Nova Scotia author Cindy Anstey’s latest book Duels & Deceptions ($15.99, Raincoast Books, Swoon Reads) came out earlier this month, and I had the pleasure of asking the author a number of questions about her characters, her writing process and what she loves – and hates – about the Regency period.
Q. Congratulations on your second published novel Duels & Deception. Two books in two years. I find that amazing. When did you start/finish writing Love, Lies and Spies and when did you start/finish writing Duels & Deception?
A. Thank you. This is a very exciting, and unexpected, turn of events. I started writing Love, Lies and Spies, born under the title A Modest Predicament, quite a few years ago. It was my third complete manuscript whereas Duels & Deception (D&D) was my ninth…so, as you can see, there was a lot of water under the bridge between them. I was working on D&D when I uploaded A Modest Predicament to the Swoon Reads website and finished it nine months after the now titled Love, Lies and Spies was accepted for publication.
Q. Were both stories in your head at the same time, but one escaped first?
A. At any given time, I have four or five plots and all their associated characters running around in my head. I usually leave them to their own devices until they demand attention – escape, as you said.
Q. Do you have a favourite book among the two? Favourite character?
A. So much thought and time goes into each and every book, I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite. And as far as my characters go…well, naturally I love my main characters; I spend so much time with them. However, I came to really appreciate Uncle Leonard from Love, Lies and Spies and Shodster from Duels & Deception by the books’ close.
Q. Both books were part of the Swoon Reads community, which allows writers to upload their manuscripts to the site where people read and comment. The book people love is then published. It’s a pretty cool process. How did you find out about Swoon Reads? What were people’s comments? How much of the book was changed from that site to what was finally published? Would you encourage other authors to submit to Swoon Reads? Why was Duels & Deception part of the Swoon Reads community as well? What is the benefit of going through Swoon Reads?
A. I read about Swoon Reads in the RWR- Romance Writers Report. I thought the idea of directly connecting with readers was a great concept. I had been plodding along the traditional query path without success, and I had all but given up on the idea of publication.
The comments on the Swoon Reads website were very encouraging. “I cannot tell you how much I love this book… This is BETTER than Georgette Heyer.” (An amazing comparison!) “A quirky witty heroine, a dashing gentleman, a dirty scumbag, loads of intrigue and a charming ending.” “I couldn’t put it down!” I grinned for days.
As to changes, I think my first book underwent significant revisions, though I was told that it was minimal. I had made the mistake of concluding the romance before the mystery and had to flip them. The most difficult aspect of the process was catching all the loose threads to ensure that the plot still made sense. I would definitely encourage authors to submit to Swoon Reads; even if not chosen, the readers’ comments help writers hone in on what is working and what isn’t.
Duels & Deception is a Swoon Reads book but it was accepted for publication without having to go through the selection process again. I had already established a readership. However, the community did participate in the cover choice. The Swoon Reads team is a great group; they love my books and offer lots of encouragement for the future.
Q. Both stories feature strong women being “unwomenly” for the time period. Do you think these women actual existed at that time? Would they have faired so well in the real world?
A. There have always been strong woman moving the world forward – most are/were unsung heroes. Women had businesses and ran households/estates while their men were fighting Napoleon or sailing around the globe. Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein in 1818 and she was the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792). Jane Austen helped the family finances with her writing. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a Bluestocking; she was a poet, a playwright, an author and an educator. The term Bluestocking meaning, an intelligent, educated woman, has been around since the 1790s. I absolutely believe Juliana and Lydia could have existed as written.
Q. What is it about the Regency period that you enjoy writing about?
A: The Regency period was a time of upper society balls, gorgeous gowns and sketchy morals. It was a time of contradictions. Nothing could be taken at face value. Society demanded pure young girls but put them in dresses that clung to their figures and became transparent when damp. Infidelity was actually expected after a wife had provided an heir and a spare…but don’t get caught. I find that inconsistency fascinating; how thoughts and behavior could be very disparate. I enjoying have my characters pointing out absurdities.
Q. Would you have enjoyed living in this time period? Why or why not?
A. I most definitely would not want to live in the Regency period. Pretty dresses and balls would never make up for the lack of warmth (no central heating) and deplorable hygiene…not to mention disease and horrific dental care. Bed bugs, impassable roads and limited/slanted news, intolerance…No, thank you.
Q. You have had a very interesting life. May I ask what your husband did that had you living in Montreal, Singapore, Belgium and Memphis? Which of the places did you enjoy living in the most? What were the challenges of each? How did living in these places help your writing? Of the 25 cities you visited while living in Europe, which was your favourite and how did it help with your writing? Why is train travel no longer feasible?
A. My husband worked for an international company with offices around the world and we were fortunate, very fortunate, to be offered the opportunities to move. There were great benefits and learning possibilities everywhere we lived and I enjoyed them all for different reasons.
Singapore felt the most exotic – halfway around the world and exposed to so many fascinating cultures. We had the chance to visit Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesian with our children. We had a monkey in our backyard one day… and a black spitting cobra on another. I loved Belgium. Really what’s not to like! History and food! Chocolate, beer, coffee! Shopping at the Bruges Saturday market for groceries and then stopping at our favorite café for coffee. Still, being away from family was very difficult.
As to the challenges of each…well, in Montreal I tried to learn French (notice the word tried!), in Singapore I rarely saw my husband because of the travel requirements of his job, in Memphis the heat was suffocating in the summer and in Belgium… hmmm. OK, it’s official; Belgium was my favourite.
I believe every place we lived added another layer to my understanding of personality types, different cultures, and their history. Paris, London and Amsterdam were each only three hours away from us by train when we lived in Belgium and so I got to know and enjoy those cities regularly. The Slavic history of Prague was fascinating, Mucha’s art… the museums in Berlin… the chateaus of the Loire Valley… the Roman ruins in Cologne, the narrow streets of old Nice, the crooked buildings in York, the horse races (in the street no less) in Budapest…well, I could go on. My memories of Asia are not as recent but just as treasured.
Throughout our travel in Europe, we visited castles, manors, carriage and train museums etc. I felt like a sponge trying to remember paint colours and cherubs on carved chimneypieces. These details fill in the background of my imaginary settings; they help me understand how crowded coaches really were, and why smaller rooms were preferred to cavernous ones (heating). Train travel is no longer feasible because the distances in Canada are too vast; it’s easier to fly.
Q. According to your website, you have written a number of unpublished books. Do you think that any of these books will be published? If yes, which one would you like to see published?
A. I have seven manuscripts waiting for their day in the sun and I would love to see them all published one day. However, while each takes place in the 19th century and involves mystery, humour, and romance, the dominant characteristic of each book changes. Essentially, I have a mixture of YA and adult mysteries and paranormal romance sitting on my shelf. For now, I’m going to concentrate on my Regency Romps and see what the future holds.
Q. Why did you decide to write young adult books set in the Regency period? Why do you think these types of books have been successful?
A. Traditional Regencies are almost always about young ladies standing on the cusp of change and possibilities – perfect for the young adult. With minimal violence and exaggerated courtesy, they are character-driven books and often show the strength of young women forging their futures within the difficult strictures of society – something most readers can relate to. Still when all is said and done, Regencies are wonderful escapist fare – taking the reader to another place, knowing that, after all the trials and tribulations, there will be a happy ending; the best part of the journey is how you get there.
Q. I noticed on Facebook you are in the throes of editing. Congrats. What are you editing now and when will this book be published? Can you tell me what it is? After this project, what is your next goal?
A. I am going through the copy edits of my third YA Regency Romance to be published by Swoon Reads in April 2018. It will be announced very soon. Soooo exciting! My fourth Regency Romp is already underway. I’m going ‘downstairs’ in this one – my main characters are a young lady’s maid and a valet new to the job.
Note: Check Anstey’s facebook page for an update.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? Do you plan your books before writing them or do you simply write? On your blog you mention you have to see your characters – from hairstyles to clothing – before you can write about them. How much research goes into each book? Do you have a writing schedule? What’s your favourite part about writing? Least? What is your favourite part about book publishing? Least?
A. Ideas, plots, possibilities… they are everywhere! I can hear a snippet of a conversation, read a line of research or look at a painting and suddenly my mind is full of what-ifs. I plan my books completely: timelines, chapter outlines, character sketches, etc. But…sometimes (actually often) my characters will lead the story – their story – in a different direction. It means rewriting the plot and chapter outline, but it always makes for a stronger book.
I might research more than necessary, but I love it. I love all those little details that never make it into the book but allow me to understand what kind of carpet my heroine trips over or how long it would take her to dress…or brush her teeth.
I treat my writing like a full-time job: 10 (a.m.) to 6 (p.m.) Monday to Friday. I enjoy research, outlining, the first draft, revising… but I will admit that going through the copy edits is not fun; it takes far longer than I expect and requires a great deal of concentration. I might be cross-eyed by the time I’m done, too, but I haven’t checked. As far as publishing…well I love seeing the cover design and holding the book (breathing it in) for the first time. My least favourite? While I enjoy meeting readers in small numbers, I’m still not comfortable giving speeches… at all…not even a little! Yes, I am an introvert.
Q. You live in Nova Scotia, and consider that home. Is that where you grew up? What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?
A. Actually, I was born in Ontario and lived in Quebec and Germany (my father was in the Air Force) before I moved with my parents as a pre-teen to Nova Scotia. So, my most formative years were spent in Atlantic Canada…where I fell in love with the ocean, the people, the space (it takes minutes to get out of the city), the lakes, the scenery (limitless fodder for painting)… I could go on, but what makes it perfect for me is family!