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An Interview with Erica Vetsch

Former high school history teacher Erica Vetsch manages a busy life as a bookkeeper for her family lumber business, a home-school mom, an avid museum patron, and—fortunately for her readers—a wonderful historical romance writer.

I just finished a prepublication copy of A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City Kansas. What a delightful book, Erica! It combines outstanding fictional characters like Addie and Fran, plus real citizens like the delicious Bat Masterson. What made you choose this time and place, and why did you decide to make Addie a photographer?

First, thank you for your kind words. I enjoyed writing this story, and one of the fun aspects was the inclusion of historical figures like Bat Masterson.

As a Kansas native, I’m proud of our rich historical heritage, and I’ve always had a love for all things cowboy/Old West. Dodge City is the epitome of the West at its wildest, and I’ve always wanted to set a story there.

As for why Addie was a photographer…I was perusing some history books, and I came across a section on Old West photography, about how cowboys loved to have their portrait taken, and I thought, ‘what if the photographer who had to deal with these firebrands was a woman?’ Addie was born.

The idea for the first scene in the story came from a photograph I found of a cowboy and his horse posed exactly as I describe them in the book. I couldn’t help but wonder how they got the horse into the studio, and how they managed to get him to stand still long enough for the exposure.

Your own life seems so full that it’s hard to imagine how you find the time to do the sort of research a book like A Bride’s Portrait must require, to say nothing of writing the book itself. How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?
If I’m honest, I’ll say that sometimes I don’t do a very good job with balancing everything. However, I have learned both to prioritize and to delegate…and to say no to some things. I don’t cross-stitch like I used to, and my reading time is less, so I have to be more selective. Research books, books that match my genre, books on writing craft; those have to take precedence. Oh, and I have to put in a plug for my family. They are a huge help, picking up slack around the house.

How much time does the research take for one of your historical romances? Where do you find the information you need and how do you keep track of it?
How much time the research takes depends on how well I already know the subject matter and how scarce the resources are that I might need. A Bride’s Portrait took a bit of study, since I knew nothing about 1800’s photography. I researched camera models, chemicals and development procedures. I also read biographies of Bat Masterson and newspapers from Dodge City in the 1870’s.

I love to use primary sources in my research, diaries, newspaper clippings, autobiographies, photographs, etc. History books come next, especially those published by historical societies or university presses. Where possible, I try to buy these books, since chances are excellent that I will need something in them for a future novel. Internet resources come last. The Internet is a great place for starting your research, but you must verify everything in more than one place, with preferably at least one off-line source.

I visit museums every chance I get, and if museum policy allows, I take screeds of photos. I also try to photograph the museum signage along with the display so I can refer to them later.

In A Bride’s Portrait, major character Miles Carr is a new Christian who feels hesitant about sharing his faith with others. That’s a common challenge for real-life Christians as well. How do you select the faith concerns of your characters and then portray them in an organic fashion? How much does your own faith come into your work?
I identified with Miles Carr so much. Sharing my faith, face-to-face, is a heart-pounding, palm-sweating endeavor for me—though when I consider it rationally and in light of the tremendous gift my salvation is, I never know why I get so nervous. I countered Miles’s hesitation with Jonas’s boldness, so Miles could both feel inadequate, and yet have something to aspire to.

I try to pair the character’s spiritual strengths and weaknesses with the challenges they will face in the story. The theme of the story often emerges from these struggles: trust, forgiveness, honesty, grace, and more.

It is no coincidence that as I’m writing, God teaches me the same spiritual lessons my characters are learning. I’ve had to face my own sins and shortcomings while looking into the mirror of my own fiction. Thankfully, there is grace and forgiveness waiting for me, just as it is waiting for my characters—and my readers.

Many of our readers are pre-published authors themselves. Can you tell us a bit about your own road to publication?
I’ve always loved fiction and romance, and I spent years daydreaming, making up stories in my head. When I quit my job as a high school history teacher and began homeschooling my kids, I decided to begin writing some of the stories down for my own enjoyment. For about a year this satisfied me, but eventually, I knew I wanted to be a better writer and to pursue publication. For three more years I wrote, read books on writing fiction, attended conferences, entered contests, joined critique groups, and wrote more fiction. I acquired an agent, garnered many rejections, and couldn’t stop writing fiction. I finally received my first contract offer in September of 2008, at the ACFW Conference in Minneapolis, MN. ☺ Looking back, the wait wasn’t all that long, though it sure seemed that way at the time.

One of the truths I’ve learned on this path is that everyone’s road to publication is different, and nobody’s is without obstacles, detours, and roadblocks. We’re all on the journey together, some ahead of us, some behind us. There is much to be learned from those who have gone ahead, and much encouragement to give to those who are coming along behind.

Comparison is the killer of enthusiasm and creativity. Take heart, take caution, take whatever is profitable from others’ journeys, but don’t fall victim to comparison. Your path is as unique as you are, and there is no real destination on this odyssey, only the journey.

What books, classes, or organizations have been important to your development as a writer?
Without a doubt the ACFW was pivotal in my development as a writer. I would not be where I am today without everything I’ve learned through being a member. I’ve met and made lifelong friends, learned about both the craft and business of being a writer, and received so many opportunities as a result of the ACFW. My only regret is that I didn’t join earlier.

Books I recommend to aspiring writers:

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon
The Writer’s Complete Guide to Characters: 16 Master Archetypes by Cowden, LaFever, and Viders
Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell
Writing the Breakout Novel/Workbook by Donald Maass

There are dozens of books out there on how to write fiction, but the ones I’ve listed are my ‘must haves’ that I return to over and over.

What part of writing or the life of a writer still presents a challenge for you?
This question made me smile, because it varies from day to day. Some days the greatest challenge is filling a blank page with words. Other days it’s marketing, social networking, balancing the laundry and the editing, or a dozen other things. I think that’s one of the reasons I love writing fiction so much. No two days are the same, and there is always a new hill to conquer.

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m currently finishing up a novella collection called Sagebrush Knights about four sisters who become mail-order brides and discover that knights in shining armor sometimes wear cowboy hats. As soon as I turn those stories in, I’m diving into writing another Bride book called A Bride Sews With Love in Needles, CA. The story is set during World War I at the El Garces hotel in Needles. A Harvey Girl passionate about helping with the war effort finds herself falling in love with a man the entire town thinks is too cowardly to enlist.

Thanks for sharing with us, Erica!

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