Necessary Sins (Lazare Family Saga #1)
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NECESSARY SINS by Elizabeth Bell > Welcome Elizabeth Bell

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message 1: by Ann (new)

Ann Creel | 80 comments Mod
We are pleased to welcome our guest host for this week to discuss her novel, NECESSARY SINS. Elizabeth, thank you for spending some time with us! To start, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your novel?

I’m delighted to be here! I’m a lifelong reader, writer, and history buff. I began writing stories in the second grade. My teacher would give us vocabulary words, and we were supposed to use each one in a sentence to show we understood what they meant. I’d fit them into a story. At age fourteen, I decided to become a published author and chose a pen name. I won a few contests in my younger years with short stories. My first published book is my debut novel, Necessary Sins, released in August 2019.

I write what I want to read, so my work is historical fiction, it’s a family saga, and it’s a love story. Necessary Sins is the first in four-book series called the Lazare Family Saga. The story begins in the French West Indies and ends in the Wild West, but the main setting is Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1800s. The central family, the Lazares, have both French and African ancestry and they’re “passing” as white. They’re Catholic, and the main character in Necessary Sins becomes a priest. He and one of his parishioners, who’s unhappily married, grow close and fall in love and have to figure out what to do about that.

How were you inspired to write Necessary Sins? What sparked your interest and/or idea?

When I was eight years old, my parents took me to visit Charleston, South Carolina. That was probably the first seed. I fell in love with the architecture and the gardens of the Lowcountry. As an adolescent, I devoured epics sagas and thought “I want to do THAT!” Books like Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. John Jakes’s North and South. Alex Haley’s Roots. Brodie and Brock Thoene’s Zion Covenant series.

Can you give us insight into your writing process?

I’m not someone who can write every day; I’ve always had to work around a job and/or school. I’ve found I need multiple days in a row to settle into my fictional world and be truly productive, so I write best during “binges,” long weekends or whole weeks off my day job when I can disappear into my “writing cave.” The rest of the time, I edit and research, research, research.

What research did you do? Travel? Go to historical societies? Read memoirs?

It took me 26 years to write the Lazare Family Saga. The majority of that time was research. I became a sponge and absorbed absolutely everything I thought might help me understand my characters’ world. I delve into so many subjects—subjects that intrigued me but that I knew little about when I started. For most of Necessary Sins, I’m writing from the point-of-view of multiracial Catholic man in 19th century Charleston. I am none of those things—I’m a white, agnostic, 21st-century woman from the Midwest. I wanted to write about all those aspects of the human experience from the inside out, so I read hundreds of books. Memoirs of priests and ex-priests, for example. Memoirs of people who visited Charleston in the 19th century and who escaped slavery. I studied gardening because my character Joseph and his love interest, Tessa, are gardeners and it’s one of the ways they bond. I learned the Victorian Language of Flowers. I took research trips to Charleston. I’ll be sharing a few of my photos. I studied the clothing, furniture, architecture, and artwork of the era. I work in a library so I can have access to ALL THE BOOKS as well as dissertations and scholarly articles. Although I’m not able to live where my novels are set, living in the Washington, D. C. region offers a wealth of historic homes, museums, and special collections libraries that have been tremendously helpful in understanding my characters, their setting, and their times. Once I was grounded in nonfiction, I studied other novels about priests or about the antebellum South—I wanted to understand what had been done so that I could approach the material in a new way.

Did you find anything in your research that was particularly fascinating or that helped shape the novel?

One of the questions I wanted to answer during my research was “Why would a young man choose to become a celibate priest?” A factor that surprised me is that for much of Church history, Catholic boys have entered seminaries and begun to train as priests when they’re adolescents. I mean, how many twelve-year-olds are ready to make a lifelong commitment?

Something else I grappled with was the intersection of religion and racism in 19th century America. Catholic priests owned slaves. They acknowledged that people of color had souls worth saving, yet they bought and sold human beings. The Catholic church even ordained men of color—my character Joseph has historical precedents. So there’s a great deal for a novelist to unpack.

What is your favorite time period to write about? To read about?

I’m in love with the 19th century on both counts, especially the 19th century United States. I’ll never tire of it. I love the clothing, the transportation, the architecture. It’s such a dynamic century. The Industrial Revolution happened; waves of immigrants were entering America; slavery was abolished; the West was settled to the detriment of the American Indians; so much was changing so fast, while many of the beliefs people held were so backward by our modern definitions. Two of the main characters in my saga are physicians, and for medicine in particular, the 19th century was the turning point between the medieval and the modern. It makes for great fiction.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? How have you been able to overcome that?

I thought my greatest challenge would be figuring out a story of this size: where does it begin, where does it end, and how do I navigate the space in-between? It took me a quarter century to answer those questions. But the greatest challenge of all turned out to be publication. My work is getting great reviews, but traditional publishers considered it risky for multiple reasons, and they weren’t willing to give it a chance. I couldn’t bear to let 26 years of work and characters I love deeply die on my computer. So I became an independent author. I’m having to learn the business and marketing side of writing even though I’m a math-averse introvert.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I’ve mentioned Colleen McCullough already. The great 19th century novelists also inspired me: Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë. A more recent inspiration for historical fiction that digs deep into character is Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Douglass’ Women.

What are you reading at the moment?

The fourth book in my series takes my characters into the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, so I’m refreshing and deepening my knowledge of those years. I’m currently reading Adam Goodheart’s excellent nonfiction book 1861: The Civil War Awakening. I’ve already found a new detail that I’ve incorporated into my work. I recently finished an outstanding novel set during Reconstruction, Leonard Pitts Jr.’s Freeman.

Care to share what you are working on now?

I’m completing my Lazare Family Saga series. I’ve just published Book 2, Lost Saints. Book 3, Native Stranger, is with beta readers and I’ll publish that this summer. I have a nearly complete draft of Book 4, Sweet Medicine, but I need to fill in a few gaps with more research.

message 2: by Ann (new)

Ann Creel | 80 comments Mod
Great interview, Elizabeth! I too am a fan of Colleen McCullough's writing. Can't wait to learn more about your book--the title is very intriguing, by the way!

message 3: by Tracey (new)

Tracey Evans | 90 comments Hi Elizabeth,
Your family saga sounds amazing. I can't wait to get the first one. It sounds like we are distant neighbors. I live about an hour and a half north of DC in Havre de Grace, MD. Do you think you'll be visiting any local bookstores? I would definitely come see you.

I do have 2 questions not specific to your novel, but questions for an author. First, I'm not familiar with how self-publishing works. Are your novels available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon or do I have to order directly from you? Second, are writers offended when their work is referred to as a book as opposed to saying novel? Actually a second question to my second question. Do you prefer to be called a writer or an author? I know they are random questions, I've been going through chemo and while getting my treatments random things like this pop into my head.

Thanks for your time. Good luck with your novels. I can't wait to start reading them.

message 4: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments I too thought I would be an author when I was in elementary school -- I scribed it on any number of "what I want to be when I grow up" assignments. Love that you are in the midst of your dream.

message 5: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth Bell (elizabethbellauthor) | 15 comments Ann wrote: "Great interview, Elizabeth! I too am a fan of Colleen McCullough's writing. Can't wait to learn more about your book--the title is very intriguing, by the way!"

I debated and debated about the title, so thank you, Ann! I actually dedicated Necessary Sins to Colleen MuCullough because she was such an inspiration.

message 6: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth Bell (elizabethbellauthor) | 15 comments Amanda wrote: "I too thought I would be an author when I was in elementary school -- I scribed it on any number of "what I want to be when I grow up" assignments. Love that you are in the midst of your dream."

Are you still writing, Amanda? Alas, following your dream is a wee bit more work than Disney movies led me to believe! ;)

message 7: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth Bell (elizabethbellauthor) | 15 comments Tracey wrote: "Hi Elizabeth,
Your family saga sounds amazing. I can't wait to get the first one. It sounds like we are distant neighbors. I live about an hour and a half north of DC in Havre de Grace, MD. Do you..."

Great questions, Tracey!

I didn't even realize there was a Havre de Grace in Maryland! I briefly mention the one in France in Necessary Sins. I live in Fairfax County, Northern Virginia.

For numerous reasons, I don't have any plans to visit local bookstores in the foreseeable future. But I am very flattered by your interest! If you want to hear me read the opening pages of Necessary Sins, I recently did so on a podcast:

Different self-publishers (a.k.a. indie authors) do things differently. My own work is available in paperback through numerous online bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon. However, the ebook is currently exclusive to Amazon; it's not available for Nook or Kobo, for example.

I have no personal preference about book vs. novel and use them interchangeably, although novel is more specific since a book can be nonfiction.

I tend to use author when I'm referring to my public, published identity and writer when I'm referring to my private, "work in progress" identity as I actually research, type, and revise. I believe this is how most authors and writers use the words. So I am both a writer and an author simultaneously and proud of both.

Ouf, I can only imagine how chemo messes with your head. I hope books are an escape for you. My best wishes on your recovery.

message 8: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments Elizabeth wrote: "Amanda wrote: "I too thought I would be an author when I was in elementary school -- I scribed it on any number of "what I want to be when I grow up" assignments. Love that you are in the midst of ..."

I write often, but not necessarily with the hope of publication these days. I am a teacher and that is the best job in the world. But if I wrote about my teaching experiences boy that would be a doozy...

message 9: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (grannylovestoread) | 132 comments Love history! Can't wait to read it!

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