In Which a Librarian asks a Talented Author a Small Number of Questions:
I started reading Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series when I just could not get into the epic complexity of Outlander but wanted to understand the whole “moving from one time period to another” craze that was happening. Not that Lauren’s books are not epic or complex–they definitely are, but I felt the Pink Carnation series was more my mindset at the time. Flowers, research library, spies…I fell in love. Hard. Could not get enough and unfortunately started the series when only four books were written but waited (im)patiently for each one over the years. They tested my patience but so worth the wait. It was the perfect balance between historical fiction and contemporary. I absolutely recommend her writing, most especially her Pink Carnation series but her stand alone novels are fantastic as well and fit right into what everyone is yearning to read. Let’s get to know her a bit better as she answers our questions in 3 to 5 Questions for Authors:
If you were a dewey number, what would you consider yourself to be?
I would dwell somewhere in the 800 to 900 range, in that nexus of Literature and History. I love living in other worlds, from worlds that once were to worlds that never were but ought to have been (in the immortal words of George MacDonald Fraser).
What do you have on your bedside table right now, or wherever you stash your “to read” pile of books?
Right now, I’m reading the second of Ellis Peters’s Cadfael mysteries, One Corpse Too Many, and I have Elly Griffiths’s second stand alone mystery novel, The Postscript Murders lined up to follow (I get twitchy if I don’t know what I’m reading next, so I always need to have my next read lined up before I finish the current one). I’ve always loved mysteries, from Golden Age crime writers like Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie to more modern iterations, like Elizabeth Peters and Julia Spencer-Fleming, but during the pandemic I’ve found myself returning to the mystery section of my bookshelves in a big way. I think it’s because there’s the assurance that at the end of the day, justice will always be served and the world be put to rights—which, in our own times of uncertainty, is incredibly comforting.
I recommend your Pink Carnation series often, it is so much fun. Is it hard to research going from present to historical time in the same book or is that what makes it more interesting?
I was just thinking about that! Right now, I’m working on a book that goes back and forth between two very closely connected timelines– Greece in 1896 and Cuba in 1898—and finding it very rough going because both timelines, even if they’re in roughly the same time period, are so heavily research intensive, so it’s hard to switch gears between what was going on in Athens in 1896 and exactly what the Rough Riders were doing on a given day in June 1898. It involves a lot of scrabbling with notes and heavily marked up printouts of primary sources. When I wrote the Pink Carnation books, and also my two modern/present day stand alone novels, “The Ashford Affair” and “That Summer”, I found the back and forth much easier because I was writing about my own world, so in those sections I didn’t have to worry as much about all the details, but could focus on the emotional arc of the story. (Or, in the case of my present day heroine in the Pink Carnation books, many snarky one-liners.) I always found popping into the modern bits very refreshing and relaxing after agonizing over the historical storyline.
And, yes, the back and forth does make it all more interesting to me! I’m fascinated by the interplay of the past and the present: by the way the past affects our lives in all sorts of ways we’re of which we’re only dimly aware; by the way we retell and reinterpret the past in successive generations; by how important our myths of the past are to our present and what happens when those myths are challenged. So I do love getting to use the dual timeline structure to explore those themes.
If you were to come back to life as an animal, what would you be and why?
A hedgehog. I have a sweater with a picture of a hedgehog in a teacup, and I feel like it was really made just for me.
Do you like writing standalone books better than a series? Do you think you will write another series?
It’s a case of apples and oranges. I love both for different reasons—and, of course, whichever one I’m writing, I love the other more! (Because the grass is always greener….) There’s a glorious freedom to writing stand alone novels. I’ve gotten to zigzag from 1920s Kenya to Victorian London to Gilded Age New York to colonial Barbados to the battlefields of World War I—and now to 1890s Greece and Cuba. So writing stand alones definitely satisfies my historical wanderlust. (Sometimes I feel like Belle, belting out, “I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere…” and there’s an awful lot of great, wide somewhere out there when writing stand alones.) But I also love the coziness of returning to a familiar world, of getting to revisit old characters from different angles, of getting to take side characters and say, “Wait! This person needs a story of her own!”
In an ideal world, I would love to write both. I have several series ideas I’ve been wanting to play with forever… but I also have two small children, so I’ve learned the hard way that there’s only so much I can commit to writing at any given time. My hope is that once both kids are in school for a full day (about three years from now, cross fingers, knock on wood, and no more pandemics!), and I know I have a certain amount of writing time, I can start branching out and take on one of those series ideas while still continuing to write my stand alones. But we’ll see what the future brings!
Lauren Willig is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. Her works include The Summer Country, The English Wife, The Forgotten Room (co-written with Karen White and Beatriz Williams), and the RITA Award winning Pink Carnation series.