Meow, my guest today is NYT bestselling author Deanna Raybourn
New York Times bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn is a 6th-generation native Texan. She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of one, Deanna currently makes her home in Virginia. Her novels have been nominated for numerous awards including five RITAs, two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, and three du Mauriers. She has recently launched a new Victorian mystery series with the 2015 release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, and her Lady Julia Grey novels are currently in development as a television series in the UK.
- Welcome Deanna! Tell us a little about your background
I’m a sixth-generation native Texan transplanted to Virginia. I double-majored in history and English and have been writing since I was 23. It took me fourteen years to get published, but I’ve made up for it since then! I have just turned in my eleventh novel, and I also have six digital novellas in print.
- Tell us about your Veronica Speedwell mystery series. Where did the idea for that come from?
It was time for me to change publishers, and I very much wanted to keep to the Victorian era. I wasn’t finished exploring it yet, so I dug into my research books and rediscovered a lepidopterist of the time I had read about some years before. Her name was Margaret Fountaine, and she traveled the world collecting butterflies—and men! She had a string of romantic adventures, and I thought a woman with some of her attributes would make a fabulous sleuth. So I created Veronica Speedwell, a butterfly hunter with a knack for finding handsome men and dead bodies…
- Tell us a bit about your Harlequin series. Do you enjoy writing period pieces. Would you ever do a story set in present day time?
I am very fond of the Lady Julia series. In fact, it was my devotion to the Victorian period that led me to eventually leave MIRA for Penguin. I was sorry to say goodbye to Julia, but MIRA felt the series had run its course, and declined further books in the series. I had written a few books set in the 1920s which were great fun, but I wanted to get back to gaslit, foggy London. Penguin gave me a chance to do that and I jumped at it. I have written one contemporary magical realism book, but it’s really quite bad, so it is tucked away in the attic. I might dig it out again one of these days and tear it to bits.
- How do you “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I do heaps of research, always collecting snippets of characteristics while I’m reading. Somehow various bits and pieces come together to form a person—I’m not entirely certain how it happens. It’s a weird writer alchemy, and I try not to examine it too closely. I just know that I’m always paying attention to what makes people tick and how they act upon those motivations. I also think about what a character likes to eat and wear and the music they like, the books they read. If I know their world, I know them.
- How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
I always have to construct a plot since I’m writing a murder mystery; by definition, they have a certain logical structure. I’m becoming more of a plotter as I get further into my career. Pantsing can waste masses of time, and if you’re writing to a deadline, extra time is a commodity you don’t always have.
- Which do you consider more important, plot or character?
They’re equally important, and in spite of what most people say, you can begin with either as long as there is logical consistency between the two. Would the characters you create DO those things? Would those things happen to the characters you’ve created? As long as those things hang together, it really don’t matter where you start. I generally begin with plot. Veronica Speedwell is a rare exception.
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Not being published for fourteen years was fairly brutal, but I kept writing because I was a writer, and writers tell stories whether anyone is listening or not. Now I’m motivated by deadlines! I turn in my books on time, every time. It’s a point of pride.
- Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?
I had initially queried the agent she worked for and received a very kind letter informing me that the senior agent had quit the business to study in a monastery! In her stead, my agent sent me the nicest rejection letter you can possibly imagine—gracious, kind, encouraging. So the next year, when I had a better book in hand, I queried her again. This time she accepted me, and we’ve been together for eighteen years on a handshake. She is my rock in this business!
- What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
I have just turned in the second Veronica Speedwell book and am preparing to dive into book three—as well as a few of secret projects I can’t talk about quite yet…
- What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
When I am working on a draft, I tend to work every day for about six weeks. I work in the morning for about an hour and a half, maybe two hours. I type quite fast and I don’t stop to ponder—I know what I’m writing when I sit down, so in that short period of time I can bang out exactly what I want to get done that day. When the draft is done, it sits for a few weeks until it’s time to pull it out and start on it again. During that break, I don’t write. I read instead. If I’m very hard against it, such as editorial revisions, I have been known to rewrite an entire book in five weeks—about 90,000 new words. I don’t recommend it! And most books don’t demand that kind of rewriting, thank heaven.
- If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?
A collected volume of Jane Austen, THE BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES edited by Otto Penzler, and a collection of fairy tales—the good, juicy ones, not the sanitized happy ending version.
- What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Don’t think that people who are published know the right answers for YOU. We know what works for us. If we swear by a technique or a rule or a principle, it may not work for you and that’s perfectly alright.
- What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Well, I generally have a good reason for anything I do, no matter how insane it might seem to someone else…
- What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I’ve been bitten by a tiger cub.
- What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)
What perfume are you wearing? Today it’s Lubin’s Black Jade.
- Where can we learn more about you and your books?
Just for Fun:
Night or Day? Morning.
Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) Dog, always.
Beach or Pool? Beach.
Steak or salad? A steak salad.
Favorite Drink? Tea or wine, depending upon mood. If mood is very foul, a stiff gin and tonic.
Favorite Book? Ha! No comment.
Favorite TV Series? Very into BLACK SAILS right now.
Favorite Movie? The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Favorite Actor: Peter O’Toole.
Favorite Actress: Maggie Smith.
Dirty Martini or Pina Colada?
Hawaii or Alaska? Hawaii.
Finish this sentence: If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be Eleanor of Aquitaine. She’s my 23rd great-grandmother, and I have questions…
If I had just one wish, it would be to always have one tiny wish unfulfilled. It’s good to have something to work towards.
If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be…heavens, no one! I am quite happy where I am. Although it might be fun to tag along with the Queen one day. I’d like to peek at her art collection and maybe have a nice chat over a cocktail.
Deanna will give away a signed copy of trade edition of CITY OF JASMINE. Contest open to US residents only
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Winner will be chosen at random using random.org. Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest closes midnight, May 19!