Today I am discussing with the author Stephanie Carroll her novel A White Room, as well as themes like how she writes a gothic feel into her novels. She talks Victorican Age, women in history, offers writing tips, and gives a personal glimpse into her inspiration and life. AND she’d be happy for comments or questions under the post as well, she loves to answer!
Don’t forget to check the links for an ebook giveaway of her debut novel, A White Room. If you don’t know what the book is about, you can see my review HERE! You can link to the giveaway in Stephanie’s welcome comment (right below this) or all the way at the bottom of the post after you read the interview. Enjoy!
Hi Stephanie, so happy to have you on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I look forward to discussing your writing life and your debut novel, A White Room. How has the summer launch of your book been going?
Stephanie: Thank you for having me, Erin, and thank you for asking about the launch. It is going very well. I’ve been so very busy and having a lot of fun doing interviews, writing guest posts, and giving away free copies of A White Room like the ebook giveaway on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Also, your readers can see the schedule of tour stops on my blog The Unhinged Historian.
Erin: Let’s find a sunny spot. I’ll go ahead and hop an airplane to you, I’m sure I’d love the weather a lot more than this Ohio rollercoaster! Grab a favorite drink and we’ll start talking!
Stephanie: Actually, the weather in California’s Central Valley is in the 100s and not so lovely, so let’s fly a little further west and bam lemon drops beach-side – ask away!
Q: Where did you find the inspiration to write A White Room? How much research went in to the book?
A: The inspiration came from a free-write I did about a woman trapped in a white room. It was kind of a metaphor on an outlook about life and life’s responsibilities, which I incorporated into the book. Readers will know what I’m talking about when they see it – got to read the book now. ; )
The amount of research that went into it was extensive. I researched for six months straight before I started writing, and I continued to research throughout the entire process of writing and editing, up to the final stages of production and publishing. My initial six months of research was to get the base knowledge of day to day life at the time. My continued research was on specific topics or issues when I’d realize I wanted to go in a certain direction with the book or it would just be me fact checking.
Q: I know you love the gothic feel of the Victorian Era. How did you incorporate this into your novel?
A: I really did want the novel to have an overall darkness, and I think I achieved that through a number of ways. Obviously, the furniture and the house have gothic characteristics, and much of Emeline’s hallucinations have kind of a gothic haunting feel to them.
However, I really felt like I tapped into some kind of gothic tradition with the fact that Emeline is in mourning. Victorian etiquette requires her to wear black for up to a year or more. Plus, she is in a way forced to move away from her family to a frightening place with a man she doesn’t know. There is darkness there from an emotional sense of sadness, dread, and death. Then there’s a literal darkness from Emeline having to wear black, the house having this gothic appearance, and from Emeline’s husband having insisted on keeping all the rooms shut up, so there is never any light in certain areas of the house.
Q: I believe that women’s rights and women’s independence was a large part of the societal issues your book portrayed, being set in Missouri in 1901. How did you formulate your female lead and do you think authentically represented a portion of the women during that time period? Why?
A: Emeline represents a growing group of women during a historical point in time. The turn of the century was a period of transition for women. Twenty years earlier and women were entrenched in the Cult of True Womanhood, and twenty years later, women were demanding the right to vote. Emeline represents a woman trapped between the two extremes, a woman with the desire to do something more, but a woman who is held back by the expectations of her time. I tried to also represent a variety of other women’s experiences with the other female characters in the novel.
Q: What other societal issues did you bring to readers through your book? Was the class struggle you presented prominent during this time period across the U.S.? How did you create your character to be able to overcome this kind of drama?
A: During the Victorian Era it was normal to consider the lower classes as lower and to treat them poorly, even abusively. No one would second guess such behavior. It was just the way it was, and yet historians have found many accounts of people from both classes who overcame these barriers, treated one another with kindness, and on many occasions recognized and fought against such inequalities.
Q: Your cover is beautiful. How did that all come together and what does the painting represent to you or your book?
A: The original painting is called “Lady Astor” and was painted by John Singer Sargent in 1909. My cover designer Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial found it and showed me a mock up. I had known I wanted a woman in white on the cover. We had already gone through multiple mock-ups of women in white dresses and nothing looked quite right until I saw this one.
From the moment I saw it, I knew it was the one. She looked like Emeline and from that instant the woman in the painting became Emeline in my mind. I even re-wrote scenes at the end to try to match the dress Emeline is wearing to the dress in the painting. My cover designer wrote a blog post on our process. You can read it on Historical Editorial.
Q: I loved the description of the house your character moves to in your novel. How did you create that image in your mind? How fun was it for you to make up the things that the house begins to do your character?
A: I originally attempted to make up a house to fit what I wanted, but I didn’t know enough about Victorian architecture to even attempt it, so I went on a hunt for the right house. The house in the book is based on The Doyle-Mounce House in Hannibal, Missouri. View it on Dave’s Victorian House Site. (The fastest way is to press Ctrl F and search Doyle-Mounce.)
I tried to do my best to describe the exterior of the house in the book, but the interior is all my own creation. I couldn’t find any information or photos of the interior of the house. I did do my best to make the interior designed to the times although also an oddity. BTW – that’s a pretty difficult thing to do – to make a house historically accurate but at the same time a house that would be considered odd in comparison to other houses at the time. It was a lot of fun though.
Q: Do you read any type of gothic fiction yourself? What are your favorite authors in the genre and/or what else do you like to read or what authors do you prefer?
A: It depends on your definition of the gothic novel. The original gothic novel was something of a horror romance genre that developed in the late Eighteenth Century and further in the Nineteenth Century with Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelly, but if you search Gothic Victorian Fiction on a book site like Goodreads, you’ll get everything from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
My personal definition of gothic fiction has to do with dark themes, dark moods, and gothic aesthetics, which is ultimately determined by setting and description. I know there are plenty of gothic novels written today, but the one’s I think of having read are all classics like The Raven and Wuthering Heights, which is funny considering my definition falls on the modern side. Now I’m going to have to go on a reading hunt for modern gothic Victorian novels. Maybe your readers have some suggestions.
Erin Comments: Try Daphne DuMaurier, if you haven’t! I pick them up at sales with the cover price still as .35cents, so of course I get them cheaper even. You might like some of them! If you haven’t read Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, maybe that too. I referred to that in your review. 🙂
Q: What is the most surprising or amazing thing that you’ve found in your researching?
A: The most surprising thing, I learned while researching A White Room was the way that investigators went about interrogating people involved in an illegal abortion. Investigators would force all involved, which usually included family members, to describe everything in graphic detail. At a time when people didn’t even speak openly about pregnancy, this was a really embarrassing experience, especially for women questioned by male investigators. The humiliation is palpable in the historical documentation of the process.
Outside of my research for A White Room, I was really surprised by the government sanctioned eugenics program, which allowed for forceful sterilization of people considered a detriment to society. The program went after a range of people from the blind to those with mental disabilities to promiscuous women, many of whom were raped and accused of promiscuity. The program survived for a long time. People are still around who had this done to them.
Erin Comments: Humanity sometimes makes me very angry! I just can’t understand why people were treated this way, especially women. And the idea of putting women in institutions or sanitariums for having an independent mind….don’t get me started!
Q: What tips do you have for authors about the skill of researching?
A: I recently wrote a guest blog post on this very topic on A Writer of History blog, so I’ll suggest that for a more detailed answer, but as far as a quick tip: Research the day-to-day details, like the cost of a doctor visit or how shoes were fastened – buckles, buttons, laces? Stuff like that. Those are the details that will bring a historical world to life, and that is what readers of historical fiction are after. It’s the kind of history you don’t learn in school. It’s what allows the reader to experience what it was like to live during that time.
Q: Have you researched any historical women you’d like to possibly write a book about in the future? Who are some women from history who have made lasting impressions on you?
A: There are plenty of women in history who have stuck out to me. The French Queen Catherine de Medici who was married off at 14, ignored by her husband for his mistress, and then thrust into politics after the king’s death. I also find myself attracted to historical characters like Mercédès Mondego from The Count of Monte Cristo. I’d like to re-write that story from her perspective. Apparently, I need to learn French. =)
I haven’t decided when or if I’ll pursue these ideas, and they are just a few among many. I have other projects that need to come first. I plan to stick with the American Victorian and Gilded Age for a while, but I won’t rule anything out as far as branching out with future projects. I hope to someday be like Alice Hoffman and have 30 books under my belt.
Erin Comments: You should certainly read C.W. Gortner’s (Christopher Gortner) novel on Catherine de Medici! I bet you’ll love it!
Q: Many women struggle with the issue of feeling that their writing time is accepted. Do you schedule time for your writing or have any advice for women who “just can’t find the time?” or “feel pulled in too many other directions?”
A: I treat my writing like a second job. I schedule time to work on it daily and refuse to do anything else during that time – no dishes or bills. Even if that means I’m staring at the white screen typing, I don’t know what to write, over and over. I have totally done that.
Make the schedule work for you – maybe you get one day a week where you can dedicate eight hours to writing. Or maybe all you can squeeze in is an hour a day. Some people focus on word count, and it’s usually recommended that beginning writers focus on writing 300 words a day – that’s like half a page.
If you are a parent, make it work with your children’s nap time or when hubby gets home and can take over for a little while. Make an agreement with your family that this time is yours and no one is to interrupt you.
If you work – take that mandatory hour lunch break and write or take an hour after work and go to a Starbucks. I once had a two hour block between two part-time jobs. I’d sit in Starbucks and edit. I remember thinking it wasn’t enough time to do anything, but I got quite a bit done without any distractions.
Every writer is different, though. Some have to take a month off from work and lock themselves in the attic while others tick away over time. The main thing that makes the difference between a successful writer and the person that writes a chapter once a year is that the successful writer dedicates themselves to writing regularly. No successful writer waits for inspiration.
Erin Comments: Great advice!
Q: Do you use an outline when writing a novel or do you prefer to write freely, going where the muse takes you?
A: I wrote A White Room kind of haphazardly, writing chapters all over the place and then arranging and re-arranging them. I eventually created an outline and worked off of that during the editing process. For my second novel, I created the outline first and wrote almost every chapter in order. I wrote the first draft for that second novel really fast, so I think I prefer outlines. I like to be organized and efficient. And yet, I’ve already written random chapters for my third novel in no particular order so who knows. Maybe it will be different every time.
Q: What challenges have you had in your writing and publishing process, what have your learned, and what are your positives?
A: The most difficult thing happened after I was diagnosed with scoliosis and a chronic pain disorder called Myofascial Pain Syndrome. It’s comparable to fibromyalgia, but it’s only in certain locations – for me it’s my back. I was diagnosed after years of back problems, which were worsened by sitting and typing – aka writing.
At the time, none of the treatments helped. The only thing I could do to relieve the pain was lay down. I had become Emeline – bedridden.
On top of that, my writing career was going nowhere. I had to quit my job as a reporter because of the pain, and A White Room had been rejected by every literary agent possible it seemed. I felt like I had to consider whether or not I just wasn’t good enough or if it just wasn’t the right path for me. Plus, it hurt so much to write. I couldn’t do it for very long without hurting. It all led to a pretty dark time in my life.
I got over it when I forced myself to get back to life – fake it until you make it kind of thing. I went to physical therapy, got a part-time job, and returned to writing and my pursuit of publishing. It took a couple more years, but here I am with a published book. My back problems continue, but I’ve learned to manage them, and I’m even using some of my experiences with chronic pain to develop one of my characters in my next novel.
What did I learn? It’s nothing profound. Don’t give up – it’s depressing. Seriously though, that’s what I learned. I almost became that person who says I wrote a novel once but it never went anywhere. I’m sure there are exceptions and there are writers who write more for themselves than for publishing, but I think if you are an author who is truly dedicated to getting published, you will get published as long as you don’t give up.
Erin Comments: Aw, Stephanie. I am sorry to hear this, I know how hard it can be to get through the painful days. I have several related things myself which is why I am home freelancing my work and writing, as well. But I really didn’t start reading and writing again until I was bedridden. It was a curse, and a blessing. It’s hard to be in pain, even to type, but the feeling after is so worth it. I can totally understand. And I could relate to your character in A White Room too, being cooped up inside that room and almost going mad!
Q: What is in the future for you? What else are you writing or do you plan to write about?
A: My second novel is called The Binding of Saint Barbara, and it takes place during the historical story leading up to the first death by electrocution in Auburn Prison in 1890, New York. The story focuses on the prison warden and his family, who lived in the prison and interacted with the condemned prisoner on a daily basis.
The main plotline though is about the warden’s fictional daughter Charlotte who has the patron saint of lightning trapped inside her. While her family is wrapped up with issues of death, Charlotte learns about life after meeting a strange boy outside the prison walls, a strange boy the saint will not let Charlotte forget.
This and many of my future works will involve magical realism, a fiction technique where the writer intermingles magic with reality, treating it as if it’s just normal and nothing special. My third novel is going to involve several generations of women, a family curse, and turn of the century spiritualism, which is where we get séances and crystal balls from.
Q: If you lived in a room of talking furniture yourself, what piece of furniture would be your best friend? Why? (All in good fun…)
A: The flamboyant wine rack of course or perhaps a saucy liquor cabinet. Why? Well, if I’m going to be stuck in a room of talking furniture, I’m going to get them to talk! Oooooo the sofa and the coatrack did what? Scandalous!
Erin Comments: HA!!
Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you? Where can they buy your book?
A: I’m kind of everywhere on social media – I recently joined Instagram – I’m on YouTube, GooglePlus, and Pinterest, but my most used accounts are Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I can be found on most social media sites by searching either CarrollBooks or StephanieCarroll.
You can of course also find me on my website www.stephaniecarroll.net or on one of my two blogs The Unhinged Historian (exploring the dark side of the Victorian & Gilded Ages) and Unhinged & Empowered Navy Wives (Embracing the Insanity of being a Navy Wife).
Erin: Thank you so very much Stephanie! It has been a pleasure talking to you and your book was fabulous. I wish you much continued success and look forward to reading more on your blog too. Come back by anytime!
Stephanie: Thank you Erin for having me back, for taking the time to read and review A White Room, and for interviewing me today. I hope your readers enjoy it as much as I did, and I hope they are all blessed with the most obedient furniture in the world.
A Rafflecopter giveaway for an ebook version of Stephanie’s book! Just click on the link and enter to win! Ends Aug. 31, 2013! There are several thing you can do for extra entries.
Advanced Praise for A White Room~
“A novel of grit, independence, and determination … An intelligent story, well told.”
—Renée Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine
“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper … the thoughtful, intricate story Carroll relates is absolutely mesmerizing.”
—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego
A White Room, Synopsis~
At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.
John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.
Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.
A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.
Author Stephanie Carroll, Biography~
As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. Stephanie holds degrees in history and social science. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno.
Her dark and magical writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights). A White Room is her debut novel.