Second up today is a Meet the Author interview with the lovely Elizabeth Bell. We’re chatting about why she’d go back to the 19th century, strong characters, what makes her writing unique, her most recent book in the Lazare Family Saga, Native Stranger and more….
Historical fiction / family saga with strong romantic elements
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Elizabeth Bell has been writing stories since the second grade. At the age of fourteen, she chose a pen name and vowed to become a published author. That same year, she began the Lazare Family Saga. It took her a couple decades to get it right. New generations kept demanding attention, and the story became four epic historical novels.
After earning her MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University, Elizabeth realized she would have to return her two hundred library books. Instead, she cleverly found a job in the university library. She works there to this day.
What inspired you to start writing and where do you get your ideas?
I’ve been in love with stories since I was a child. Pretty soon, I started telling them to myself. Stories are a way to make sense of the world, and I write what I want to read. I’ve been fascinated by history from a young age as well. To me, history is stories. My ideas come from the places I visit and the books I read. Even before COVID-19, I didn’t get to travel as much as I’d like, but libraries have always been my second home.
How many books have you written and published?
Three: Necessary Sins, Lost Saints, and Native Stranger, the first three books in the Lazare Family Saga. My series follows a multiracial family with roots in Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean as they grow up with the United States. Most of the action takes place in Charleston, South Carolina and in the American West: along the Oregon Trail and among the Cheyenne Indians. My work was inspired by classic family sagas like Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, Alex Haley’s Roots, and John Jakes’s North and South trilogy.
How long does it take you to write a book?
An average of seven years. I began writing my four-book Lazare Family Saga in 1993. I should be able to finish my revisions on Book 4, Sweet Medicine, by the end of this year, so that’s seven years per book.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
The one I’m revising right now: Sweet Medicine, the fourth and final book in my Lazare Family Saga. After working on this project for so many years, I worried that the series would go out with a whimper instead of a bang. But it’s all coming together in a satisfying conclusion, due in no small part to my editor, Jessica Cale.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
René Lazare, the patriarch of my fictional Lazare family. He’s a fan favorite and I’m terribly fond of him myself. He’s the most forward-thinking of my characters in this 1789-1873-set saga. He’s bright and educated and compassionate. He’s also a doctor and has a great sense of humor, both of which would be useful if we were stranded on a deserted island!
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
The first thing I can remember really wanting to be was an actress. I am neither attractive enough nor talented enough to act professionally, but the acting experience I got as a student has been tremendously helpful in my writing. As I plan scenes, I am thinking about blocking, the physical position of the characters. As a novelist, I get to not only write the script but also act all the parts!
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go and why? (Backwards or forwards!)
Backwards to the 19th century. I feel like it’s “my century.” I love the clothing, the architecture, the transportation. That’s why I set most of my series in the 1800s. I’d definitely visit my settings: Charleston, South Carolina and the Great Plains of the American West. I’d love to learn what life in the 19th century was really like, the truths about the past that haven’t come down to us in the historical record.
Do you feel it’s more important to have a) strong characters b) a mind-blowing plot or c) amazing settings?
Characters drive my favorite stories and my own fiction. These fictional people should be rounded and fully human. They must be sympathetic, but not necessarily likable. Plot should grow out of character. When readers respond to my characters, those are the compliments that mean the most to me.
What is your favourite genre to read and why?
Historical fiction. It’s the genre that’s not really a genre because the only requirement is “set in the past.” It can be a mystery, a romance, even fantasy. But good historical fiction has deep roots in research, in recreating another time and place. It’s not just escapism or fictional candy. A good historical novelist will educate you and entertain you simultaneously.
What makes your writing unique?
The number of years I’ve spent on this series is unusual. I really think this story has aged like a fine wine; it’s much better than the tale I initially conceived nearly three decades ago. I’ve researched every aspect of my characters’ lives. I take a deep dive into their psyches, but my work also has breadth because of the historical decades and far-flung settings I depict, from Paris and Rome to the Caribbean to the young United States.
Furthermore, I’m a hopeless romantic who believes in the transforming power of love, but I’m simultaneously a meticulous historian who wants to get all the details right. I believe it’s dishonest to whitewash the past and treat it simply as window dressing. Romanticism and realism are diametrically opposed, but I think I’ve managed to create a balance between the two with a story that appeals to both halves of me and to any reader who’s drawn to both those ways of seeing the world.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
Last month, I published Native Stranger, Book 3 of my Lazare Family Saga. I do recommend starting with Book 1, Necessary Sins, because the series is a continuing narrative. But in Native Stranger, a new generation of the Lazare family takes center stage. On the eve of the American Civil War, an adopted Cheyenne Indian travels to Charleston, South Carolina in search of his birth family. The paperback versions of my novels are available through multiple online retailers like Barnes & Noble and IndieBound, while the ebook versions are available exclusively through Amazon. Here are the universal Amazon links: Book 1: getbook.at/NecessarySins ~ Book 2: getbook.at/LostSaints ~ Book 3: getbook.at/NativeStranger
thanks so much for coming to talk to us elizabeth!
If you have any questions or comments for Elizabeth make sure you get in touch!