I reviewed the debut novel in the new historical Lady Darby mystery series (click here). I was highly impressed by the writing and immediately sought out the author for an interview. I am honored that Ms. Anna Lee Huber has given us this interview. Wahoo. As always, comments encouraged.
I write because I love it, and because I can’t stop making up stories in my head. J I often have trouble falling asleep at night because I begin daydreaming about a story idea, and then I can’t stop.
I can’t imagine not writing. Even without being published or being paid for it, I would still be writing simply for my own enjoyment. I love seeing where my imagination takes me next, and surprising even myself.
My biggest motivation is the desire to do something with my life, to make a difference, to leave something of myself behind when I pass on. I’ve always felt the urgent need to do so, and writing fulfills that need.
What is your routine when you're facing your next novel? Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
In regards to the Lady Darby series, I start with where the last story left off, and where my existing story arcs need to go. Then I move on from there to whatever has inspired me. It could be a particular setting I really want to use, or a historical fact I want to explore, or a scene I’ve imagined that I want to fit into it somehow. It varies from story to story. I try to weave the existing story arcs in with my inspirations to form the premise. Sometimes everything fits, sometimes it doesn’t. I shuffle until I feel I’ve got a good idea.
Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?
Before I start writing, I usually have the premise worked out, as well as a pretty good idea where the character and relationship story arcs need to go, and a very basic plot sketch. However, I prefer to mostly free write the first fifty pages or so before I sit down to do any serious plotting. I need the freedom to go wherever my imagination takes me, which is sometimes in a completely different direction than I expected. Until I’m fifty to one hundred pages in, I don’t really know if I have a story to work with, and I don’t want to waste my time plotting something that won’t work, or that I find bores me. But at a certain point, I do have to sit down and plot where I’m going—when the clues will appear, who the red herrings are, etc. Sometimes these plans change, and I adapt, but I need that structure to complete the story.
Kiera Darby is a memorable, damaged character. What do you and the troubled Kiera have in common? How are you different?
When I first started writing Kiera, I didn’t think we had much in common at all. I could honestly relate more to her older sister, Alana. But as I’ve gotten to know her better, I realized we do have some traits in common, though she is in no way me. We’re both introverts, gaining energy from our solitary pursuits. We both feel uncomfortable in social situations, though I’m fairly adept at hiding this fact and Kiera is not. I also make an effort to be outgoing and social, while Kiera doesn’t see the point. We both have artistic pursuits – mine being music and writing, while Kiera’s is art. We also both have a strong desire for acceptance, for ourselves and others. We wish everyone could just be accepted for who they are, instead of being criticized or forced into a mold if they are different. Our most important difference is that I have been extremely fortunate in my family and my choice of spouse, as well as the time period I was born in, all factors Kiera has suffered because of in one way or another.
Kiera, Sebastion Gage, Alana, Philip, and the rest of the crew are all great. What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write? How do you handle minor characters?
It honestly depends on the character. Some of them seem to come to me fully fleshed, like Kiera, while others I have to work harder to unravel. I started The Anatomist’s Wife, by crafting some Kiera’s back story—why she had skills to be an investigator—and the location and murder mystery grew from that. But from the moment I began writing in her narrative voice I could tell my subconscious already knew her. It was like she was sitting behind me, telling me the story. I didn’t have to struggle to find her. Other characters remained a little more elusive for me, like Philip. I had to do some thinking to better understand what made him tick, and he still has a bit of mystery to him, which I like. I love to discover things about my characters that I hadn’t planned.
I do a fairly extensive character work up on my main characters each book, just to be sure I’m on top of their development, their psychology, and any important elements we’ve recently learned of their past. I rarely use pictures, unless there is a particular clothing ensemble I want one of them to wear. I like to know their features, their quirks, but I don’t want to be able to picture exactly what they look like.
Most of my minor characters seem to spring from my imagination. Sometimes they tamely do what they’re told, while others try to hijack the story. Lord Marsdale was one of the latter. I hadn’t expected to enjoy writing him so much, but the man is incorrigible. He also has some secrets that need explored. We may see him in a future book.
Do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
Not really. I like to take a few minutes to center myself, to breathe deeply and block everything else out so that I can focus on the story, but I don’t really have a ritual. I usually write in my home office, but I can and do write elsewhere. Sometimes if I’m struggling, I’ll switch up locations, just because it makes it seem fresh. I prefer quiet or instrumental music—soundtracks, symphonies, etc. Music with words distracts me. Sometimes a particular piece of music will attach itself to a story. For example, I listened to the Inception movie soundtrack a lot while I was writing Mortal Arts, Lady Darby Book 2, so when I need to return to that story for edits, etc, if I listen to that soundtrack it instantly puts me back into it.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
I should be better about having a set schedule, but I don’t. I usually set a certain word count I’m supposed to meet every day or week, but I allow myself to be flexible about how I meet that. When I’m getting close to a deadline I’m stricter with myself than other times, but I’m still very flexible. I’m more of a night owl, so most of my writing gets done in the afternoon and evening. Or if inspiration strikes, I may be up until 3am writing. I don’t have children yet, so it’s much easier to do that. I’m in for a rude awakening when the first baby comes along. It takes me about five to seven months to write a book, including research.
Being a historical mystery, how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?
Now that I know the time period I’m writing in pretty well and feel comfortable with it, I do mostly focused research, on the specific topics I’ll be covering in that book, and the setting and particular month I’ll be writing in. I do broad research on the subject before I start writing, and then as needed while I’m writing the first and second drafts. It depends on the story as to how much research I need to do. Some topics require more than others, but it usually takes a up at least a few weeks of my time.
Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, how did you pick your setting and how do you like to interject a sense of place? Do you use places that you know well, have visited personally, or are familiar with for your settings?
Setting is very important to me. I like to think of it as a character all its own. Initially I chose the area around Loch Ewe in the Highlands of Scotland as the setting of THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE because I needed the location to be isolated, but not unreasonably so. I also have a deep love for the Highlands, and was fortunate enough to have visited there on a recent trip to the UK. It has a melancholy beauty that is absolutely perfect for a mystery. I like to focus on how a setting affects the characters, the mood it creates, and I try to highlight specific aspects of it rather than the entire surroundings. Most of the time I haven’t visited my exact location, but I have visited somewhere nearby. Or I borrow details from other castles or lochs or cities I’ve been to and transpose them into my setting.
What in your background prepared you to write not just mysteries, but historicals too?
I have always loved history. It was my favorite subject in school, and one at which I excelled. I just really enjoy learning things about the past, and how that affects the future, and I’ve always looked at it as a narrative rather than random, individual facts. So after college when I began writing stories again for myself, there was never any doubt that they would have a historical setting. It was what I was interested in. I think the operas I studied as a music major may have helped that along, but the love of history was already ingrained in me.
In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?
Ooo…this is tough. I have to pick just one? Okay, I’m going to state one of the obvious, but it’s true. Sherlock Holmes. Has any one single fictional character ever done so much for a genre of fiction? (However, if I were picking a character I would like to have on my side as a friend to hang out with, it would be Clare Fergusson from Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mystery series.)
Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Perhaps Deanna Raybourn. She’s so amazingly talented, and incredibly gracious. But I would also say Mary Stewart has influenced me greatly.
How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
I landed my literary agent through a query letter. I’ve spoken to a lot of hopeful writers who find the idea of sending a query letter to be intimidating. However, there are only so many writers conferences you can attend, and so many agents you can meet there. If your writing is good, the agents will take notice, even through a
What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?
I was extremely thrilled and flattered when a lovely seventy-seven year young woman wrote to tell me how much she had loved my book, and compared me to the masters in “the grand old tradition of period suspense, a la Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney,” and how happy that had made her. It was an amazing compliment. And one I cherish.
If your Lady Kiera Darby mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?
For Kiera I would go with Abbie Cornish, not based on looks really, but because I think she is an extremely talented actress who would display just the right amount of strength and vulnerability. As far as Gage, I like to think of him as a cross between Simon Baker and Rupert Penry-Jones. Either actor would be marvelous in the role, but I would lean toward Penry-Jones, simply because of the age factor.
Tell us your thoughts on the importance of historical mysteries and their popularity.
I think cross-genre stories as a whole are seeing a surge in popularity. Readers like to explore the complexities combining different story elements affords them. History and mystery are particularly appealing because readers like to discover things they didn’t know before, and the journey to another time and place provides an escape from their crazy modern lives. Mysteries in the past also present their own unique set of problems. There was no modern technology to aid investigators—no fingerprinting, or DNA testing, or even organized police forces. Without much forensics to fall back on, this forces historical sleuths to be more clever. There are a dozen TV shows on each week where we can watch modern detectives solve crimes. But readers largely must turn to books if they want to know how it might have been done in the past.
Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project? What is your biggest challenge with it?
Mortal Arts, Lady Darby Book 2, will be released in September 2013. It takes place two months after the events of The Anatomist’s Wife. Kiera and her sister’s family are journeying to Edinburgh, in search of better medical care for Alana and the child she carries, when they receive an urgent letter summoning them to the home of the Dalmays just north of the city. The Dalmays are old family friends, and Michael is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother—and Kiera’s childhood art tutor—William, has thrown everything into chaos. Will has been missing for ten years, locked in a lunatic asylum by his own father. And now a local girl has gone missing. Sympathetic to Will’s plight, Kiera must join forces with Gage to find the girl, prove Will’s innocence, and save Michael’s marriage.
Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?
I have a blog on my website (www.annaleehuber.com), as well as a latest news page, and readers can also sign up for my newsletter there. I also post info on my Facebook page (AuthorAnnaLeeHuber) and Twitter (AnnaLeeHuber).
THANK You Anna for that great interview. Many fascinating tidbits. I have to agree with the woman who wrote you comparing you to Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney! I too am a fan of Mary Stewart.
Vote for your favorite cookies in the Ultimate Cookie Challenge. Now for a cookie recipe perfect for all those holiday potlucks and parties. You can vote for this recipe in the challenge.
Oatmeal Cream Pies
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup quick-cooking oats
2 teaspoons hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 7 ounce jar marshmallow creme
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet; set aside. In a small bowl combine flour, baking soda, the 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the baking powder; set aside. In a large bowl combine butter and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in granulated sugar and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla just until combined. Stir in flour mixture and oats just until combined.
2. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown and centers are set. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the hot water and the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir until salt dissolves. Add marshmallow creme, shortening, and powdered sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.
4. Spread marshmallow mixture on the flat side of half of the cookies. Top each frosted cookie with another cookie, flat side down.