Author Interviews

Q&A and Giveaway of “Shadow of Night” by Deborah Harkness

Last year, I had the opportunity to read and review Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness.  The book, which is about an old manuscript and a witch who falls in love with a vampire, made for some relaxing summer reading, and I’m eagerly anticipating the final book in the trilogy.

In the meantime, Shadow of Night comes out in paperback tomorrow, and the publisher has been gracious enough to sponsor a giveaway of a copy of the book and these cute alchemical symbol buttons.  I’ll draw the winner out of a hat on June 8.  To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment.  Please include your e-mail address so that I can contact you if you win.  Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

The publisher has also given me an author Q&A with Deborah Harkness to feature here today.

Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list with publications following in 37 countries.  What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for A Discovery of Witches? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in Diana’s world.

Q:  Last summer, Warner Brothers acquired screen rights to the trilogy, and David Auburn, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer of Proof, has been tapped to pen the screenplay. Are you looking forward to your novels being portrayed on the big screen?  What are your favorite casting ideas that you’ve heard from friends and readers?

A. I was thrilled when Warner Brothers wanted to translate the All Souls trilogy from book to screen. At first I was reluctant about the whole idea of a movie, and it actually took me nearly two years to agree to let someone try. The team at Warner Brothers impressed me with their seriousness about the project and their commitment to the characters and story I was trying to tell. Their decision to go with David Auburn confirmed that my faith in them was not misplaced. As for the casting, I deliberately don’t say anything about that! I would hate for any actor or actress to be cast in one of these roles and feel that they didn’t have my total support. I will say, however, that many of my readers’ ideas involve actors who have already played a vampire and I would be very surprised if one of them were asked to be Matthew!

Q: SHADOW OF NIGHT opens on a scene in 1590s Elizabethan England featuring the famous School of Night, a group of historical figures believed to be friends, including Sir Walter Raleigh and playwright Christopher Marlowe.  Why did you choose to feature these individuals, and can we expect Diana and Matthew to meet other famous figures from the past?  

A. I wrote my master’s thesis on the imagery surrounding Elizabeth I during the last two decades of her reign. One of my main sources was the poem The Shadow of Night by George Chapman—a member of this circle of fascinating men—and that work is dedicated to a mysterious poet named Matthew Roydon about whom we know very little. When I was first thinking about how vampires moved in the world (and this was way back in the autumn of 2008 when I was just beginning A Discovery of Witches) I remembered Roydon and thought “that is the kind of identity a vampire would have, surrounded by interesting people but not the center of the action.” From that moment on I knew the second part of Diana and Matthew’s story would take place among the School of Night. And from a character standpoint, Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, and the other men associated with the group are irresistible. They were such significant, colorful presences in Elizabethan England.

Q: In SHADOW OF NIGHT, we learn more about the alchemical bonds between Diana and Matthew.   In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research.  What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading SHADOW OF NIGHT?

A. Whereas A Discovery of Witches focused on the literature and symbolism of alchemy, in Shadow of Night I’m able to explore some of the hands-on aspects of this ancient tradition. There is still plenty of symbolism for Diana to think about, but in this volume we go from abstractions and ideals to real transformation and change—which was always my intention with the series. Just as we get to know more about how Elizabethan men and women undertook alchemical experiments, we also get to see Matthew and Diana’s relationship undergo the metamorphosis from new love to something more.

Q: SHADOW OF NIGHT spans the globe, with London, France, and Prague as some of the locales. Did you travel to these destinations for your research?  

A. I did. My historical research has been based in London for some time now, so I’ve spent long stretches of time living in the City of London—the oldest part of the metropolis—but I had never been to the Auvergne or Prague. I visited both places while writing the book, and in both cases it was a bit like traveling in time to walk village lanes, old pilgrim roads, and twisting city streets while imagining Diana and Matthew at my side.

Q: Did you have an idea or an outline for SHADOW OF NIGHT when you were writing A Discovery of Witches?  Did the direction change once you sat down to write it?

A. I didn’t outline either book in the traditional sense. In both cases I knew what some of the high points were and how the plot moved towards the conclusion, but there were some significant changes during the revision process. This was especially true for SHADOW OF NIGHT, although most of those changes involved moving specific pieces of the plot forward or back to improve the momentum and flow.

Q: A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, whose secrets Diana and Matthew are still trying to uncover in SHADOW OF NIGHT. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation.  What was the story behind your discovery?  And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

A. I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

Q: Are there other lost books like this in the world?

A. Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.

Q: Unlike Twilight’s Bella and Edward—hormonal teenagers who meet in the halls of a high school—your leading characters Matthew and Diana are established academics who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world.  This is a world where vampires and witches drink wine together, practice yoga and discuss philosophy.   Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

A. There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

Categories: Author Interviews, Fantasy, Fiction | Tags: , , , | 24 Comments

Interview with Debra Dean, author of “The Mirrored World”

Today is the release date of The Mirrored World, a novel which tells the story of Xenia, a Russian Orthodox saint who became a holy fool and is revered for her charity to the poor.  I had the opportunity to meet Debra Dean at a book signing while at BEA, and I am delighted to be able to host an author interview with her today.

What inspired you to write “The Mirrored World”?

I was researching my first novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, and I stumbled on the story of Xenia, this 18th century woman who gave up a life of relative ease to become a holy fool. I wondered, what kind of person becomes a saint? And just as importantly, what would it be like if you cared deeply for this person and you saw her turning onto such an extreme path?

What made you choose to write about Russia?

I can find no logical explanation for it, beyond the fact that Russia has amazing stories. I’m not Russian, I don’t speak or read Russian, and prior to completing The Madonnas of Leningrad, I had never even set foot in the country. My husband says I was Russian in a former life, and I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any.

Have your personal experiences impacted your writing in any way?

One of the things I love about writing fiction is that nothing in your life is wasted. Everything that happens to you – all of it, even the miserable stuff – can be put to use.

It’s hard to imagine a world more foreign to my life than the 18th century Russian setting of The Mirrored World, but there’s at least a little bit of me in all those characters. For instance, like Xenia and Dasha, I am a compulsive collector of feathers and pretty rocks and shells. We have feral peacocks in our neighborhood, and every time I find a feather, I feel like I’ve won a little prize.

What is the most challenging part of being a writer?

For me? Making the time, and then having the courage to show up when I do have the time.

What are some of your other interests?  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I have a lot of interests, but I’m afraid most of them get thrown under the bus in favor of whatever book I’m working on. That said, I still squirrel away a little time to practice yoga and to see friends and cook them the occasional dinner.

What are some of your favorite books?

The answer will change depending on what day you ask. Today, what comes to mind are Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson; James Salter’s Light Years; So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. Those are a little older. More recent books: I love Luis Urrea’s Hummingbird’s Daughter and Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Oh, and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I like reading slowly, so I gravitate to books that are image-rich and masterful in their use of language.

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Debra Dean is the New York Times Bestselling author of “The Madonnas of Leningrad” and the award-winning short story collection “Confessions of a Falling Woman.”

Categories: Author Interviews, Dead Russians, Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Interview and Giveaway with Mary P. Lowry, author of “The Earthquake Machine”

Today I’d like to welcome Mary P. Lowry, author of The Earthquake Machine.

“The Earthquake Machine” tells the story of a girl named Rhonda who runs away to Mexico in a coming-of-age adventure.  I read it a few weeks ago and enjoyed it tremendously.  I was very excited when Mary agreed to do an interview and e-book giveaway with me!

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment.  I’ll keep the giveaway open for two weeks and draw a winner on April 27.  The winner will receive an electronic copy of “The Earthquake Machine.”

And now, onward to the interview!

What was your inspiration for “The Earthquake Machine”?

I always wanted more books that are really honest about female sexuality AND that have lots of adventure AND are beautifully written. So I tried to write a book that I would be and have all of those things.

Did any parts of the story change or evolve over time?

Yes, definitely. The book was originally a couple of hundreds pages longer. I had to let it get cold and then come back to it so I could see what needed to be cut.

Your work as a forest firefighter and a writer for the Huffington Post seems fascinating!  How do you find the time to do so much (and still write)?

I’m very dedicated to my writing. I’ve chosen to focus on pursuing fiction (and adventure) instead of more conventional things. I have novels and experiences in lieu of a “career,” a house, a marriage.

How have your own personal experiences and adventures impacted your writing?

My personal experiences and adventures have been essential for my writing. I could never have written The Earthquake Machine if I hadn’t spent time on the border between Texas and Mexico, if I hadn’t traveled all over Mexico by bus. I could never have written my yet-to-be-released novel The Gods of Fire if I hadn’t worked as a forest firefighter.

What was your biggest challenge when writing “The Earthquake Machine”?

When I was writing The Earthquake Machine I supported myself by working construction in Durango, Colorado. It was very cold outside and construction was difficult and tiring. So the hardest part was waking up before dawn to write.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Commit to writing every day, even if only for 20 minutes. And never show your writing to anyone who isn’t sure to be 100% supportive.

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Mary P. Lowry is the author of two novels, “The Earthquake Machine” and “Gods of Fire.”  She has worked as a forest firefighter, an open-water lifeguard, and a construction worker.  She currently writes for the Huffington Post and is an activist working to end violence against women.

Categories: Author Interviews, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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