Out of the Shadows | New American Library/Penguin | Release Date: 7th September 2010 | Women's Fiction/Commercial Fiction
Please tell us your latest news!
I'm excited to announce the release of my third novel, OUT OF THE SHADOWS, which tells the story of a woman who thinks she is related to Mary Shelley, author of FRANKENSTEIN.
I decided to write a book with Mary Shelley at its heart because I've always loved Shelley's Frankenstein. It's a wonderful gothic novel, but it's very thoughtful, daring, and extremely prescient too - even now, two hundred years after it was written. Frankenstein has had a huge cultural impact, inspiring numerous novels, countless movies, and the name Frankenstein is known throughout the popular imagination. In spite of this, many people don't know that a nineteen year old woman called Mary Shelley wrote the original book. Fewer people still know anything about this woman who led a rich yet tragic life, who married the daring romantic poet called Percy Shelley, and who was the child of two radical writers. In OUT OF SHADOWS I wanted to bring Mary Shelley out of the shadows of the monster she created.
But the novel isn't just about Mary Shelley. It's also a story of a contemporary woman trying to unravel her past and at the same time find her way into an unknown future. I really enjoyed interweaving this woman's story with the story of young Mary Shelley preparing to write FRANKENSTEIN.
Booklist described OUT OF THE SHADOWS as "a clever novel that smartly intertwines literary fiction with modern science." They also did a great job of summarizing the book:
"Clara Fitzgerald has been deeply affected by the recent death of her mother and has lost interest in her stalled career as a college professor. She can only watch as her fianc‚ Anthony's career as a scientist, researching a new anti-cancer drug, is quickly ascending. Clara's mother always told her they were related to Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, and at a loss with what to do with herself, she throws herself into researching Mary Shelley and is stunned to find out her mother was right. Spurred on by this discovery, and aided by Kay, an elderly Shelley scholar, Clara begins to search through boxes of Kay's old papers, looking for Shelley's long-lost childhood letters and journals. As she gets deeper into her research, Anthony begins acting strangely, appearing to become lost in his work, and Clara begins to worry even as Mary Shelley's papers create a link between Clara's past and her future."
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I don't think so. I loved exploring all the biographical details about Mary Shelley for OUT OF THE SHADOWS and it would have been great to share *everything* I discovered about this amazing woman in the book. But I kept reminding myself that I wasn't writing a Shelley biography. OUT OF THE SHADOWS is a book that explores the echoes and links between the past, our current moment, and our possible future. I wanted the book to be both about Mary Shelley, but also about how her amazing imagination and insights still resonate today. I wanted Mary Shelley's story to sit side by side with the story of a modern woman who, although living in a very different world to Shelley, still faces some of the same challenges, fears, and possibilities.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I'm so hopeless at this question! I like *so* many authors, all for very different reasons. Mary Shelley, of course, is one of my all time favorites and thanks to writing OUT OF THE SHADOWS I now know that she wasn't just a great writer but she was also a fascinating, strong, passionate, sad, loving, acutely smart, and perceptive woman. A librarian recommended Suzanne Collins' HUNGER GAMES books recently. I ate them up! Like Shelley, Collins' asks "what if." She looks at our current world with its huge divides between the "haves" and the "have-nots," its obsession with reality TV and spectacle, its thirst for violent images and films, and then she imagines the logical extreme of such a world. The dystopia of THE HUNGER GAMES is horrifying and gruesome but, when you think about it, it's not completely outside the realms of possibility.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I always write in third person. I've tried first person, but it never seems to come as easily.
Do you see writing as a career?
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was young, I used to write stories all the time. But I've always been a real pragmatist too. I was pretty certain I could never make a living from writing, so I ended up studying other people's books instead. I studied English Literature at college and went on to do a PhD in contemporary lit. My mom never forgot my early stories, however. (I think she still has them all squirreled away somewhere) Anyway, when I was a grad student she used to annoy me by saying, "Do you remember those stories you used to write? Why don't you try writing some again? You were such a good writer." I'd snap back, "I analyze stories now, not write them," I'd then argue that I was now incapable of writing fiction because I'd picked up too much literary theory baggage from my graduate studies.
But then my life changed in a lot of ways. I moved to the States, got married, had a baby, and suddenly I found myself opening up to the idea of writing again. I signed up for a fiction writing class and that's when it got serious. There was no looking back after that.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Join a writer's group - either on or off line. You can learn so so much from other writers. Not just about the craft itself, but also so much useful stuff about the business. I started off writing fiction without joining a group and I made mistakes which I think I just wouldn't have made if I had had other writer's advising me.
Try and write a set amount of words per day. When I was in grad school, I vowed to myself that I had to write 500 words a day. I kept to this pretty religiously and now, even though I write novels instead of academic papers, I do the same. It really works!
Keep reading! Writers must be readers. By reading other people's books, we see and learn how words can be spun and stories can be told. There is nothing more vital to a writer's diet! Also, watching movies can be a great help too. Hollywood, whatever you might think about it, is a great storyteller and you can pick up some great plot tricks and character arcs from watching movies.
How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?
My family has been really supportive and proud too. They have read all my books - and make sure all their friends do as well! My son is a little young (7 y/o) to read them, but when my first book came out and I was practicing for various readings he could recite the book's first paragraph by heart.
What did you do before you became a writer? Do you write full time?
Before I started fiction writing, I was holed up in the ivory tower! I finished a PhD in English Literature in 2002 and my thesis focused on poetry and memoirs concerned with AIDS/HIV. I went on to do postdoctoral research and was particularly interested in the way modern genetics is depicted in literature. Now, seven years later, my own novel that explores the darker sides of genetic engineering has just come out.
When I'm not writing, I'm homeschooling my seven year old son. Although, "homeschool" is somewhat a misnomer as we spend a relatively small amount of time schooling at "home." We live in New York City so are lucky enough to have an amazing array of fun and educational places on our doorstep. Benny and I, together with his homeschooled friends, are always out on trips to the Metropolitan Museum, the Natural History Museum, aquariums, zoos, galleries, libraries, and parks. When we're not out and about, Benny and I love to read - either together or separately. I'm so thankful he loves books as much as I do.
What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both?
A little of both. I always have a good idea where the book is going and usually draw up a loose chapter outline, but then in the writing things change and I allow myself to go with the flow.
Do you have a favorite object that is pertinent to your writing? If so what is it and please describe it. (Pen, Coffee Cup, Pet, Blanket, Chair)
I have a small Buddha statue that sits on my desk. The peaceful expression on his face reminds me to enjoy the moment, to be grateful that I am here and now and that I'm immensely lucky to be able to write for a living!
Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing? Example..get coffee, blanket, paper, pen and a comfy place
I write in the morning before my son wakes up so my ritual is as follows: yawn, shower, yawn, brush teeth, yawn, get dressed, yawn, make cup of Tetley tea (so yawning will diminish!), fire up laptop, respond to urgent emails, make another cup of tea, and then after a bowl of oatmeal I settle down to writing!
What main genre do you write in?
Thank you so much for interviewing me, Night Owls! For more information about OUT OF SHADOWS (and for all kinds of fascinating facts about the wonderful Mary Shelley and her incredible family), join the OUT OF THE SHADOWS Facebook page.