Liz and Mary Clare
Liz and Mary Clare are sisters and write together under the pen name Frances Hunter. Their historical novel, To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis and Clark, is the fulfillment of a lifelong love of storytelling between them. They were captivated by the partnership of Lewis and Clark and the great unsolved mystery that ended Lewis's life just three years after the friends returned from their historical expedition across America.
The two sisters had written separately for years. Liz made a living as a technical and business writer as well as a writer of historical exhibits. Mary's written articles, columns, and poetry. They were always close, but undertaking this book project has engendered a new respect and pride in each other.
To the Ends of the Earth is currently on submission to several major publishing houses. Liz and Mary are presently working on Beneath Our Native Sky, the prequel to To the Ends of the Earth, and researching Bloody Island, a historical novel about Robert E. Lee.
To learn more about them and their writing, please visit www.frances-hunter.com.
What would you say has been your biggest dare as a writer?
Liz: For me the biggest dare was simply plunging forward with actually writing a full-sized novel. I'm the kind of person who had played around a lot with creative writing: articles for hobby magazines, fan fiction, and the like. It feels like a big dare to actually commit the emotional energy necessary to research and write a novel of this scope--not just because it takes a lot of time, but because you're saying to the world, "I think I'm good enough to compete in the marketplace."
Mary: I'd say the biggest dare was to write from the point of view of a male, African-American slave. Here was a person completely different from us in time, place, sex, race, and circumstance. It seemed like a daunting task at first, but it didn't turn out to be that hard. We just drew from our own experiences of times when we felt put down, disenfranchised, and frustrated. The scenes between Clark and York are some of the most
powerful parts of the book. That's one of the greatest things about being a writer -- the ability to live different lives through the characters you create.
What is the process of trying to find a publisher for your book like?
Liz: It's been tough. I've discovered that there are two very different aspects to writing a novel. First is the writing itself--the storytelling. That is very fun for me. To be honest, I've never felt so alive as when I'm in the process of creating these characters and bringing them to life.
Then, it was exhilarating when we started to beta test the book with readers and in contests. People were reacting emotionally to the story in just the way we had hoped! It was a great feeling to know that we had achieved what we set out to do.
We won a very competitive contest last year with the manuscript, and the judge told
us that she'd published two historicals and thought our manuscript was one of the best she'd ever seen. Likewise, we found an enthusiastic agent relatively quickly compared to a lot of writers.
By contrast, the publishing process has been a big wet blanket. We've found the doors of major publishers more or less closed to historical fiction at this time other than historical romance. It's frustrating because we know we have a quality book and we know there's an audience out there who loves historical fiction and wants to read a ripping tale filled with emotions like honor, revenge, and redemption.
Mary: Like putting your own heart in a meat-grinder and flipping the "on" switch. Willingly.
What is it like to work so closely with your sister?
Liz: For me it's a great motivator. We develop the characters and outline together, then each take chapters and write them on our own. Then we trade work. It really makes you work harder knowing that the other person is waiting on your chapter, and you want to make it the best it can be. I think one of the reasons we like Lewis and Clark so much is that, like them, we're smarter and stronger together.
Mary: It's usually very satisfying. We've been close our whole lives and have been involved in many joint endeavors. In some respects we write for each other -- for the pleasure of seeing the other person's reaction to what we've created, with characters that we both love.
Here is a short excerpt from Liz and Mary’s novel, To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis and Clark:
It was an unusual summer for wolves. In the dark, quiet hours of the night, they crept into the streets of St. Louis and scavenged for garbage in the gutters, driving the pigs away. Padding on silent paws, they slipped into yards and gardens, and the bolder ones even ventured up onto front porches. In the morning, women and slaves woke to find pens broken into and rabbits and chickens snatched away, with scraps of fur and feathers in their place. As the summer wore on, men coming home late from the riverfront or the tavern began to carry walking sticks to defend themselves, just in case.
Later in July, it rained. That discouraged the wolves somehow. They disappeared from
the steaming backstreets and alleys of town and slithered back into the vast wilderness. People began to breathe a little easier at night. The pigs reclaimed the gutters, and men lingered longer at the taverns. Women relaxed. Their chickens were safe.
But in the vast, dark, wild land beyond the feeble lamps and sputtering torches of town, the wolves waited. Travelers saw them skulking about on back roads and Indian trails. At night, the air was full of yearning howls. The people of St. Louis shut their doors against the noise and shivered in their beds, praying for more rain.