About Gifford MacShane:
Gifford MacShane is the author of historical fiction that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. Her novels feature a family of Irish immigrants who ultimately settled in the Arizona Territory. With an accessible literary style, MacShane draws out her characters' hidden flaws and strengths as they grapple with both physical and emotional conflicts.
Singing almost before she could talk, MacShane has always loved folk music, whether it be Irish, Appalachian, or the songs of the cowboys. Her love of the Old West goes back to childhood, when her father introduced her to the works of Zane Grey. Later she became interested in the Irish diaspora, realizing her ancestors must have lived through “An Gorta Mor”, the Great Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1800s. Writing allows her to combine her three great interests into a series of family stories, each including romance, traditional song lyrics, and a dash of Celtic mysticism.
MacShane is a member of the Historical Novel Society and an OwnVoices writer. A self-professed grammar nerd who still loves diagramming sentences, Giff currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Richard, the Pied Piper of stray cats.
What inspires you to write?
There are three things that inspired me to combine the Old West with Irish immigrants.
The first is my father’s family of Irish immigrants. Family legend has it that his Uncle Sean was chased out of Ireland by the English, escaping by the skin of his teeth. Then, several years ago, I saw an article about a memorial sculpture being installed in County Cork that celebrated the aid the Choctaw Tribe in America gave to the Irish during An Gorta Mor, the Great Irish Potato Famine. My mother has a smidgen of native blood, so the article caught my eye.
As I read it, I realized that my Irish ancestors had to have lived through that famine. I did some research and learned that it was a totally avoidable disaster, which cut Ireland’s population by at least a third while food was being exported to England at astronomical rates.
I felt compelled to tell the stories of the survivors—the ones who somehow held body and soul together and found a way to prosper.
Secondly, cowboy shows were very popular on TV when I was a kid, and I really, really wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl—they wore silly skirts and sat sideways on horses. I even had a cowboy name—it included “Junior”, as that was the only way I knew to prove I was a boy. When I was asked in school (I think I was 8) who the greatest hero in history was, I answered “Roy Rogers”.
There were Western books that influenced me as well, beginning when I was about 10 and asked the librarian to recommend something, and thus became acquainted with The Virginian by Owen Wister. That hooked me on Westerns as a literary form. As a result, I read through my father’s entire collection of Zane Grey novels by the end of that summer, and still have and read those wonderful books. (If you think all there is to Zane Grey is shoot-em-ups, let me recommend The Vanishing American, The Shepherd of Guadalupe, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Read one and experience the depth of characterization—I bet you get hooked, too!)
The hard-core Knight of the Range and the literature of that time, that place—both live deep inside me.
The third influence (but by no means the least) was growing up in a large family, back when station wagons ruled the roads. There were no DVDs playing on the two-hour trips to see my grandparents, so we had to make our own fun. My father encouraged singing as it was the least physical activity—with 7 siblings crammed together, “Punch Bug” could soon become a fist-fight!
He taught us songs that were easy to remember and as a result, I’m addicted to traditional folk music, including Irish, American, Appalachian, cowboy songs, and African-American spirituals. I’m often singing or humming… anywhere, really, or any time… but if you were to ask me what the song is, I might not know. I might not even realize I was singing. There are many snippets of traditional music contained in my works: life without music would be just too hard to bear.
Tell us about your writing process.
My first draft process is somewhat different from most people’s. Since I use a third-person-multiple point of view, I rarely complete a chapter in one sitting, as I find it difficult to get into more than one character’s head simultaneously. So I’ll write from Character A’s viewpoint and then stop.
Before I begin to write from Character B’s viewpoint, I always look back to get acclimated in the scene. As I do that, I’ll clean up any grammar errors and typos, and highlight anything that didn’t come out the way it was in my mind. I’ll continue like that until the chapter’s done.
Before moving on, I’ll print out the entire chapter and read it for continuity and rhythm, and I’ll clean up those highlighted problems. With every third chapter, I print out the last three together and repeat the editing process. Then, every 50-75 pages, I print the manuscript from the beginning, and make any other corrections that seem to be needed.
I’ll continue that way until I’ve written the final chapter. Then I print the manuscript from the beginning to take these steps again. That’s when I consider my first draft to be done.
The pro of this method? The manuscript is fairly clean when I first reach the end. The con? Sometimes I find the first half of the book is much more smooth reading than the second.
I’m not going to recommend this process to everyone, as I’m sure it would drive some people stark raving mad. But I’ve tried to change—to keep writing and do all the editing at the end. No matter how many experts recommend it, I just can’t do it.
After that, I begin editing the “finished” manuscript. If at the conclusion of the previous section, you asked, “How is that a first draft when the editing’s all done?” Well, it isn’t. Just the simple stuff’s been cleaned up. Being a grammar nerd, I trust my construction skills, but I haven’t yet looked for plot holes, consistent characterization and voice, or emotional impact. And I usually have to revamp the chapter breaks—when I write, I tend to wrap things up in a chapter completely, which is not the optimal way to keep readers engaged.
I also do a review based solely on descriptions, another for the five senses, and one more to make sure I included my research properly. Then there’s the word cloud creator that helps me identify overused words, and I’ll usually have a need to trim by anything up to 8,000 words. Depending on the outcome of all these steps and the nature of the work, I might add a review for local color or history.
Finally, I read the entire manuscript aloud to see where the rhythm might be off—this includes misplaced emphasis and confusing sentence structure as well as the actual flow of words. Only then am I ready to send it to my critique partners.
When the CPs are satisfied, it goes to the beta readers who look at the big picture; usually I’ll send them a questionnaire based on the comments provided by my CPs. At that point, I just cross my fingers and hope their feedback is good.
How do you develop your characters?
While I don’t usually talk aloud to them (apart from an occasional “Now why did you do that?”), I hold conversations with my characters in my head quite often, sometimes talking to two or more at a time. I find that the characters readers like best are the ones who take on a life of their own, and defy any attempt to make them conform to my preconceived notions.
For one thing, it led to what I can only describe as the “double helix” of character arcs in my first book, Whispers in the Canyon. And it’s what pushed me onward through the series: if a character has something more to say, I want to be the vehicle that allows them to say it.
Who are your favorite authors?
As I referenced before, Zane Grey has been my favorite author since grade school. I also love to read about the kings and queens of England & Phillipa Gregory’s books are at the top of that list.
On the other hand, though I write historical fiction, you’ll usually find me reading mysteries. Dick Francis and J. D. Robb are two of my favorites there. Those plots require a more stringent style than I have, but I can usually pick up a pointer or two from them, especially for their deep characterization.
And every once in a while, I go back to the classics of the early 20th century, particularly William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. The settings & atmosphere in Faulkner’s works are incredible, and the style of Thomas Wolfe just sings to me.
What genres do you write?: Historical Fiction, Romance, Western, Family Saga
What formats are your books in?: eBook
Where to find out more about the author
All information in this post is presented “as is” supplied by the author. We don’t edit to allow you the reader to hear the author in their own voice.