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Monday, November 14, 2011

Author Interview: Andrea Penrose

Andrea started writing westerns at the astonishing age of five, complete with crayon drawings to illustrate them.  So it is no surprise that she got a Masters in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art and worked in publication design plus she is an established author of romance novels under the name Cara Elliott.  

I reviewed her fist book in A Lady Arianna Regency Mystery series here (click here.)  I love this new series and a copy of her debut and her second book will be part of the Mid Winters Eve Giveaway.  Please give a big welcome to Andrea Penrose.

Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
The plot (however vague) is always the key starting point with me. Everything else grows out from that seed . . . rather organically, I must admit.

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?
Alas, I have to confess that I am a total “pantser. I would love to be totally organized and have the book plotted out chapter by chapter, but my brain simply doesn’t work that way. Things are going best when at the end of the day I push back from the computer and say, “Hmmm. I didn’t know they were going to do that.”

Arianna and Saybrook are great characters. 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?
I do have an image of a character in my head from the very beginning. I come from an art background, so I am a very visual person and like to picture both the people and surroundings of my books. From there, they “flesh” themselves out as the story progresses. Subtle nuances of character come from the interaction of all the people involved in the story. And sometimes, one of them may come to have a personality I never expected when I started. For me, that’s part of the magic of the creative process.

Why Regency England? What drew you to that time and place? How much research do you have to do?
I love the Regency because it was a fabulously interesting time and place—a world a swirl in silks, seduction and the intrigue of the Napoleonic Wars. Radical new ideas were clashing with the conventional thinking of the past, and as a result, people were challenging and changing the fundamentals of their society.  For example, you had Beethoven composing emotional symphonies, Byron composing wildly romantic poetry about individual angst, J.M.W. Turner dabbling in impressionistic watercolors and Mary Wollstonecraft writing the first feminist manifestos. It’s considered the birth of the Modern Era, and there are so many intriguing parallels with the issue we face today. So I find it a perfect setting for mystery and intrigue!

I’ve done extensive reading on the era, so feel very comfortable in its world. Then, for each book, I delve deeper in specific topics of research to craft the plot, which I love doing. It’s great fun learning all the little esoteric details about a subject.

I loved the chocolate history and unusual recipes. Was it the plan to have a chocolate theme or did that just happen?

I had done the chocolate research intending to use it for something different. But as I began to think about Arianna and Saybrook, it suddenly seemed a “sweet” combination. I wanted them both to be unconventional, and intrigued by  usual ideas. They are creative and imaginative—and cooking is all about having a willingness to try offbeat combinations. 

In a sense, I see chocolate as the perfect metaphor for Arianna and Saybrook—I wanted them to be dark and a little mysterious, with a complex mix of flavors and textures.

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?
I’m not one of those lucky souls who can dash off a chapter while waiting in line at a grocery store. I need peace and quiet to write, so I do have a room with all my favorite books, and reference material, along with a great old pine desk and various funky collectibles that I’ve picked up during my travels. Among those familiar things I can buckle down to work.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
I consider myself a slow writer, so I need to work long stretches at a time to get things moving. Days when I can work pretty much uninterrupted are great—but of course that doesn’t happen all that often! As for how long it takes, that’s hard to answer. Every book is different.

What in your background prepared you to write not just mystery novels but historical mystery?
I’ve always been fascinated by history. As a child I was always reading about the past—knights in armor, swashbuckling cavaliers, natty Victorian adventurers . . .and still am! My career path took a twist into art (I have a Master’s degree in Graphic Design) , but as an undergrad at Yale, I took enough history courses to have majored in the subject. So I feel I bring a quirky left brain-right brain mix to writing historical mystery.

Who is your favorite Mystery character?
I adore Peter Wimsey (Who doesn’t!)

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?
Oh, that’s such a hard question! I’m a voracious reader and have so many favorites. That said, I love Jane Austen’s sharp insight into human nature and her sly wit as she observes the strengths and weaknesses of her characters.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?
It was one of those lucky little moments that happen in life. I mentioned to a friend that I had written a book (it was a modern thriller, which is still buried in a desk drawer) and he set up a meeting with an agent he knew. The fellow listened to my pitch, made polite noises about be willing to take a look. Then, as we got up, I happened to mention that I had also written a Regency romance. At that he perked up and said that he knew an editor who might be interested . . . three days later he called and said he had sold it!

What are you currently reading?
I always have a couple of books going . . . right now I’m reading A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch,  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell.

If your Lady Arianna Hadley mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your character's roles?
I think Johnny Depp in his darker persona would make a great Saybrook. And Keira Knightley in her “Pirates of the Caribbean” role would make an interesting Arianna.

Do you have anything you would like to share about your next book in the series?
In the next book, Arianna and Saybrook will be journeying to St. Andrews, Scotland, and then back to London, where the prestigious scientific societies of the day draw them into a world of scholarly intrigue . . . and the daredevil exploits of the early aeronauts who experimented with manned balloon flights. So hold on to your hats—it’s going to be a wild ride!

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THANK You Andrea for that wonderful interview.  It is great to meet another who was enthralled with history as a child.  I played Cleopatra with my Barbies and made up grand adventures on the Nile.  I already loved your book, but imagining Johnny Depp as Alessandro De Quincy, the Earl of Saybrook really adds some punch to that visual.  I look forward to reviewing your newest book.  Readers, please leave your comments or questions for Ms. Penrose.

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Andrea Penrose said...

Thanks for having me! Johnny Depp really does make a great Saybrook, doesn't he!

A.F. Heart said...

Forever more when I read your books I will have Depp in my mind as Saybrook. Gee, I can't wait to read your next one!!! HeHe

Jo said...

Hey just FYI, your link to the review doesn't work...

A.F. Heart said...

Thanks for letting me know. I'm not sure what went wrong, but the link should work now. :-)

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