NovelSpot: Annabel, thank you for taking the time for this interview. In June, your book ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT came out. Congratulations! What did you do to celebrate?
Annabel Aidan: I had a couple of friends over for lobster rolls & champagne. Since I recently moved to Cape Cod and my publisher is Champagne Books, I thought it was appropriate! It was a nice enough day to celebrate out on the deck.
NS: ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT is a book in which witchcraft, politics and theatre collide – that’s quite a combination. Can you give us a brief description?
AA: Morag D’Anneville dresses the star of a Broadway show. She’s also a practicing Wiccan. The Vice President of the United States, who’s very conservative, is stepping into the role usually performed by the actor Morag dresses to live his dream of performing on Broadway. Simon Keane, who’s on the Secret Service detail for the VP, has to balance his superior’s concerns that Morag might do something to harm the VP, any negative backlash that she’s even allowed near him (the production made it clear that they won’t replace her), and his growing attraction to her. Once she gets attacked, the stakes are even higher – was she attacked because she’s dressing the Vice President, or was it a step towards a bigger attack on the VP?
NS: Sounds intriguing! The theatre sounds like a really interesting backdrop. You’ve worked in theatre, haven’t you? How much of that made it into the book?
AA: A lot of the dailiness of life backstage on a long-running show made it in. It’s your job. You go in every night, weekends, holidays. It’s not like working in an office. You spend more time with the people on a show than with anyone else. For it to continue running and running well, you learn how to negotiate differences. Backstage life is almost always portrayed as a bunch of bitchy, insecure, not-too-bright people vying for attention. In reality, many of those types are culled out in theatre – too hard to maintain eight shows a week. Some of them can survive in film, but, unless they’re brilliantly talented, no one will put up with it for eight shows a week. The people who can sustain careers are bright, creative, hard-working, know how to manage egos most of the time, and can play well with others, even if they don’t feel like it that day. They respect their colleagues, even if they don’t always get along. Also, the stakes on Broadway and the atmosphere is very different than in a community theatre production or a regional production. All have value; but each is a very different environment. I wanted to get out of the clichés, and show how much work and fun and frustration goes into the daily run of a Broadway show. And you take care of your own, even if you don’t always get along or agree with them, in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else. There’s a rush of adrenalin of pulling it off well, with things going wrong and the audience never knowing, getting that audience response, the dynamic you have with the others you work with, that you don’t find in any other profession. Very different from working in television or film.
NS: Morag is such a great name! How do you come up with your character names?
AA: My characters usually name themselves. I had a “Morag” in one of my plays, SCRYING, that was produced in London and Edinburgh a few years back. A very different Morag from this one. I love the name. When I started writing this, Morag said, “Yeah, you have another Morag in your body of work. But my name is Morag D’Anneville. Deal.” I spend a lot of time in Scotland, and love it. Morag is a Scottish name that means “great”. She’s a pretty terrific lady, and I think she lives up to her name!
NS: Do you have a favorite character name, either in ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT or in another of your books?
AA: Often, characters name themselves. Each created world, even if it’s a contemporary set in a real place, is unique, and the character names are important. I might not choose a name because of its meaning, initially, but then discover the meaning is relevant to the book. Or I might want to have that meaning, and I’ll go through lists of names to find one with the shade of meaning I want that sounds right in the context of that book.
The protagonist if the next book under the Annabel Aidan name is Bonnie. I’ve never been particularly drawn to that name, but she was definitely Bonnie, and a minor character in this book. It turns out she had so much life in her that she needed a book of her own!
NS: What was your favorite ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT character to write?
AA: I’m known for my strong female characters, especially in my plays. So I had enormous fun writing Simon, and the chapters from his point of view. He’s a great guy. He’s not a stereotype. He’s good at what he does, he has flaws, he makes some bad decisions in relationships as we all do, but he tries to do the right thing. And then he’s forced into a crossroads, both personally and professionally, that he never saw coming. I just really like him as a human being, so I enjoyed writing him. He’s not so over-the-top hero or reformed bad boy one finds over and over again in the genre.
Morag was fun, because she’s what I wish I was as a dresser. I was good at my job – she’s outstanding. Amanda was a hoot – she’s the focus of the third book.
NS: What was the hardest ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT character to write?
AA: Mark Beers was hard, because I wanted to give him layers. He’s juggling a lot, and he’s not entirely unsympathetic, although he’s abrupt and not the best at dealing with people. But he’s unwaveringly loyal to the Vice President, and takes his mission of protection very seriously. And David, the Vice President – I wanted to layer in a lot of genuine charisma and talent and intelligence. He may be far from Morag as far as beliefs, and they’ve both got plenty of reasons for believing the way they do as deeply as they do, but David had to be genuinely believable in a position of power. Too often, characters like this are one-dimensional or ciphers. I wanted him to be more. I wanted to question myself for liking him, even though he might be a threat to Morag. The stronger and more interesting the antagonist, the more you give your protagonists to work with, and the more complex and interesting those relationships become.
NS: As a writer, who do you like to read?
AA: I read a lot, over a wide range of genres. I read a lot of non-fiction, especially when I research elements of the novels or the plays. When I read fiction, I keep going back over and over to Shakespeare – there’s a reason we keep performing his work. I also read a lot of Terry Pratchett, Sharon Shinn, Thomas Mallon, Yasmine Galenorn, Chaz Brenchley, Dawn Powell, Ed McBain, Ann Aguirre, Neil Gaiman, Nicole Peeler, Jim Butcher, Juliet Blackwell, Barry Eisler, Carol Shields, Elizabeth Kostova, Deborah Harkness. The list goes on and on, and I’m always on the search for new-to-me authors. That’s why I love anthologies of novellas or short stories – great way to discover new-to-me authors.
NS: That’s a great list! Now, if you don’t mind, I’d love to get a glimpse of the writer at work. Computer or pen and paper? What’s your ideal writing day? Mood music?
AA: Both. I still love writing in longhand, but working directly on the computer is necessary if I’m on deadline.
I get up early, do yoga & meditate, feed the cats, put on the coffee. Then I write my first 1K of the day. After that I shower, eat breakfast, blog, check email, and sort projects into priorities. I switch back and forth between projects as necessary. I like to go out to lunch with friends or to a lecture or whatever. In the afternoon, if I’m caught up on the writing, I’ll edit, teach, or read whatever I’m being paid to review at the moment. Evenings are spent with friends or relaxing or, if I’m on deadline, writing or turning galleys around. Factor in family time, volunteer work, like my time with the National Marine Life Center (www.nmlc.org) and other interesting events, or research trips or having to go and conduct in-person interviews, and every day is different, once that first 1K is done. Which is how I like it.
I don’t use music often now, unless there’s a lot of exterior noise. I moved away from NYC to Cape Cod, and I like hearing the natural sounds after all the city noise. Of course, if someone turns on a leaf blower, I want to strangle them with the hose! ;) When I use music, it has to be instrumental, no lyrics. Sometimes I’ll use music with lyrics if I’m stuck – I’ll put it on and pace and mutter or dance around the room for a bit and get a breakthrough.
I never, EVER use soundtracks from shows or movies. That music was created for someone else’s process and would bleed into whatever I’m writing, which is inappropriate. You can often tell when something was written to a soundtrack, because it’s derivative of that music. Someone will send me a piece to critique, and I can tell exactly what soundtracks they used when they wrote it. The writing’s flat, because it has echoes of the original piece (even if there’s no plagiarism involved) and it hurts the story. So I just stay away from it. Classical, Celtic instrumental, Zydeco, or, when I’m ready for lyrics, Celtic or Nordic rock like Capercaillie or Texas or Hedingarna. I’ve been listening to a lot of Pink lately, when I’m not writing, and I want to get Stevie Nicks’s new album. Music with lyrics and a great beat can help me push through difficult passages, but when I’m actually writing, I only want quiet or instrumental.
NS: Ooh, I love Capercaillie…looks like you’ve given me another list to check out. So, what are you working on right now? Do we get to see more of Morag and Simon?
AA: I’m juggling several projects, as one does. I’m trying to finish the next romantic suspense under the Annabel Aidan name, THE SPIRIT RESPOSITORY, which centers on Bonnie and her love interest, Rufus. The spirits of his ancestors, going all the way back to New York’s time as New Amsterdam, are being stolen, and Bonnie helps him figure it out. Morag and Simon are mentioned, but don’t make an appearance. They’ll probably show up in the third book, where Amanda and Phineas Regan, another supporting character from ASSUMPTION, are the primary protagonists. I’m also juggling a new play, I have an unrelated paranormal mystery under submission, I’ve got an urban fantasy to finish editing and get out the door, I’m negotiating to move publishers for my Jain Lazarus Adventures, which are under the Devon Ellington name – while finishing the third book in that series -- and I’ve been working on this behemoth of a piece that’s a great big mess, but I love it, to I work on it intermittently whenever I can. The backdrop for that is over the period of time filming a series, over several seasons, how relationships shift and change over the stresses and time frame. Some of the characters also play characters in the series, so it’s an interesting challenge how to keep who anyone is at any given time clear, while dealing with crazy fans and nasty gossips and paparazzi, and some careers rising and others falling. It’s a big, unpublishable mess right now, but that’s part of the process, and I’ll figure it out eventually! ;)
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. This was fun!