Thanks so much for stopping by Literary Cravings, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your road to publishing?
When I was young, I used to write stories all the time. But I was always a real pragmatist too. I was certain I could never make a living from writing so I ended up studying other people’s books instead. I was English Literature major at college and went on to complete a PhD in contemporary lit. My mom never forgot my early stories, however (I think she still has them all squirreled away somewhere) and when I was a grad student she used to annoy me by saying, “Do you remember those stories you used to write? Why don’t you try writing some again? You were such a good writer.” I’d snap back, “I analyze stories now, not write them,” I’d then argue that I was now incapable of writing fiction because I’d picked up too much literary theory baggage from my graduate studies.
But then my life changed in a lot of ways. I moved to the States, got married, had a baby, and suddenly I found myself opening up to the idea of writing again. I signed up for a fiction writing class and that’s when it got serious. There was no looking back after that.
How did you come up with the idea for Out of the Shadows and what was your writing process like?
Mary Shelley inspired me to write Out of the Shadows. I’ve always loved her most famous novel Frankenstein. In this wonderful gothic story, Mary Shelley dared to ask “what if?” She looked around at the emerging technologies of her time and she considered their darker sides and how they could turn monstrous (and even make monsters!). I still find it amazing that she wrote such a daring and thoughtful, poignant and provocative novel when she was just nineteen. Not only that, she was living in early nineteenth century Europe when young girls weren’t supposed to think about monsters and science, let alone write about them!
Anyway, I knew I wanted to write a book with Mary Shelley as a primary focus and as I began to undertake biographical research, I fell in love with Shelley more and more. She was fiery and smart, outspoken and thoughtful, a non-conformist and a caring mother. I kept reminding myself, though, that I wasn’t going to write a Shelley biography. Out of the Shadows explores the echoes and links between the past, our current moment, and our possible future. I wanted the book to be both about Mary Shelley, but also about how her amazing imagination and insights still resonate today. I wanted Mary Shelley’s story to sit side by side with the story of a modern woman who, although living in a very different world to Shelley, still faces some of the same challenges, fears, and possibilities.
Since Out of the Shadows is the third book you’ve written, was it easier or harder to write?
Out of the Shadows alternates between the story of young Mary Shelley preparing to write Frankenstein and also the story of Clara Fitzgerald, a contemporary woman who thinks she might be related to Shelley. Flipping back and forth between stories of two women born almost two hundred years apart sounded tricky at first. But it turned out to be easy – and deliciously fun! The stories speak to each other on many levels. Mary and Clara are both on the cusp of finding themselves. They are searching for a way out of the shadows of those around them. For Mary, it is the shadow of her mother’s death, her father’s protection, and the life that doesn’t yet fulfill her. For Clara, she must find a way to live for herself, to pursue her own dreams, and not just follow her fiancé’s career. I loved watching these similarities between the women emerged on the page.
The truly challenging part writing the book was knowing when to stop. I learned so many amazing facts about Shelley while doing my research and I wanted to share them all. I also kept thinking about the many and varied ways Shelley’s life could speak to and echo the life of a modern woman. I had to reign myself in and force myself not to write a 1000 page novel!
Did you do any research for this particular book and was it different from your others?
For a long time, I lost myself in some wonderful biographies of Mary Shelley. I also had to read a lot about aging genetics and biomedical research in order to write the character Anthony, Clara’s fiancé, who is an ambitious geneticist and Principle Investigator in a university lab. My books always require a certain amount of research because I like to include literary themes. In The Professors’ Wives’ Club it was Edgar Allen Poe. In Crossing Washington Square it was Sylvia Plath. For Out of the Shadows, however, I spent a good five or six months researching before even writing a word.
Do you have any niches you do while writing? Like listening to music,est? If so what do you do or listen to?
I get my most productive writing done early in the morning when my son is still sleeping. This means I have to be strict with myself and not press the snooze button on my alarm too often! Because I write at this time, my writing always coincides with breakfast. I’m sure I’ve written my best lines after finishing a bowl of steaming oatmeal topped with a sprinkle of granola!
Who was the easiest & hardest character for you to create?
I often find characters who are least like me the easiest to write. I’m not sure why. In this book, I really enjoyed writing the character Maxie who is Clara’s beautiful yet unreliable and demanding sister. I loved how sassy and upfront she turned out to be, but there is a vulnerability about her too. It was fun to write such a contradictory person. The hardest character to write was probably my protagonist, Clara. It took a few rewrites to really understand her and to figure out her motivations, her strengths, and her weaknesses.
If you had to pick a favorite character from Out of the Shadows, which would you pick and why?
Mary Shelley was my favorite character, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned already. But Kay, the elderly Shelley scholar, was a close second and she was a lot of fun to write. When I wrote Kay’s character, I was thinking of an amazing older woman I knew when I still lived in the UK who was also called Kay. She was the grandmother of my then-boyfriend and she was such a smart, funny, and interesting woman. She’d traveled all over the world, lost her husband when she was just a young mother, and had a successful career as a university professor. She had so many funny and interesting stories to tell. The Kay character in Out of the Shadows is a similar kind of woman: feisty, smart, a long-term widow. She’s also found peace with her life and her aging and her mortality. She offers a great counterpoint to Clara’s fiancé, Anthony, who is striving to extend life and stave off death through his scientific research (rather like Victor Frankenstein, of course).
Since writing Out of the Shadows what are you working on next?
I just finished writing a middle grade novel with my friend and co-author, Dina Jordan. Brave Angel tells the story of a twelve year old girl who must save her best friend, and the world, from a fallen angel. Writing middle grade fiction was a new challenge for me – but an incredibly fun and rewarding one. I hope to write more in this genre, but I won’t be forgetting women’s fiction. I have a number of new book ideas bubbling away…