First of all, thanks, Anna, for inviting me to your book blog! I’m the author of Dark Companion, a young adult Gothic, and also the Casa Dracula books and Nancy’s Theory of Style, which are romantic comedies. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live with my family. I’ve been writing all my life, but I don’t color neatly between the lines, so my books don’t fit within genre conventions. My default setting is snarky.
Dark Companion is your latest release, can you tell us a little about it?
I first wrote the story many many years ago as an homage to Jane Eyre, one of my very favorite novels. It’s not a retelling, but I’ve tried to echo themes and Gothic tropes. I was always interested in Jane’s rage – she was a fierce little creature, not some mild governess – and I love stories where a naive character is tricked and manipulated and must figure out a way to survive.
My Jane Williams is also an orphan. She’s raised in loveless, abusive foster homes in terrible neighborhoods. She realizes that if she reinvents herself through education, she can escape the hood. When she excels academically, she’s offered a full scholarship to elite Birch Grove Academy and even her own cottage among the birch trees on campus.
Jane loves her new school, her bright and talented classmates, and her security, but she begins to sense that things are not quite right. The more she learns, the more she realizes that the people at Birch Grove are hiding dark secrets. She has her own secrets: everyone assumes she’s a pleasant, bright girl, but inside she’s furious at the world and broken.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always written. It’s what I do compulsively. I think there’s a difference between writing and wanting to be a writer. Some people are caught up in the romance of “being a writer,” although they’d never dream of being a plumber, which is a vastly more practical and useful career.
Which books/authors have you been enjoying in the last several months?
I used to be a freelance garden writer and I’ve dragged out all my beautiful gardening books. They’re densely written books of description with eye-candy photographs. My TBR pile is eclectic. I’ve got Andre Agassi’s autobiography; an ARC of D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker, a historical urban fantasy with magic; and I just downloaded the audiobook of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, which I can’t wait to listen to.
How did you come up with your idea for Dark Companion? Anything particular inspire you while writing?
Besides Jane Eyre, I was inspired by The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the 1969 film based on Muriel Spark’s novel. The story is set in an all-girls school with a charismatic, but misguided teacher and I loved the hothouse setting of a private school. I’ve always been interested closed systems or environments, where those involved are persuaded to think that madness is normal.
That sounds quite negative, but I also wanted my story to feature bright, talented, kind-hearted girls like my classmates at an all-girls school and in college. Sometimes the girls you assume will be snobby turn out to be wonderful and friendly.
Since becoming published what has been the most surprising thing?
I guess the surprising thing is that no matter how hard I work there’s never enough time in the day. I also miss days of just reading and without thinking about my own writing projects while I’m reading. Now that I know the business side of things, I have trouble getting lost in fiction.
If you could give your lead characters one piece of advice, what would it be?
Oh, I wouldn’t give them advice! I love their mistakes and flaws. Besides people never take advice on relationships and they resent the advisor, especially if she’s right. If I had to give any advice, it would be “Always keep receipts.”
For the readers new to Gothic books, do you have any recommendations?
My favorite is, of course, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I am also very fond of Villette, her dense psychological Gothic. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a dark, ominous story of a young woman who finds her life subsumed by her rich husband’s dead wife.
One of my favorite contemporary Gothic novelists is Sarah Waters, who wrote the deliciously twisted Fingersmith, which is set in Victorian England, and The Little Stranger.
I also think that if someone wants to dip their toes into the Gothic pool, she can try Barbara Michaels’s romantic Gothics, such as Ammie, Come Home and The Crying Child Michaels is a pen-name for Elizabeth Peters, and these books are gentler stories with feisty, smart romance heroines, but they always give chills.
If you can please tell us what is next for you?
I’m working on two books: one a ghostly Gothic about two young women who haunt each other across time, and one a book featuring Mary Violet, from Dark Companion. Mary Violet is invited to help curate the papers of Birch Grove’s most illustrious alumna, a reclusive poet. There’s a dark secret, intriguing and handsome young men, a depilated mansion on atop a hill, and, of course, lots of poetry.
Anna, thanks so much for having me here on your blog! It’s been wonderful reading your reviews over the years as you’ve established yourself as one of the most trusted reviewers online.
By Marta Acosta
Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends.
She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.
The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?
As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle,she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there….
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