Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An Interview with Marissa Doyle!

Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season is truly one of the most exciting debuts I've read this year. It's fun; it's adorable and it appeals to the teenager who still lurks within me. I act like a nineteen-year old groupie on Marissa's outstanding blog, NinteenTeen, commenting on almost every post. I was delighted when Marissa agreed to answer some questions.

Please tell us a little bit about BEWITCHING SEASON and about your inspiration for this novel.

Bewitching Season came from a fortuitous intersection between a writing prompt exercise and the book I happened to be reading at the moment. The book was a biography of Queen Victoria, and the exercise was in a writing group where we were asked to write the beginning of a story starting with the words, "Oh my god, you killed him!" I got a mental picture of a girl in long skirts wringing her hands over the motionless form of a boy on a rug in front of her...and decided she'd been practicing magic on her little brother. The idea of two young witches rescuing Princess Victoria from the thoroughly unpleasant Sir John Conroy quickly followed...the cool part was taking events that actually happened (the unpleasant Sir John part--he tried his nastiest best to force Victoria to promise him a position as her Private Secretary) and take them a step off the path into fantasy (what if Sir John had resorted to magic to achieve his ends?)

Tell us about your favorite scene in BEWITCHING SEASON.

Hmm. I'm not sure that I have any one favorite scene, but I did have the most fun writing the scenes between Persy and Lochinvar. I love writing dialogue, and I loved writing about these two very shy people who were so wrapped up in their insecurities that they couldn't see how the other felt. There was a fair amount of channeling from my own horribly shy teenhood there, in case you hadn't sort of guessed. :)

What about any scene that may have given you trouble?

Writing about magic in a post-Harry Potter world is a huge challenge, because HP has turned into the gold standard for magic in fiction and it's become impossible to escape comparison. I tried to base my magic in these books on traditional English and Wiccan rites and rituals, but also to make it conform to a nineteenth century world. So for example, Persy and Pen always do their spell-casting in Latin because using a foreign language helps them focus their internal magical energies...and Latin seemed to them to be the most suitable language (French was far too frivolous feeling, and they didn't know enough German)...because those were the languages a well-educated young woman in 1837 might most likely know.

Please tell us how you researched BEWITCHING SEASON. Did you have a lot of background knowledge beforehand, or did you research as necessary while you wrote?

I have an academic background in history and historical archaeology, and have been a history geek since seeing "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" on Masterpiece Theatre when I was about nine. So I already knew the broad history quite well--but I wanted this book to be as historically accurate as possible. That meant lots of micro-research on things like clothes (what colors and styles were "in" for spring 1837?) and food and shops and the minutiae of being presented at court and so on...which was huge fun to learn about and try to get across to readers without bogging down in too much detail.

Have you completed any other novels besides BEWITCHING SEASON? If so, can we expect to see any of them in print?

Well, I have two completed books that will never, ever see the light of day because they're so horrible--but that's okay because they're where I learned to write. I think every author probably has a couple of those. They're not a total loss because I've taken the plot from one of them and totally re-written it as a YA which I do hope will be published some day. I've also got two completed adult contemporary fantasies, but right now my agent and I are holding off on trying to sell them while we concentrate on contracted books. The companion to Bewitching Season, tentatively named Twice Bewitched (that might change...not yet sure) will be out next spring, and a third book is in the works (no date yet)--sort of a prequel, as it features Persy and Pen's mother as the main character's best friend.

Please share with us the story of how BEWITCHING SEASON came to be published.

It's pretty boring, really--I completed the book, entered it in a few Romance Writers of America-sponsored contests to get some feedback on it, and started querying agents with it. I signed with Emily Sylvan Kim of Prospect Agency in October 2005, and she sold Bewitching Season and Twice Bewitched a couple of months later. What was sort of funny was that for a long time I had no idea it was a YA--I just thought I was writing romance until a judge from one of those contests said, "This book sounds like YA." It was a HUGE "light-bulb" moment for me because it permitted me to focus as much on my heroine's journey as on her romance.

I understand that the next novel, TWICE BEWITCHED, focuses on Penelope. How many books do you envision in this series? Do we get to read a novel from Lorelei's point of view (please, oh please)?

I've got two more plotted--one that I mentioned above, which takes place twenty years before Bewitching Season during the Napoleonic Wars, and another set a few years after Bewitching Season that features Charles as the main character and in which Lorrie plays a prominent role. The prequel story is what I'm working on right now, and I'm back to having fun weaving history and magic together. The Charles story has a more fantasy plot, and I'm putting it off a bit until I feel I can do justice to writing a male main character POV, which I haven't yet done.

I love your blog, NineteenTeen, and I find it refreshing in that it seeks to educate as well as promote books. What inspired you to start such a fascinating blog?

I think blogging for authors is a great idea--it can get your name out and keep your readers hooked between your books. But when I decided to take the blog plunge I didn't want to do just another writer blog...so many of them are TMI navel-gazing or all-promotion-all-the-time, and I didn't want to add to their number. So it occurred to me that I could put my history-geekishness to good use and blog about history as a way to use all the cool bits and factoids I turn up while researching my stories and as a way to educate readers in a fun way about the world my stories are set in. I asked my dear friend Regina Scott to co-host it with me as I probably wouldn't have had the discipline to maintain it alone--she's published 17 Regency romances so she's as history-geekoid as I am, and her first historical YA, La Petite Four, just came out at the end of May from Razorbill. We have fun talking about odd bits of history and trying to show our readers how different and yet how similar life in the 19th century could be to our time.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

Only that I love to hear from readers and am happy to talk about history and writing and books whenever possible! Thank you for letting me do that here. :)


Mihai A. said...

Very interesting interview, Tia.

Anonymous said...

That makes me want to read that book right now! I'm not usually a fantasy fan, but that plot sounds interesting and original - something that's not out there yet.

Tia Nevitt said...

Pema, I loved it.

Carole McDonnell said...

Ah Masterpiece theater and the six wives of Henry VIII! That show really influenced us anglophiles. She seems like a really nice person. And once again, I think this is one fiction book I'll get.

Carole McDonnell said...

Just went over to her blog. You're right. It's a great blog. It reminds me of one of my favorite books "What Jane Austen ate and Charles Dickens Knew" by Daniel Pool, one of the best books on all the manners, etiquette, etc of Victorian England. -C

Tia Nevitt said...

Carole, I'm glad it interests you. And the book you mentioned interests me! I love reading social history books like that.

Carole McDonnell said...


It's just the absolute best! Makes you understand everything from Uriah Heep's constant handwringing (and what it would imply to a victorian reader) to inheritances to dances to why all those poor Victorian daughters and second sons had soooo much trouble.

And Daniel Pool is just one of the sweetest people.