Saturday, September 13, 2014

Writing Lessons from a Master… Jeweler?

Please welcome this weekend’s guest blogger, Holly West. Her Mistress of Fortune series transports the reader to late 17th century England, a trip well worth taking. When Holly’s not wandering the captivating streets of 17th century London, she lives, reads, and writes in Los Angeles with her husband, Mick, and dog, Stella.

Take it away, Holly!


Writing Lessons from a Master… Jeweler?

You might notice that Mistress of Lies, the second novel in my Mistress of Fortune series, is dedicated to master jeweler Ralph Goldstein. To give you some context, my series’ protagonist is amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress of King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. But part of her back-story involves her older brother, Adam Barber, who worked as a goldsmith before he died in the Great Plague of 1665. The profession I chose for him is no accident: I spent many years learning and practicing the very techniques used by Adam Barber and his 17th century colleagues under the expert tutelage of Mr. Goldstein.

cover of Mistress of LiesWhile present day goldsmiths might be aided by the use of gas torches and various other conveniences, I can fabricate a ring very much the same way that 17th century goldsmiths did. In fact, I’m fascinated by how little the craft has changed in the past three hundred-plus years. When I sat down to write Mistress of Lies, I knew I wanted to pay homage to the trade I love so much, and as a result, Adam’s story and the possibility that he might’ve been murdered are central to the novel’s plot.

As it turns out, I learned more than goldsmithing from Mr. Goldstein. Though it wasn’t necessarily his intent, he taught me that the dedication required to become a master jeweler is also required to become a master writer. Even if one possesses a natural talent, it takes time, effort, consistent practice and patience to become proficient. Both require the understanding that if something is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well, and with care.

Though some will argue that Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule” has been debunked, the idea that the mastery of a given subject requires a good deal of time and practice resonates with me. It took me five years to write my debut novel, Mistress of Fortune, and much of that time was spent studying the writing craft. I took classes, I wrote regularly, I edited and revised and then revised again. The resulting novel is a polished gem I’m tremendously proud of, and I put these skills to further use in crafting its sequel, Mistress of Lies. I’m far from being a master writer yet—Malcolm Gladwell might say I’m still about 5,000-hours short—but I’m dedicated to pursuing the craft and becoming the best I can be.

The tools of the writers trade might differ from that of a goldsmith—pen and paper or a computer replace gas torches and mandrels—but the principles of mastery remain the same. I’ll be forever grateful to my mentor, Mr. Goldstein, who instilled these standards in me before I ever wrote my first paragraph.

To celebrate the September 29 release of Mistress of Lies, my publisher, Carina Press, is offering Mistress of Fortune at the sale price of 99 cents. Both titles in the Mistress of Fortune series are available for purchase wherever ebooks are sold.


Jackie Houchin said...

Very interesting blog. Thanks for sharing this background research and how to possible relate it to writing.

Holly West said...

You're welcome, Jackie!

Unknown said...

Holly, what a fascinating skill! You're a woman of many talents. Thanks for this post!