As you can see, not only did I get to do the review of an early copy of the this book (review can be found right here – http://wp.me/p1occ2-9x), but I also got to do a question and answer with the author of the lovely Pink Carnation series, Lauren Willig! [insert fangirl squeal right here!]
So, enough from me – let’s go to the interview!
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Dare to fail gloriously.
That was actually my Upper School drama teacher’s advice (hi, Miss Klotz!), but it applies to writing, too. If you strive for perfection on the page, you’re likely not to write anything at all. The only way to produce anything is to muck in and be willing to muddle along by trial and error, knowing that it might work, or it might not. This is as true for the tenth book as the first. You have to keep on stretching and striving or the writing grows stale.
For any aspiring writers out there, I’d say, don’t second guess yourself too much. Everyone is going to tell you how you absolutely must write—whether it’s a twelve step plotting method, a particular piece of software, or always circling your computer three times and genuflecting to the east before starting a chapter. Ignore them all. For that matter, ignore me. The important thing is getting the story you want to tell onto the page. We all have our own ways of getting there, blundering along and figuring out, bit by bit, what works and what doesn’t. If you’re terrified, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong: it just means you’re a writer.
Are there any fun facts readers wouldn’t know about you from reading your bio?
I am a complete technological disaster. Computers break down as soon as I enter a room. Phones malfunction just for the fun of it. And I’ve never learned to drive, because the idea of operating a large piece of machinery around other people absolutely terrifies me. (Well, that and the whole growing up in Manhattan and always being able to walk everywhere thing.) Because of this, I tend to get very attached to outmoded bits of technology and cling to them until they finally break irreparably: I clung to my silver plastic cell phone from 2004 until last year and spent a week in mourning when my 2003 PC finally bit the dust after a prolonged host of viruses and other diseases. I find it amusingly ironic that I spend so much of my time on the computer and on the internet these days, given that, at best, my relationship with modern innovation can be summed up as an armed truce.
There are, indeed, internet gremlins. And they’re probably in league with the sock goblins, which would explain (a) why my WiFi is always breaking down, and (b) why I always return from the dryer with fewer socks than I put in.
Do you have a favorite character in the Pink Carnation series? Who do you enjoy writing the most?
There’s tough competition for that! The Pink Series has developed a number of quirky characters over the years, most of whom started out as side characters, but gradually wormed their way up to hero or heroine status, largely because I enjoyed writing about them too much to stop. I’d say my top three are Miss Gwen, the sword-parasol wielding chaperone (now the heroine of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria); Turnip Fitzhugh, the adorably bumbling, Bertie Wooster-esque hero of The Mischief of the Mistletoe (even if he does wear appalling, pink carnation patterned waistcoats), and the slightly sinister Lord Vaughn, with his rapier wit and penchant for quadruple entendres. Nobody misquotes the metaphysical poets like Lord Vaughn.
If I had to pick the Pink Carnation character I most wanted to hang out with, it would probably be Lady Henrietta Selwick, heroine of The Masque of the Black Tulip, everyone’s slightly meddling best friend. I’m not alone in this: whenever I have a popularity contest on the website, Henrietta always wins hands down! Although Miss Gwen has a small but vocal minority of passionate supporters….
How did your vision for the Pink Carnation end up differing from the most from reality (be it storyline, number of books, characters, anything really)?
Vision? What vision? The truth of the matter is that, like most of the best things in my life, I stumbled into the Pink series by accident while meaning to do something else. While I was in grad school, I had grand plans for writing doorstop size, 16th century set, Dorothy Dunnett-style historical fiction—but, in the meantime, I wrote a swashbuckling romp set during the Napoleonic Wars, purely for my amusement. When that book sold, I was surprised. When they told me they wanted a sequel, I was gobsmacked. Naturally, I had ideas. I’d gotten very attached to those characters while I was writing that first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and I had some hunches about what might befall various side characters, but the idea that I’d get to keep on writing them was something that didn’t even occur to me until two years in, when my publisher called me up to sign me up for books three and four. And, even then, I don’t think it really hit me that this was a series and that I was going to get to keep until somewhere between the third and fourth book, when I realized that my editor was talking about future characters as though she expected it to keep on going.
All of this is a very long way of saying that Pink Carnation, rather than being a logically plotted out series, happened in an open-ended accidental way. There were certain goal posts that were always there. I knew, for example, that I wanted the series to end with Jane’s book, and that Jane’s book would be set in Portugal during the Peninsular Wars. (I’m not sure how or why I knew that, but it just was, as an immutable law of nature.) Other than that, the series developed organically as I went along. It wasn’t until the sixth book, when I realized that I’d let my plot lines drift off in a rather sideways direction, that I sat down and really thought about (a) how I was going to pull all these disparate plot threads together, and (b) a realistic end point for the series that would be the result of a planned plot arc and not because of external forces, like my publisher not wanting to renew my contract.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot about series writing along the way with the Pink books, and I’m rather glad that I stumbled into it accidentally. Had it all been rigorously planned from the beginning, I would probably never have tackled some of my favorite characters, like Turnip. The digressions along the way have been some of my favorite moments—and sometimes turn out, in the long run, not to have been digressions at all.
What was the most surprising turn of events to you as you wrote the Pink books?
That I’ve gotten to keep writing them!
Other than that…. Within the world of Pink, I’d say what most surprised me was how much Betrayal of the Blood Lily, which I’d originally written just because I decided Penelope really had to go to India, turned out to be a pivot book for me, laying the groundwork for so many future twists in the series.
When I brought in Alex Reid as Penelope’s counterpoint, I never imagined that the Reid clan would turn out to be so important for the series as a whole—but while I was working on Blood Lily, I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that Colonel Reid might be just the man for Miss Gwen. (Not that she would see it, of course!). Then Lizzy Reid popped up in a Bath boarding school in Mischief of the Mistletoe as best friends with Jane Wooliston’s sister. And, of course, by that time I had plans for Alex’s brother, Jack. Next thing I knew, the entire Reid clan was inextricably intertwined with the future of the series.
What was the hardest thing to write to date – be it a whole book, a specific scene, a specific character?
Oddly, the quirkiest characters—Mary Alsworthy, Lord Vaughn, Penelope, Turnip Fitzhugh, Miss Gwen—have been the easiest for me to write, because their voices are so strong. They practically write themselves. (Although Miss Gwen did put up a bit of a fight.) The character I struggled with the longest and the most painfully was Arabella Dempsey from The Mischief of the Mistletoe.
Arabella does seem like an odd choice for stumbling block, doesn’t she? She’s such a pleasant, friendly character. But month after month, I couldn’t quite get a handle on her, to the point where, several months and eight chapters in, I wildly declared that I should just set Turnip up with his sister’s French teach instead and nearly dumped the whole book in the waste basket. Fortunately, calmer heads—and lots of caffeine—prevailed, and I finally figured out what made Arabella tick, and, as importantly, what made her just right for Turnip. But it took a while. And it wasn’t pretty.
So, specifically to Miss Gwen (my very favorite character from these books!) – how did she come to be? Is she like Henrietta Selwick in that she is based, even just a little, on someone you know?
Henrietta—who bears more than a passing resemblance to my own little sister—is the exception rather than the norm for me. I generally find it easier to write about entirely imaginary people who pop up from the page and wave their arms around until I pay attention to them rather than trying to construct characters out of people I know. I’m sure that bits and pieces of people I’ve met or read about creep in to these fictional creations, but it’s on a very subconscious level. I’d say that my process of character construction is more like meeting someone at a cocktail party. At first, you have only a superficial view of them. But, after a few drinks, they start to open up and you learn all sorts of fascinating things about them.
In any event, back to Miss Gwen. When I started writing The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, back in the spring of 2001, Miss Gwen was my homage to all those doughty duennas of fiction, those iron-spined chaperones who could wither a rake’s pretensions with a single glare. But I wanted my duenna to be a duenna with a twist, someone who seemed suitably steely and straight-laced but really… wasn’t. Miss Gwen had her own agenda right from the beginning. And part of the fun of getting to know her was figuring out just what that agenda was.
Are you an author that likes to or needs to cast people in your character roles as you write – and if so, who did you have in mind for Miss Gwen?
I’m dreadful at casting! As mentioned above, characters tend to leap into my head already themselves, so it’s never a case of using a given actor as a model. What I do find happens occasionally, though, is that I’ll be watching something or other and exclaim, “Wait! That’s [insert name of character here].” After I’d already written The Masque of the Black Tulip, I found Miles Dorrington running around playing Tom Jones in the BBC version of Tom Jones; years later, I bumped into Penelope Deveraux of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily in the middle of an Inspector Lewis episode.
As for Miss Gwen, I haven’t had that sort of “eureka!” moment yet for Miss Gwen, but I’ve always felt that the closest (if imperfect) match for her would be Mrs. Bale from the long-running Britcom As Time Goes By.
Did you from the beginning plan to give Miss Gwen her own happily ever after, or did that come later as you progressed through the Pink series?
It’s hard to remember what my original plans were or weren’t. Every now and again, I’ll stumble on old plot notes and think, “Wait, what?” because nothing is quite as I remember it being. Characters’ names have changed, plots have shifted—and, of course, once they fall into their final forms, I only remember them as they are, not as I originally intended them. (For example, in the early notes for the first Pink book, Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe’s name was Sebastian Something-or-Other, even though it’s now impossible for me to imagine him having ever been anything but Geoff.)
All of this is a very long way of saying that I’m not quite sure when the idea of bedeviling Miss Gwen with a romance of her own occurred. When Colonel William Reid popped up in The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, charming and glib-tongued, I knew, right away, that I had to get the two of them together—because he was going to push all of Miss Gwen’s buttons. The negative ones. That was the summer of 2008. I’ve had my plans for Miss Gwen’s and Colonel Reid’s romance tucked away ever since, just waiting for an opportunity.
Originally, the tenth book in the Pink series didn’t belong to Miss Gwen. It was going to be about Tommy Fluellen (Robert’s best friend from The Temptation of the Night Jasmine) and Kat Reid (Alex’s twin sister). But by spring of 2012, Miss Gwen had clearly grown tired of waiting. She demanded that I write her story next, and Kat and Tommy got bumped from the roster.
And lastly, do you know how you’re going to end Eloise and Colin’s adventures – either with their own book or sharing as they are another Pink book, such as Jane’s?
Currently, the plan is for the final book in the Pink series to be Jane’s book, which will also wrap up Eloise and Colin’s story. Although I’m not ruling out the possibility of a purely Eloise and Colin novel at some point in the future. Possibly a murder mystery…
And that was a nice way to end right there; hopefully that does come to fruition! Thanks so very much for stopping by on my humble little blog during your blog tour, Lauren – and this fan girl, is awfully glad you got attached to those characters from the first book when it sold and they wanted more. Here’s to those finally adventures with these characters, and to new, future ones as well!