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.