You and your daughter team write. Tell us a bit about how that came about.
PENELOPE: I was whining about not having another book by Diana Gabaldon to read, and it had been forever since her last book had been released. I was sick to death of the (pardon me) crap that was on the bookshelves. I wanted a REAL BOOK to read; one I could sink into and not come up for days. Victoria was pregnant with the twins, we were out doing errands, and she was tired of the cheese and whine. So she said maybe I should write my own book. She meant for publication. I nearly passed out. So we started talking about it, she tossed out her ideas, we worked through the details, and viola! we became a writing team.
So, tell us a little about yourself? What is your typical day like?
PENELOPE: Most days, I teach the home school for Victoria’s five children. Thursdays, and sometimes Saturdays and/or Sundays are my days off, due to their schedules. On those days, I am at home, and I spend as much of each day at the computer as possible. Victoria works as a caregiver, and when her client is asleep, she can spend a bit of time writing. She writes by hand, passes the pages to me, and I put them into the computer. All our manuscripts are on my Mac because I have more time to work with the documents than she does.
VICTORIA: Typical non-writing day – Hit the ground running, go ALL day, wonder where the day went. Writing day – apply pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write ‘til I can’t hold the pen any longer or the fingers cramp and won’t move on the keyboard.
When did you start to write and how long did it take you get published? How many stories did you finish before you were published?
PENELOPE: I have written all my life, mostly for my own therapy, but I shared my stories with a very select group of friends, which includes my three kids. But in 2000, Victoria challenged me to write for publication and we began collaborating. Our first huge manuscript was written in 8 months, to the tune of 288,000 words. No one would even consider it. Our second manuscript was written for a contest for strong first and second grade readers, and was a biography on the founder of the Sui Dynasty in China. It didn’t get accepted either, though it was MUCH shorter! Our third manuscript was Ethan’s Flight, which took us three years to write. We submitted it on July 3, 2006 and received the offer of a contract on December 31, 2006. It was released in April 2008. We had nearly finished the sequel when Ethan’s Flight was released.
How did you break into publishing?
VICTORIA: Technically, we snuck into the publishing world. Or wiggled under the wire! We did lots of research to determine which publisher we wanted. Then we made our own genre. We continue to go the path least traveled. For us, I don’t think we feel we have really broken into the published world. There are times when this still doesn’t feel “real.”
PENELOPE: This was a dream come true. I had taken a class on marketing, and followed our fabulous instructor’s suggestions. We did our homework. I created a chart listing all the publishing houses I was interested in. We submitted to the first one. We were to wait 90 days for them to make their decision. I got scared when we hadn’t heard from them 30 minutes later. I was chatting with a friend at another publishing house who offered to take a look at the ms. I sent it to her, and within a month received a rejection. I immediately used that rejection to upgrade our status in RWA to PRO members. We got our PRO status in November. I worked up two letters, one to the publisher where we’d sent the manuscript asking her if she was interested, or could we send it to another publisher. I had the second letter ready to go to the other publisher. We went downstairs to Victoria’s computer to send off the first letter, and there was the offer for the contract! So we were published by the very first publisher to whom we submitted (even though we had been rejected by another house with the exact same manuscript). It doesn’t get any better than this, because Whiskey Creek Press was our first choice of publishers!
What influenced you to write?
PENELOPE: I have always written. Can’t remember not writing. There were just these stories and ideas bubbling around in my head, and I felt driven to get them down on paper. Victoria had her stories as movies in her mind, and because of her dyslexia, felt she could never get them on paper to share with others. When we started writing together, it released those stories in her head so we could get them on paper, too. I didn’t find out until after we had begun work on Ethan’s Flight that my mother had written stories as a young lady, but never attempted to get published. It must be in the genes!
VICTORIA: Plus, the “writing” bug has bitten all of my kids, and my brother and sister have also to various degrees. I remember going to visit family members, so delighted to hear the ebb and flow of the stories around me. We’ve been in story mode since before we were born!
What inspired you to write romance?
PENELOPE: The happy ending. I hate stories that end with no happily ever after.
VICTORIA: I can’t imagine a story devoid of the family dynamics. Where there are people – life happens. Romance is a better part of life – at least on paper, where it all works out. J
What genre or sub-genre do you write? Why did you choose this genre?
PENELOPE: We created our own genre. The main reason was because we like a variety of genres, and we took what we liked from each one and blended them together into American West Historicals with romantic and mystery elements. The only contemporaries we read are murder mysteries, so the historical was an absolute must. We had written a Regency set, but our characters were more American than British. We are from the west, so felt it natural that we would be more inclined to that flavor of history. And with our love of mysteries, we just couldn’t leave that out. It works for us. We’re very happy with it.
VICTORIA: Don’t forget Sci-Fi elements, too. You Can’t Hide from Justice has a mystic element I really didn’t see coming. But Sci-Fi is also a part of our reading choices, and TV and movie choices, too. Long live Gene Rodenberry (may he rest in peace!)
What difficulties does writing this genre present?
PENELOPE: Since it doesn’t fit just one category, it’s a little hard for people to figure out where to put it, like on the bookshelves. For that, we prefer to be listed as romance. But we definitely want the cover to show that it is a western story, and hopefully have something to hint it is historical rather than contemporary.
VICTORIA: One must have deep breathing techniques to say our genre with confidence. If you take a breath in the middle, it sounds made up. (giggle)
What motivated you to write your current book?
PENELOPE: Victoria had this idea for a family going west on a wagon train, meeting a villain who made the children grow up with a desire to go back to their family’s roots in the East. We began working on the story, and discovered that we had to bring up the backstory first before the rest would make sense. I hate the flashback method, so the story got moved around a bit. Then it got too long for one book. Remember the 288,000 word first manuscript? So we made Ethan’s Flight the backstory leading into the rest of Victoria’s idea. The sequel gets us a little closer to the original idea, but there is more to come.
How much time do you devote to writing each day?
PENELOPE: Neither one of us can write every single day. Victoria works full time, and I home school her five children. So four days out of seven are devoted to school. With four different grades to work with, the school day takes a lot out of me. I use my other three days to do as much writing as I can. Victoria writes when it works out for her at the client’s house and passes the pages to me. Once we have it in the computer, it goes back and forth until we have it ready to run past our Mentor, JoEllen Conger. Some days I work at the computer for eight to ten hours. Some days I get to work on it a couple hours in the evenings when I can be at home for the night. Some days, it’s all in the ether!
Tell us about your other works, books, stories, etc.
PENELOPE: We have a Regency series that we are taking apart. Yup, that 288,000-word thing is a series all on its own! But we have more planned in the series than those three stories. We want to do a biography series for children dealing with ancient people. That was fun and so different from fiction. We have two more books in the works for the American West series, beyond Ethan’s Flight and the sequel. We have an Australian Bush story in the planning stage as well. And we are working with several science fiction and time travel ideas. So many stories, not enough time!
What are you working on now?
PENELOPE: Primarily, we are working on the sequel, called You Can’t Hide from Justice. In this one, the crime that caused Ethan’s Flight will be solved. The following book brings a clan of Scots from Nova Scotia to join Ethan’s family and Justice. These are the main writing projects for now. We are working hard on the marketing for Ethan’s Flight, which takes an inordinate amount of time.
How do you write? Are you a panster or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?
PENELOPE: Victoria is an absolute pantser. I’m half and half. I have to plot out the main part of the story. I make Time Line charts, and character charts, and write a brief outline of a chapter before I get started on it, if there is something in particular I want to happen. But if the characters take off on their own, I type like mad to keep up with them and let them carry the story. The plot gives us the direction, but the characters influence everything.
What was the most usual way you came up with a story idea? I mean, I’ve gotten a plot idea from a song I heard, from brainstorming with a classmate. What unusual thing caused you to think, ‘hey, I could make that into a story?’
PENELOPE: Victoria is our idea person. Most of the time, she gets the ball rolling with her idea, and we brainstorm it back and forth until we work out the main plot and some of the characters. But the most unusual thing that happened for me was, after waiting for years, I finally saw Quigley Down Under. Loved that movie. Almost before the closing credits started scrolling across the screen, my mind started building a story set in Australia. Even if someone were to read the outline as it stands right now, they would never recognize that Quigley Down Under influenced it. I can’t wait to get the next two books done so we can digress to the Aussie story.
VICTORIA: I have an idea for a Sci-Fi book that sprang to life when I saw a book with pictures of trees throughout the seasons. Sometimes something so ridiculous HAS to be a story. Some story lines have been with me for years.
I don’t know how many story ideas have started with, “This would be so funny if? Or, can you just picture …?
If you could spend an hour talking to anyone from any time in history, who would it be? And Why?
PENELOPE: Most likely it would be James Michener. In my personal opinion, he is the King of Writing. I love the details he builds into his stories. I love the fact that they are forever long. Everything is connected, and he shows that in his stories. I would just like to be a fly on the wall and watch him craft a story, from the very first glimmer to the day it is released in bookstores. I’m sure he could teach me a LOT about research. I have his book on how to write and edit your own work. It is fascinating. I learned a lot from that book, even though it is very small in comparison to his fiction. What a wealth of knowledge his was.
VICTORIA: Shakespeare. He was so ahead of his time with his writing. And he had to overcome so many obstacles, professionally and personally.
And Gene Rodenberry. He was a font of ideas and concepts years ahead of his time. His widow is still developing some ideas he had, so even years after his death he will continue to influence the face of the Sci-Fi world.
15. Tell us some of the things interviewers are saying about your story or stories.
Debra Gaynor for ReviewYourBook.com said: “Ethan’s Flight is a real cliffhanger. Unfair, unfair, I want to know more. … Victoria Trout and Penelope West have woven an excellent tale of the west, suspense, and romance. They have penned a story that is easy to read and understand. My favorite part of this story is that it is wholesome. I would not be upset with my children reading it. … Fans of romance and suspense will love Ethan’s Flight.”
Lisa at Night Owl Romance said: “There is excellent attention to historical detail. The book slips between two parallel story lines, skillfully merging them together as one. … the tale cleverly unfolds. This book is completely clean and safe on the ‘mom/educator radar’, one I would let a teenage read, or even my grandmother, without fear that something inappropriate would come out. The authors show the humanity of their characters as they wrestle with human emotions of death, wrongful doing, justice, belonging, love and personal growth. Close attention to family dynamics, cultural values, and character dynamics exist to make this a really pleasant page-turner.”
PENELOPE: These comments really pleased me because I wanted to produce a book that could be read and enjoyed by every member of the family. We wrote a book that my mother could read and enjoy. We worked very hard to craft the story right so that others could enjoy a story, and hopefully learn lessons in dealing with each other as individuals as well as a family unit.
What is your all time favorite book?
PENELOPE: Judie Aitken's book A Love Through Time.
VICTORIA: Anything Lynn Kurland writes, or Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series.
How do you do research for your books? What’s the most interesting bit of research you’ve come across?
PENELOPE: Victoria is our research specialist. For the most part, I need research, I call her and say can you find me something on – whatever it is I need. She is a wizard at that. While outlining the Aussie story, I needed to know something about making butter, and she was swamped with several projects. So I dug around on the Internet and found the most fascinating site dealing with butter churns. I’m going to do my best to get that information in You Can’t Hide from Justice, the story about the Scots, AND the Aussie story. I can put bits of it in each one so it isn’t a repeat. That was just SO cool! And then we found this truly fantastic bit of research and used it in Ethan’s Flight. We put a page in the back of the book so people who are into history can go check it out for themselves.
VICTORIA: We were researching baby names, as our first novel is in the epic range for numbers of characters. We wanted the daughters of the family to have flower names. We came across the name Chantou. We have never found a picture of it, have even contacted the Cambodian embassy, spoke to someone in the ambassador’s office, and STILL don’t know what it looks like. But her name is Chantou, research not withstanding.
What advice would you give aspiring writers today?
PENELOPE: I have two pieces of advice for those who are interested in writing. Number One, join RWA. That was the best advice we were given when we started. Because of that advice, I found Hearts Through History, the online chapter of RWA dealing with history, and it is the greatest group of people to ever get together! The educational program offered through RWA is astounding, and with so many chapters offering so many different chapters, everything is covered. Number Two, get Todd Stone’s book Novelists Boot Camp, read it, and FOLLOW it! That book makes writing as easy as falling off a log. Well, maybe not that easy, but it is a fabulous way to get from an idea to a finished product.
VICTORIA: Also get Terry Brooks’ book Sometimes the Magic Works. Never give up. Never give in (to the doubters). Take all prisoners (they may make a great character some day!) Don’t take yourself too seriously or you will get author-itis, as Laura Lippman says. J
How do you like your fans to contact you?
www.troutandwestauthors.com On our website, there is a mailbox. Go there and you can write an e-mail to me or to Victoria. We keep pretty good tabs on the e-mails and respond quickly. We love to hear from our readers!