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Archive for September 10th, 2018

Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College or creating her own fiction.  Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, Thomas & Mercer—and, now, Severn House.

Christmas, 2017 068Two years ago, Marty had the opportunity to apply for a grant that took her to Geneva and Florence to research a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets:  historical fiction.  Her new book, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth—the “almost famous” member of the group.  The novel spans two eras played out against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Italy and is the first of a trilogy.

Marty lives on an island in Southwest Florida with her husband, former news-anchor, Jim McLaughlin.  They are planning a three-week trip to Italy this fall to attend a book festival and research the second book, A Shadowed Fate.  Luckily, Jim is fluent in Italian and shares her love of history and literature.  Their German shepherd, Mango, has to stay home.

INTERVIEW:

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Claire’s Last Secret. To begin with, can you give us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?   

A:  This historical fiction is a new twist on a famous event (the “haunted summer” of 1816 when the Bryon/Shelley circle lived in Geneva and Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, was conceived).  I have always been interested in the “unknown voice” of women in historical fiction.  We see so many great literary figures through the lens of history and fame, but their contemporaries often saw them very differently.  When I wrote Claire’s Last Secret, I chose to narrate it from the perspective of Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont.  She outlived the other members of the group by many decades and had the perspective of age and experience when she later recalled the events of her youth.  I found her an incredibly intriguing person in her own right and was inspired to write the book because I felt like her “voice” hadn’t been heard yet.

Claire Last Secret Cover

Q: What do you think makes a good historical fiction? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A:  First of all, I think my book is a little difficult to narrow because it’s a bit of a genre-bending novel—partly memoir, partly historical fiction, partly women’s fiction.  I wanted to bring in all of these elements.  But if I had to narrow it, I would say it’s historical fiction.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I had most of the plot in my head before I started, but I always write the first hundred pages, then go back, revise, and re-work the plot.  This process gives me both structure and creative freedom when I write.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A:  My protagonist is Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley’s step-sister.  What I find interesting about her is that we see her at two stages in her life: when she’s seventeen during the summer of 1816 and when she’s 75, living in Florence, Italy, during 1873 as a somewhat impoverished ex-patriot.  This was quite a challenge for me as a writer because her “young” voice is very different from her “mature” voice; she’s an older and wiser woman in much of the book, but still so influenced by what happened to her in her younger days.  I’ve always been keenly interested in the Byron/Shelley circle, but I had to complete a lot more research on Claire.  She was a remarkable but rather elusive person to develop as a character.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A:  I have an antagonist and a villain; the former was part of the Byron/Shelley circle—John Polidori who wrote The Vampire.  Without giving away too much, he appears to be the villain for much of the novel but, in fact, the villain is a fictional character whom I added to Claire’s life.  Again, I did quite a bit of research on Polidori, including a study of his journal and novel.  It was quite a challenge to “tweak” these real-life characters in a work of fiction!

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A:  I decided to use a dual narrative structure in this novel (Claire at two stages in her life), but the narrative threads connect to each other.  The mystery of one time can be solved only in another time, which I hope keeps the reader moving along.  One practical tip:  I always end each chapter with some unresolved tension that keeps the reader flipping the pages; it could be an appearance of a new character, a sudden realization, or some sense of danger.  Don’t “tidy-up” chapters or finish the narrative thread until the actual end of the story!

Q: Setting is also quite important and, in many cases, it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A:  I adore setting, but I struggle with descriptive language, so I know I always have to work on this aspect.  In Claire’s Last Secret, the settings are Geneva in 1816 and Florence in 1873.  I had to visit (such a trial!) both of these magnificent cities, and scout out specific places that would serve as backdrop for my novel.  For example, Byron and Shelley sailed around Lake Geneva in 1816 and stopped at Castle Chillon, which is woven into a scene in my book, with an added fictional element.  I visited the site and was able to (hopefully) make it come alive in terms of sensory descriptions.  I think the little details make it come to life, such as the sound of waves lapping against the walls at Chillon, the dampness of the dungeon, and the expansiveness of the courtyard.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: I knew the theme would be about the interconnectedness of life and how one person can risk everything for the truth.  I’ve never really covered these themes before, but they have been on my mind for some time as I’ve reflected on how our world seems to be unfolding and how we have to cultivate our own personal bravery.

Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A:  I think craft and art are intermingled in writing.  As I write, I need to be in the creative flow, but I must also be ruthless in editing my own work.  As T.S. Eliot said, “There is no good writing, only good revision.”  I truly believe that.  I just wait to be ruthless on my own writing until I have a hundred pages on paper.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A:  First of all, a writer has to simply write.  I often hear people say that they would love to write a book, but they never seem to get started.  You just have to sit down and work at the keyboard!  Secondly, a writer has to understand that publishing is a business.  You must use every tool that you would use as an employee in a contemporary workplace:  Be professional, disciplined, and digitally-savvy.  Those qualities will always reflect positively on you as a writer.  Lastly, you must learn to accept criticism from editors, critics, and readers.  You work in a creative field and it has a strong subjective element.  More specifically, some people will like your work, others not so much.  It’s okay if you’re writing what you love!

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. Thoughts?

A: This is so true.  As a write, you are always researching, writing, or editing.  It never stops—just like when you were in school.  You have to love it.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A:  My advice that I give to new writers is to attend conferences that cover the type of writing that you want to do.  I always learn something new, and I have met some amazing people who later became friends and/or part of my publishing journey.  I attend Sleuthfest every year, and I’m a member of several organizations, such as The Historical Novel Society and Novelists’ Inc., that provide such helpful resources.  Attend every workshop that you can!

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Enjoy the magic!  You need to learn about the craft to structure a chapter or develop a character, but then you must write the book that comes from deep inside.  It’s your story and your dream.  Let that part of you as a writer shine through.  And keep writing!

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Traci Highland

“Dear Miss Behave,

Last weekend I was at the pool with the children, and there was a woman naked and walking around the locker room.

I hate to be prissy, but to be naked around young children like that just isn’t right. She comes to the pool regularly and I am not the only one who has happened upon her strolling around the locker room without clothes. Now I know there are showers and that people change in locker rooms, but showers should be taken while wearing bathing suits and there are private changing rooms that are clearly marked.

How can I convey to her the accepted rules of decency before any of our children become hopelessly corrupted?

Sincerely,

-Agape at the AquaPark”

 

–From Traci Highland’s Miss Behave

Traci Highland writes funny books for sassy ladies. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and has a Master’s from Quinnipiac University. She uses this education to write books, bake cakes, garden and make homemade jams. Her children say she’s bossy, her husband says she’s high-maintenance, but the dog thinks she’s perfect.

Miss Behave

Book Description:

She’s great at giving advice, too bad she never takes it…

Piper Anderson wants to be a serious journalist at a serious paper covering serious news. Instead, she’s stuck at the Pendleton Falls Herald, where her massive investigative skills are wasted penning the paper’s advice column, Miss Behave.

Her shot at a meaty story comes when she’s assigned to write up a profile of a local business, Brookes Jewelers. She is determined to write the piece so she can use the article to impress a real paper.

Unfortunately Hunter Brookes, co-owner of Brookes Jewelers and the Pendleton Falls Herald, is rather persistent, in his own hot little way, that the piece should be nothing more than a glorified sales pitch.

But when diamonds disappear, Piper may get the chance to do a real investigation, leading her to confront family secrets and worst of all, turn to her mother for help.

Piper soon realizes that there is more to Mr. Brookes than a tight ass and a ridiculous fascination with name tags. Together they deal with roasted pigs, crazy cat ladies, and gun-toting fashionistas.

In all the chaos, they just might find the one thing that neither one was looking for: true love.

Interview:

Hi Traci! Romantic Comedy has to be at the top of my must read list and your new book, Miss Behave (The Anderson Family Series Book 1), sounds exciting! What was it while writing this book that set your fingers on fire?

Traci: Oh darling! Romantic Comedy is absolutely my favorite as well! I think the part of this book that really got my fingers flying has to be the Miss Behave columns. I just adored Dear Abbey as a kid and wondered what would happen if her column was taken over by some snarky body-double that said horrible, terrible, no-good things in that column.

Can you tell us a little about your main character, Piper Anderson? She sounds like a fun character!

Traci: She is a rather delightful, if somewhat cheeky, young lady. She is a journalist that wants more than her small town assignment and her task as the local advice columnist, so she is desperately trying to write the worst advice column ever so that she gets taken off the assignment. But in Piper’s world, things never go as planned.

What about the rest of the Anderson family to which you base your new series? Who are they?

Traci: It starts with Ann, Piper’s mother, who is a bit too proper for Piper’s tastes, and Piper’s Aunt Elise, a gun-toting, hard-stomping, wrestling obsessed family matriarch. Then there are the four Anderson sisters, Mags, who has a terrible temper and somewhat unhealthy habit of speaking her mind, Betty, the beautiful, career-obsessed producer, and Stacy, the artist.

There is a love interest for Piper. Can you give us a little glimpse of who that might be?

Traci: He is everything that Piper is not. He is always put-together and a tad bit uptight. Hating disorder, he and Piper are on something of a collision course.

Where does your book take place and why did you choose that location?

Traci: It takes place in the fictional town of Pendelton Falls, CT. Small, in the quiet corner of the state, the central focus of the town is on the lovely lake at the center and the charming local shops that attract weekending New Yorkers.

What was your hardest scene to write?

Traci: The scene in the hotel at the end. You will see!!

They say all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point where the reader just can’t put the book down. What is one of the pivotal points in your book?

Traci: The scene with the scarf. Scarves can cause a surprising amount of trouble, darling.

Have you started on book 2 yet?

Traci: Book two, Mags’ book, is completely written and will be released very soon! Here is a wee bit of a blurb:

Mags has gotten herself in a ton of trouble: she’s lost her job, any hope for references, and she’s going to run out of money…. fast.

Yeah, sure, it may be her fault for punching her boss, but the jerk totally had it coming.

Nobody listens to her until she reaches her boiling point, and by then, well, she’ll admit that there’s no stopping Mr. Fist To The Face.

Now her years of hard work as a speech therapist are about to go down the drain unless she can find some way to salvage her career. So when her Aunt Elise calls to say that she has a job for her, it’s not like she can say no, even if the job is up in the wilds of Vermont.

Between stuffed moose, sloppy dogs and sexy men, Vermont proves to be a lot more interesting than she expected. But when she uncovers a scheme that would put her new employers’ livelihood in jeopardy, more than just hydrangea bushes are about to get squashed.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

Traci: So many favorites! I think the scene towards the end with the she-cult, or maybe the scene with the gun-happy fashionista. Both were incredibly fun to write. (My dog prefers the scene with the hero’s dog, but she’s completely biased).

Is there a genre you haven’t written but would love to?

Traci: I have not yet written a true cozy mystery, and I think I would enjoy it!

What’s next for you?

Traci: Well, this interview wore me out, so I think a margarita is in order. After that, I’m writing Betty’s book. I’m having so much fun with this series and the Anderson girls!

I hope you enjoy the reads and thank you so much for having me on your site!

Love and Margaritas,

-Traci

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