Pretty, aren't they? I think I prefer the hardcover art, but still, these are lovely in their own right.
The real question is, how would you like to win a pretty paperback version of A Curious Beginning for yourself? You would? Good. Thanks to the good folks at Penguin Random House (Berkley/NAL), I have one to give away. Details are at the bottom of this post.
Don't go there yet, though! I had the chance to interview the wonderful Deanna Raybourn recently. Here's the conversation we had:
BBB: Although I've had SILENT IN THE GRAVE on my bookshelf for some time now, A CURIOUS BEGINNING is the first and only book of yours that I've read. I adored the novel so much that I'll definitely be reading everything you've ever written! For me and authors who are not (yet) familiar with your previous work, would you please describe a Deanna Raybourn novel in five words or less?
DR: Twisty, witty historical adventures. (And I’m delighted you enjoyed—thanks for the kind words!)
BBB: Veronica Speedwell, the star of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, is such a fun character. What's your favorite thing about her? Why do you think she will appeal to modern readers?
DR: Veronica is an unapologetic badass, by which I mean she sincerely does not care what people think of her. She is intelligent and resourceful and courageous, and she believes those qualities make her the equal of anyone else—and frequently their superior! I think modern readers see themselves in Veronica because, unlike the common impression we have of Victorian women as tightly-corseted and helpless, Veronica goes out and gets what she wants. She lives life on her own terms and is comfortable in her own skin. She is also inspired by an actual Victorian lepidopterist who did exactly as she pleased, so there is a precedent for it.
BBB: I haven't read your Lady Julia novels, but I have a friend who's a big fan. She has two burning questions for you: Will Julia and Nicholas ever have an adventure in America? She also wonders how prevalent certain "modern" elements that you write about in your Victorian novels (feminism, drug use, homosexuality, etc.) actually were during that time period. How do you go about researching these sometimes controversial issues? Also, how did the class/money issues that so affected Victorian society affect a real Victorian's pursuit of such things?
DR: For now Julia and Nicholas are on hiatus, but with the coming of the TV series, who knows! Although I have to say, I doubt I would take them to America. They are so firmly rooted in Victorian London, pulling them out of that just feels tricky. I did take them to Darjeeling, and I teased an Italian adventure, so I suppose I shouldn’t rule it out entirely.
It’s a very common misconception that those elements are modern. We hear so much about Victorians being sexually repressed and uptight, but the truth is that sort of staid morality only gives a picture of a certain segment of the population. The newly-emerging middle class was all about respectability, but in the lower class, more than 50% of brides were pregnant on their wedding day, and adultery was extremely common amongst aristocrats. (The Prince of Wales himself set the fashion!) Women were agitating for the vote; what we now call street drugs were entirely legal then; there was a lesbian commune in London that was so well established, it had its own newspaper. Vegetarianism, department stores, beach vacations, escalators, free love—we think all these things were 20th-century inventions, but the Victorians had them long before we did.
As to class and money, the 19th-century is the first time in British history that you see the rise of such a large and moneyed middle class. There had always been a merchant class, but under Victoria’s reign, it was possible to vault your way much higher than ever before. That sort of social fluidity, while minor by our standards in America, was unprecedented for the British. It was an exciting time, but also a very alarming one for people who liked things neatly pigeonholed.
BBB: On your blog, you said, "For me, the holy grail is a novel that is historically plausible and witty." I know you're a voracious reader—what are your all-time favorite novels that fit this description?
DR: I love the Flavia de Luce series by Adam Bradley; Lyndsay Faye’s JANE STEELE is outrageously good, and I recently discovered the Gower Street Detectives books by M. R. C. Kasasian—they’re delicious. And I am devoted to the late Elizabeth Peters, of course.
BBB: In a blog post you wrote giving advice to new writers, you cautioned them against taking criticism about their work from people who "do not create." You insist that although these people are entitled to their own opinions, such opinions should not be allowed to live in the writer's head. As a book blogger but not a "real" writer, I find this idea interesting. Do you read reviews of your books? Do you pay attention to those written only by "professionals" or are you one of those writers who trolls Amazon/Goodreads/Barnes & Noble, etc. to get a feel for what the average reader thinks? Whether you do or do not read reviews, how does this affect the way you write?
DR: Much to my kindly publicist’s dismay, no, I don’t read reviews. He will tell me when something great comes along from Kirkus or Library Journal, but I don’t actually read what he forwards. (Sorry, Loren!) I don’t have a Google alert for my name; I don’t go to Goodreads or Amazon or B&N. I just don’t happen to believe that reviews of my books are any of my business. And good or bad, other people’s opinions shouldn’t be part of my process. It’s difficult to get feedback—positive or negative—out of your head, and I don’t want to have to work that hard for serenity. People who like me will continue to read me; people who don’t will move on and hopefully find someone whose work they enjoy.
That specific piece of advice to new writers is meant to caution against taking to heart criticisms from people who don’t know what it’s like to put yourself out there and be willing to fail in order to make something new. It’s incredibly easy to sit back and judge that effort, and I’ve seen writer pals crushed by those judgments. It can be difficult to pick yourself up after that, and it’s even harder if you don’t have the experience and support that established authors do. That’s why I encourage new writers to be cautious about opening themselves up to criticism that can sometimes be gratuitously unkind. (And if you’re writing a blog, you are creating! You’re fashioning a platform and asking people to listen to what you have to say.)
BBB: Every writer has a unique approach to their work. You've written extensively about your own writing process on your blog, but I'm curious: What essentials do you have to have nearby when you're working (music, coffee, a lucky charm, a special pen, etc)?
DR: Lined up in front of my computer is a collection of Funko Pop Maleficent figures and a small stuffed dragon—all gifts from friends. They are silly but also reminders of things I find powerful. I always play music; I have playlists for each book and I am smitten with the film scores of Fernando Velasquez. I light a candle on the first day of a new book, and I wear my Virgen de Guadalupe charm that day just for a little extra boost.
BBB: Thanks so much, Deanna!
Ready to toss your name into the hat for a chance to win a copy of A Curious Beginning? Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Please note that giveaway is only open to readers with United States mailing addresses. Also, it ends on July 30, so sign up today!