Interview with Author Debra BORCHERT

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Debra BORCHERT, a clothing designer, actress (starring in her first television commercial with Jeff Daniels for S.O.S. Soap Pads), TV show host, spokesperson for high-tech companies, marketing and public relations professional, technical writer for Fortune 100 companies and author, about her writing and her recently released book, Her Own Revolution, a compulsively readable and tremendously enjoyable second installment in the Château de Verzat Series (Read the review here.)

Debra Borchert has had many careers. She debuted, at the age of five, as a model at a local country club where her crinoline petticoat dropped to her ankles in the middle of the runway.

Since then, she’s been a clothing designer, actress (starring in her first television commercial with Jeff Daniels for S.O.S. Soap Pads), TV show host, spokesperson for high-tech companies, marketing and public relations professional, and technical writer for Fortune 100 companies.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Writer, among others. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and independently.

A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, she weaves her knowledge of textiles and clothing design throughout her historical French fiction. She brings her passions for France, wine, and cooking to all her work. The proud owner of ten crockpots, she is renowned for her annual Soup Parties at which she serves soups from different cultures. She offers her soup recipes on her website.

Debra’s debut novel, Her Own Legacy, is the first in a series that follows headstrong and independent women and the four-hundred loyal families who protect a Loire Valley château and vineyard, and its legacy of producing the finest wines in France during the French Revolution. Her Own Revolution is the second book in the Château de Verzat series.

She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family and standard poodle who is named after a fine French Champagne.





What does literary success look like to you?

My goal is to share my stories, so publication is success. I have also been very pleased with the literary reviews and awards my work has received. The greatest compliment is receiving honest reviews from people I don’t know.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Although I am terribly organized, I am a peripatetic researcher. I allow my discoveries to propel my interest and feed the story. I use online databases to confirm facts and maps of the time period, but I must write about a place with all five senses.

I traveled to France six times to research three books over the course of ten years, and I’ll do another trip for the fourth book. Luckily, I had many frequent flier and stay points to cut costs.

While visiting a château in the Loire Valley, I entered a dungeon—alone. I stopped, listened, tried to inhale the quality of the air, and realized I was scared. Although one of my characters is a twelve-year-old boy, much more courageous than I, I realized he might have similar sensations when he faced danger. I increased the emotion to terror for another protagonist, Geneviève, because she is afraid of the dark. I would not have had those insights to draw upon without the direct experience.

You can’t get the sense of smell or taste from online research. I had an immense sense of awe in the midst of a vineyard overlooking the Loire River that I would not have experienced in any other way.

How many hours a day do you write?

I honor my creative process—wherever that takes me. Some days, I might write for eight hours. Others, I might start and stop. If I need to think through dialogue or a plot twist, I leave my desk, go for a walk or a swim, make a pot of soup, play with my dog. When I come back to my desk, I’m eager to write my thoughts. I’m not a procrastinator, so this process works well for me.

I also put my soup-making into my books. I think soup may have been the first form of fast-food. People in Paris did not always have a fireplace and therefore no means to cook. Street vendors sold hot coffee and chocolate, brandy, milk, lemonade from large jugs they often carried on their backs. Soups were considered restoratives and were one of the first foods served in restaurants. I include my soup recipes in my books.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing energizes and thrills me. Editing exhausts me because it requires so much attention to detail, consistency, and continuity. I created 43-page style guide I constantly refer to.

How often you read?

I read for at least an hour or two before going to sleep. I read to my dog. I listen to audio books while driving and doing the dishes. I read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, daily. I spend nearly as much time reading as I do writing. I love learning new things, like I just learned while reading an historical novel that sneakers were invented in the 19th century.

What is the most interesting historical tidbit you’ve included in your books?

There were many, but my favorite is the origin of red-heeled shoes. On a research trip to France, I found myself studying Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Portrait deLouis XIV en Costume de Sacre at Versailles. The Sun King wore white shoes with red heels, but as Louis was known for over-accessorising, I didn’t find his shoes unusual. Especially since red dyes were expensive and wearing the colour was often restricted to royalty.

But on a trip to the Musée Condé du Chantilly, while viewing Le Déjeuner d’huîtres (TheOyster Luncheon) by Jean-Francoise de Troy, I noticed that some of the gentlemen’s silver-buckled, black-leather shoes had red heels. It was clear that red-heeled shoes had a deeper meaning than wealth: they had to be a status symbol. After much research I learned that wearing red-heeled shoes meant that one had been presented at Court.

I wanted to incorporate this fact organically. I was greatly rewarded when a reviewer wrote, “The Compte de Verzat has answered a question about red-heeled shoes I’ve had for years.”

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I write historical fiction which is usually longer than contemporary fiction. Having had to read all 120,000 words countless times made me wish I’d written a shorter book. Because printing is so costly, I want my following books to be shorter. Now I ask myself: Is this scene absolutely necessary? My second book is 92,000 words. I’m in the process of trimming the third.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Writing classes, workshops, and editors. I have a degree in fashion design and marketing, so I came to writing after numerous careers. Every teacher I’ve studied with and every editor with whom I’ve worked has helped me become a better writer, and I’m grateful to every one of them.

How do you come up with or select the names of your characters

I watch the credits of French films and write down the names that interest me. I also consult a database of people who were guillotined during the French Revolution. I have books with lists of baby names, and I look up the meanings of names to see if they will fit my characters.

After my first book launched, Her Own Legacy, a man with the same last name as one of my characters contacted me and asked how I found this rare name. I was thrilled to tell him I was inspired by a similar name, Vieuzac, which I found embossed on a portfolio owned by a deputy of the National Assembly at the Musée Carnavalet in Paris. From that name, I searched for similar names and, as he pointed out, the name I discovered, Verzat, was rare—perfect for a fictitious character. I told him I hoped my character, who was noble, honorable, and kind, did justice to his name.

Why is historical accuracy important to you?

When I was writing my first book, my fiancé’s daughter asked me about the Women’s March on Versailles. After our discussion, she said, “I don’t have time to learn this stuff. I only have time to memorize it.” She’s an extremely intelligent woman, currently working on her PhD.

But, wow! What do facts and dates of an occurrence matter compared to understanding that the event was one of the first feminist movements in European history? And that many of the women were forced to march, and most of them, along with their children, were starving.

I know from my work as an interviewer, people usually only remember that which touches their hearts—requiring no memorization. So, I feel it is important to tell history in a way that touches people, for only then can we not repeat history. I believe WWII books continue to be so popular, in part, because we do not want to forget that which touches our hearts.

Because many readers read to learn, I feel it is incumbent upon me to be as accurate as is humanly possible.

But it’s fiction, right?

I had high school students in mind when I wrote my first book. And I knew that if my books were to be purchased by school libraries, they would need to be historically accurate to support students’ studies. And so, I strived for accuracy. I owe accuracy to all my readers.

For example: I learned that when the new government began to tax churches, universities, which were run by clergy, began to close. Can you imagine working hard to get into Harvard, only for it to close? My character lost his opportunity to finish his education because of the new law. When I make facts relatable, it’s easy for readers to remember.

I love historical fiction, but when I read anachronisms and incorrect facts, I lose trust in the author. I forgive one or two, but after that, I stop reading. For example, if I read that Marie Antoinette was drinking wine or champagne, I’d stop. The queen did not drink alcohol, which was a contributing factor to why the French, many of whom produced wine, did not like or trust her.

What inspired the premise of your book?

While researching my second book, Her Own Revolution, I read about the public prosecutor who was responsible for sending thousands to the guillotine. I asked myself, what if I were his daughter? More research revealed that he did have a daughter, but I had to make her a bit older than her actual age so she would have more agency, an alteration to fact which I confess in the Author’s Note in Her Own Revolution.

I often find myself writing characters who take the wrong actions for the right reasons, and Geneviève doesn’t stop doing wrong things in her efforts to save innocent lives.

Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?

I’m working on the third book, Her Own War, and have a scene in which a very loyal husband must act as a patron at a brothel in search of an African woman who has been enslaved there. It was difficult to put him in such surroundings because he is madly in love with his wife. So, although the scene is in his point of view, I began thinking from the lady-of-the-night’s point of view. She was out for a good time and loved teasing and tempting him. Once I gave her free reign, it was easier to have my protagonist act. It was tremendous fun to write once I allowed the characters to act without my expectations.

What sort of a relationship exists between you and the characters you created in this book?

If I don’t listen to my characters, they pitch a fit. I once re-wrote a scene many, many times, and Jacques kept intruding upon it. I finally stopped and asked, “Why are you here?” He responded, “You need me in this scene for your next book.” I thought, what next book?

What’s next for you?

I’m taking a break from historical and writing a holiday romance that takes place in the Christmas markets of France. The research should be just as delicious as it has been on my other trips.


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