As a teenager, Elise Cyr wrote a story about a girl, her horse, and their desperate escape from a powerful warlock. It wasn’t your typical adolescent musing. It became the basis of Cyr’s debut novel, “Siege of the Heart,” recently published by Lyrical Press. In this Q&A, she talks about the origin of her book, the lessons she learned during the publication process, and why “Siege” is the book of her heart.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
A: I live in New Mexico, but I didn’t start out here. I grew up on the East Coast, got a bachelor’s degree in English (of course!), and went on to graduate school. But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to write. I worked as a researcher at a university for a number of years while my husband got his Ph.D. When he graduated and we moved out West, I started writing full time. It’s been a lot of fun and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.
Q: What is "Siege of the Heart" about?
A: It's a medieval romance set during the Norman conquest of England, with a knight seeking his place in the world and a noblewoman struggling to hold on to all she holds dear.
Q: This is your debut novel. How long did it take you to write this book?
A: A very long time. This was the first book I ever got to write “The End” on. But I have a confession—it didn’t start out as a historical romance. When I was a teenager, I wrote a story about a girl and her horse on a desperate ride to get away from a powerful warlock. She traveled over mountains and through forests and hid herself in a remote village after she became injured. There she met a handsome farm boy and shared a passionate kiss in a hayloft.
I never finished that story. In part because I was more interested in writing the romantic scenes instead of fleshing out the fantasy world, which admittedly was rather silly and full of clichés. But I spent a lot of time on that story and wanted to do justice to my characters. I realized the aspects I liked best were the horses, the castles, and the swords. And the kissing. That’s when I decided to turn it into a historical romance and set it during the medieval period, when castles and knights reigned.
A lot of other things changed too. The remote village became a holding near the Welsh border. The farm boy turned into one of Duke William of Normandy’s knights. The hayloft scene got cut in favor of other tender moments. And the heroine? She changed too, but I kept her desperate ride to start the book. But no warlock chases her. Instead she’s fleeing problems of her own making—problems it will take an honorable knight to help her face.
Even though this story evolved dramatically from what it originated as, I couldn’t not write this book. It’s truly the book of my heart, and I’m so glad to share it with the world.
Q: What was the time frame for its publication?
A: About three years. That includes roughly two years querying agents (a few close calls ultimately signifying nothing), before I started targeting small presses. By the time I got the contract, it took about a year to go through the editorial process and see my book in print.
Q: What's the biggest lesson you learned during the publication process?
A: At the contract stage, don’t sign anything you don’t understand. At the editorial stage, be sure to pick your battles. Some editorial changes are worth fighting for; most aren’t. So it’s important to know the difference. Finally, remember to be your own advocate of your work at every stage. You want to send your book off into the world knowing you did all you could to make it shine.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A: Don’t stop! Writing for publication can be a very long and sometimes lonely road. It’s important that you take the time to develop your craft and understand the marketplace. Finding like-minded writers and making professional contacts (for example, your local RWA chapter) can help tremendously—in fact, I wish I reached out to other writers sooner than I did. Having family and friends who support your writing is also important. Writing can be hard enough with your inner editor constantly critiquing your work—you don’t want other people adding to your insecurities.
To learn more about Elise Cyr, go to: http://elisecyr.wordpress.com/