Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
A sixth-generation native Texan, New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a double major in English and history and an emphasis on Shakespearean studies. She taught high school English for three years in San Antonio before leaving education to pursue a career as a novelist.
Deanna’s novel Silent in the Grave won the RITA® Award for Novel with Strong Romantic Elements and the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best First Mystery. The Lady Julia Grey series has been nominated for several other awards, including an Agatha, three Daphne du Mauriers, a Last Laugh, four additional RITAs, and two Dilys Winns. Dark Road to Darjeeling was also a finalist for the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Historical Mystery as well as a Romantic Reviews’ finalist for Best Book.
Deanna makes her home in Virginia, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her next release, A Curious Beginning—a Victorian mystery featuring the sleuthing butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell—will be released September, 2015.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I have always made up stories, but I wrote my first novel when I was 23. I have it—and about seven other unpublished books—in my attic. On the basis of those unpubbed books I was able to get an agent who stuck with me for years while we tried to find a publisher. By writing a lot of books that weren’t quite me, I found my way to what I wanted to write, which was historical mystery. My inaugural attempt at historical mystery, Silent in the Grave, ended up being my debut hardcover—fourteen years after I wrote my first book!
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My most recently published novel is Night of a Thousand Stars (Sept. 2014), a 1920s adventure with a runaway bride and the dashing vicar she travels to Damascus to save from certain death—or so she thinks. I’m just finishing up A Curious Beginning, the first book in my new Victorian mystery series that debuts in hardcover in September, 2015. I had a great time writing my last three books, all 1920s adventure novels, but I am very glad to be back in Victorian mystery! I missed the foggy, gaslit streets of London…
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I write in a very small study—about eight feet by nine, painted pink. The ceiling is pale turquoise, and I hung a tiny chandelier that belonged to my great-aunt. I have the usual bookshelves and computer, but I also have chintz curtains and candles and several pieces of art so it feels calm and inspiring at the same time. My desk has a rotating array of things to play with when I need a break. Right now I have a stuffed dragon with an overbite and a Maleficent figurine—both gifts from people who know me very well! I recently added a potted orchid to bring something alive into the room. I’m lucky that the room faces southeast so it gets excellent morning light but the window is angled just the right way to keep me from getting distracted when I’m trying to work. When I need to spread out to brainstorm, I head for the kitchen table with a big pad of newsprint and a pack of markers, but my study is where the real work happens, and I love it fiercely.
WHEN DO YOU WORK?
I prefer mornings. My energy is high and my mind is clear. I find if I write first, then everything else falls into place. If I leave it, my entire day is thrown off and I’m unspeakably cranky. I can work at other times if I have to—after lunch is my second best stretch, although I prefer to blog or answer emails then. Evening is off limits!
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I’ve found that process changing the longer I publish. I used to write VERY long first drafts and cut them down, but I’ve discovered that working to a deadline is too demanding for that. I have much better luck now with writing a shorter first draft and expanding it in revisions. It makes the whole book tighter and more cohesive, and I cry less because there are fewer scenes that don’t make it into the final book. I generally write the first draft, let it sit for three weeks, then revise it once. Then it sits again for a few weeks before a final polish and that’s it—it goes to my agent and editor then because I will tinker with it too much and overthink it. When my editor brings back revision notes, I incorporate those, polish again, and it’s done until the little tweaks in the final production stages.
I don’t spend all that much time with hands on the manuscript, but that’s because I do a LOT of thinking and brainstorming outside of the time I spend with my fingers on the keyboard. When I sit down to write, I write flat out—a few thousand words in about an hour and a half and I’m done for the day. If I try to push too much beyond that, I get punchy. I used to feel guilty that I wrote so few hours a day until I realized I am working for far more hours than I’m actually sitting at the computer.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
The answer I give to this question is the same one Scout gives in To Kill a Mockingbird when she’s asked if she loves reading: “One doesn’t love breathing.” I don’t write because I love it or I have some compelling reason—I just wouldn’t exist without it. I have storyteller DNA.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Anyone who seems more serene than I am. Serenity is what I aspire to and I very seldom get there. I’m getting more comfortable in my own skin as I get older, so my hope is that I will be really calm when I’m about 95.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
It used to be the idea of working in a vacuum, never knowing if what you’re doing actually works until you get feedback from someone else like an agent or editor, but I’m getting better at that. I have learned to ask my agent for her skills as a sounding board when I need it, and I’m establishing a great relationship with my new editor where I can call her up and say, “This is what I want to do. Can we talk it through and anticipate the problems?”
Now my difficulties are mostly with strangers—being polite when other people aren’t. I was brought up with nice southern manners, but I don’t have a great poker face. When someone says something dismissive or unkind about what I do, I struggle to be gracious. I try to take a deep breath and remind myself that their journey isn’t mine.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
As an artist, I work to produce something worth sharing. Some of my favorite letters from readers have been the ones describing the real life problems—cancer, divorce, grief—that my books have distracted them from. Knowing that my work helped provide a little joy to someone when they needed it is plenty.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Susanna Kearsley. She’s a brilliant writer and a lovely friend—I’m always delighted to hear more about her process because it’s so different from mine!
Thank you, Deanna Raybourn!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Sigmon-Taylor Photography
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