‘Archer Hamilton is a collector of rare and beautiful insects. Gina Shaw is a servant in his uncle’s house. Clearly out of place in the position in which she has been discovered, she becomes a source of fascination . . . and curiosity.
A girl with a blighted past and a fortune she deems a curse, Gina has lowered herself in order to find escape from her family and their scheming designs. But when she is found, the stakes suddenly become dire.’
Where did the idea for Of Moths and Butterflies come from?
The subject of arranged marriage has always been a fascinating one to me. What would happen if you found yourself married to someone whom you might have learned to love under more congenial circumstances? While I was pondering this question, I happened to hear a song by Royksöpp called 49%, in which, the singer asks the question about happiness, and if you are less than happy, why don’t you do something about it? But it’s never as simple as just changing your attitude, is it? And so I began to examine what it is that prevents us from being happy when we might choose to be. These ideas I combined with the first church scene, which came to me in a dream, and that, combined with a little personal experience (what author does not write a little of themselves into their stories?) is how Moths came to be.
What are your own favourite scenes in the book?
I love the scenes with Roger and Claire. They have this stormy chemistry that is both funny and infuriating. Probably of those between Archer and Imogen is that which takes place as she is working as a maid and trying to lay his fire. He’s already aware of her, but until then he doesn’t know she is a servant in his uncle’s house. It sort of upsets the coal scuttle, so to speak.
Of all the characters in your book, who are you fondest of?
Well, Archer, really, I suppose. Though Claire was by far the funnest and easiest to write. In earlier versions of the work, Archer had a friend and mentor named Atlas. He was superb, but he had to go, as Claire ended up fulfilling his purpose. I hope to find a use for him in another work, someday.
Which books/authors do you think most influenced you when developing the novel?
I have to say, of all my influences, Dickens is the greatest. Next to him, George Meredith. They had so much to say, their words were so powerful. And they knew how to be both entertaining and thought provoking. They wrote brilliant, memorable characters, and could make their points with humour or pathos or with a punch in the gut. I love complex plots. I love a multiplicity of characters and themes, but it all must be done with a certain amount of subltety and panache. Perhaps it’s the subtlety I appreciate the most. That and the absolute love of language. I really miss that in a lot of modern literature. I’ve really tried, as far as I was able, to recreat it literature of the era, and yet still have something that was accessible and pertinent.
May we know a little about your next novel?
My next published work will actually be my first written piece. Cry of the Peacock. It is also about the raising of a young woman of humble circumstances to a position she is not accustomed to and like Moths dabbles with the subject of arranged marriage. But it is a vastly different story, both in purpose and in feel. At its core it is the story of a wrong committed upon one family by another, and how the consequences of those wrongs have trickled down from one generation to another. And when, decades later, recompense is attempted, it comes so late and in such a manner that it might do more harm than good, especially when it made out of obligation rather than any true sense of justice.
I hope to have Cry of the Peacock out in April.
How do you work? In starts and spurts, or do you have a timetable you adhere to?
A bit of both, really. I work best when it’s completely spontaneous. But it’s a habit with me, to start something spontaneously and then to set a rather ambitious schedule to it. I do write almost every day. I’m not happy when I don’t have a little time at the writing desk, even if it’s only to edit. Most of my ideas come by way of dreams, which I write down and store for plot ideas, or just build on as I lay awake at night waiting for sleep to come. At the moment, having three complete or very nearly complete novels, I have a fairly rigid schedule for having them ready and out, and also for writing something new. I’m really itching to go back to first-drafting. The birth of a new creation is my favourite part of the process.
Do you have a favourite system for working?
I outline my plots, but I do it with the understanding that characters have their own thoughts and feelings and opinions, and may make choices for themselves that I had not expected. Still, the outline helps me to know where to start, and where it is I want to end up. Everything in the middle (and sometimes, to my chagrine, the end as well) is negotiable. Other than that, I mainly start with dialogue. The words flow best when the characters interact with each other.
Do you have a place you keep especially for writing?
I have a desk, which I maintain whereever I live. It’s a combination of a table I inherited from my great grandmother and an antique secretary I found in a second hand store, and which fits perfectly atop the table. At the moment I have an office, because I am a messy worker and I need to be able to shut the door on my projects at times. But I do always maintain some corner where I can be organised, or messy, as the occasion requires. That does not mean, necessarily, that that is always where I work, but yes, I do, for organisation’s sake, have a place reserved to work.
Which comes first: images, plot or characters? Or other?
Hmmm. That’s sort of a hard one. As I’ve said, most of my plots originated as dreams, but my dreams are more emotion than imagery, and it’s the emotion, the atmosphere, that drives me to write. Characters, possibly. I really have to believe in the people I’m writing about in order to follow them around and write down all they do. I definitely fall in love with my heroes, and therefore step into the shoes of my heroines, when I can do it without making them too much like me.
Do you think writers are more empowered now than before?
I think all artists are more empowered now. I’ve seen more than one friend turn down a big six publisher. I’ve seen talented artists post their hobbyist music on MySpace and have it go viral, picking up record deals in consequence. I think we live in a day where, across the board, artists are tired of letting corporations and labels decide what is readable, listenable, watchable, wearable, etc. Amazon has really empowered the author, but I’m aware the dust hasn’t settled, and that many changes are still coming. I’m grateful to Amazon for the liberty they’ve given authors, but I lament to see that many authors still sell themselves short, either by not taking the time to really learn the craft, or by undervaluing their product, which hurts us all in the end, and makes us slaves to the masses rather than big companies. *sigh*
Any thoughts or advice on writing you’d like to pass on?
Well…I don’t know. I think as a writer/artist, the most difficult thing for me to learn (and two years ago I thought it was writing) is when to listen to advice, and when to toss it aside. Not all advice is good or even well intentioned. Many people are threatened by artists who pursue success in their craft. Within and without the writing world, I’ve let too many people convince me I was not good enough. I used to have such a passion for it. That passion is still there, but I guard it very carefully. I don’t shout about it. I don’t share it with others. I still feel a bit of shame about it, really. And so I would say, if you have that flame and excitement, keep it and don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Don’t let anyone convince you you don’t have it in you. At the same time, learning how to write, or do anything else artistic, takes time and patience. And a team of trustworthy advisors, editors, readers, shoulders to cry on, etc is absolutely essential. Knowing when you’re ready is difficult. But possibly more difficult is knowing when to stop listening to the critics.
On which websites/social media can people connect with you and your work?
I’m on Facebook, so are the books as pages. I’m on Twitter, though I forget to check in and update my tweets. I’m not very tech savvy, so it’s taking me a while to learn the ropes of the virtual world. Other than that, I have my blog, which is at my website, http://www.vrchristensen.com, and I’m on Library Thing, Goodreads, Google+, and I’m trying out a new website called Pinterest.com, where you can post links and pictures, sort of scrap book style, both for organisation and interest sharing. I’m testing it out as a possible marketing tool, but I expect to post miscellaneous info about my other interests as well, including my historic preservation projects.
Where can readers buy your book?
My official publishing date is October 27th, but I believe the e-book will be available on Kindle, Nook and Smashwords earlier than that. Initially, it will only be available in e-book and hardcover formats, but a paperback edition will follow in February. And it should be available everywhere. Either online, or by request wherever books are sold.