Freelance Blog + writing

5 Q's with Cara Lynn James, Author of Love on a Dime

When I surveyed readers about what they'd like to see on the blog, some of you asked to hear more from debut novelists. Cara Lynn James' debut novel, Love on a Dime, came earlier this month. I love historical fiction with a touch of romance, so I couldn't resist the chance to find out more about about Cara and her books.

Urban Muse: Your website mentions that your novels take place during the Gilded Age. What fascinates you about this era?
Cara:
The Gilded Age is an over-the-top era of tremendous wealth and terrible poverty. From the Civil War onward newly rich industrialists came into prominence. Many flocked to New York and took over ‘high society,’ pushing the old guard into the background. How these people adjusted to their new wealth and how they spent it is really interesting to me. It was a time of conspicuous consumption, yet old fashioned rules of behavior. It had many contradictions that were fun to explore.

UM: Could you tell us about your research process? How did you get into the mindset of a turn-of-the-century novelist?
C:
When I decided to write an historical romance Newport and the Gilded Age immediately came to mind. The two are intertwined because so many of the richest and most powerful Americans during that time lived in east coast cities (especially New York) and summered in Newport.

I grew up in Connecticut, but Newport was my second home from the time I was born. It was my mother’s hometown. In fact, we’re descended from some of the 1639 founders who were exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of their beliefs in religious freedom.

Our other ancestors came from Ireland in the 1880s and settled in Newport too. Some of my grandmother’s cousins came over alone as teenage girls and worked for the millionaires as ladies’ maids and housekeepers. I vividly remember one of them as an old lady with a twinkle in her eye and a lilting brogue. She and her sister passed down a few things from their employers including a silk shawl and parasol which I used for playing dress-up. I toured the mansions several times over the years. I marveled that these huge houses staffed by twenty or more servants were lived in only for six to eight weeks every summer.

So researching the town and its history was relatively easy. I’d always loved Newport. It’s a quaint town with colonial buildings on narrow streets, sandy beaches, and mansions (called cottages) that were built during the Gilded Age and styled after European chateaux and villas. I’ve been collecting books on both Newport and the turn-of-the-century since I was young so I have my own reference library.

I used the internet a lot for my information. It’s a great source for customs and etiquette and clothing. I love researching and learning new things.

UM: Was it challenging to balance elements of historical fiction, Christian fiction, and romance?
C:
No, not really. Because I’m a Christian I write everything from a Christian worldview. My faith influences how I look at everything, including how and what I write and the characters I choose to explore.

The Gilded Age had a lot of nominal Christians. I would never attempt to judge their hearts, but I’m sure it was difficult to be a dedicated Christian in the midst of so much ostentation. Having unlimited funds to buy whatever you want certainly created temptations to misuse money. Still, in the midst of great wealth, some people were generous to others and supported much needed charities. They didn’t allow money to change them. But there’s no doubt a lot of riches can test a person’s character. How people respond to their life circumstances is fascinating and that’s part of what I write about.

The Gilded Age millionaires had so many opportunities and choices. It seemed to be such a romantic time period to me; really fun for me to explore in my writing. Although rich ladies didn’t have career options, they had the leisure time to march for women’s suffrage. They could travel to Europe or stay at home and entertain their friends. Or they could help the poor through charitable organizations such as Settlement Houses. In contrast, life for most women (and men) was very difficult.

UM: Your bio mentions that you’re part of an online critique group. Does your group have any parameters in place or is it more free-flowing?
C:
We normally post twice a month up to twenty pages. We return the critique within two weeks with our comments, using the “track changes” function. I’m lucky that my crit partners are all kind and knowledgeable. Tact is really important in a critique group.

UM: Any other tips for first-time novelists?
C:
Keep on writing and learning. Have a ‘teachable’ attitude and enjoy the process of writing. Don’t expect to get rich financially, but know that your writing will enrich your life in so many other ways. Accept discouragement as human and inevitable and then move past it. Don’t let set-backs snuff out your goal of becoming a published author. Celebrate every little success along the way to publication. Realize this isn’t an overnight process. It’s a journey, but it can be fun and satisfying. Go to writers’ conferences, network, join writers’ organizations such as ACFW or RWA and its local chapters. Enter contests for the feedback. Learn from others, and as you grow as a writer, help others.

Band together with other writer friends to cheer each other on, to share knowledge and each other’s rejections and successes. You don’t have to face the publishing world alone and friendless. I belong to a support group of fifteen (thirteen are now published) who met through contest finals. We have a blog called The Seekers. It’s incredible how much I’ve gained from these fabulous authors.
Thanks, Cara! Congrats on your new book!

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5 Q's with Cara Lynn James, Author of Love on a Dime + writing