Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bookshelf: Interview with Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but ended up as a writer. But she's okay with that, because both careers allow her to explore the past and bring back to life the people who lived (or might have lived) there. She lives near Boston with her family, a ludicrous number of books and antiques which she of course buys purely for research purposes, and a bossy pet rabbit. You can visit her at her website,, or at the blog on nineteenth century teen life that she shares with fellow YA author Regina Scott,
INN: What's been the craziest part of Bewitching Season's journey to publication?

MD: Probably the fact that its release was delayed--originally it was due to be released in fall 2007, but for various reasons was re-scheduled for spring 2008. It was very disappointing news at the time, of course...but in the long run I think it was an excellent decision for many reasons: I learned a lot more about promotion and about the publishing world in general in that extra time, and I think readers are more interested in teen historical fiction now since the release of books like The Luxe and the last of Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy.

INN: If you could have dinner with any one of your characters, who would it be and why?

MD: Queen Victoria, definitely. I know my heroines so well that dinner with them would be like a regular family dinner, nothing special...but what fun to hang out with an eighteen-year-old Victoria. Most people have this mental picture of her as an old lady with a beaky nose swathed in black (all of her, not just her nose), but when she was young she was a total party girl and liked nothing better than watching the sun coming up after dancing at a ball all night. And could we invite my heroines' little brother, Charles, to the dinner as well? He has a huge crush on Victoria and I want to watch him blush over the quenelles of chicken a la Toulouse and the artichokes a la Provencale.

INN: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

MD: The dumb thing is, I don't know--originally I thought I would be an archaeologist and actually started on a doctorate before realizing academia wasn't quite where I wanted to spend my life. I've been writing all my life--I wrote and illustrated books in grade school (usually about witches and bad fairies kidnapping good fairy babies), edited and wrote for the newspaper and the literary magazine in high school, and wrote fundraising letters and grant proposals before becoming a stay-at-home mom...but it wasn't till I was in my 30s that the first real book ideas grabbed me. So I think the drive to write stories was always just needed time to ripen.

INN: What's your favorite book from nineteenth century England?

MD: Oh, I love this question! Can I list a few? I love Pride and Prejudice, of course, for its sly humor and depiction of early 19th century English life...I love Jane Eyre because Jane is such a wonderful character, spirited and human...and I love Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers for the humor and characters, but also for the deeper layers--he examined many of the social issues of the day, as Dickens did, but in a more nuanced way and without Dickens' cheesy melodrama.

INN: Tell us about your next book (due out spring 2009).

MD: Well, it's about what happens to the other Leland twin--Penelope, or Pen--when she goes to Ireland to study magic with her former governess Ally and Ally's new husband, who is Irish. She meets a gorgeous young man who just happens to be an illegitimate son of Queen Victoria's "wicked" uncle, the Duke Of Cumberland, and learns about Irish magic in ways she'd never dreamed of. I think it leans a bit more toward fantasy than Bewitching Season did, though the concerns about the Duke of Cumberland being a threat to Queen Victoria are historically quite real--a lot of people were worried he'd try to have her assassinated before she married and had children, because then he would get the crown. He had kind of a bad reputation, as you might guess, and was rumored to have killed his own valet, with whose wife he was having an affair. The modern royals have nothin' on these folks as far as juicy gossip goes.

INN: Any advice for teen writers?

MD: Yes! Read a lot, both in your favorite genres and out of them. Read non-fiction too, because it's a great source of ideas. Try to read with a writer's eye and analyze what works (what makes you laugh or cry or keeps you riveted to the page) and what doesn't in the books you read.

2. If you're not quite ready to write fiction yet, at least keep a journal and actually write in it. It will get you into the habit of writing, teach you to express yourself clearly and use words well. And since it's not for public consumption, you don't need to feel self-conscious about it.

3. Explore the internet. There are dozens of excellent blogs, websites. and forums about writing and the publishing industry out there...and if you want to be a writer, you need to know how the industry works. Start with the Absolute Write Water Cooler, a writers' forum

4. When you are ready to write, join a critique group (check at your local library--they often meet there) or find a trusted friend (I recommend a teacher) to read your work and comment on it. It's terrifying at first--probably one of the scariest things you'll do if you're serious about writing. But it will accomplish two important things: it will help you improve your writing, and it will get you accustomed to sharing your work. After all, if you ever want to see your work in print, you'll have to submit it to editors and/or agents some day.

Thanks, Marissa!

You can buy Bewitching Season at, and don't forget to visit Marissa at both her website and her blog at .


Barrie said...

Great interview! And I'd like an invite to dinner too. :)

Anonymous said...

Marissa Doyle sounds fascinating! Very interesting interview.

I've recently come across a book of historical fiction that many teens will enjoy -- could be a great curriculum addition for other homeschoolers out there. It's El Tigre by John Manhold. As says, the book "is a fast moving story that chronicles the life of Johann Heinrich von Manfred from his youth as a student in a Prussian military academy through his many exciting and dangerous adventures." It takes in settings from Spain to the Americas, moves to Florida to Texas, and ultimately, California's gold frontier.

Von Manfred becomes known as El Tigre, for the fierce and fearless jaguar, and maintains his dignity and principles through all his numerous adventures.

This is a great book on several levels, including the way it weaves in history so effortlessly. Plus -- what an inspiration to kids. The author (who's written several textbooks, so he knows how to provide information) has a grandfather who was a graduate of the Prussian Military Academy and who received multiple decorations during the Franco-Prussian War. And two uncles were gunfighters in the Nebraska Territory. He's won numerous shooting awards throughout the country and, at 88 years old, still competes.

My son thoroughly enjoyed this book, and we've gotten extra lessons out the story of John Manhold. My husband is reading it now.