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 ebook 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 Cafe, Marissa Doyle is releasing her adult novel By Jove, where Latin teacher Theodora Fairchild returns to academia to pursue her doctorate but finds herself still instructing “humanities”—this time to a charming, introverted post-doc who is much more than he seems. His enemies are also much more than they seem…and are happy to use Theo as a weapon to rekindle an ancient rivalry. But Theo is determined to rescue them both before it’s too late.
Because even gods can die—or wish they were dead.
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 both gardens and quilts whenever she can find the time. She loves collecting antique fashion prints, and says that coffee completes her life. You can find out what she’s up to between books by visiting www.marissadoyle.com, stopping by her teen history blog http://nineteenteen.com, and Friending her on Facebook.
Q: You are best known for your Regency England stories about the magical Leland family, but By Jove is modern and suggests the Greek and Roman Gods have not gone gently into that good night. Is there a connection to the Leland twins’ universe, or is By Jove something totally different?
A: Nope, no connection whatsoever. That happens sometimes. Though I do like to sneakily tie stories together with common elements—John Winthrop University is referred to in a book my agent will shortly be submitting, and the fictional Cape Cod town in Skin Deep, another of my adult books, also appears there.
Q: Do you think your “voice”, the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story—or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A: I think all writers have core stories or themes they return to over and over again, and one of mine is young women discovering and embracing their strengths and talents and finding their places in the world…which is one reason I write books for a young adult audience, because that theme is quintessentially YA.
Q: So many writers love dipping into the well of the nineteenth century English aristocracy. Why did you choose Regency and Post-Regency England as the place to put the Leland family and their magical teenagers?
A: The Leland Sisters stories came about through a perfect storm of a writing prompt exercise we did at my local RWA chapter and what I happened to be reading at the time. The exercise was to write the beginning of a story with the opening line, “Oh my God, you killed him!” It was a fun way of showing that even when everyone starts at the same place, we all bring our individual voices and experiences to creating a story. So when I sat down to do this exercise, I got a mental image of a girl in a long, 19th century dress standing over the figure of a boy collapsed at her feet. What had happened? She’d been practicing magic, and her little brother had gotten in the way. Now, at the same time, I’d been reading a biography of Queen Victoria and was at her teen years, when she had to deal with her mother’s perfectly horrid advisor who was trying to compel young Vic to demand a regency should she come to the throne before she was 21—and that and the writing exercise clicked to form the basic story of Bewitching Season—what if the horrid advisor had turned to magic to compel Victoria to make him the power behind her throne, and my teen debutante witch who’d accidentally bespelled her little brother was the one to save her?
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: Where did By Jove begin? Did Theo present herself to you and start telling you her story, or did you follow the plot into an alternate world? Do you always start a book in the same place (a character, a kernel of plot) or does it change with each story?
A: By Jove was born from a segment of a dream—yes, I’m one of those people who has crazy convoluted dreams and writes them down in notebooks that live in my beside table because You Just Never Know. My story ideas come from all sorts of sources, as we’ve already seen in this interview—no two stories I’ve written have been born in quite the same way.
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? (Bunny pictures welcome!)
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: Can you give us any hints about what you are working on right now? Will we see any more Leland books, or another in the By Jove world?
A: I’ve just finished up revisions for my agent on a YA historical fantasy set on Cape Cod in 1917 with selkies and small town gossip and first love and German spies (and hoping we’ll be going out on submission soon.) And I’m halfway through a sprawling Regency fantasy featuring the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, London’s most exclusive social venue that can best be summarized as “Georgette Heyer meets the Powerpuff Girls.” It’s been almost too much fun to write. I don’t have any specific plans to write more stories set in either the Leland Sisters’ or By Jove’s world, but I don’t have plans not to—if a story idea jumps into my head, I’ll write it.
Q: Why writing to communicate your vision, and not art, drama, etc?
A: Heh—because I can’t sing, draw, paint, or act (well, maybe act a little.) For me, from a very early age, it’s always been words on a page. And while I do a lot of craft-y stuff like quilting and knitting and sewing, writing is what scratches my deepest creative itch.
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 wall 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 nearly done with Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle and have the sequel, Mercury Retrograde, on deck…and am also working on The Housekeeper’s Tale: The Women Who Really Ran the English Country House by Tessa Boase
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, am 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 for readers. I love working with others to produce books—I’ve developed some small degree of skill in doing interior design for print books, so to work together with the author and the cover designer to make a beautiful book is deeply satisfying.