Announcing My Fourth Book, IN THE SHADOW OF SAINTS!

I know I’ve been teasing book 4 quite a bit on social media, so I am SO THRILLED to finally be able to tell you ALL about it! My fourth novel, entitled In the Shadow of Saints, will be coming in Winter 2020 from St. Martin’s Griffin!

Of course, I was always going to write a book about the Borgias 🙂 They’ve been my favorite historical family since I first stumbled on a novel about them as a teenager. They’re often referred to as Italy’s first crime family, and while historically that isn’t really technically true, their story does indeed have all the things that such a moniker suggests: scandal, corruption, politics, shady dealings, wealth, sex, violence, power, murder. It’s rich ground for any storyteller, and I am certainly not the first nor the last to cover it.

My novel, though, does take a bit of a different perspective on the infamous Borgia family. It’s told in alternating points of view, by two different characters: one being Cesare Borgia, the eldest of Rodrigo Borgia’s children, and the second being Maddalena Moretti, a maid who works for the family and is a fictional character of my own invention. My agent has been calling this my “upstairs/downstairs” look at the Borgias, and it is very much that. However, there are several reasons I chose to tell this story from two points of view, and from the points of view of these two characters in particular.

Cesare Borgia (pronounced CHEH-sah-reh – “ce” in Italian is pronounced like “che” in English; think “cello”) is the member of the Borgia family who has always fascinated me the most – perhaps because he was the most brilliant, manipulative, and wicked of the bunch. Most of the novels about the Borgias that I’m aware of usually focus on Lucrezia, as the only sister and most unfairly maligned member of the family. I wanted to really dig into Cesare as a character because, after all, villains don’t tend to start out as villains – they become so over time. I’ve been thinking of Cesare’s portion of this book as his villain origin story, and it was both a lot of fun to write a baddie and at the same time could get rather dark. I definitely drew inspiration from Walter White of Breaking Bad fame when working out Cesare’s character arc: I wanted him to be someone readers would sympathize with and root for in the beginning, then have that sympathy slowly start to erode over the course of the story as his actions become increasingly more awful. It was a challenge that I set myself, and one I embraced eagerly. I’m very pleased with how his character turned out. You all will have to let me know whether I’ve succeeded in my aims!

I had always wanted to write from Cesare’s point of view, but Maddalena’s perspective came about in something of an interesting way. I had written a few chapters from Cesare’s point of view that I showed to my agent at various times – I had actually initially anticipated this being my second book, then my third book (obviously, that didn’t happen). Each time she saw it, she liked what I had so far, but felt like something was missing, and that this project wasn’t quite ready. I agreed with her but didn’t really know where else to go with it, so it continued to sit on the back burner.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016. I had just handed in The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel to my editor and was working on drafting something new. You may have seen me refer to me “sexy opera book” on social media; well, that’s what I was writing, and I was having a blast. It was a book that I was just having a lot of fun writing, and at that point I anticipated that it would be my fourth book, as it was going really well.

Then the 2016 U.S. presidential election happened, and suddenly a fun, sexy book didn’t seem like the thing I should be writing, or the thing I wanted to write just then. I wanted to dig into something darker, something about power and corruption. It seemed like the best way for me to explore all that was to return to the Borgias book. And suddenly I found the missing piece, which had actually been there all along. In college I’d written a short story from the point of view of a maid who becomes involved with Cesare Borgia, and this, I realized, needed to be my second POV in the novel. I needed an outside perspective on this infamous family, someone who was of a completely different socioeconomic class than they, someone who could get entangled with and dragged into their power struggle, so that we might see how an everyday person could be harmed and compromised by the actions of the powerful and also by their potential proximity to that power. It all felt like something important, exciting, relevant, challenging, and interesting to explore.

So I added Maddalena’s POV, and it really was what the book had needed all along. Of course, that didn’t make any of it easier to write. Maddalena is by far the main character who has given me the most difficulty to date: it took me a long time and many rounds of revisions to really get a handle on her voice, to really get to the heart of who she was. She slowly revealed herself to me bit by bit, and as a result she’s a character that I’m really proud of. I hope you all love her like I do.

This is by far the most ambitious book I’ve written to date – I blogged a bit about getting started with it in this post. There were lots of times it felt like it was going to eat me alive. There was so much history to balance, so many tangled politics to keep in mind, dates and timelines to keep straight, lots of plot threads and character arcs to flesh out and bring to completion. I made and wrote from an outline for the first time, which I blogged about in this post.

The title has been another struggle – it had several just on my end before I ever handed it in to my editor, and then she and I changed it a few more times. We had a big Google doc going of title ideas, and would throw them back and forth to each other, but it took us MONTHS to find one we both liked and felt fit well and that the marketing/sales folks at St. Martin’s would go for. I’ve never had this kind of problem with a title before – even if I didn’t have the final title right off the bat, I usually found it without too much trouble – and boy, was it a challenge. This is such a big, sprawling book that it felt difficult to find just one title that encompassed everything, and that fit with both Maddalena and Cesare’s very different characters. I really love In the Shadow of Saints, though – ironically it was a title I first thought of a while ago, but it took me a while to see that it was the best one. I think it’s fitting and contains different layers of meaning that will inform the story as one reads on.

As difficult as writing this book was at times, though, I really did love doing it. I got to write about political dealings (shady and otherwise), a fascinating and large cast of complex characters, war and negotiations, murder, the glory and filth of Renaissance Rome, and a lot of drama that actually happened. So much of that was fun because a lot of it was new for me (especially the politics – I’ve always wanted to write a book that was very “let us sit in this room and plot politics”, and I’ve done it!). And, of course, I got to write about my favorite historical family, and my favorite era of history. I just love writing about Renaissance Italy, and I can promise you that I’m not done doing so.

Because of the many challenges of this book, in some ways perhaps it’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s something different, and it’s definitely my darkest book so far. It’s taken a lot of revision and edits and smoothing over of rough edges, but it is finally the book I always wanted it to be, the book I always knew it could be. A lot of credit goes to my editor as well, for her amazing, spot-on notes and feedback, and always being there for me to bounce ideas off of as I revised. It’s been such an amazing feeling, to keep working at it and see it improve each day. I really believe it’s my best book so far. And I can’t wait for all of you to read it.

As soon as I have a release date, cover, etc., I will be sure to share it all here!

 

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Authors & Inspirations: Elise Hooper

This week I’m welcoming historical novelist Elise Hooper to the blog! Elise’s new novel, Learning to See, about iconic photographer Dorothea Lange, just released yesterday. Her debut novel, The Other Alcott, tells the extraordinary story of May Alcott, the famous Louisa May Alcott’s sister who was a talented artist in her own right. I couldn’t put The Other Alcott down, and I’m so excited to read Learning to See! Welcome, Elise!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

I don’t. Now before you start thinking that I’m crazy, let me explain: I need it quiet so I can hear the voices in my head while my characters talk. Okay, that sounds pretty crazy, but it’s how I work.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

I’ve been a “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” full-on fan of Friday Night Lights since it first aired and recently rewatched all five seasons with my girls. I’ve also been known to binge watch Six Feet Under, Parenthood, The Wire, The Americans, Downton Abbey, The Office, Game of Thrones and I never tire of Leslie Knope’s antics on Parks & Rec.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Crown.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Hmmm, good question. This is incredibly dorky, but I love PBS’s American Masters and each time I watch one, I’m inspired to research and write about someone new. As a side note, the show on Dorothea Lange is terrific. I didn’t see it until after I was working on my novel about her, and now I’ve watched that documentary about five hundred times.

I also need to give a shout to The Wire for this question. Wow, talk about a story with complex characters, suspense, and fascinating moral questions. I still mourn for Omar Little, one of the most interesting bad guys of all time.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Franck Eggelhoffer from Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride is a character I love to imitate, much to the dismay of my children. I also love all of the Indiana Jones movies, think Erin Brockovich was totally badass, and enjoy quoting lines from Election and Legally Blond.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Hamilton, The Sound of Music, Chicago, The Wedding Singer, Dear Evan Hansen

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

I don’t even know where to start with this one! I would cast a wide net over the kinds of art that I enjoy, but I will say that the show that blew me away recently was when Kehinde Wiley’s work came to the Seattle Art Museum. I love everything about him. His process, ideology, and aesthetic, all of it.

Also, seeing the Women Artists in Paris: 1850 – 1900 exhibit last spring at the Speed Museum in Louisville was very exciting because it brought together so many women artists whose work I’d studied extensively while writing The Other Alcott. The show’s organizers went all out and put together an amazing collection of pioneering artists.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

All the time. Both The Other Alcott and Learning to See are about artists so I always study the work of my subjects and their circle. Sometimes images inspire scenes too. Many of the scenes in Learning to See are inspired by Dorothea Lange’s photos.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Wow, I love this question. So many options! Italy is one of my favorite destinations. The food, the art, the landscape, history, and people—it’s all wonderful. Plus, I could live on gelato, especially those side-by-side scoop cones. I’d eat a lot of those.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Modern Love is a go-to podcast for me. Its episodes are usually the perfect amount of time for me to drive to the courts where I play tennis so I sometimes arrive at matches all teary which can be a little awkward, but it’s okay, I pack Kleenex. I’m also really into Last Seen right now. It’s a podcast about the infamous unsolved art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and I’ve always found that topic to be fascinating.

What was the last book you read?

I’m currently listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming and am completely obsessed. I’ve been surprised at how intimate and relatable it feels. I’m midway through reading Jennifer Robson’s The Gown and savoring everything about it.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I turn away from all media and try to get outdoors and exercise. I’m an avid tennis player and love to run, swim, and hike. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would surf more because I love the ocean.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I’ve been sewing and knitting for as long as I can remember, but I’m mostly knitting these days because I can work on projects while I listen to audiobooks.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I wish that I could sing and play the guitar. Sometimes I like to imagine myself as Sheryl Crow.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’m writing a novel about three pioneering American women track stars who end up coming together to race in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin. My Olympic history trivia is totally on point right now and I’m learning a ton. These three women—Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens, and Louise Stokes—have amazing stories and I can’t wait to share them with you. Fast Girls will be out sometime in the summer of 2020, right around when the Tokyo Olympics are underway.

Elise also provided me with some of Dorothea Lange’s photographs, which are below!

Toward Los Angeles, California

Toward Los Angeles, California

Ditched, Stalled

Once a Missouri farmer, now a migratory farm laborer on the Pacific Coast. California

Gas station. Kern County, California

Gas station. Kern County, California

Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

 

Picture of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California

 

Although a New Englander by birth, Elise lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle and teaches literature and history.

Website: http://www.elisehooper.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/elisehooperauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elisehooper/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/elisehooper

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Learning-See-Dorothea-Revealed-America/dp/0062686534

Authors & Inspirations: Hester Fox

This week’s Authors & Inspirations interview is with historical fiction author Hester Fox! Hester’s debut novel, The Witch of Willow Hall, came out on October 2nd of last year – the same day as The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. I loved Hester’s moody, gothic, witchy book (it makes a perfect fall AND winter read, when you’re cozy inside under some blankets) and it’s been fun that our books were release day sisters! Welcome, Hester!

 

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

Can’t think of one in particular…I think it would have to be a combination of influences that came at the right time for me in my writing journey.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Oh yes. I love creating playlists for different projects, sometimes down to the scene level. I find listening to the same music throughout a manuscript helps me stay in the same mood/headspace and achieve a level of cohesion throughout the months-long writing process.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

My current work in progress is set in the 1850s, so it’s loaded up with Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert, as well as some period movie soundtracks.

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

I love the Decemberists because they are master story-tellers. Each song has such a strong sense of place and mood.

What was the last live concert you attended?

I think it was Arcade Fire last year.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

I saw the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Mozart and Dvorak in Amsterdam, though I was there to visit family- the concert was just a bonus!

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

Too many to choose from!

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

It would have to be The Decemberists. I think they would be the perfect choice to write a song about a clairvoyant orphan that lives in a cemetery in 1850’s Boston 😊

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

I’m a huge Lana del Rey fan and I would love to see her perform live one day.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

I played violin for most of my life but never even got close to virtuoso level. I always wanted to play piano, though.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Downton Abbey, The Office, Parks and Rec, Drunk History, Bob’s Burgers

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I can’t get enough of The Good Place, and I’m really looking forward to Season 3 of Harlots

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Not one in particular that comes to mind, but often I will watch a period drama to help me get in the right head space for writing, and to mimic character idiosyncrasies.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Downton Abbey. Two words: Zombie Sybil.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

Hm, I think Book 2 which I’m just finishing up now. It’s set in 1840’s rural Maine during the height of Edgar Allan Poe-mania. There’s a big cast of characters and lots of mystery. I’m rubbish when it comes to casting though!

What are your all-time favorite movies?

I don’t watch a ton of movies, but the ones I do watch over and over are usually adaptations of 19th century books and period dramas. I love Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Bleak House, and Quills. The Others is probably my all-time favorite.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

I’m really bad at names and faces, but I will watch anything with Matthew McFayden, Tom Hardy, Kate Winslet, or Holiday Grainger.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

Nothing immediately springs to mind.

Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?

I think The Witch of Willow Hall would make a better movie than tv series. I definitely wouldn’t turn down either, though!

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

Not usually, but I was lucky enough to see Hamilton in Boston last month.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Sorry, I don’t think I could name even five!

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

Kelly Louise Judd. Her art hits that sweet spot of folksy, dark, nostalgic, and melancholy.

http://kellylouisejudd.com/

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

I will keep tabs open on my laptop with different art from the period in which I’m writing so I can reference them as I write. I’ve also found museum catalogs and websites to be helpful, especially when it comes to describing furniture or interior design.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Traveling in general always gets the story juices flowing, but I don’t usually get story ideas about the specific locations where I travel. I started Willow Hall on a plane to Iceland, for example.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Somewhere in the UK, probably either Yorkshire or Scotland as those are my favorite places. Maybe the Hebrides?

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Yes! My Favorite Murder, Lore, Someone Knows Something (and pretty much anything the CBC puts out) are some of my favorites.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I am a big fan of Susanna Kearsely’s work. I love the ease with which she crosses and combines genres, and the beautiful romances in her stories. I grew up on authors like Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, Gaskell, and Austen, so I feel like I have a lot of 19th century literary devices and tropes imprinted onto my subconscious.

What was the last book you read?

I’m usually reading multiple books at once so I’m not sure which was technically the last! I recently read Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt which I enjoyed a lot.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I also just finished the last book in Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. series and have a serious book hangover.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

One of my favorite books of all time is Sherri Holman’s The Dress Lodger. I didn’t read it until years after it came out, so I might have missed some of the hype.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Any kind of scene where a character lays it all on the line and bares their soul to someone else. Sometimes this is a fight scene, other times a declaration of love.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I like to put on an audiobook and take a walk.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I like drawing and water coloring small scale illustrations, learning new languages, and photography. I also bake with mixed success.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I’ve tried sewing many times throughout my life and never been able to get the hang of patterns.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

I’m so introverted I’m not even sure I could come up with three people!

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’m finishing up revisions for my second book, The Widow of Pale Harbor which will be out fall 2019. I’m also working my third book The Orphan of Cemetery Hill.

 

​When not writing and painting, Hester Fox works in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician. This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters, to ancient artifacts, to early American furniture. She has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in Medieval studies and art history.

Authors & Inspirations: Chanel Cleeton

Welcome to my first Authors & Inspirations post of 2019! To kick off the new year, I’m thrilled to have historical fiction author Chanel Cleeton. Chanel’s most recent novel, the USA Today bestselling Next Year in Havana, was Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for July 2018. I was honored to have given a blurb to this stunning and powerful dual timeline novel, which follows the story of a Cuban woman whose wealthy family is forced to flee during the revolution, and her granddaughter who returns to Havana years later. Cleeton’s upcoming novel, When We Left Cuba (which I also loved!), continues the story of the Perez family in the aftermath of the revolution, and will be out on April 9, 2019. Welcome to the blog, Chanel!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, music is a huge part of my writing process. I usually create playlists that fit the mood/tone of the book I’m working on and I tend to listen to those on repeat. I usually share my playlists on Spotify leading up to a book’s release. For example, when I was writing Next Year in Havana I listened to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

I just turned in a book to my editor and while I was working on it, I listened to Lord Huron’s The Night We Met, Falling Water by Peter Oren, If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, River by Leon Bridges, and Back to Autumn by Tall Heights.

What was the last live concert you attended?

I was just in Miami a few weeks ago and I saw Marc Anthony in concert. My father had never seen him perform live and he really wanted to go so I tagged along.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

That’s a tough one! Gossip Girl, Corazón Salvaje (the original version), Seinfeld, Veronica Mars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Stranger Things, Jane the Virgin, Sex and the City, One Day at a Time, The Nanny, Frasier, Sons of Anarchy, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are some of my favorites.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’ve really enjoyed Glow, Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time, Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Making a Murderer, and Younger. I also really loved the sadly now cancelled Good Girls Revolt which was amazing! I also watch all of the Real Housewives franchises.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

Photography is really helpful to me and I spend a lot of time looking at photos of the places and from the time periods I’m writing about.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Definitely! I draw a lot from my real-life experiences. For example, I have a series set in London at an international university that was inspired by my own time at university.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I’d probably go to Koh Samui, Thailand. I spent a week there a few years ago and it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever been.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

There are so many. Some of my favorites include Carlos Eire, Beatriz Williams, Tana French, Rhys Bowen, Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts, Ahdaf Soueif, Elizabeth Kostova, Anita Shreve, Sophie Kinsella, and Jane Austen.

What was the last book you read?

I just finished China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and dove immediately into the last book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems. They’re the ultimate binge books and my favorite series I’ve read this year.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I enjoy writing scenes that are high-emotion where I really learn what my characters are made of. They’re often a bit draining to work on, but I find that when I pull back the layers on my characters I connect to them the most.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I watch a fair amount of television, and looking at storytelling from a slightly different perspective both refills the well and often inspires me. I also read nightly and it recharges me and gets me in the mood to write.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I’m not sure how talented I am, but I really enjoy interior decorating which has been sort of a surprising development in the past few years. I’ve also always been drawn to fashion. Handbags are my weakness 🙂

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

My next release is When We Left Cuba, which will release on April 9, 2019. It’s set in Palm Beach in the 1960s and highlights the tumultuous Cuban-American relations of the time period including events like the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and the many assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.

I just finished drafting my 2020 release, tentatively titled Our Side of Paradise, which is set in the Florida Keys in the 1930s and is centered on the lives of three heroines (one of the heroines is related to the Perez family from Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba) whose paths cross on one fateful weekend in September.

I’m currently researching a book that I will begin drafting soon which will release in 2021. The working title is The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba and it’s set during the Gilded Age and the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and features a real-life Cuban heroine who was an infamous revolutionary in her time.

 

Chanel Cleeton is the USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana. Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Authors & Inspirations: Melissa Erin Jackson

For this week’s Authors & Inspirations interview, I’m thrilled to have Melissa Erin Jackson on the blog! Melissa’s debut novel, The Forgotten Child, was one of my favorite reads of 2018. It’s a paranormal mystery that’s got a little something for everyone: ghosts, serial killers, fantastic female friendship, humor, justice being served, and a great romance. I couldn’t put it down, and also creeped myself out at one point by reading it late at night. Welcome, Melissa!

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

I’m often inspired by other writers who are extremely prolific…Stephen King, Rachel Caine, Neil Gaiman, Jay Kristoff, Victoria Schwab. I would love to write books in several genres and seeing the success of others gives me hope it’s possible.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, but it has to be instrumental. Music with lyrics is too distracting for me. I listen to a whole lot of smooth jazz. Starting to add in some Irish fiddle, too.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Community, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Stranger Things, Mindhunter

What TV shows are you loving lately?

The Goldbergs, The Magicians, Superstore, Santa Clarita Diet, and I just started Killing Eve but I’m very intrigued so far!

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I really love shows with casts of kooky characters, especially ones with complicated and long-lasting relationships. The final scene in New Girl for example had so much wrapped up in it—from the trajectory of the characters’ relationships, to inside jokes—that I was in tears. I hope to create characters who have bonds that strong with each other.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Superstore or Community! Both of those shows are totally bonkers and I think it it would be great fun to work on a comedy.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

I’d love to see Rosario Dawson or Logan Browning play Riley from THE FORGOTTEN CHILD. I picture Michael like Justice Joslin. Oh, you haven’t heard of him? Google his pretty face right now. I’ll wait 😊

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, and A Quiet Place. And because I’m still a kid at heart—Bolt, Up, Fox & the Hound, Wall-E, and How to Train Your Dragon.

Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?

My WIP sci-fi would possibly make a fun movie. It’s an alien invasion novel, but quieter. Think Arrival rather than Independence Day. I have a clear visual in my head of what the alien race looks like and it would be really cool to see them on screen!

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

While I was writing my sci-fi project for NaNoWriMo in 2017, I went on a weekend-long writer’s retreat to Fort Bragg here in California. It’s a small town on the coast, and the house we were staying in was a ten-minute walk to the beach. That town heavily influenced the town my MC, Lyra, travels to at the start of the book. I saw a lot of ravens on my walks and ravens became a big part of my book, too!

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

As much as I’d like to say somewhere like Paris or Rome, I find that I write best when it’s quiet and I’m a bit isolated. I prefer writing retreats that are somewhere in the heart of nature—near a beach, in the mountains, walking distance from a lake. For a two-week retreat (Isn’t that the dream?!), I would probably want to hole up in a national park. Maybe Yellowstone. Somewhere where I can hike when I need to refill the well, but somewhere remote enough that I won’t get distracted.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

My Favorite Murder is my number one go-to for podcasts. It’s the perfect blend of humor and horrible stories of murder. It shouldn’t work as a combination, but it does!

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I love Sarah J Maas’s worldbuilding, Jay Kristoff’s ability to write stuff that’s as weird as it is compelling, Josh Malerman’s creepy, creepy atmosphere, and Deanna Raybourn’s ability to add humor in the most unlikely of places.

What was the last book you read?

I’m currently re-reading Cassandra Clare’s The Dark Artifices trilogy, in preparation for the third one that just came out. I just finished Lady Midnight and immediately started Lord of Shadows.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

Though I read it a year ago, Bird Box by Josh Malerman is still at the top of my recent favorite’s list. I’m so excited for the movie!

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn. It’s a somehow incredibly funny historical fiction series, plus it has a slow-burn romance that’ll turn even the most black-hearted into a puddle of goo.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

On one end of the spectrum, I really love scenes with lots of banter. Either friendly banter between best pals, or banter between romantic interests. On the other end, I really love writing darker scenes, whether it’s from the POV of a serial killer, or a scene with a malevolent ghost.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Because I’m in the car a lot for work, I listen to a lot of audiobooks (usually at least 50 a year). When I’m tapped out on writing my own stuff, audiobooks are one of my main outlets. For some reason lately, though, I get a lot out of watching my boyfriend play Fortnite. I don’t know why this works for me!

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I really wish I could draw. My mom is very talented at both drawing and painting. It was not a skill I inherited, unfortunately.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Barack Obama (he seems like the coolest dude), Maggie Stiefvater because I love her books and I have a feeling she’s got good ghost stories, and Stephen Colbert.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

In addition to the Riley Thomas mystery series, I’m also working on a paranormal cozy series starring a witch. The first book is titled PAWSITIVELY POISONOUS. I hope to release the first of that series around summer of 2019.

 

Melissa has had a love of stories for as long as she can remember, but only started penning her own during her freshman year of college. She majored in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UCDavis. Yet, while she was neck-deep in organic chemistry and physics, she kept finding herself writing stories in the back of the classroom about fairies and trolls and magic. She finished her degree, but it never captured her heart the way writing did.

Now she owns her own dog walking business (that’s sort of wildlife related, right?) by day…and afternoon and night…and writes whenever she gets a spare moment. The Microsoft Word app is a gift from the gods!

She alternates mostly between fantasy and mystery (often with a paranormal twist). All her books have some element of “other” to them…witches, ghosts, UFOs. There’s no better way to escape the real world than getting lost in a fictional one.

She lives in Northern California with her very patient boyfriend and way too many pets.

The Forgotten Child is her debut, the first in a paranormal mystery series.

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This will be the last Authors & Inspirations post for 2018. I’ll be taking a break for the holidays, and will be back with new interviews in 2019! Happy Holidays, everyone!

Authors & Inspirations: Meghan Masterson

Today I have historical fiction author Meghan Masterson on the blog for an Authors & Inspirations interview! Meghan and I met at the Historical Novel Society conference last summer in Portland, and have kept in touch since. Her debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, is a fascinating, insightful, and well-researched look at the French Revolution through the eyes of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe ladies. I personally couldn’t put it down! Welcome to the blog, Meghan!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

I do! I often listen to albums, so it always feels very opportune when one of my favourite artists comes out with a new one while I’m working on a new book. I do make playlists sometimes, and once I listened to the same song on repeat (I don’t even want to think how many times) because it fit the mood of the scene I was writing perfectly. In the interest of full disclosure, it was ‘Navigate’ by Band of Skulls and I was writing a tragic execution scene.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Hysteria, Supermassive Black Hole, Citizen Erased by Muse (I’ll stop there but I often put a lot of Muse on a playlist for writing)

New Ways, Flaws, and Witches all by Daughter

Madman Across the Water by Elton John

Fast Fuse by Kasabian (actually most of that album usually ends up on the playlist)

On a Slow Night by Metric

The whole Art of Doubt album by Metric also

Lies and Hell of a Season by The Black Keys

Three Wishes by The Pierces

You Belong to Me by Cat Pierce

Wanna Wanna by Dear Rouge

Dark Side of Night by Foxboro Hottubs

9 Crimes by Damien Rice (the demo version)

Smoke and Mirrors by Imagine Dragons (I initially listed the song, but I like the whole album too)

Glory and Gore by Lorde

What was the last live concert you attended?

The Black Keys. It was a few years ago. For some reason I don’t go to a lot of concerts even though I always enjoy them when I do! I need to plan better.

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

I’m twisting this question around a bit, but I actually have a new book idea (very new, fragile still) that sparked from ‘Seven Rules’ by Metric. So, that.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Guitar. My dad is a luthier, and he gave me a guitar when I was about nine. I often regret that I didn’t play consistently (I tended to get into it for a few months, and then drop it for a year, then repeat) because if I had stuck with it, I’d probably be decent by now.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I am eagerly awaiting season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and also Disenchantment.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I think Justified inspired me a little on my last book, which I just finished writing. Completely different settings and time periods, but I really wanted to explore complex characters with intricate relationships and weird obligations to each other. I wanted my characters to be sympathetic and understandable, but still sometimes do bad things.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

I feel like I’m supposed to say The Wardrobe Mistress since it’s my only published book at the moment, but I think the one I just finished writing would be amazing as a mini-series. It’s a dual narrative that takes place in the present as well as 1856-7, partly set in America, partly in Paris and Turin. It’s a tale of secrets, poison, and Nazi art-looting and I’d love to see all the costumes, settings, poisonous plants, and art on the screen. However, the costumes and sets would also be amazing for The Wardrobe Mistress, and I once shared some casting thoughts over on my agent’s blog, which is kind of funny now because I’m not sure I agree with these choices anymore. Good thing I’m not a casting person.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

La Castiglione, an Italian countess and mistress to Emperor Napoleon III, is a central character in the book I just finished writing, and she was obsessed with photography. I pored over photographs of her, musing about her decisions for different poses and costumes – sometimes she dressed up as historical or literary figures – while I was writing. Obviously photography is a more advanced and accessible now, but there’s something magical about those old photographs from the 1850s – they’re a snap of a moment in time, but also took so much effort to get! So different from now when we can all take impromptu photos on our phones.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Honestly, I should probably stay home and get someone to take care of all the cooking and cleaning for two weeks because I thoroughly explore every place I visit and I would spend those two weeks rambling around and not writing! Or else the writing retreat would have to be somewhere remote, where there’s not too much for me to see. Actually, now I want to say a writing retreat on the moors of Cornwall or something would be ideal, where I can walk all morning and then nap a bit in the afternoon and write into the night. Didn’t Agatha Christie do that once? I want to copy her now.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

Mary Stewart has been a huge influence, both her Merlin trilogy (I used to write more fantasy type stuff, then shifted to historical, and now I can feel a longing for some magic coming back around) and her romantic suspense novels. I’ve learned a lot about action in fiction from Bernard Cornwell’s books – those battle scenes! I dream of someday mastering an endless build of tension like Daphne du Maurier, or creating a perfectly immersive historical world like Sharon Kay Penman. A lot of historical authors have been profound influences because I read that genre so avidly, and I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to meet a few of them at conferences, like Kate Quinn, Kate Forsyth, Stephanie Dray, and of course you, Alyssa!

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzie Lee. I actually listened to the audiobook (still counts as reading, right?) on a road trip and it was the first time I didn’t want to get out of the car by the end, because I was enjoying it so much.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas is a beautiful, sensitive historical mystery and I want everyone to read it.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Scenes where a secret is revealed, particularly if it occurs during a confrontation or otherwise intense meeting between two characters. Morbid as it sounds, I also quite enjoy writing death scenes…but on the other hand, I swoon over writing a sweet first kiss, too.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

The usuals of music and TV shows, but I also kind of love playing games and letting my mind just wander. I like board games and I’m usually down for Mario Kart. Non-media, but I also find painting quite soothing and I will often spend quite a few hours painting when I’m between books. Going back to that question about being a virtuoso on an instrument, I think I’d almost rather somehow become an amazing painter instead… Lastly, and also not media, yoga and hiking are ways I like to recharge, too.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I mentioned painting – I’m not that good, though. It’s just fun. I like playing with colours. I don’t know if it’s artistic, but I enjoy cooking and baking, and I’ll lump that into creativity because I’m sort of notorious for going rogue with the recipes.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

Sometimes I wish I could sing. I’m too shy to sing in front of most people, thank goodness, because I’m always off key.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I mentioned that I just finished writing a dual timeline novel that takes place in the present as well as the 1800s – it’s tentatively called A Bitter Remedy. Now I’m getting started on a new WIP that I’m not ready to talk about too much yet (I’m always scared I’ll fall out of love with a new idea if I talk about it too much too soon) but I’m really excited about it because it’s a shift into some more fantastical elements. There are witches. I really like my main character’s voice – she’s quite cooperative and chatty so far. Okay, that’s all I will say for now.

 

Meghan Masterson graduated from the University of Calgary with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Communications Studies, and has worked several unrelated jobs while writing on the side. Her debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, about one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who spies on the queen during the revolution, was an RT Book Reviews Top Pick and a 2017 RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Book Nominee. When she’s not writing, Meghan can be found reading at all hours (even at breakfast), cooking, and going for walks with her dog.

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Authors & Inspirations: Caitie McKay

My second Authors & Inspirations interview is with young adult author Caitie McKay. Caitie and I go waaaaayy back – we first met in college, in our first creative writing class (which was taught by the awesome young adult author Janet McNally). We liked each other’s work immediately as we read it for workshop, and quickly became friends. We’ve stayed friends and have continued beta reading each other’s work since!

Caitie’s debut novel, a young adult novel in verse entitled Every Little Bad Idea, came out this summer. It’s a beautiful, gorgeously written story about the pains of growing up, falling in love, and deciding what you want your life to be. I’m thrilled to have Caitie on the blog today. Welcome!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Not usually! I can’t concentrate on anything if a song has lyrics. Sometimes I listen to something instrumental, though.

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

Take all the angst and real-ness of early 2000s Avril Lavigne and make it into a book…that’s all I aspire to do. One of my books was based around the AMERICAN IDIOT album from Green Day and another was heavily influenced by the Beatles.

What was the last live concert you attended?

Judah and the Lion!

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

I drove to Pittsburgh to see the Mountain Goats. WORTH IT.

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

And oh my God, what a world you have made here

What a terrible world, what a beautiful world

What a world you have made here

– “12/17/12” by The Decemberists

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

I have so many favorite bands, but I’d want the Alabama Shakes to write a song about my book EVERY LITTLE BAD IDEA. The song would be about leaving behind the people who put you down, and finding your inner badass.

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

Oh man, don’t judge me…the Spice Girls.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Piano! I love watching people own the piano. I took lessons, but that left hand never truly learned to keep up…

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Gilmore Girls, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Call the Midwife

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m obsessed with the Masterpiece Theater show Poldark. I also just watched all of Great News. I think that show was written about my mother and me.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I aspire to write the wit, quirk, and heart of Gilmore Girls.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Anything Tina Fey has been involved in—30 Rock, Great News, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—because the scripts are just perfectly hilarious and ridiculous.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

Well, I only have one book out, so I’d have to go with…EVERY LITTLE BAD IDEA! I’d want the main character, Skyler, to be played by teenage Gina Rodriguez (love her) and Cole to be played by a young Jonathan Rhys Myers.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

I watch the movie ABOUT TIME multiple times a year. Same with AWAY WE GO. And I’m a sucker for anything Nora Ephron.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Meryl Streep forever. I also LOVE Kate McKinnon in everything she does.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

ABOUT TIME has had a huge impact on me as a person. It’s taught me to live each day mindfully and find the extraordinary in the ordinary. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY has impacted me as a writer because I’m just in awe of the script, and will try my whole life to create something so wonderfully complex and terribly relatable.

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

I love live theater but haven’t been in a very long time. However…I’m going to HAMILTON in December!!!

What are your top five favorite musicals?

Hamilton

Fiddler on the Roof

Sound of Music

Cabaret

Sweeney Todd

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I’d have to say Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Ellen Hopkins. Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti write such beautiful, honest books about what it is to fall in love for the first time. And Ellen Hopkins puts the teenage experience to sharp, edgy verse poetry.

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

I love Banksy. I love the idea of art making a statement. I love the idea of art being anonymous. I love the idea of art existing not only in a museum, but on the street.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

In one of my books (which was sadly never published), the main character is a street chalk artist. For that book, I went to a chalk art festival and was completely blown away by the skill of the artists. And the idea that you can make something beautiful, and let go of it when the rain comes.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

I always set my books in a city like Buffalo (where I live). But many places have inspired parts of my books—Chicago, Northern California, Ireland—if not in setting, then in energy or anecdotes of adventures I had there.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Always Ireland. I’ve been there three times and I never get tired of it. The ground itself just holds so much creative energy—you can’t help but feel inspired.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

I’m more of an audio book person! However, I do love GETTING CURIOUS WITH JONATHAN VAN NESS. He can narrate my life, thanks.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was ZEN AND GONE by Emily France. The last book I listened to was ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE. Woah, that book just blew me away.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I loved the book EBB AND FLOW by Heather Smith and MISSING MIKE by Shari Green. They are both gorgeous middle grade novels in verse, and so perfectly written.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

There are just so many good verse novels out there that need attention. LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds, THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I love scenes where characters first meet. There’s so much to talk about—first impressions, awkward dialogue, body language. There’s so much possibility there.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I watch a lot of Masterpiece Theater! Nothing like a British period drama to take me out of my world for a little while.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I have very limited painting talent, but I still love to do it. I also play guitar and sing (but just for fun!).

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

When I was in high school and college, I wrote a ton of songs. I wish I’d kept writing songs, and gotten better at them. I’ve just never gotten over my stage fright!

If you could have a drink with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tina Fey, and Sarah Dessen.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

Right now, I’m actually working on multiple projects—a young adult verse novel, a young adult prose novel, and a middle grade verse novel. I’m really feeling middle grade lately!

 

Find out more about Caitie and her work at her website!