Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pursue the Unknown End by Emily Steers: An Author Interview

Last year, a college classmate released her debut novel Collecting The Constellations, a contemporary  mystery-adventure story. The sequel to that book, PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END, was released on September 1, 2017.

Fresh off their life-altering trip to Kathmandu, Charlotte and Rory left New York City for the relatively quiet confines of Tilly's Texas ranch. On the day of their wedding, a mysterious gift arrives on the doorway, soliciting the pair to uncover the secrets of its confines A.S.A.P.

The contents of the box send the pair to Boston, the former Hub of the Solar System, to dig through America's complex history of business, representation, and human rights. 

But as Charlotte and Rory get closer to uncovering one of Boston's best-held secrets, new revelations about their relationship come to light.

Add Pursue the Unknown End to your Goodreads shelf. You can get both books in Emily's Antiquities series on Amazon for $1.98.

On with the interview!

1. Pursue the Unknown End is the second book in the Antiquities series and the sequel to Collecting the Constellations. How soon after writing the first book did you start writing the second? 

Truthfully, it took months. The actual effort and turmoil of self-publishing COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS really took it out of me! But I always knew that the adventures that Charlotte and Rory went on couldn't stop at one book, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how I could create a new structure around which they could continue. COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS ends, and PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END starts, with them both in such an unmoored, limbo state with their careers and lives. I love books about transitional periods that don't really revolve around the typical moments of change– marriage, birth, death, etc. Life transitions happen so much more frequently than we'd like to admit. 

And transitional times are rife for conflict--and as you say, they happen much more than we'd like to admit. 

Collecting the Constellations took place in Nepal and India--places you haven't been, right? Pursue the Unknown End takes place in and around Boston, which I know you know very well 'cause we went to college there. What made you want to bring the setting closer to home this time around?

As much as I've always wanted to go to Nepal, I haven't been. So it was a really fun project to research everything that happens in Kathmandu– and let me tell you, EVERYTHING is researched, even down to the color of polo shirts they wear at the Indian version of Target that I reference toward the end of COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS. Believe it or not, that's all real, even though a lot of readers thought I was making it up. 

Boston was actually a bit of a mental backlash to the criticism I got about putting Charlotte in such an "exotic" location in the first book. Even though I'd researched every last detail about Nepal and India in CONSTELLATIONS, a bunch of people were like, "That's not real! That can't be real!" So, I thought: what's better known than one of the oldest cities in America? And what's more mundane than the place where you went to college? Of course, the age of Boston lends itself to mystery– I still learn weirdo tidbits about the city that make me realize how old it is. That bit about the grave sites and pathways? Totally true. 

I like cemeteries. I have very clear memories of walking past and into the graveyards in Boston. Oddly enough, they were one of my favorite parts of living in Boston for the three years I was in college. What was your favorite part of writing Boston?

I lived, for a brief time as a child, north of Boston, near Gloucester. Then, obviously, I spent many years in the Back Bay while attending Emerson. I know enough about the southern Cape and the whaling industry due to my parents' current hometown near Mystic, CT, where there's a living museum dedicated to old ships and the fishing and whaling industries of New England in the 1800s. I think when you're a kid and growing up there, you forget how small New England is, and you certainly can't grasp just how much of America is still based on colonial norms and means. 

While at Emerson, I lived in the smallest apartment ever in the Back Bay and worked in a few different parts of Boston– in Faneuil Hall/North End and closer to the Fenway as well. I walked everywhere– past the burial grounds, past the plaques of information, past the statues, past the museums. Walking the same paths every day for three years (I graduated early), you do come to memorize the details that you see. Also, I think it's funny that while most of New England is deeply rooted in "townie" culture, Boston is incredibly diverse (well, compared to non-city New England). I didn't want Charlotte to come in contact with too many Boston natives. "Scholarly Boston" is a fascinating culture. 

As someone who is a bit of a conservationist and certainly an animal rights activist, the history of the whaling industry in America is mind-boggling to me. It was like Silicon Valley is today, but a million times as disgusting and dangerous. But, as it's touched upon in the book, the whaling industry was at its height during a huge upheaval in American cultural norms, too– black freed men were allowed to work, for pay, on ships; and certainly the abolitionist/anti-south sentiment of Northerners was coming to a head, too. I'm not saying the North is a paragon of virtuous racial relations– OH, SO FAR FROM IT– but it was always an interesting time to me. Of course, this was a time of gender relations upheaval, too. Basically, Boston was a freaking cultural mess at that time. Feels familiar. 
Example of scrimshaw
From Wikipedia

The scrimshaw--and whole mystery around it--felt more intricate this time around. Do you remember what inspired that part of the book?

I wanted something that was about the complete, artistic opposite as the archaeological piece of the first book. COLLECTING THE CONSTELLATIONS revolved around a sapphire blade. And to me, a piece of folk art made from a tooth really fit the bill. The mystery of CONSTELLATIONS revolved around gods and wealth and the cosmos while the scrimshaw of PURSUE THE UNKNOWN END exalts the mundane, and very, very ordinary people. Even though most of the sailors at that time were of some sort of Protestant sect, there's not a whole lot of God depicted in scrimshaw. You think to yourself, "What kind of secret could this possibly bear?" and you know it has to do with personal, intimate secrets, and not secrets of the universe.

I was giving Rory a lot of side eye toward the end of the book (as if he didn't know who he was marrying! Honestly!). There's another one coming in this series, right?

Oh, definitely! It's funny– I got a bit of flak after the first book for making Rory a true female stand-in in an adventure series. Without a doubt, he's just kind of there to be hot and make Charlotte be the hero. So I thought to myself, "You want a male character that's more real? You're not going to like what you read!"

What else are you working on?

I just finished the rough draft of the first book in a new book series. VIVIAN VALENTINE GETS HER MAN is about a Girl Friday whose P.I. goes missing, and she has to finish his case– all while trying to figure out what happened to her boss. It's so fun to write, as it takes place in perfect world for a noir-ish mystery– New York City in 1950. I just love writing smart-aleky women. But I'm going to be querying agents on this soon, and hoping I can go a more traditional publishing route with it.

Thank you so much Emily for answering my questions and stopping by!

Emily (Steers) Edwards is one of the few writers based in Los Angeles who doesn’t write screenplays. With an extensive background in corporate copywriting and editorial, she has written for several national publications and keeps her own lifestyle blog. Emily is a graduate of Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program. She resides in Pasadena with her husband and their two dogs. To keep in contact, follow her on Twitter @MsEmilyEdwardsInstagramFacebook, or on her blog, Yankee Smartass.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

IWSG October

It is the first Wednesday in October, which means it's time for IWSG DayThe awesome co-hosts for the October 4 posting of the IWSG are Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan!

What insecurities do I have this month? Well, I have one project I'm losing interest in, but trying to persevere and finish. I have another project idea bearing ideas for a series and characters and plot.

Which brings me around to this month's IWSG question:

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

I remember my theater major friends in college talking about how they had to "find their way in" to a character. The longer I write, the more characters I come up with, the more I realize that I, too, need to find my way in to a character, even if our circumstances are utterly different. 

For my historical characters, the personal information we share isn't very personal at all, if we indeed share anything in common. 

For the few contemporary characters I've written to completion, the problem is usually that we have too much in common. I'm generally more comfortable in historicals because the time period and such dictates that my characters and I are very different people. In contemporaries, I've had a harder time not making the characters into fictionalized versions of myself or friends, which is really annoying. I don't even do it on purpose. It's just mostly turned out that way. 

But I guess there's always a little something in my characters of myself: a particular point of view, a dry sense of humor, an emotional reaction, cultural similarities. They're more intangible and only people who know me really well would be able to read one of those and realize that that's from me and not the character; or they may not know that that little bit of information is from me at all.

So, of course, the new project series idea is a contemporary and I am determined to make sure that a) these stories are outlined because I'm tired of this mid-manuscript confusion and b) I want to develop my characters as people on their own.

The upside of contemporary? Not having to dive into tons of research. I can watch YouTube videos as research. Oh, my God, I'm so excited!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My Collection of Research Books

I was looking around the blogosphere this morning and saw a blog post by one of my favorite historical fiction authors Elizabeth Chadwick, with a huge list of her mountain of research books.

Go check it out here.

So I decided to take a few pictures of my molehill of research books, which I've acquired for a variety of past projects and/or just out of curiosity and exploration of an era.

(Which is to say, I'll get back to the Victorian era when I damn well feel like it).

I used to have Tudors boooks (I'm down to two, which are biographies of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I), but when I finally acknowledged that a) Tudor-land is oversaturated and b) I wasn't actually going to write that story of the monastery being tore apart during the English Reformation, not knowing anything about Catholicism, Anglicanism, or monasteries beyond what Ken Follet's books taught me, those books were sold on Amazon. 

I expect some of these will get rotated out as well, at some point. 

If you haven't read Bury the Chains, by the way, it's wonderfully written and not at all dry. It's about the British abolition movement.

And Asians in Britain was fascinating, super detailed, and I can't wait to weave in what I learned in it into a few of my nineteenth-century set stories at some point. 

The blue book is called Jane Austen: The World of Her Stories. Really great things in there about Jane Austen's era, from the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, and it covers the Regency period and what was going on in the world and how they reflect and come up in Jane Austen's novels. 

Staying Power is about the history of black people in Britain. 

The top two here are when I realized I knew nothing about sailors and specfically, the shipping trade in Bristol in the eighteenth century. Turns out I didn't need to know all that much to write Pearl, but they came in relatively useful. 

Bluestockings is about the first British women to get a university education in the late nineteenth into the twentieth century. I got a few funny anecdotes from it, but it was very focused on Cambridge and Oxford, even though other universities were admitting women as full students much earlier.

The little books are Daily Life in a Victorian House and Colonial Wiliamsburg, which I bought at age eleven in Williamsburg, and tried to use to write an American Girl-style Revolution story. It didn't work out.

And yes, the bottom three are American Girl Collection books. Children's books are awesome for research because they often have maps and pictures. 

These are the print books I have; there were others I read on Kindle for research, but print books are the best for research books, guys. It's harder to highlight, underline, flag, or flip back and forth in an electronic book.

One of my plot bunny ideas is a contemporary idea, where the research will be more like "research." I'm so looking forward to that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

So long, Bandstand!

In January, when my friends Nali, Jess, and I went to BroadwayCon, there was a new Broadway preview thing, which was dangerous because you sing me a showtune and I get hooked and then there's money pouring out of my wallet because I want to see the shows. 

Hearing Laura Osnes and Corey Cott sing "This is Life" was my "ooh, ooh, ooh" moment. Then I watched their performance on the Tonys.

I finally saw it on September 7th, with my usual Broadway partners in crime and it was everything I expected. Amazing dancing. Like, seriously. Great acting. Fantastic singing (See, Corey Cott's singing at the top of his range. He's doing the male equivalent of belting, said my brain as I leaned forward in my seat. Oh, wait, he just went up a notch on that belt...wtf? How did that happen?)

Bandstand was also an original musical, not based on a book or a movie, with new songs. That's rare these days on Broadway.

Sadly, Bandstand, too, closes today, which is why there are two blog posts today.

It starred Corey Cott and Laura Osnes (here's a link to her Broadway.com Bandstand vlog). Corey plays Donny Novitski, a recently-returned WWII army vet and musical prodigy, who is having trouble adjusting back to life in Cleveland. He hears about a MGM music contest and decides to form a band of fellow vets so they can enter the competition--the Donny Nova Band.

The cool thing was all of the band members played their own instruments. Here's a video from a pop-up performance the Donny Nova Band did of "Ain't We Proud."

Laura Osnes played Julia Trojan, a war widow, who happens to sing and write some poetry. She's the widow of a war buddy of Donny's and he checks in on her and learns that she can sing really well. She joins the band as their singer.

I cried at this show--that's never happened to me during a musical. It's not a sad show, but it deals with some heavy subject matter--post-war traumatic stress, namely. Bandstand was so heartfelt; I felt like I'd been emotionally devastated but I was happy that I'd been emotionally devastated, you know?

God, us creatives are such sick puppies.

In essence, I cried a little. I laughed. I had chills. I was cheering. But most of all, I was totally sucked into the show and felt really present.

The music is very 1940s swing and big band, which was a kick to hear. Makes you want to move around. The director is also a choreographer, so the dancing was so amazing to watch--it was super athletic and sinuous and era-appropriate.

My friend Jess is a dancer; she'd seen Bandstand a few months ago and loved all the swing dance, so she took a couple of classes and through Audience Rewards (@audiencerewards #GetRewarded), got to take a dance class with the dance captain of Bandstand doing the show choreography, which is sooo cool.

Jess is the one in the front in the white tanktop. There's video as well, but I couldn't get it to upload.

Goodbye to Groundhog Day

This year, I've seen four new musicals, which is quite a lot to see within a year for me. Alas, of those four, one closed right after my friends and I went to see it and today, two more are closing.

Groundhog Day and Bandstand are playing their final performances today, which is a real shame. They were my favorites this year and they really deserved to go on longer runs. So I'm writing goodbye posts for them, but they're separate because I have a lot of feels, mmkay?

Groundhog Day is based on the Bill Murray dramedy about a cynical weatherman who gets stuck covering Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA and living the same day over and over again.

The main reason I was really excited to see this was the composer, Tim Minchin. He composed Matilda the Musical, which I loved, as well as a bunch of rude and comic songs, which I also love.

Andy Karl--who tore his ACL onstage just before the musical officially opened--played Phil Connors, the cynical weatherman, and Barrett Doss played Rita Hanson, Phil's associate producer and romantic interest. I've seen the show once; on the night I was there, not only was Andy Karl still wearing a knee brace for his injury, but they had to stop the show for a few minutes when a set piece on one of the stage's revolvers didn't move on cue.

What I loved and connected to the most in this show is the message of hope, that we should strive to be our best selves, that we should try not to waste our time on earth with petty shit--but it isn't sappy or like a typical musical, I guess. All of that wrapped in a musical with great melodies, fantastic staging, and lots of movement and really clever lyrics.

My friend Jess, who has seen the show several times, when asked what resonated with her the most from Groundhog Day, said, "I think superficially I love the humor and cleverness of it from the lyrics to the staging. But then the message I got from it was a reminder to not be self-absorbed but show kindness to others. And redemption is possible, just have to work at it."

My friend Nali has seen Groundhog Day four times. At the August 31st performance, Tim Minchin came out for the curtain call. She said the audience was really into the show that night as well, which is so great to hear. Because the show was fresh for her, she had a lot to say about what resonated to her: "For me it was definitely the snark and wit in the lyrics -- a seemingly inspirational song (Hope) about not giving up hope which is actually about him giving up hope that he can kill himself. Overall the message does move the audience to be less self involved but it's not preachy -- it's the theater version of "showy not Telly.'"

Nali also noted, "The set design was crazy amazing! They weren't elaborate set pieces but even when they moved it was like a dance and fluid. They managed to create a sense of perspective. Looking into the room from outside, then you're inside. But then it's sparse -- there are moments when he wakes up and it's just his bed. You don't need the rest of it anymore because his room is already well defined. And the room's size changes with his mental state. When he's dismissive or frustrated, the three pieces are locked in. When he realized he can do whatever he wants - the set piece was just his bed. The town only had a few characters and I felt like I really got to know all of them. It wasn't just a Phil story."

Jess is seeing the show again tonight, so I'm sure it'll be an emotional last show. Groundhog Day is going on a national tour, though, so keep your eyes peeled!