Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
How often do you base your characters on real people?
My characters are often based on real people. While their stories, ideas, motivations, and humor are my own, their appearance, mannerisms, and names come from people in my life. I’ll also give familiar names to characters just because they’re easier to remember in a cast of dozens. The main character in A Perfect Night, Fran Tarantino, is a dear friend. Most of the story sprang from a little tale she once told me over cocktails about how she believed her mother’s spirit was still with her. Throw in other tales about how her aunt’s home was haunted, or how items go missing in her house only to reappear on top of her pillow months later, and how could I not make her the lead character in a story about witches?
My novels also host historical characters or personalities I’ve borrowed from popular media. Aurora Ciccone is based on the character of Margo Channing, portrayed by Bette Davis in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film, All About Eve. The timing, the voice, the attitude—I hear Bette Davis when Aurora speaks. Her sister-in-law, Liz, is based on Blanche Devereaux, Rue McClanahan’s character in The Golden Girls. When I need someone to deliver a line in my head properly, I can’t help but borrow one of the great actors.
Do you find writing therapeutic?
Writing is the most therapeutic activity I’ve ever come across. On the physical spectrum alone, the effects are undeniable. My blood pressure reduces, backaches disappear, and I sleep better at night when I’ve written that day. And nothing is better for my mind than solving mysteries, thinking about love and sorrow, and coming away with a better understanding of myself. Even if I weren’t writing novels, I’d still keep a daily journal to help my mind resolve its problems.
How often do you read?
I read almost every day. I have no time to read with my eyes, unless I’m researching for my own stories, but I read with my ears while I’m exercising or in the shower. At present, I’m reading through all of Duncan M. Hamilton’s novels. I started with his Wolf In The North series on Audible a few months back, and I’ve become obsessed with him
Do you read your book reviews?
Do they please you or annoy you? Do you think you can learn a lot from reading criticism about your work?
I read each review left for my books on their Amazon product page or Goodreads. The good reviews are just as pleasing as the bad ones are painful. Though I’m never happy to see a negative review, I feel a certain duty to read them and learn what I can from them. Now, I don’t mean the ‘This book sucks,’ one-star reviews. But if someone offers a reason why they didn’t like what they read, they have my full attention. Even if the reader only makes it through the first few chapters and is posting because of an Advance Reader Copy obligation to say something, I find their venom to be insightful.
Some criticism I’ve received has been very helpful for understanding my stories and characters from different perspectives, and I’ve changed my work on account of them at times. While my motivations to write are to thrill and please myself, I feel obligated to listen to those readers who pay for my work. I’m grateful to anyone who would take the time to share their thoughts with me, even if I disagree with what they might say.
Is writer’s block real?
To this question, I usually ask someone to explain what they mean by writer’s block, because my immediate answer is no. I could write all day, every day, if I had the chance. Are there moments where work stops on a book because I’m unsure of the next step in the story? Sure, but that’s not a block. That’s me pondering what’s the best choice for the story or character to make. I’m thinking through a dozen choices. I’m considering what would keep me enthralled. It takes time to think through all the variables and dream of the next step I want a character to take. I don’t consider that writer’s block at all. I could start a new page and write you three thousand words about what the characters had for dinner last night, but that won’t move the story along.
Tell us some more about your book.
A Perfect Night is a coming-of-age story for a young girl named Fran who believes the spirit of her dead mother has remained on earth to watch over her. The spirit both protects Fran from danger, and disciplines her when she misbehaves. Though her aunt and parish priest insist her mother’s spirit is in Heaven with God, Fran knows it to be untrue. As she grows older, she questions who or what the spirit truly is when its punishments become more pronounced. When Fran’s father dies, she meets his estranged family, who introduce her to a world of secrets she will soon inherit. Those secrets stem from a blood right and a curse on the women of her family.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
I was at dinner with my friend, Fran, when she mentioned how she was driving with her cousin one night when they fell asleep at the wheel. At some point, the cousin got shaken awake just in time to avoid slamming into a stalled call on the highway. After she gained control of the car, the cousin thanked Fran for waking her in time. But Fran had been asleep until the car swerved out of danger and woke her. I took that idea, of a spirit or guardian angel waking you in time to avoid disaster, and I thought about who or what they might be and what their presence might signify. To take Fran back to her own childhood, I set the novel in the early 1970s.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
By far, the character of Carla was my greatest challenge in this book. Anytime a character is suffering through physical or emotional abuse, it’s a nightmare for me to write. I’m a psychologist, and there’s no way for me to gloss over that type of experience. And when that abuse happens to a young person, it’s doubly difficult. I feel a strong obligation to be both honest about their journey and also show the insidious ways that abuse harms everyone in a family. In Carla’s case, she’s raped by her brother (presumably) from the ages of 15-17, and much of her experience is viewed and judged through the eyes of her mother and younger cousin, Fran. So, on one hand, you have a grown woman discovering things about her daughter only after the girl harms herself in response to the abuse. And then you have Fran, who’s been bullied by Carla, and sees the rape as Carla’s own fault. It took a lot of discipline on my part not to scream and cuss at the characters, or to write notes to the reader at the bottom of the page stating all the reasons Fran’s childhood reactions were inexcusable.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
The one that stands out to me is when Richie wakes up scared in the middle of the night after watching The Bride of Frankenstein. His father allows him and his sisters to stay up on Halloween to watch the movie on television. I won’t mention the reasons for the scene, but it’s based on an experience I had when I was also a seven-year-old.
On one dark and stormy Sunday, my father let me watch the movie alone in the living room while he worked in his at-home office, twenty feet away. Like all busy parents, he asked me if I was scared; if I was big enough to watch the film. And like all big boys, I insisted I wasn’t scared. But when the closing credits rolled, I was terrified out of my mind. I went to go find Dad in his office, but he was gone (to the bathroom, I later discovered). Unable to find him, I opened the front door to our suburban house and booked it across the street to my best friend’s house. I was too panicked to realize their family was gone to church. I ran back through the storm to find my father at our open front door with a perplexed look on his face. “Just checking to see if Andrew was home yet,” I said to Dad, and asked him for some lunch. I never told him what really happened.
Some might say I was a dignified child; others that I was a fool. All the characters in this novel are me in some regard, but Richie is the closest to who I was as a boy. And when he wakes up in the middle of the night alone and afraid of monsters, I’ll never forget it.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope my readers will take away an entertaining tale that gives them a lot to think about and a hunger for more. How did you decide on this title? The title comes from a line in The Bride of Frankenstein, and I included the full quote for the novel’s epigraph. When the film opens on a dark and stormy night, Percy Shelley and Lord Byron tease Mary Shelley that it’s a shame her famous monster story ended just when it was getting good. She laughs at them and says that wasn’t the end of her story—that she has so much more she’d like to tell them. “It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.” My story is about women who see ghosts, so I fell in love with it
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the third werewolf story for my Lykanos Chronicles series, which I hope to have out early next year.
Categories: Non Fiction