Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Award-winning writer Marissa Doyle was born to a family of readers deep in the heart of American history. Water also figures into her comfort—in Massachusetts you are always close to the ocean, and she is happiest when she can hear the sound of waves. Perhaps all that history led her to Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in history and archaeology. To this day she still reads nonfiction in her fields whenever she can find a moment.
But her life diverted from archaeology, and the distractions eventually led her down the path to writing fiction. Her inner history geek demanded a young adult series about Regency and Victorian England (Bewitching Season, Betraying Season, and Courtship and Curses, plus an e-book novella Charles Bewitched) as well as adult fiction that reflects her love of fantasy and also academia. (And romance. We can’t forget the romance!)
Now a member of Book View Café and co-president of the corporation, Marissa Doyle just released The Forgery Furore, the first installment in her Ladies of Almack’s series, a Regency fantasy romp she describes as a cross between Georgette Heyer and the Powerpuff Girls.
Doyle still lives in Massachusetts with her family and a litter box-trained pet rabbit named Beatrice (rumor has it she is bossy but adorable) and gardens, quilts, and haunts antique shops whenever she can find the time. You can find out what she’s up to between books by visiting her website, stopping by her history blog, or friending her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter. To see her book trailers, go to her YouTube channel.
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Q: You’re mostly known for writing young adult fiction. What made you cross over to the adult side?
A: I don’t know that it was a conscious crossing over—I do have two adult contemporary stories out, Skin Deep and By Jove —as it was needing to write this particular series…and as it happened, the nature of the story and setting required adult characters and circumstances. I’m sure I’ll return to writing young adult at some point…and write more adult as well.
Q: Tell us about your new series, The Ladies of Almack’s. Any specific inspiration or origin story for it?
A: The Ladies of Almack’s follows in the same path as most of my other historical stories: inspired by an event or person from history, but twisted just a little to work in fantasy elements. It’s funny, but I can’t even remember quite where the concept of “The Lady Patronesses of Almack’s are supernatural crime fighters when they’re not otherwise busy deciding who is ‘in’ and who isn’t in Regency London” came from. The idea sat in the back of my brain for quite some time before I started putting it together, and when it did finally begin to jell, it wanted to be very episodic—so instead of novels it’s become a series of linked novellas, each telling its own story but with a larger story developing over its course. I’ve never done this sort of thing before and hope readers will like it.
Q: The stories include characters who are historical figures, including several women who were actually Lady Patronesses of Almack’s during the Regency. You’ve done this frequently in your stories—can you talk about the whys and hows?
A: I love doing this—using actual events and circumstances and people as the basis or framework for stories. In my YA book Evergreen, I used the circumstances around Teddy Roosevelt’s becoming president after McKinley was shot at the World’s Fair in Buffalo, and built a story about assassin wizards…and what might have happened to Roosevelt’s daughter, teen-aged Alice, to make her into the fascinating but emotionally screwed-up person she was. In The Ladies of Almack’s, I’m using the real-life Lady Patronesses—women who wielded enormous social power in their time and place—to create my supernatural crime-fighting band of friends and a rash of mysteries and dangerous plots for them to solve. And since all of this was of course supposed to be a deep, dark secret, it never made it into any history books, right?
Using some of the actual Lady Patronesses and figuring out what their powers were was huge fun for me. For example, in a famous portrait of Countess Lieven, she has prominent clusters of dark curls on her temples that reminded me of Medusa’s snakes, so she clearly had to be part gorgon. And in cases where little is known about individual ladies, like Georgiana Bathurst and Maria Sefton, I had a freer hand to make stuff up about them. But I always try to respect who these women were, and have grown enormously fond of them.
Q: England’s Regency Era is a well-loved setting for a lot of popular fiction. What draws you to it?
A: Oh gosh—a lot of things. My background is in archaeology—the “things” of daily life—and the things of the Regency era draw me: the clothes, the trinkets, the housewares. Though I have to admit that it was not a shining period in furniture design—so much furniture of the era is either clunky as all get-out, or takes themes from the past (Egyptian, Greek, Gothic) and just goes way too far with them. The Regency also fascinates because I view it as the first really, recognizably “modern” era. And though I am fascinated by Victorian history, Regency history was a lot more fun.
Q: Where do your ideas come from? Do characters present themselves to you and start telling you their stories, or are you ambushed by plot bunnies or photos of interesting settings? Do you always start a book in the same place (a character, a kernel of plot) or does it change with each story?
A: My stories have come from all sorts of places—from dreams (yes, I’m one of those people who has crazy convoluted dreams and writes them down in notebooks that live in my bedside table because you just never know), from chance conflations of things I’m reading or doing, or just out of rambling thoughts that suddenly grab me by the throat.
Q: What have you learned from your own writing? To what concepts, intentional or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers?
A: I’ve always had it as a sneak goal to subliminally show readers just how fascinating history can be—that it’s not just dates of battles and dull lists, but stories about real people and what they did and how they’re both different and similar to us today. It’s part of why I do as much research as I do—those details can be so sparkly!
Q: Living in Massachusetts, you are surrounded by ghosts of the Colonial Period. Has the weight of local history suggested a story to you yet?
A: Not as much as one would expect, oddly enough. I do have a story based on historical events and set in my town in the mid-seventeenth century that I’d like to write someday, but it hasn’t pushed its way to the head of the line yet. So far I’ve been more influenced by my love of New England’s natural aspects (ocean and forest) in books I’ve written. Go figure.
Q: You are a huge fan of house rabbits (and appalled by hutch rabbits.) When will we get a story with either a comfortable house bunny or a magical rabbit familiar?
A: I would love to write rabbit stories, but I simply don’t have the knack for writing for audiences younger than YA, unfortunately. When my son was in elementary school we co-created a series of adventure stories featuring our first bunny, a French Lop named Simon who had a wonderful, extroverted, outsized personality, and over the years my kids and I have created whole elaborate (and very silly) mythologies for the lagomorphic members of the family, but I don’t know that they’d ever see the light of day.
Q: Do you still read for pleasure? Fiction, non-fiction, both? What are you currently reading?
A: Absolutely—one must refill the well. I read both fiction and non-fiction—the non-fiction can be both for research purposes (I have a scary big research library on 19th century English history and culture that has distorted the walls of my house) and for particular areas that I’m just interested in, like public health and meteorology and space exploration. Right now I’m on a non-fiction kick, which often happens when I’m actively writing (as opposed to editing): next up on deck is The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria, a sort of culinary biography of Queen Victoria, which looks fascinating.
Q: How did you become involved with Book View Café? What is it about the BVC organization that appeals to you?
A: I tend to get slurped into groups because I’m an incorrigible organizer: I’ve held board positions in multiple RWA chapters, was co-president of the Class of 2k8, a debut YA and MG group, co-founded The Enchanted Inkpot blog, was an administrator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s forum…you get the picture. Book View Café strongly appealed to my desire to DO something, be part of something, work with others to foster a vibrant organization that produces compulsively readable, high-quality books. I love working with others to produce books—I’m mostly doing interior design for print books, and to work together with the author and the cover designer to make a beautiful book is deeply satisfying.
Q: Can you give us any hints about what you are working on right now? Something completely new, or a return to any of your previous worlds?
A: I’m still mad at work on the Ladies of Almack’s stories. The plots are taking a slightly darker turn with the development of the bigger thread around a threat against the throne and the difficulties in the main characters’ romantic relationship, but the light-hearted aspects are still there (book 7 features a talking pigeon as a major character.) After that? I don’t know. I do have another novella set in the same world as my Leland Sisters young adult books that’s about two-thirds complete, and I want to go back and complete the stories begun in Between Silk and Sand and in Evergreen …but there are some other shiny stories want to be written as well.
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The Forgery Furore is available now in e-book and in print. Look for the second book in the series, The Vanishing Volume, on April 5, and further installments monthly.
Store links to books mentioned:
The Forgery Furore https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/the-forgery-furure/
Between Silk and Sand https://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/book/between-silk-and-sand/