I love the title! How did you come up with STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD?
Because I’ve been straining my brain lately to decide on one of a dozen names for the book I’m working on right now, I realize that the title STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD just came to me as a gift. Partly I loved the words “bronze” and “gold,” and partly I wanted a reference to Sophie’s hair, since the original story references hair—as in “blue beard.”
So this is your debut. What has surprised you most about the publication process?
There was so much I didn’t expect. I guess what has surprised me most are the many, many revisions and the time required even after an acceptance by a publisher. I would think I was done with everything, and then another set would come back to me—three different rounds of copyeditors even after Allison Wortche, my editor, was finished. I’m so glad, though, that other eyes are checking on things because I really want the best possible results. They even caught things like words that were not in use in 1855, which made me happy because I hate anachronism.
Can you share a little bit about your writing process?
I start by filling a big fat notebook, with an outline of what I think is going to happen, the characters, preliminary research, etc. Of course all along the way there are surprises, and even major changes, but I do begin with the basics outlined—sort of like a skeleton to hang the flesh on. The notebook starts out beautifully organized, but eventually it’s stuffed with scraps of paper where I’ve scribbled ideas as they come to me. I’m always anxious to really start writing, and it’s a relief when I do because I love it. I get quite OCD about it, and have a hard time stopping when I’m really on a roll. Evidently I even think about my story when I’m sleeping because sometimes I’ll wake up at 5:30 a.m. with a perfect scene or bit of dialogue in my head, and I’ll have to get up and go downstairs and write. Kind of exhausting but interesting.
I adore the fact that this is inspired by "Bluebeard". What makes STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD stand out from other retellings?
For one thing, “Bluebeard” is not your basic princess-y, magical fairytale. It has a villain and a situation which is apropos to modern times—a charming, abusive serial killer and a girl caught up in his web. Because of this there’s all the psychology of the abuser and his intended victim. There is no magic, actually, but there is a touch of the supernatural—I really love the ghosts of the murdered wives, who are beautiful, shimmery, and wistful, rather than scary. Then too, the historical setting is different from any retellings I’ve read.
What was the easiest and hardest part about writing this story?
The easiest (and most fun) part was creating the characters of M. Bernard and Sophie. Those two just seemed to pour out of me. Bringing M. Bernard to life was so interesting, with his charisma, his violent and controlling nature, and yet something a little confused and bewildered inside him—he really doesn’t understand the evil bit of his make-up. Developing Sophie and her voice was a pleasure—vain, naïve, and shallow at first (but light-hearted and sweet--I like her anyway), and then her character deepening and maturing as time goes on. The hardest part was the revisions as I tried to bend and mold the story into what it needed to be—because, if it had been easy to do in the first place, I would have done it to begin with. It was the real work of writing, rather than the fun. (Although it has its fun moments.)
STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD seems to be a unique blend of historical and fantasy. What made you decide to set this in our world, rather than one of your own creation?
Actually I started the story and wrote about a third of it in a western-European-type fantasy world. Then I woke up one morning and knew I had to move it to antebellum Mississippi. Partly, I suppose, it was in my head because we had recently moved from Mississippi and I was homesick for it. And there is still something so dramatic, charming, conflicted, and interesting about the small-town American South. As for the time period, all the years I lived in Aberdeen, I was fascinated by the Civil War—such a tragic time in American history, and the United States is still affected by it to this day. Anyway the setting really lent itself to STRANDS and to the other books in the series.
I was excited to discover this is the first in a trilogy. Is there anything you can share about the books to come?
THE MIRK AND MIDNIGHT HOUR, also published by Knopf, will be out in spring 2014. It takes place during the Civil War and is loosely based on the “Ballad of Tam Lin.” The knight in the old Scottish ballad is a captured Union soldier in my retelling, and instead of fairies my story has voodoo practitioners. It has more fantasy/magical elements than STRANDS. I’m only about two-thirds through the first draft of the third book. It’s unsold so far, so wish me luck. A PLACE OF STONE AND SHADOW (which I think might be the title of this one), returns to Wyndriven Abbey (the house that was the setting for STRANDS), but years later, during Reconstruction after the war. The story is original—not a retelling. The abbey has been turned into a girls’ boarding school, and some of the deceased inhabitants of Wyndriven do not rest easy. As I’m now well into writing it, and I’m realizing that I have lots of good material, there may well be a fourth book. What’s the name of a series of four books? Quad-something?
Finally, will you tell us one thing about yourself? (Strange or otherwise!)
I am a constant daydreamer/storyteller to myself. At the grocery store I’ll see strangers and start coming up with a background for them. I wonder if all writers are more-or-less like that?