Jenny: Obviously, we’re both Christians. I assume that is evident from both our blogs and our writing. Our faith doesn’t just massively impact our writing, it is the essential undercurrent of it. Also, we both have a great love of history, something that our father, an avid reader, and our mother, who taught us at home, instilled in us from an early age. More particularly, ever since my mother read The Eagle of the Ninth to us, I have been greatly intrigued by Roman culture, especially as it has been brought back to life in Rosemary Sutcliff’s works, and my interest has expanded from there.
Abigail: History plays a significant role in my novels, either by setting up the background of a world (in a fantasy), or by playing a major role in the whole plot (in a historical fiction). I also love classic literature—a passion which began about the time I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—and it has influenced my writing by setting up magnificent writers to learn from.
What's it like being a teenage author, which is very unlikely, but also having a teen sister doing the same thing?
Jenny: Frankly, it feels kind of surreal. I have to stop and tell myself “You are a published author,” and even then, I feel as if I am talking about someone else, not myself. Having Abigail published along with me is a comfort because it’s a whole new, strange world, and it makes it easier to learn by trial and error with someone else in the comedy of errors with me.
Abigail: My experience is much the same as Jenny’s. We’ve both been writing for so long that being published was just the next step of that—something that we are very thankful for, but that hasn’t really changed much for us. It has been a blessing that both of us were published at the same time, not just in that we’re both venturing out together, but because neither one of us was first in this. There’s no room for any rivalry.
How did the road to publication come about for each of you, and how long did the process take?
Abigail: Jenny and I both began to seek out publishers in earnest between 2009 and 2010. I had finished my novel The Soldier’s Cross after National Novel Writing Month (November of 2009), and Jenny was touching up The Shadow Things to get it sent out. We spent a lot of time culling through the Writer’s Market Guide and looking up countless publishing houses, writing and sending out query letters, etc. In the early summer of 2010, Ambassador Emerald accepted my submission, and hard on the heels of it, took and accepted Jenny’s as well. At the time they didn’t know that she and I are sisters, nor were they aware of our young age. It was as much a pleasant surprise for them as it was for us when they found out.
That's crazy! I'm sure your parents are very proud of each of your successes. What was their reaction when they found out that both of you had been offered to be published at such a young age?
Jenny: Both Mom and Dad have always supported our writing and had been encouraging us throughout the process of submitting our manuscripts, so they were prepared; but they were also very glad and proud. Their help and support has really been a blessing all our lives, in all areas.
What sort of challenges have you faced from dealing with your career as an author and being a student as well?
Abigail: Being homeschooled has been a very helpful in affording time for me to write during the day, and my mother is very flexible; I am able to arrange my schedule and do both schoolwork and writing with relative ease, although during some parts of the semester I have to focus more on reports and exams. Also, now that I am published, my writing counts toward Grammar as a school subject.
Jenny: I completely ignored my schoolwork and drove Mom crazy. Honestly, as soon as I was reasonably done with a subject, I would scamper back to my computer and bang out some more on a story. Or, even worse, I would procrastinate like nobody’s business on my schoolwork in favor of writing on a story. I did, however, manage to graduate with decent grades, and now that I am married I do a manageable job juggling writing and tending the home.
I'd like to know how this dream came about in the first place. Did each of you plan to write a novel at the same time and try publishing them through the same publishing company, or did it just sort of "happen" that way?
Abigail: Jenny began writing years before I did, and my longing to write came as much from reading her stories and watching her as it did from my love of books and story-making. She actually wrote The Shadow Things some time before I wrote The Soldier’s Cross, but, Providentially, was only ready to send it out at the same time I had completed my novel. Because they are both historical fiction and Christian, we submitted to a lot of the same publishing houses, but that was more because of genre than our trying to be published at the same time. So, I suppose you could say that it just “happened”.
What's it like having a sister going along the same writing journey as you are? Do y'all set aside a certain time to write together, bounce ideas off each other, and exchange manuscripts once in a while to give each other some advice and suggestions?
Jenny: We will occasionally show each other bits of our writing in our little “Inklings” group, and we will commiserate on the difficulty of writing, but largely we write alone without reference to the other’s work. Both of us usually have a good idea of what is going on in the other’s novel at any specific time, though.
Abigail: Having someone else in the family who is a writer is a great blessing; it’s like having your own personal writer’s group, without having to venture outside of the family. But though we do have a good time talking (or complaining!) about edits, plot ideas, characters, and all the rest, we don’t set aside a certain time to do so. Writing simply factors in as part of our lives.
What inspired you each to write a Christian historical novel?
Abigail: The Soldier’s Cross is one of those stories whose inspiration is very difficult for me to pinpoint and analyze. The plot itself is particularly difficult for me to say, “Thus-and-such inspired me here,” and “So-and-so gave me this idea.” The theme, however, is easier. It grew first out of a desire to show that Christianity didn’t just begin at the Reformation (as many Protestants seem to think), but that there were true believers before; and secondly, it came from the disturbing similarities between the ignorance of the Middle Ages and the attitude of the Church today. Then there was a prevalent belief that it was the Church that saved a person, and that if you were part of Christendom, your soul was safe. And today there is a mindset that believes the same thing: If I live a “good” life, my eternal destiny is safe. This is not true Christianity, and so came the theme of The Soldier’s Cross.
Jenny: As Abigail said, it’s very hard, at the end of the road, to remember what one’s first steps on it were like. I don’t remember what first drove me to write The Shadow Things, other than a simple love of writing Roman Britain, and a desire to show what life could have been like for a young Christian living all alone in the face of a pagan society. The Shadow Things gave me a chance to write an emotionally charged story with a familiar setting, and, hopefully, I will have been able to make a setting that is familiar to me seem familiar to the reader, while at the same time expounding situations which, until Christ returns, will remain familiar to us throughout time.
Would you mind both sharing a little bit of what each of your novels are about?
Jenny’s The Shadow Things:
The Legions have left the province of Britain and the Western Roman Empire has dissolved into chaos. With the world plunged into darkness, paganism and superstition are as rampant as ever. In the Down country of southern Britain, young Indi has grown up knowing nothing more than his gods of horses and thunder; so when a man from across the sea comes preaching a single God slain on a cross, Indi must choose between his gods or the one God—and face the consequences of his decision.
Abigail’s The Soldier’s Cross:
1415 A.D. Fiona’s world is a carefully built castle in the air, made up of the fancies, wishes, and memories of her childhood. It begins to crumble as she watches her brother march away to join in the English invasion of France. It falls to pieces when he is brought home dead.
Robbed of the one dearest to her and alone in the world, Fiona turns to her brother’s silver cross in search of the peace he said it would bring. But when she finds it missing, she swears she will have it and sets out on a journey across the Channel and war-ravaged France to regain it and find the peace it carries.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Abigail: I recently “finished” (it’s not really finished until it’s published) my fantasy novel Wordcrafter, the tale of a man as he comes to grips with the fact that all things come with a price, and that the price of true friendship is your life. It is in the querying stage. I am currently writing my next historical fiction, The White Sail’s Shaking, which is set in the early 1800s and deals with the young American Navy during the First Barbary War. There is more information about both novels on my blog.
Jenny: At the moment I’m working on editing the first draft of a fantasy centered around the story of Beowulf. Hundreds of years after the epic end of the hero's life, a young Victorian lady, Adamant Firethorne, is given a vision of the old warrior and an enormous diamond, a diamond encasing the key to every world ever made. Charged with finding the diamond and the heir of Beowulf, Wiglaf, Adamant finds herself flung into the world of Faerie, fighting against time and her enemies to find Wiglaf and put the worlds to right at last. With each step her faith is tried and refined, at each turn the love of her God revealed more reckless and wild than her snug Victorian life had ever allowed for. And her faith is rewarded beyond all that she could have thought to ask for.
Thanks for interviewing with us, girls! Just one last question. What advice would you like to give aspiring teenage authors?
Jenny: Read dead people. Time will tell if a book is any good, and chances are, if a book has survived the death of its author, it may be worth your while to read. So read dead people.
Read prolifically. Authors are some of your best mentors, and the more you read, the more you will learn about styles, about places and people you could never otherwise have met, and the more your understanding of good literature will expand. If you don’t read, your work isn’t worth reading itself.
Abigail: Along with what Jenny said, anyone who truly wants to write and to write skillfully must have perseverance. It can be a very discouraging path to follow, especially when you look at the literary greats and compare them to your own writing, and it can be a lot of work; but it is also rewarding if you keep at it. Your writing will only improve with practice, not with giving up. (And if you want proof, go and read Jane Austen’s Juvenilia and compare it to Pride and Prejudice. Progress doesn’t get much more obvious than that.)
Connect with Jenny by following her blog. You may order her novel, The Shadow Things, by clicking here.
Connect with Abigail by following her blog and becoming a fan on Facebook. You may order her novel, The Soldier's Cross, by clicking here.