Women and Adversity:
Actor turned Author
Canadian-born Barbara Kyle is the author of the Thornleigh Saga, a series of seven historical novels; three thrillers under the pseudonym Stephen Kyle; and the suspense-filled The Man from Spirit Creek. Kyle’s nonfiction Page Turner with the subtitle Your Path to Writing a Novel that Publishers Want and Readers Buy, provides valuable information that helps writers get their books accepted for publication. Kyle’s recent blog topics include “How 3-Act Structure can Enrich Your Story,” “Don’t Weaken Your Writing with this Fundamental Flaw,” and “What Makes a Killer Mystery? Here’s a 5-Point Checklist.”
Kyle and her husband live in Guelph, Ontario.
JAM: What was the biggest obstacle you faced when you decided to become a writer?
BK: Self-doubt. I didn’t have the confidence that I could succeed. (If you’re an emerging writer reading this, I’ll bet you can relate!) I’d written a few short stories and won an award for one, but I wasn’t at all sure I could manage creating a big novel. This soul-searching came soon after I turned forty. I’d enjoyed a good career as an actor, but after forty there were fewer roles, so I made the decision to fully commit to writing. But with great trepidation. The hardest moment was the day my dues for the actors’ union came up for renewal and I had to tell myself, “No, you’re writing now, not acting,” and let my union membership lapse. But inside I was a mess because being an actor had been my identity for over twenty years and I was grappling with: “If I’m not an actor anymore, and not a real writer yet, then what the heck am I?”
JAM: What were the obstacles you faced when you wrote your thrillers?
BK: My lack of scientific background. I’m a science dunce! The main character in my first thriller was a virologist, and in my second thriller a physicist, so my total ignorance about these fields made the research a challenge. Well worth the struggle, though, because every novelist has to make her readers believe in the world of the novel. So I did a lot of reading, and I interviewed specialists in these technical fields who graciously reviewed the first draft, and their approval was a relief. Actually, although I make it sound like a big deal here, the science in my thrillers is merely background to stories that are strongly driven by the characters. Still, I had to get the background right.
JAM: What were the obstacles you faced when you started your Thornleigh series?
BK: Making myself stop doing research. The seven-book Thornleigh series is set in sixteenth-century England and follows a middle-class family’s rise through three turbulent Tudor reigns, so the research was hugely important. It leads you down a fascinating rabbit hole that leads to myriad tunnels of eye-opening historical facts, the culture, politics, and military events that had me itching to put all this glorious historical detail into my books. However, much as readers of historical novels love the history, they don’t really want a lecture, they want a story about characters they care about. So I had to crawl back up, out of that mesmerizing rabbit hole, trust that I had the historical facts right, and march on with crafting an exciting story about my fictional characters.
JAM: What obstacles do you face now as a writer?
BK: Time management. I’m at work on my twelfth novel, a modern-day mystery featuring an animal rights activist – it’s the first book in a planned series – but I also give online master classes to writers all around the world, and it’s a challenge to organize my time to carry on these two “businesses” concurrently. I love doing both, but each requires intense personal commitment, so it sometimes feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
When I coach writers, I always recommend that they focus not on the barriers they may face, but on the work itself. Embracing the work is where successful writers find joy. To quote John Quincy Adams, “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”
October 8 – Luzelma Canales, Modern Suffragist