Landing a book contract with a New York publisher doesn’t mean you find it easy to bring three-dimensional characters to life through words, says local author Louise Marley.
“That is the big challenge, I think, particularly if you are writing in a (specific) genre,” said Marley, who writes historical fiction under the pen name of “Louisa Morgan.” “Sometimes I think a lot of characters do end up being generic. I am fighting that right now in my current work.”
If the Port Townsend residen’ts publishing history is any indication, she may be winning the fight. “A Secret History of Witches,” was published on May 1, 2018. The follow-up, “The Witches Kind,” was released March 19 and she has a May 1 deadline to deliver “Age of Witches,” to her publisher, Hachette Book Group.
“People are calling it magical realism, and I think that is a good way to describe it,” she said of the label, which places her in the company of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.
“It begins in 1937 and ends in 1947 and is set right here in Brinnon,” Marley said of her debut novel, “A Secret History of Witches.” “It is about a girl that grew up here in Port Townsend and they just don’t fit in very well with society. They come across a mysterious baby, and so the whole story is kicked off by that.”
The story is set against the backdrop of strange UFO sightings in the mid-1940s, Marley said.
For “The Witch’s Kind,” one character is based on Marley’s real-life grandmother, Elizabeth Lucinda Morgan Campbell, the name that inspired her pen name.
“We used to joke that she was the first hippie,” Marley said. “She left her husband and went off to become a painter during The Great Depression when nobody was doing that stuff.”
Childhood memories of Campbell were all the inspiration Marley needed to begin creating the character in the book, she said.
“You have one little idea and it just grows and grows and grows,” Marley said. “My agent calls it ‘acorns into oak trees,’ because it is this little thing at the beginning and then the job of the writer is to grow that.”
“The Witch’s Kind” has received rave reviews from critics including Anna Quinn, a writer, teacher and owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend.
“I loved ‘The Witch’s Kind,” Quinn said. “One of the best books I’ve read this year. Truly. I couldn’t put it down. Beautifully developed characters who move back and forth in time with a particular focus on the role of women as well as themes of loss, war (and) magical elements.”
Marley is a master writer, Quinn continued, “weaving together narrative, action, description and dialogue in an evocative, extraordinary way. Everyone should read this book, As well as her prior one, ‘‘The Secret History of Witches.’”
From opera singer to novel writer
Before Marley became a full time writer, she was a professional opera singer and a teacher at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, she said.
Marley stopped singing opera about 15 years ago, she said.
“I started publishing before I stopped singing, and the two overlapped for a while,” Marley said. “It was just too much to do. Anytime you have that kind of a performance career, it tends to be on the short side. I sang for long enough. I still enjoy singing, but it is kind of nice not to have to worry about it professionally.”
As a singer, Marley’s audience was tangible — sitting in auditoriums she sang in. As a writer, she is much more disconnected with her readers.
“The audience is so much bigger, but I miss that one-on-one, so I love doing readings and signings because I really like to perform,” Marley said. “I get emails from my readers and I get to respond to every single one of them. That is pretty cool, and they are all over the world.”
Marley’s next reading is set for 6:30 p.m. June 22 at Imprint Bookstore, 820 Water St. in Port Townsend.
Perspiration, not inspiration
As a professional writer, Marley sets aside a dedicated block of time each day in which to write, she said.
“I used to always write in the morning before I went off to teach at the college,” Marley said. “But, since I don’t do that anymore, I write all afternoon. I start working and I work until it is time to make dinner, on a good day. Sometimes, other things happen.”
The key thing is to get rid of all distractions, Marley said.
“It matters getting into the mindset,” she said. “Turn off the TV. Turn off the internet. I do sometimes play classical music, but if it is vocal music I can’t, because I would be listening instead of writing.”
For “The Witch’s Kind,” Marley said she spent a couple of years getting it just right. The hardest part is walking away from a book, she said.
“There is an old story about Chinese sculptor who keeps carving until someone takes it out of his hands,” Marley said. “I could revise forever. Even now, there are things in ‘The Witch;s Kind’ that I would like to go back and redo. You have more thoughts about it.”
It can be difficult to wrap up a book just right, Marley said.
“There is so much to the characters, there is so much in my head, that sometimes it is hard to let go of that and then you have to get to know a whole bunch of new characters.”
“The Witch’s Kind” is available for purchase on Amazon or in local bookstores.