Four frivolous questions – Saundra Mitchell’s THE VESPERTINE

Mar 4, 2011

Today I’m pleased to share an interview with Saundra Mitchell about her latest novel, The Vespertine, just out from Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt.

1. Your first book, Shadowed Summer, was a contemporary ghost story. The Vespertine is set in the late 19th century. Please share three things that captivated you about this time period.

First, I enjoyed the latitude. Instead of hanging out at the coffee shop, my characters could hang out at the park and goof off with a bow and arrow. It was perfectly reasonable for one of the characters to meet another when he came to sketch an autopsy in his living room. No seriously! There were so many interesting places to go and unusual things for them to do.

Second, I love how modern it is. The industrial revolution is starting, cars are coming, trains are connecting cities, states, countries. Telegraphs send instant messages, and telephones are coming. Suffragettes are demanding their equal rights, Spiritualists are trying to crack the code of death, Scientists are discovering radium and vaccines, Aesthetics are brazenly exploring sensuality– this book may be set in our past, but it’s also set on the very edge of the characters’ future. It’s a time so ripe and trembling with change that it was a delight to explore.

And thirdly, it was just plain fun to write characters who could use words like folderol, gibbering, miasma and temerity in common conversation. Reading through period newspapers to figure out the depth and parameters of the language of the time was like eating candy for me.

2. Tell me true, Saundra – why are 19th century boys so sexy? (I confess to swooning several times for Nathaniel.)

You’re going to give that boy a big head, Sonia! 🙂 I have to say for me, part of the appeal is the wardrobe. Cravats are hot. (Are they ever!) Morning coats are hot. Day gloves are hot. And the levels of intimacy were so different! I got the wickedest thrill out of writing the scene where Nathaniel leaves his glove in Amelia’s pocket. Oh la la!

3. As someone obsessed with 19th century mediums, I loved the scene with Lady Privalovna – did the details of her performance come from research, your imagination, or both? Please explain!

I did tons of research on spiritualism and spiritism, which is why you see Amelia trying out some automatic writing in the book. (Not to mention collecting gloves and doing directed breathing!) These were method popularized by 19th century mediums. The Fox Sisters and Hélène Smith were serving up seances with these techniques, and they weren’t the only ones.

But I have to admit, Lady Privalovna’s show was all theatre– that sequence came directly out of Harry Houdini’s attempts to debunk the spiritualists in the early 20th century. He described how those performances were much more like magic shows than actual magic. He even went on tour with an Exposure Show, demonstrating how to produce mystical raps and ghostly manifestations. I’m just sorry I didn’t manage to work in a Pepper’s Ghost!

4. I suppose you might classify this novel as paranormal historical. (Or do you have a better classification?) Are there any other books or films in this genre that you would recommend? Something that lovers of The Vespertine would enjoy if they were dying for more? (Like me!!!)

Historical romance, historical fantasy, paranormal historical, paranormal romance, gothic… THE VESPERTINE gets around, yo. BUT! I really think that if you like THE VESPERTINE, you’ll love THE SEASON by Sarah MacLean (historical romance,) A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY by Libba Bray (paranormal historical,) WILDTHORN by Jane Eagland (gothic!), THE PROPHECY OF THE SISTERS by Michelle Zink (paranormal historical,) KINDRED by Octavia Butler (historical fantasy,) and THE REVENANT by Sonia Gensler (paranormal historical!) However, I suspect you’ve read that last one. 😀

Thanks for the kind mention of my book, Saundra! And thanks so much for answering my questions.

Readers, be sure to check out my review of The Vespertine at Book End Babes, and check back on Monday when I introduce my book giveaway, featuring a hardcover copy of The Vespertine, an ARC of The Revenant, and much more!

The Vespertine is currently available from: IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & NobleBorders

[Cross-posted from Livejournal]

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