My name is Allen Woods, author of The Sword and Scabbard: Thieves and Thugs and the Bloody Massacre in Boston. I’m not extremely active on social media but here are my current contacts:
- Other than writing, what is your favorite hobby or thing you enjoy for fun?
After playing lots of other sports in high school, I found at about age 30 that I loved to play basketball more than anything else. I still play full court with the young guys and still love it. I tell people that if anyone asks at any point, “Want to play some ball?” I always answer “Let’s go.”
- How long have you been writing? How many books have you written? They don’t have to be published.
I found my calling as a writer in my late 20s and have been at it, almost steadily, for over 30 years. I worked in nonfiction initially, preparing a book proposal of couple of chapters, outline, etc. focusing on my home town in Iowa and the changes there during the early 1980s. I also researched a book and wrote sample chapters on a string of murders in a small New England town. More recently, I completed a full-length mystery before writing and publishing historical fiction in The Sword and Scabbard. One thing that attracted me to historical fiction was the idea that if the publishing process took several years, which it often does, that there was no need to update references to current events like there is in a novel set in the present.
- What genres do you like writing the most? And why? Is this genre the same as the one you prefer to read?
I love writing historical fiction because it’s a way to share information about real life during a period compared to the simplistic views we often have. The Sword and Scabbard and the planned series to follow also allows me to shine a spotlight on what I call “average people” that get no coverage in historical accounts, but are central to all the important events in American history.
I read a lot of historical fiction and nonfiction, but probably more crime novels. My book is actually a crime novel set in colonial Boston, with the characters drawn into the political events there.
I’ve been writing some blog entries and op-ed articles to help publicize my book, along with my regular work as a freelance textbook writer and editor to put bread on the table. Predominantly, I have been thinking about the next book for the characters from The Sword and Scabbard as they make their way through the Revolutionary period in Boston. My characters are going to be a part of a lot of fascinating events that will be seen from a unique perspective.
- How do you typically begin your projects? Do you create outlines and character profiles or jump in head first with the initial idea? And do you focus on just one at a time?
I do a lot of thinking first, identifying important events and how my characters will be affected by them or how they will have an effect on the events. Once the possibilities are there in my head, I can sketch out the action and relationships. Then I dive in and write out the story as it reveals itself to me. It is true, as some other writers have said, that characters sometimes take actions that surprise me, but in the end, fit perfectly within the story and the character.
- What aspect of your writing do you consider your strength? Your weakness?
Dialogue has often come easily to me, especially for The Sword and Scabbard which is told in the first person. Dialogue is one of those rare moments when I can hear voices in my head and put them to good use.
Because of the intricate relationship between the characters in The Sword and actual historical events that are described factually, plotting and time frames need to be very exact. This can take a lot of time and research to make sure everything lines up.
- After publishing, the next trouble facing writers is marketing. What do you typically do when marketing your novel? Do you have tips you’d like to share?
Like most writers I know, marketing is not a strength of mine. I guess that every little bit helps, every blog, every review, every signing, but it’s hard to gauge what is the most effective use of time and money. It may be painful for some writers to hear, but I am definitely focused on book sales as income, and it’s hard to make any direct connections between one type of activity and sales. I am actually looking for marketing tips from others, if they have them. The problem seems to be that one strategy may be very successful for one book and one writer, but it’s very hard to generalize about strategies. Essentially, book publishing is in a state of chaos at the moment, so it’s hard to identify a general strategy that is effective.
- What advice would you give a writer who is starting out?
Write! There’s a lot to learn from a wide variety of assignments and projects, and 99% of us don’t have the luxury of having writers’ block. You need to love the process and the product of your own writing, because there’s no guarantee of any other types of rewards; in fact the statistics show just the opposite.