to discover herself and how she defines herself on a life course separate from the man she loves. I’ve always been a “radical“ in this regard, and so are the heroines I’ve chosen to create.
DC: What’s on the horizon for Ciji Ware?
CW: I’m noodling about a couple of ideas with my editor, one of which would take me back to eighteenth century England and a bunch of aristocratic women whose marriages left the penniless and who were forced to find their way in the unlikely world of an all-male industry still vital today. Another idea is set in Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century, and still another would be loosely based on the story of my own mother, whose family was quite wealthy and lost every cent in the Crash of ’29. It’s taken a full year to prepare six novels for publication, so I’m all over the place, currently, as you can see. My editor, Deb Werksman, will have to sort me out.…
- dark or milk chocolate? – Dark chocolate in a household that loves the milky variety!
- smooth or chunky peanut butter? – Definitely chunky!
- heels or flats? – Flats 97.5% of the time, but just last week at a “So You Think You Can Dance” party, I pulled out my Lucite, 4 inch heels and danced the night away at a disco extravaganza.
- coffee or tea? – Tea first thing and at 4pm; Coffee after my walking group does at least a mile and a half Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
- summer or winter? – Neither: Fall. Where I live, the fog rolls in during summer and it rains like mad (at least during El Nino) during the winter. Fall in the Bay Area and in New York where my son and new daughter-in-law live is divine!
- mountains or beach? – I’m definitely a by-the-sea gal…
- mustard or mayonnaise? – Mayo…in fact, y’all try Wildwood Zesty Garlic Aioli (at Whole Foods, among other places). You will thank me forever.
- flowers or candy? – Flowers, and don’t stint!
- pockets or purse? – Love NOT to take a purse to functions and put my “necessities” into my husband’s pockets.
- Pepsi or Coke? - Neither. My mother forbad us to drink carbonated beverages, and it stuck, except for Vieux Clicquot champagne. Sorry.
- ebook or print? – I got a Kindle for Christmas and it’s great when I travel, but I have to say, I prefer curling up with an honest-to-goodness book. I really like the size and feel of quality trade paperbacks, which are the size and format of Swans and my other books coming out in 2010-2011.
And because we still enjoy the answers we get:
1. What is your favorite word? – “Excellent.”
2. What is your least favorite word? – “Awesome”
3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – Watching dance performed brilliantly
4. What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? - Gratuitous violence
5. What sound or noise do you love? – San Francisco’s foghorns
6. What sound or noise do you hate? - Loud, pulsing noise emanating from cars pulled up at a red light
7. What is your favorite curse word? – Merde!
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? - Either a film director or an interior designer of cottages
9. What profession would you not like to do? – Anything where every day it’s the same task…like flipping hamburgers, okaying health insurance claims, etc.
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “You got it right, Ciji: all IS well.”
DC: Ciji, thank you so much for being here today. It’s been a pleasure!