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Interview w/Deanna Raybourn about her new novel A Spear Of Summer Grass

A Spear of Summer Grass

Book Blurb:

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even among Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savanna manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, ...

 

 

Here’s what #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts has to say about Deanna Raybourn; "With a strong and unique voice, Deanna Raybourn creates unforgettable characters in a richly detailed world. This is storytelling at its most compelling."

 

Deanna, welcome it’s always a pleasure to e-meet an author from my favorite publisher, and according to you “The Finest Publishing Company on The Planet”, Mira.
Did I actually say that? Yeah, sounds about right. I’m very fond of my publisher!

 

Tell us about your new novel.
A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS follows the adventures of notorious flapper Delilah Drummond as she is exiled to Africa to keep a low profile after her latest scandal. What she expects to be a period of extreme boredom turns out to be the making of her—from the vast landscape to the exotic wildlife to the characters who are larger than life, she’s changed by who and what she encounters. She reconnects with people from her past, including a few ghosts, and plunges into new relationships, most notably a friendship with a Masai and a dangerous liaison with a hunter by the name of Ryder White.

 

What’s the biggest draw for you about writing historical fiction?
I love the sense of escaping to another time, of being a traveler in someone else’s world for just a little while. My degree is in history and English because I always planned to write historical fiction, and I am particularly fascinated not by the differences, but to what connects us. I am always looking for the commonality—the bonds that tell us that being a mother in 14th century Japan or 19th century France was not so very different from being one in 21st century America. The trappings and technology might change, but fundamentally, people are the same and that’s reflected in the documentation of their lives. Plus, there’s a delightful and slightly naughty thrill in reading diaries and letters from people who are long dead and perhaps never expected their private correspondence to be read by strangers. The Regency courtesan who sold her memoirs to settle her debts is not so very different from the reality show star whose sex tape propels her to fame.

 

This is a stand alone novel, but you also write the Lady Julia Grey Series.
 What’s the biggest difference between writing a stand alone from a series novel?
With the first Lady Julia book, SILENT IN THE GRAVE, I thought I was writing a stand alone! I didn’t realize until I was very nearly finished that I didn’t want to turn loose of the characters. I also realized that it would be more tempting to publishers if they thought they had a series on their hands, so I left the ending just open enough to leave room for a follow-up. With the other stand alones, I’ve known from the beginning that I had one chance to tell their stories, so there is more pressure to say everything you want to say about who these people are. With Julia, I’ve had the luxury of over half a million words to let her character develop very slowly. In a single book, you have to move more quickly, but you also have to make the development believable. And some characters don’t develop much at all, and you have to know they aren’t going too far when you start with them so you can be consistent. I find there’s more freedom in a stand alone because you don’t have to refer back to incidents you wrote years before. It’s very difficult to predict exactly how you want things to evolve in a series, and you can get caught by circumstances you created two or three books before that don’t suit you any longer. Extricating yourself can be tricky. There is none of that complication with a stand alone—you’re in, you’re out. No need to carry that continuity through hundreds of thousands of words.  

 

As a historical fiction novelist and fan of the genre I must ask, are you a fan of Downton Abbey?
Yes! I haven’t loved every storyline unreservedly, but I am thrilled that it’s got such a huge following. I’m hoping this means we’ll see even more programs like it in the future. And I love Julian Fellowes’ eye for oddity—he has a treasure trove of eccentric anecdotes from friends and family and he weaves them into his scripts beautifully. I also think he does a fabulous job of integrating larger questions—the role of “surplus” women in society, divorce laws, homosexuality, etc.—with more intimate family and domestic problems. Plus, I’m smitten with the costumes.

 

In your bio it says that you “write what you read”.
Do you ever venture as a reader out of your comfort zone?
Rarely. My comfort zone covers a fair bit, and I do expand it, but there are some things I simply will not read—anything that makes me want to peek under the bed before I get into it, for example. And ever since I had my daughter I haven’t been able to read any book that deals with abused or jeopardized children. I believe reading should be pleasurable, first and foremost. If I’m not enjoying a book, I don’t finish it. Life is either far too long or far too short to spend it in the company of books you don’t love.

 

Do you ever see yourself publishing anything but historical novels?
Possibly. I have actually written a contemporary novel, but my agent has never shopped it because I think it needs major revision and I haven’t had the time to break it down to the bones. I wrote it just after I moved to Virginia and all my historical research was still packed away in boxes. I needed to write, so I pounded out a magical realism book with a contemporary setting. Maybe someday it will see the light of day…

 

When you set down to write, do you have one favorite place or do you write wherever you are?
Always in my little pink study. Our house was built in 1940, and my study is what used to be the sewing room—very small and with excellent light. I painted the walls pink, my husband put up a ton of shelves, and after he painted the ceiling turquoise, we hung a little chandelier that my great-aunt had given me. I keep my RITA on a shelf—holding a pink parasol from a cocktail, as well as the queen’s coronation portrait, and a framed saying of mine that a friend cross-stitched for me, “Be pretty like you mean it.” All my favorite books live in there, along with the collages I create for my current work in progress. It’s appallingly girly, and far more feminine than I want the rest of the house to be, but it’s restful and creative and happy—all the things I need when I’m writing. I don’t, however, proofread there or work on copyedits. Those things are done either in bed or at a café.

 

Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I am passionate about college football, and as a sixth-generation native Texan, I’m naturally a Longhorn fan. But anybody who follows me on Twitter or Facebook already knows that, so here’s something else: I’m a member of the DAR and 19th cousin to the Queen of England.

 

How does this release day compare with your first?
Pure excitement and no fear! Releasing your first book is like bringing that first child home from the hospital—gut-wrenching, stomach-churning anxiety coupled with almost hysterical excitement and a feeling of being purely overwhelmed. Later releases are like parenting an older child. You have a better idea of what you’re doing, you know you’re good at some of it, and you know there are things that are beyond your control. So you cross your fingers and hope for some luck to take care of the rest!

 

Will you be having any signing events to celebrate the new release?
Absolutely! I am kicking things off with a flapper safari brunch at Murder by the Book in Houston—an independent that has been extremely important to me and to hundreds of authors. I’m following that up with signings at the Fountain in Richmond, Mysterious in New York, One More Page in Washington DC, and a reading at Lady Jane’s Salon, all of which I am thrilled about. And I’m also signing with Nora Roberts at her store in Maryland, Turn the Page. Details are on my website, www.deannaraybourn.com

 

Deanna, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions, and good luck with the novel.

My pleasure—thanks for having me!