Linger on my site a little today and read through this interview if you are a fan of Victorian Gothic literature! I’ll be chatting right now with Sandra Byrd over tea and shortbread about her book, Mist of Midnight (AVAILABLE NOW-March 10, 2015) and her thoughts on constructing Gothic literature. If you missed my review last week, check it out HERE.
And after our chat below, you can ENTER TO WIN a lace bookmark featured here, keeping with the theme of her book detailing Rebecca, the main character’s, mother making Honiton Lace.
Hi Sandra, Thank you for coming by to chat with me today on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Come in and have a seat. Tell me how 2015 has been for you so far while I make us drinks as we get ready to have a seat in the comfy chairs in my library.
Sandra: Thank you for having me to your library, and for introducing me to your friends. The friend of my friend is my friend, right? Especially friends who read! 2015 has been crazy and busy, so I’m glad for a chance to sit with you for a bit.
Erin: You’re welcome anytime! It’s still pretty cold with snow in Ohio, so I’ll put on the teapot, or I can make coffee? What is your pleasure? I’ll be having some Earl Grey tea, with sugar and cream.
Sandra: One favorite is a London Fog, Earl Grey tea, lightly sweetened, with warm cream. Would that do?
Erin: It would be my pleasure, and I’ll bring out a few shortbread cookies too. Then we’ll get started with some questions!
Sandra: Shortbread – yes, please. It showed up in my book, so of course I had to bake a few batches to eat while writing!
Q: Mist of Midnight is your first Gothic romance mystery, which in my opinion was a huge success. What made you decide to write in this beloved, yet sometimes obscure sub-genre?
A:Thank you, Erin! That means so much. I simply loved reading them as a girl, teen, and awoman. Then they seemed to fall out of favor, and I had a hard time finding ones I loved, ones that echoed the traditional novels and their expected tropes but have been updated for our time. I spend so many hours researching and writing that I always try to choose genres, eras, and people who deeply interest me.
Q: Were there authors or books of similar taste that you studied or enjoyed that gave you ideas for when you created your own novel?
A: I read quite a few Gothic authors “back in the day” but the one I loved best, and who stuck with me the most, was Victoria Holt. She wrote Gothic Romances under that name, and English historicals as Jean Plaidy, and I loved all of her books. So she influenced quite a bit of my writing, the Tudors, too.
I did want to update the concept a little for modern readers. I like more of the hero on the page than was present in quite a few of the gothic romance novel of years past, and I like my heroines to be a little bit less waifish and a little strongerminded than was popular then. I wanted to include just a wee bit more hard history, and I like weaving in an element of faith. But I tried my best to stick with the “ingredients” that people expect when the read a Gothic Romance:
- A large property, in need of attention and affection, already in disrepair. In some ways, the house represents the heroine.
- A Byronic hero.
- Characters around that are trustworthy… or not.
- Psychological underpinnings, perhaps including madness or a suspicion of it.
- A supernatural element, whether naturally explained or not.
There are many other “ingredients” one may choose from when writing a Gothic novel: a woman in a nightgown, medications that help or harm, secret passageways, etc. The trick is to include many of the elements that are desirable and expected but craft a story that stands on its own. I don’t read any other books in a genre just before I write in, or while I’m writing in it.
Q: Your sense of foreboding and suspense was crafted perfectly, what techniques or descriptions did you do in order to create a Gothic feel?
A: I thought of what frightens me, of what frightens most people. Sometimes those are things like darkness and being lost, and being alone with no help. More often they are internal, thinking you’re losing your mind, or knowing that no one is there to help. In Gothic Romances, the heroine very often has no parents present because she’s completely on her own, which is risky and isolating, and must puzzle her way out. That isolation is anxiety producing, too. Who to trust? Who not to trust? The decrepit or uneasy setting adds to this, too.
Q: Your descriptions that you had character Rebecca speaking of in regards to India were phenomenal and so authentic. Have you been to India? How did you delve into such precise feelings of 19th century India?
A: I have not been to India! I read many books written by the English, in India, in the 19th Century, and then by Indian people in the past hundred years who experienced the good and bad that had come from colonialism. I watched movies and television set in India and interviewed Indian people. I had an Indian author read my manuscript for authenticity. How I would love to go myself, however!
Erin: I was certain you had been there!! You really articulated a true feeling of missionary work as well.
Q: You had many interesting characters in your book, especially among the estate staff. Who was your favorite to create and why?
A: Rebecca and Luke, for sure. But among the secondary characters, Michelene was the most fun to create because I find we women are so much more multifaceted in our emotional manipulation and complexities than are men. French lady’s maids were highly sought after, and I enjoy French culture, too, so that was a delight. Even though none of us wants to be like her, all of us can understand her envy, I think.
Mrs. Ross was a delight to create because she captured an element of Gothics for me that I wanted to do in a fresh manner. And she likes shortbread. 🙂
Erin: Yes, Mrs. Ross was amazing. I enjoyed the intertwining of the French culture, and of course, I always like shortbread. Reading your book reminded me to make some again!
Q: Speaking of characters, how do you create them with such depth? How do you intertwine them in such a way when formulating a suspenseful mystery so that you are never sure which one to be suspicious of?
A: I think the trick is to remember that none of us are completely good or bad and to plumb the motivations for why each person does what they do. At the heart of it we all struggle with insecurities and desires and pure motives and tainted ones. We each come to that Y in the road; one person turns left and another right. At the end of the book, I hope it’s clear to my readers why each character did what he or she did. I spend a lot of time thinking through the lives of all of my characters, primary and secondary before I write. And I observe people in real life. That kind of sounds gothically creepy!
Q: How do you feel about balancing Gothic fiction with Christian fiction? Do you feel that most Gothic readers can accept the Christian undertones? How do they complement each other in regards to underlying themes or allegory?
A: Honestly, it would be anachronistic to write about 19th Century England and not have any mention of or interaction with faith; it was completely integrated into daily and weekly life. I don’t seek to write “Christian fiction” so much as it interests me how a strong Christian woman approaches a situation in her era and setting. I don’t set out, ever, in fiction, to teach, only to show and reveal and understand through the heroine’s eyes. So hopefully that makes a good story whether a person is a Christian or not. I certainly profit from and enjoy books that have no or other religious underpinning, or take place in situations and cultures other than my own. I hope that both Christians and those who are not Christian can be transported by the story and let it entertain and speak to them individually.
Supernatural elements, whether naturally explained or not, are an integral part of Gothic Romance. I find them completely complimentary in a book if organically done with an understanding of the genre. We can’t understand everything, we cannot control everything, but when we are courageous and take action, things happen, and we are helped. That’s the supernatural and the natural working hand in hand.
Erin comments: That’s wonderful. I felt the same and I was explaining that to Tim when talking about you and your book. He asked me about the religious element and how you presented in the novel. I, too, feel like anyone can read this wonderful book.
Q: Victorian England is the perfect setting not only for Gothic literature but for classic, clean romance. What do you like most about using this era when writing a novel?
A: The Victorian Era is easier than the Tudor Era to write about because there is much more source material! I can go online and read the newspaper printed in Hampshire, in the year my books are set in, which is marvelous. What is difficult is that there are many more expected elements in a Gothic Romance, so it’s a little more restrictive because you have to make sure they are all, or mostly, in there but a way unique to the story.
The clean part is truly enjoyable to me. It allows the emotional and intellectual portion of the relationship to develop before the physical, which is then so much more satisfying when it occurs. It doesn’t happen on the page, of course, but I let the reader know that it will and she can imagine the rest!
Q: Many people come to my site when trying to answer this question: “What is gothic literature?” Therefore, tell us how you define it?
A: I had researched this very thing before I set out to write, so I’ll share a bit of wisdom that I learned from the experts with a few of my own thoughts, too!
Ann B. Tracy, author of the romance chapter in the compilation, The Journal of The Gothic, tells us that, “The jocular description of modern Gothic Romances like Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn as ‘Girl Gets House’ is not altogether off the mark. The home for which they long, their happy ending, is not to be bought with moral compromise.” She continues, “The heroines of Gothic Romance are not the vaporous, swooning creatures of caricature, undone by over-sensitivity; their troubles are real… they lift the black veil, go to the attic, confront the possible spectres— attempt, in short, to shed some factual light on their mysterious surroundings and find their ways out of the Gothic dilemmas.”
Gothic romance heroes are called Byronic heroes, after Lord Byron, he dubbed “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. We women love to know whether or not we can tame a man who seems untamable and gothic romances are rich with just that sort of challenge. Tracy says that our gothic heroines have the challenge of figuring out whether the “difficult or possibly villainous men around her will turn out to be the one she can trust and marry.” Victoria Holt named one of her best novels “The Devil on Horseback.” Was he?
To sum up, Inez Ashley Ross, in the April/May, 1995 edition of the Gothic Journal says there are, “The openings of classic gothics reveal three keys that unlock the reader’s fascination:
*An imposing house that is linked to an ancient family
*An outsider of lesser status with whom the reader can identify and
*Attention to sensory details that entice the reader into a mysterious past
Q: Have you researched Hampshire, England? What more can you tell us about it that might be of interest? I noticed the book was subtitled “Daughters of Hampshire.” Does that mean there will be more in this series?
A: There will be two more books in this series: Bride of Poseidon, Book 2, which I am just finishing up, and Angels of Light, Book 3. They’ll publish in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and will include many of the traditional Gothic elements, of course, but with new characters in each book.
I liked Hampshire because Cornwall and Devon seemed a bit overdone for Gothics, and Hampshire is relatively easy to access from London and the sea. It has forest, ruins, seaports, cliffs, cities and villages, and Winchester Cathedral. Lots of good stuff with which to work! I did visit Hampshire while researching, including the County Records Office, and many lovely crumbling and restored houses. I have friends who live there who read my rough drafts and make sure it’s sound as to the era and the place.
Erin: Wonderful news, I can’t wait to read them!
Q: What is your favorite Indian food? B: What is your favorite British food? If you don’t have favorites, maybe something you’d love to try.
A: I adore Indian food. I love Butter Paneer; I love Onion bhaji, sliced onions dipped in chickpea flour and spices, kind of like onion rings. I love papadums, and my favorite snack is Khatta Meetha, which you can buy online if you don’t have an Indian grocer nearby (I do). Favorite English food is Sticky Toffee Pudding, which we enjoy each Christmas.
Q: What else have you written and then, what else do you plan to write in the future?
A: I’ve written quite a bit – mainly I stick with something till my interest is exhausted and then move on. I’m very happy writing English Gothic Romance for now, so I’ll be sticking there for a few years, and I hope readers will stick with me!
Erin: I’ll be here! (P.S. to readers, see all of Sandra’s work here: www.sandrabyrd.com)
Q: I know you’ve been a mentor to other authors. What is a simple piece of advice you might give that would apply to many new writers?
A: Do not be dismayed. The road is difficult from the start to finish and beyond, but there is nothing, perhaps short of birthing and raising a child, which is so satisfying as completing your book. And the book obeys you all the time – unlike the child!
Erin: Thank you so much, Sandra, for taking time with me today! You are welcome back for tea anytime you wish, and I look forward to many more of your books in the future.
Sandra:Thank you, Erin. I’m so happy to have come to chat with you. Can I take the leftover shortbread home with me? 🙂
Erin: haha! A lady after my own heart!
One (1) lace bookmark, open to US & Canada residents only. Aren’t they beautiful??
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Also, Sandra has this giveaway going and you can enter to win on her website below!
Publication Date: March 10, 2015
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Series: Daughters of Hampshire
In the first of a brand-new series set in Victorian England, a young woman returns home from India after the death of her family to discover her identity and inheritance are challenged by the man who holds her future in his hands.
Rebecca Ravenshaw, daughter of missionaries, spent most of her life in India. Following the death of her family in the Indian Mutiny, Rebecca returns to claim her family estate in Hampshire, England. Upon her return, people are surprised to see her…and highly suspicious. Less than a year earlier, an imposter had arrived with an Indian servant and assumed not only Rebecca’s name, but her home and incomes.
That pretender died within months of her arrival; the servant fled to London as the young woman was hastily buried at midnight. The locals believe that perhaps she, Rebecca, is the real imposter. Her home and her father’s investments reverted to a distant relative, the darkly charming Captain Luke Whitfield, who quickly took over. Against her best intentions, Rebecca begins to fall in love with Luke, but she is forced to question his motives—does he love her or does he just want Headbourne House? If Luke is simply after the property, as everyone suspects, will she suffer a similar fate as the first “Rebecca”?
A captivating Gothic love story set against a backdrop of intrigue and danger, Mist of Midnight will leave you breathless.
Praise for Mist of Midnight~
“Intriguing secondary characters and lush scenery contribute to the often sinister, even creepy, moments readers will come to anticipate. Infusing her story with mystery, tension, and emotion, Byrd (To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn) strikes a fine balance between the darkness of a Gothic mystery and the sweetness of a captivating love story. Byrd—and Brontë—fans will enjoy this first of the new Daughters of Hampshire series.” – Publishers Weekly
“A marvelous mingling of mystery and deeply moving family and romantic love, Mist of Midnight kept me guessing until the very end. A house on a cliff, a Victorian-Gothic atmosphere, a cast of suspicious characters including a dark, brooding hero and a strong heroine: shades (or mists) of Jane Eyre and Rebecca! I look forward to the next novel in this compelling new series.” (Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Mistress of Mourning)
“Mist of Midnight is wonderfully atmospheric, with all the right elements for a true Gothic novel, from sounds that go bump in the night to characters who are not at all what they seem. The spiritual underpinning is solid, comforting, even as we’re trapped in the author’s finely spun web of mystery, romance, and a sense of foreboding that doesn’t lift until the final page. Charlotte Brontë? Victoria Holt? Meet Sandra Byrd, the modern mistress of Gothic romance!” (Liz Curtis Higgs, New York Times bestselling author of Mine Is the Night)
“Among the many things I love about reading a Sandra Byrd novel is knowing that her words will transport me to another place and time, that she will win me over with intriguing and complex characters, and that I’ll savor every word. Mist of Midnight is no exception. I loved this book! Sandra Byrd could belong to the writing group of the Bronte sisters if they’d had one. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre along with crumbling mansions, mysterious distant cousins, and one woman’s journey to prove who she really is are just few layers that ripple through the mists. Bravo, Sandra! Another winner.” (Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of A Light in the Wilderness)
“Richly written and multi-layered, Mist of Midnight blends traditional England and exotic India in a historical feat worthy of Victoria Holt. Breathless danger, romance, and intrigue made this series opener by the ultra-talented Sandra Byrd a compelling must-read!” (Laura Frantz, author of Love’s Reckoning)
“Once again, Sandra Byrd delivers a richly layered story that will leave you eagerly awaiting the next book in this brand-new series. Mist of Midnight has it all: intriguing and memorable characters—including a central female protagonist who is both complex and inspiring—a plot chock-full of mystery and suspense, and a Victorian gothic setting, impeccably researched and artfully and evocatively relayed. Prepare to be transported!” (Karen Halvorsen Schreck, author of Sing For Me)
“Mist of Midnight is a beautiful, haunting tale. Sandra Byrd masterfully weaves together both romance and suspense among a cast of mysterious characters. I was immediately swept into the wonder of this story, and I loved unraveling all the secrets and discovering exactly what happened at the old Headbourne House.” (Melanie Dobson, author of Chateau of Secrets and The Courier of Caswell Hall)
“Sandra Byrd’s trademark attention to historical accuracy combines with an eerily building intrigue to envelope readers in a sense of dark foreboding that hinges precariously between hope and desperation. Mist of Midnight is a subtly haunting, beautifully atmospheric, and decadently romantic Victorian tale that will find a comfortable home among the best Gothic romances of days gone by.” (Serena Chase, author of The Ryn and contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog)
“Not since Jane Eyre have I read a Gothic romance that has captured my heart so completely. From the exotic India to an English estate shrouded in mystery, Byrd’s eye for detail shines through on every page. Romance lovers are sure to devour the tale of Rebecca Ravenshaw and her search for the truth behind the mysteries of Headbourne House and the handsome young captain who lives on the estate.” (Renee Chaw, reviewer at Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot)
“From the first word to the last, Mist of Midnight is a completely absorbing romantic, and mysterious, novel. Ms. Byrd’s writing is splendid, and her characters are so complex and endearing that they leap off the pages. I couldn’t put it down. An absolutely irresistible read!” (Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso)
Pre-Order/Buy the Book~
Author Sandra Byrd, Biography~
After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd has now published more than forty books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist, as was her first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. To Die For was also named by Library Journal as a Best Books Pick for 2011 and The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, was named a Library Journal Best Books Pick for 2012. Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I published in April, 2013.
Sandra has also published dozens of books for tweens and teens including the Secret Sisters Series, London Confidential Series and a devotional for tweens.
A former textbook acquisitions editor, Sandra has published many nonfiction articles and books. She is passionate about helping new writers develop their talent and their work toward traditional or self publication. As such, she has mentored and coached hundreds of new writers and continues to coach dozens to success each year.
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