Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Other Daughter Author Q&A with Lauren Willig

Photo (c) Sigrid Estrada

Hello and welcome back to Drink Read Love. Today, I'm absolutely delighted to bring you an Author Q&A with award winning and prior New York Times Bestselling Author Lauren Willig. Yesterday, I posted my review of  her book The Other Daughter and I'm happy to be able to follow it up with this Q&A. I'll be honest, when she agreed to do the Q&A, I kind of had a Fangirl Geeking Out Moment (or three) but I'm totally over that and am definitely not giddy with excitement while I'm posting this. Nope. Not a bit. Ahem.

Anyways, if you haven't already, go read the review from yesterday and then grab yourself a drink, get cozy, and join me for a chat with Lauren Willig.
Hi Lauren. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. . I’m a huge fan of your books and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to ask you some questions about your book and your writing process in general.

What inspired you to write The Other Daughter?
As with so many books, the idea came from an entirely unexpected source.  I was just finishing up That Summer, a book about a lost Pre-Raphaelite painting rediscovered in an old house in the suburbs of London.  That Summer had been a very emotionally draining story to write—and I was also great with child, so I was just drained in general.  I decided to take a mental vacation and read through some of the Regency romances in a care package my college roommate had sent me.  The first book on the pile was Carla Kelly’s Marrying the Captain, about the illegitimate daughter of a viscount, raised by her grandmother, an innkeeper, until her rapacious father suddenly appeared in her life to try to marry her off to settle his gambling debts. 
It got me thinking.  What would it feel like to suddenly discover that your family wasn’t what you believed it was?  In an England riddled with class distinctions, what would it be like to suddenly go from poor but respectable to blue-blooded but decidedly not respectable, caught betwixt and between, shunned by “good” people because of an accident of birth.  The what ifs kept coming.  What if the story were set, not in the Regency, but in the 1920s, one of those periods in history where manners and mores were changing, old ideas and barriers were still present, but getting wobbly, and the hedonistic parties of the Bright Young Things provided a shadowy space where worlds might collide.
And there was the book, unfolding in my head.  I even had the heroine’s name: Rachel Woodley.  Of course, I had a book to finish (That Summer) and another book to write (Book XI in the Pink Carnation series, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla) before I could get to working on The Other Daughter, but the idea stuck—and here we are!

I know you have a background in history, both academically and with previous books you’ve written. Did The Other Daughter involve much research?
So much research!  I had spent a great deal of time researching World War I, its impact on English society, and life in England in the early 1920s for another book (The Ashford Affair), but the very well-documented world of the Bright Young Things was new territory.  Fortunately, for a group that was only in ascendance for about five years, there was a wealth of resources available, including the Bright Young Things’ own letters, novels, and memoirs, as well as a vast number of biographies and monographs, including, among others, D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young People, Humphrey Carpenter’s The Brideshead Generation, and Paula Byrne’s Mad World.  
Most of all, The Other Daughter was what I thought of as an immersion book.  I didn’t need to get just the facts and dates right; I needed to master the tone.  There was a peculiar patois to that particular social group at that particular time, so I read everything I could written in the mid to late twenties, particularly by members of that social set (of whom the most famous members are Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh) to make sure that the way my characters spoke and thought would be true to the period.
I haven’t gotten around to putting a bibliography on my website yet, but, if you’re curious, you can find a list of the books I used to get “in voice” for the novel here:

What is your writing process like? Does it vary from book to book?
Some aspects of my writing process have been fairly constant.  I always do my best thinking scribbling bits of plot and dialogue long-hand on sheets of loose-leaf paper.   I tend to take longer with the beginning of the book, while I’m getting to know the characters.  The first three chapters can take four months while, if I’m really in the zone, the rest of the book will zoom by in anywhere from six to eight weeks.  I do my best writing at Starbucks, where there’s coffee on hand, my phone is (mostly) off, and I’m away from all the distractions of home.   I work in three chapter chunks (a relic of my teen days, when I worked with an antiquated word processing program called Bank Street Writer, which had very low data caps per file), and once I’m done with that three chapter chunk, I’m not allowed to go back to that section until it’s time to revise the whole manuscript.  (Because otherwise I would probably still be scrolling endlessly through the first three chapters of my first book and not have written anything since!)
But other than that?  Just when I think I have my process nailed down, it always changes on me.  Each book is different, and what works for one might not work for another.  When I was stuck on my fourth book, my lovely editor told me not to worry: it wasn’t just me.  She had another author, a very prolific bestseller, who’d once gotten so stuck that she’d had to write the last scene first and work her way backward through the book!  Hearing that was incredibly freeing.

Did you travel as part of writing The Other Daughter? If so, what was your favorite place?
I was on a tight deadline—well, multiple tight deadlines—with a new baby when I started work on The Other Daughter, so travel just wasn’t in the stars.  Fortunately, London is familiar territory for me.  I’d lived there for a year during my grad school days and visited frequently thereafter, so I had a good sense of the city, which I was able to supplement with old pictures, maps, and even some film footage from the time period. 
Although, I have to admit, my favorite location for Other Daughter wasn’t London, where the book is mostly set: it’s the dreaming spires of Oxford (another familiar old haunt from my days doing research at the Bodleian).  Which leads us neatly to your next question….

What was your favorite scene to write? Why?
Picture it.  Oxford, 1927.  My heroine, Rachel, has just discovered that the father she thought was poor, respectable, and, well, um, dead, is actually alive and an earl.  She’s gone off to her one living family member, her mother’s cousin, David, an Oxford don, in the hopes of being told it’s all a mistake—and is told that it’s all true, and, by the way, David is actually her father’s cousin, not her mother’s.  Even the smallest details of Rachel’s life are turning out to be a lie.  To make it all worse, while she’s having it out with David, they’re interrupted by Simon Montfort, a former student of David’s, who follows the shaken Rachel out of Merton College and insists on giving her a cup of tea at Fuller’s.  But what’s Simon’s real motive in taking her to tea?  Pure altruism?  Or something a little darker?  When Rachel discovers that Simon is a gossip columnist, all of her worst suspicions are confirmed.
I loved writing this scene.  First, the historian in me was thrilled to have found the exact Fuller’s, complete with period pictures, to use for my setting.   But even more than that, it was the instant verbal rapport between Rachel and Simon.  They’re both prickly people who use words to confuse rather than communicate, so watching them together was sheer joy (for me, not for them) and changed the whole course of the book.
If you’d like to read part of the scene (and see a picture of the tea shop), you can find it here:

What was the hardest part of writing The Other Daughter?
This is the first time I’ve ever written a single narrative book.  It sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it?  Thirteen previous books and not one of them stuck to one voice.  The bulk of my other books move back and forth between time periods, weaving between the past and the present.  I had written one other book in a single time period, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, the only one of my Pink Carnation series not to have a modern frame story, but even Mistletoe rotated viewpoints, moving back and forth between the hero’s viewpoint and the heroine’s so we could see the story unfold through both of their eyes and their conflicting perceptions (or misperceptions) could be used for dramatic or comic effect.  I found it incredibly hard telling this whole story through Rachel’s eyes, particularly those bits where it was necessary for Rachel to perceive a situation or character in one way, but the reader needed to be clued in that Rachel’s judgment might not always be entirely sound—hard to do subtly when you’re in that character’s head.

On a related note, I have a tendency to assume that authors I admire never suffer from Writer’s Block like I do, but that’s probably just a wee bit unrealistic. :D Do you ever struggle with that? If so, how do you cope? Do you have advice for others dealing with that dreadful beast, whether it’s for a book or a school assignment?
Pardon me while I take a moment to chortle hysterically.  Oh, sweetie.  We all have writer’s block.  Get any group of professional writers together with a bottle of wine and (once everyone is done complaining about inadequate marketing and how blog tours are the world’s worst time drain) there will be a litany of woe about the days the story just won’t go.
I’ve learned that there are two kinds of writer’s block:
1) Because my head’s just not all there.  Around book launch season, particularly, my mind is full of marketing and publicity flotsam and jetsam.  Or maybe it’s just because the weather’s suddenly turned nice and I want to go shopping.  Or my toddler is being particularly cute that day.  Sometimes I’ll let myself play hooky for a day or two to deal with the publicity busy-work or go for a walk or try on dresses.  But once I’ve given myself that little window to get my head back in order, it’s time to get back to the story.  If I attempt to bludgeon through the block and the book still won’t go, then it means the problem is probably Type 2 Writer’s Block, which is….
2) Because there’s something wrong with the story and my subconscious won’t let me keep going until I fix the problem.  I have great faith in my subconscious.  It’s much smarter than I am.  Sometimes, the problem is that my characters have changed as the story has gone alone, but I’m still trying to stick with my original plot ideas and force them into situations that no longer make sense.  Other times it can be as simple as a scene beginning in the wrong place or needing to be in a different character’s viewpoint.  Once I stop, think about it, and get the problem sorted out (which often, painfully, involves deleting whole chapters), the book will generally start to move again.
And, of course, there’s fear.  I don’t want to do it the dignity of giving it its own separate category (that would only encourage it), but I’d wager that fear is the primary cause of writer’s block: fear that the words on the page won’t be as good as the vision in our heads, fear that we can’t really do it, fear that if we do write it, people will hate it (and will say so on the internet, possibly using emoticons and gifs).  No matter how many books you’ve written, the fear is still there, fear that the previous books were all flukes, that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you have nothing worthwhile to say.
In the end, though, the answer is always to sit down and get on with the book.  Give yourself a little time to regroup or replot—but then get going again.  The mantra I recite to myself?  I’ve never regretted a book I’ve written, only the books I haven’t written. 

Also related, do you write better under deadlines or when you get your writing done ahead of time?
That’s a tough one to answer because the last time I wrote a book not under deadline was 2003.  I’ve been under deadline continuously since then, and my deadlines have become progressively tighter over the years, so it takes a bit of a mental exercise to remember what it was like not living in perpetual deadline panic.  I’ve always been an adrenaline worker, so my guess is that if I didn’t have a deadline, I’d probably invent one, just to give me something against which to test myself.

Have you pondered crossing over between the Pink books and other books?
For those who haven’t read them, the Pink Carnation books follow a series of flower-named spies during the Napoleonic Wars as they attempt to thwart Napoleon and generally fall in love along the way.  The historical story is framed by a modern sub-plot, in which a current day grad student, Eloise, is working on her dissertation about Napoleonic spies (“Aristocratic Espionage during the Wars with France: 1789-1815”… because “Why I Love Men in Black Masks” would never make it past a dissertation committee) and stumbles across an interesting cache of documents and a few adventures of her own, including a handsome Englishman with a family secret or two.
There’s already been a bit of seepage between the Pink Carnation series and my stand alone novels, with descendants of Pink characters sneaking into the stand alones.  I keep meaning to write a stand alone that’s entirely a stand alone, but the Pink descendants somehow always manage to wriggle their way in.  I think it’s because all of these characters are so real to me that it only makes sense that their offspring’s offspring would go on populating the world a century or two later.
As to a more organized cross-over, my grand plan (whether it happens or not remains to be seen) is to eventually writing a 1940s and 50s-set spy series about the adventures of Arabella Selwick-Alderly, who we meet in her much later years in the modern sections of the Pink series.

Is there any possibility that The Other Daughter could turn into a series?
I’d intended The Other Daughter as purely a one-off.  Of course, I’d also intended the original Pink Carnation book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, as a one-off, and here we are, twelve books later, which just goes to show that you never really know….

Did The Other Daughter go the way you pictured it when you started writing or did the characters seize the reigns and take you in a completely different direction?
The characters took over and completely changed the book on.  Originally, the plan was for the story to alternate between Rachel’s and Olivia’s viewpoints, exploring the ways their lives had been impacted by choices made before their births, and, also, showing how each felt the other had something she lacked.  It was really meant to be a book about sisters and envy and the misinterpretations which envy causes.  But as soon as Simon Montfort walked onto the scene (see Fuller’s, above), the entire dynamic of the book changed.  The book became more about Rachel’s journey and her relationship with Simon and Olivia faded into a side character.
Part of me is sorry that I can’t go back and write that Rachel/Olivia book as I originally intended it—but I would hate to give up the current version!

In your mind, do Olivia and Rachel ever build a relationship or has Olivia totally walked away from her father’s other family?
Poor Olivia.  When we leave her, she still has no idea that Rachel is her sister—she knows Rachel only as Vera Merton.   Whether she’ll discover the truth one day….  Well, that’s another question. 
I do know that Olivia’s life (whether I ever get around to writing about it or not) is going to take her in unexpected directions.  It’s certainly not impossible that her path might eventually cross with Rachel’s in New York.  I’d like to think that, as adults, under very different circumstances, they might get to know and appreciate each other.

In reality, were situations such as the one you describe in The Other Daughter very common around that time period?
Let’s just say they were less uncommon than one might think.  Before the internet, it was far easier to quietly live a double life or assume a false identity.  Among the peerage, where marriages were formed for practical rather than emotional reasons, it wasn’t unusual to find either imprudent first marriages that were brushed under the rug so that a more advantageous match might be contracted (just think of the Prince of Wales, Maria FitzHerbert, and Caroline of Brunswick!) or, far more frequently, a public marriage of convenience with official offspring and a mistress and a second, illegitimate family on the side.  There was a spectacular court case involving the 5th Duke of Portland, claiming that he had led a double life with a second family under the name of Druce.  While this was disproved, the fact that everyone thought it highly possible is telling in itself.  

Is there a specific drink – alcoholic or not – that you think goes particularly well with The Other Daughter?
Bubbly!  Swilling champagne was absolutely essential to life as a Bright Young Thing.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us, about The Other Daughter or just in general?
Thanks so much for having me over to Drink Read Love