Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Anna Castle, author of Murder by Misrule

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Anna Castle to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Murder by Misrule. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Anna. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Murder by Misrule.
A barrister of Gray's Inn is murdered near the palace of Whitehall in Elizabethan England. Francis Bacon accepts the unpleasant task of identifying the murderer in hopes of restoring himself to the Queen's good graces. He doesn't like to run around and talk to strangers, so he recruits his students, led by Thomas Clarady, to do the actual work. They track down a beautiful artist, interview a prickly courtier, and fight off some overweight retainers. Another man dies; Francis is assaulted. Tom and company uncover secrets and surprise each other before Francis manages to identify the villain.

What inspired you to write this story? Where did it begin?
My first novel, never to be published, was an historical romance set in 1101. I love the twelfth century, but I missed having a vernacular literature. So I started grazing forward, looking for a new home. C13 is boring; c14 is depressing; c15 is confusing. I don't like the Henrician period, too much turmoil. I like rising tides and expanding horizons. I reached the last quarter of c16 and said, "Well, hey freaking nonny!  Vernacular literature? How 'bout Shakespeare for starters?" Francis Bacon, also a lovely writer, was the perfect sleuth for me. I've been a Nero Wolfe fan all my life, so everything just clicked.

Francis Bacon is something of a historical headliner. How did you approach characterizing him for your novel and how do you hope he comes across to your readers?
I read three biographies, twice each. I'm still working my way through his major biography, The Life and Letters of Francis Bacon, edited by James Spedding. (Seven volumes with insightful commentary. One of those massive, indispensable, Victorian works.) I have grown to love him dearly, although he was a multi-faceted person, to say the least. He wasn't cynical, but he wasn't confused about how the world worked either. He was brilliant, arrogant, shy, demanding, a disaster with money, a loyal friend, often oblivious of other people's feelings... I hope readers like him; not all of his biographers have.

In the novel, Thomas Clarady is Francis’ unwanted protégé. Can you tell us a bit about him and his role in the story? 
Tom is essential. Francis Bacon literally spent days closed up in his rooms reading at this time in his life. He had taken all knowledge to be his province, so he had a lot to learn. He wasn't lazy, but he had delicate health and was emphatically not a man of action. No swashbuckling whatsoever! No cajoling of beauteous witnesses. He's like Nero Wolfe: a retiring genius. So he needed his Archie Goodwin to do the legwork.

Francis has three other students under his tutelage: Allen Trumpington, Benjamin Whitt and Stephen Delabere. How do these men contrast with Thomas and what do they bring to the collective table?
They are foils for Tom. They're designed around the four humors: Trumpet is choleric, Ben is melancholy, Stephen is phlegmatic, and Tom is sanguine. Trumpet is an instigator, always ready to jump in and shake things up. Ben is the Spock -- the supplier of information. Stephen is the nay-sayer, the slug, the one who drags things backwards. Tom holds them all together and connects them to the rest of the world.

The book takes place during the season of Misrule. What is this exactly and why did it appeal to you as an author? 
Students were obliged to remain at the Inns of Court during the month-long Christmas vacation, because they were expected to learn manners as well as the law. Attending masques, etc. gave them a chance to develop those skills. They liked themes and dressing up and 'antiquity' -- the medieval period -- so  they continued the medieval monastery tradition of allowing the youngest members to rule. I like misruly times, when things get turned on their heads and time is out of joint. The first plot had a lot of silly pranks in it, like bringing cows and chickens in to sit at the governor's table. Cut! Irrelevant! But it got me started.

More than four hundred years separate you and your readers from Francis’ England and you are actually from Texas. How did you bridge the gap in time and geography to recreate London under Elizabeth I? 
The sad and sorry truth is that all the voices in my head have mild Texas accents. Nothin' to be done about it, darlin's. I read a lot -- I mean really an enormous amount. I have Shakespeare & Marlowe on my Kindle so I can read Elizabethan drama on the elliptical machine. (It's got a beat; you can dance to it.) And I've been to England several times, piggy-backing on conferences for my former job and also purely for writing research. I walked on a little piece of pristine medieval road in Hatfield Forest that Christopher Marlowe walked along to get from London to Cambridge. Glory! I've walked along the Thames near Twickenham, where Bacon had his country retreat. I've spent many hours in historic homes pretending to be an Elizabethan in my head, while outwardly projecting the appearance of a middle-aged American tourist. (Little did they know what crimes I was committing! Ha ha!)

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
I love writing scenes in which Francis suffers some embarrassment or Tom does something cheeky. I like scenes with puns in them and am capable of writing a whole scene just to give me an excuse to deploy the said pun. On those days, I must send myself to bed without pudding. Often those scenes get cut.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
Scenes in which many people interact are hard. I have to block them out in detail, examining each character's agenda. Where did he just come from? Where is he going next? What does he want right now? Hard work! But invisible once it's done, I hope.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
Not me, not with this book! This book, for various reasons, has been edited roughly ten billion times. My editor, Jennifer Quinlan at Historical Editorial, wanted me to add another chapter with Clara Goosens, Tom's love interest in this book, but I just couldn't do it. Brain said, "No way." The story is the ruler of all things, so you don't exactly sacrifice things that don't belong to the story. If it doesn't belong, it isn't a sacrifice. You just think, "Hey! What are these stupid chickens doing in here?" and toss them out on their tail feathers.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Murder by Misrule and if so, what did you alter and why? 
I make up as little as possible in terms of the historical context. It's like any kind of lying: the less you invent, the easier it is to remember what you said. When I do change things, I put it in the Author's Note at the end. I also add a list of the real persons who appear in my books. In this book, I moved Bacon's first Reading forward one year. Oh, and I made him investigate a murder, which totally never happened.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
Francis Bacon! But I'd skip the drinks, since I don't drink, and take him for a tour of the University of Texas at Austin, where I was working when I started this book. He would love it and it's all down to him, in a way. Research universities, that is.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the primary roles in a screen adaptation of your work, who would you hire? 
How much time do I get to spend with these fantasy actors? And what will they be wearing? Because if it's more than a minute, I want Johnny Depp to play Francis Bacon. And I was thinking of Heath Ledger as a model for Thomas Clarady; the young Heath of Patriot. Sunshine in the shape of a man.

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 
I'm a plotter and I'm mostly pretty disciplined. Starting a new book, I'll spend about 3 weeks plotting; end result a list of scenes with POV character, goal-conflict-result, etc figured out. I can do about 2K a day words in first-draft mode. (Yes, there is cursing and bribery.) I'm still figuring out how long the second draft takes. Next book I think I can do it in one. You get better at it: confidence, method, less flailing around. I have a critique group -- Capitol Crime Writers -- some truly fabulous critiquers. Nobody reads my first drafts, but I need to polish second draft asap to feed it through the group, so I'm starting to write in acts, rather than getting all the way to the end and then starting to edit. Third draft goes to Jenny; fourth draft shows the effects of her incisive editing. Then we both do a round of copy-editing and that's the end. I need a way to attach electric shocks to a manuscript at that point, to keep me from changing it again. (Anabel? No, Melinda. No! Anabel!)

Who are your favorite authors? 
I don't have favorite authors. I read voraciously and widely and am subject to long-running trends that evaporate on a whim. Louis L'Amour, Dorothy Sayers, Jane Feather, Ray Bradbury... I'll read anything that walks under my nose.

What are you currently reading? 
I read different books in different circumstances, so I have many going at once. Perfect Summer by Katie Graykowski, for pure fun; Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke, to keep up with my peers; The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation by Anthony Esler; Crime and Punishment in the England of Shakespeare and Milton by John W. Weatherford; and Francis Bacon and the Transformation of Early-Modern Philosophy by Stephen Gaukroger.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies?
I'm a gardener, hiker, and cycler. I'm an Urban Forest Steward with Austin TreeFolks. I love to travel, especially for book research, but also to romp in the surf. Knit in front of the TV, letting my wander loosely around the scene to be written next morning. And I read a lot.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
I didn't know there was a debate. I drink coffee in the morning and herb tea from then on. Being a Texan, I drink iced tea (ahs tay) when I go out. 

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Next is Death by Disputation, nearly ready to go to Jenny for editing. That's out in December. Then a Francis Bacon short story, then a plot-a-thon -- my favorite part of all this -- in August, plotting book 3 in this series. Then I'm going take a month and edit the first book in one of my two other series, but I don't know which one yet so I'd better not say. Then I write book 3. Lather, rinse, repeat. More writing, woohoo! 

Thanks for having me!


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Anna Castle has been a waitress, software engineer, documentary linguist, college professor, and digital archivist. Historical fiction combines her lifelong love of stories and learning. She physically resides in Austin, Texas, and mentally counts herself a queen of infinite space.



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PRAISE FOR MURDER BY MISRULE

“Though the plot keeps the pages turning, the characters, major and minor, and the well-wrought historical details will make readers want to linger in the 16th century. A laugh-out-loud mystery that will delight fans of the genre.” – Kirkus Starred Review

“Murder by Misrule is a delightful debut with characters that leap off the page, especially the brilliant if unwilling detective Francis Bacon and his street smart man Tom Clarady. Elizabeth Tudor rules, but Anna Castle triumphs.” – Karen Harper, author of Mistress Shakespeare

“Well-researched… Murder by Misrule is also enormously entertaining; a mystery shot through with a series of misadventures, misunderstandings,
and mendacity worthy of a Shakespearean comedy.” – M. Louisa Locke, author of Bloody Lessons

“Historical mystery readers take note: Murder by Misrule is a wonderful example of Elizabethan times brought to life.” — D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review.

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: June 8, 2014
Released by: Anna Castle
ISBN-10: 0991602501
Length: 350 pages
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Check Out All the Stops on Anna Castle's Murder by Misrule Virtual Book Tour Schedule


Monday, June 2
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Book Blast at Mari Reads
Tuesday, June 3
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection
Wednesday, June 4
Book Blast at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
Thursday, June 5
Book Blast at Our Wolves Den
Friday, June 6
Review at Book Nerd
Book Blast at The Mad Reviewer
Book Blast at A Dream Within a Dream
Saturday, June 7
Book Blast at Kelsey’s Book Corner
Sunday, June 8
Review at Carole’s Ramblings
Monday, June 9
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, June 10
Book Blast at West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, June 11
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse
Thursday, June 12
Review at Curling Up By the Fire
Friday, June 13
Book Blast at Cheryl’s Book Nook
Monday, June 16
Book Blast at Closed the Cover
Book Blast at To Read or Not to Read
Tuesday, June 17
Review & Giveaway at 100 Pages a Day
Book Blast at A Book Geek
Wednesday, June 18
Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, June 19
Review at Bibliotica
Book Blast at Historical Fiction Obsession
Friday, June 20
Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Interview at All Things Girl
Saturday, June 21
Book Blast at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Monday, June 23
Review, Guest Post, and Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, June 24
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Wednesday, June 25
Book Blast at Susan Heim on Writing
Thursday, June 26
Review at A Bookish Girl
Review at Layered Pages
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Friday, June 27
Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes
Monday, June 30
Book Blast at Historical Tapestry
Tuesday, July 1
Interview at Starting Fresh
Wednesday, July 2
Review at Kincavel Korner
Thursday, July 3
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Guest Post & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please
Friday, July 4
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

1 comment:

Jenny Q said...

Great interview! Anna is a hoot!

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