I've been out of commission for a while but I'm back and pleased to welcome author Jessica Dall to the site for an interview and excerpt from her new novel The Copper Witch, which releases next month.
It's great to have you with us today, Jessica. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Tell the readers a little about your latest book. What's the setting? Who's the main character or characters?
Thank you for having me. The Copper Witch is the first book of a generational series I’m doing (called The Broken Line series) which follows a baron’s daughter named Adela through love, illness, backstabbing, and general court politics in the fictional country of Egaia. Though technically a fictional setting, the story is very strongly influenced by British history, the characters living mainly through a mix of Victorian and Tudor England (for this book, at least, Book 2 takes us more into an Enlightenment/Edwardian mix). My publisher has jokingly called it "Alternative World Historical Fiction" where it’s historical fiction in a place where society and politics haven't developed in quite the same pattern as they did in real life.
Alternative World Historical Fiction. I like it! Could you share with us what led you to write this particular novel? Was there a moment, or a series of moments that showed you this was the story you wanted to tell?
The original impetus actually came from a boring weekend and a free trial of ancestry.com. I’ve always been rather interested in genealogy and lucky for me my maternal great-grandparents were both from huge families meaning there has already been a lot of research done into that side of the family that is available online. Following one line way, way back, I ended up running into some British nobility and a direct ancestor with the name “Adela”. For some reason, the name stuck with me and it got me to thinking what had happened to all these generations of people. Especially the ones where family connections were everything, but you ended up as the seventh son or were so far removed from the “important” line of your family that all you really had was your pride. From there, Adela just stuck around and everything began to take shape.
Now to learn a bit more about you, if you could go anywhere in the world for a week...a place you've never been...where would you go?
I would love to take a cruise of the Mediterranean. I have been to Florence and Rome, but I’ve never gotten to spend much time on the coast or gotten to go anywhere else on the Mediterranean. It would be fantastic getting a chance to explore Greece, southern France, and more of Italy.
*scribbles in notes for future travel: Mediterranean cruise!*
Chocolate or vanilla?
Vanilla. I do eat my share of chocolate, I admit, but when it comes to anything but a chocolate bar, I tend to prefer vanilla (ice cream, cake, all that good stuff).
What is the first book you remember reading, or having someone else read to you, as a child?
My parents were very involved when it came to reading to me as a child, so I’m sure there are many I just don’t remember. My first memory of having a strong connection to a book, however, was first or second grade when I got into the American Girl books. Specifically Meet Kirsten. I actually still have my Kirsten doll in my closet from that year.
Like me, you are a NaNoWriMo participant. How did you learn about NaNo and what made you decide to take the plunge and give it a try?
My college roommate actually introduced me to it back in 2007 when on Halloween she said something along the lines of “Hey, I’ve got to go, I’m doing a NaNoWriMo launch party” Which of course led me to ask what the heck that was. I had written a novel in high school and dabbled with a few other stories since then, but hadn’t really completed anything else. And so, with no idea what I was going to write about, I started November 1st and just kept writing until I had something. I still credit the program with helping me get back to finishing novels I started, and luckily they have—for the most part—worked out. The Copper Witch started out as my 2011 NaNo project and Book 2, The Porcelain Child, was this year’s.
If your novel were made into a movie, who would you want to play the lead(s)?
I’m always awful at these questions, mostly because my characters tend to look like my characters in my head so I don’t have a go-to actor in my head for any of them. Honestly, though I likely wouldn’t have a ton of say in casting, I would probably push for lesser known actors to be cast in the lead rolls…though part of me would want to find a part for Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Kendrick just so I could hang around with them some.
Those two make my lists frequently as well. :o)
The library is on fire and you can only save five books. Which five do you choose?
Oh no, those poor books…Perhaps I should first grab “Dealing with Loss”. Anyway, out of nostalgia I think I would grab a copy of Liz Berry’s The China Garden (it was my favorite book when I was about fifteen). Perhaps also a collection of fairy tales because it’s nice to have a compilation of some sort/they’re great for inspiration/writing prompts. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory would also make strong showings, assuming indecision didn’t make it so the library burnt down before I could decide. Then, assuming I didn’t bother getting “Dealing with Loss” I would likely pick up one of the George R. R. Martin books simply because they’re huge and take me forever to get through. It likely would hold me over until they could start to rebuild.
Authors are readers, what kind of books do you enjoy reading? Which authors are auto-buys for you?
I have pretty eclectic tastes, though I have to say my favorites tend to be historical fiction, fantasy, and contemporary lit/chick lit (funny enough, that’s what I tend to write as well). Really, I tend to read books for the characters, though, so if a character catches me I’ll end up reading the story. As for authors, I was a huge fan of Philippa Gregory for a long while, though I’m still struggling to come to terms with her using present tense in her more recent novels. That’s a trend I just can’t get on board with.
I like to keep interviews light, but if you have a serious message, here's an opportunity to voice it. What kind of reaction do you hope readers will have to The Copper Witch? What would you like us to think upon finishing the last page and closing the book?
Mostly I hope people set the book down and go “man, I really enjoyed that book” since I try not to be too heavy-handed as far as morals go in my novels, but if I had to pick one more serious message, I think it would be that your choices matter, even when you don’t think they do. Once you’ve made your choice, you can’t truly unmake it.
An excellent message. Thank you for sharing with us today, Jessica!
Jessica Dall finished her first novel at age 15 and been writing ever since. She is the author of such novels as Grey Areas and The Bleeding Crowd, the Broken Line Series, and a number of short stories which have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.
(purchase links will be live closer to launch)
Adela Tilden held as still as she could force herself to be, her eyes sliding over every now and again to study the man sitting in front of her.
Antony looked up from the easel and released a breath through his nose. “Hold still.”
“I am,” she said, barely moving her mouth.
He gave her a dark look.
Adela exaggerated a sigh, dropping her eyes again to the side, staring at the same patch of grey stone as she had been for what felt like years. “I want to see what you’re doing.”
“You’ll see when I’m done.”
She fidgeted, glancing at her dress. “Can’t we make the neckline just a little lower?”
“Your grandmother doesn’t like it as it is,” Antony droned, the same answer yet again.
“Well, of course she doesn’t,” Adela said, barely refraining from rolling her eyes and getting yelled at again.
“Drop your shoulder a little,” he directed, “and hold still.”
So she’d get yelled out either way, it seemed. Adela shifted, still attempted to freeze.
Antony shook his head, running a frustrated hand through his brown hair. “No, drop…not… You know what?” He moved to her.
Adela watched him carefully, making no effort to help as he straightened the line of the dress where it stopped around her shoulders. If a little too thin to be called well built, she had to admit Antony Fletcher was an attractive man with his dark eyes and square jaw. It was a shame he has staged her looking away. She wouldn’t have minded the excuse to spend her time studying him right back.
He pressed her shoulder down lightly with the end of his paintbrush. “Can you hold that now?”
Her eyes remained on his face. “It’s hardly acrobatics.”
Antony’s eyes flicked up as he offered a weak smile, sliding away just as quickly as he adjusted the oblong pearl in the headpiece Adela’s grandmother had pulled out just for the occasion. He paused, finally moved a strand of the hair that had been left out of the braids at her crown and placed it over her shoulder. He stepped back, looking at her just a little bit too long, starting when he met her eyes. “There. Much better.”
The way he backed away, almost making it look like a retreat, made Adela smile. She watched Antony settle himself before tilting her head back the way it had been. “I don’t understand why Grandmamma wants a portrait of me anyway. It’s not as if anyone is going to see it. No one ever comes out here, you know. I’m surprised you’re here and you’re paid to be.”
“She’s trying to make sure that no one gets any funny ideas about your financial situation, I believe, Miss Tilden.” Antony didn’t look away from the easel.
“Even if they’re completely correct.” Adela heaved a sigh.
She couldn’t help glancing again, looking away when he glared. “How old are you, Antony?”
He paused momentarily. “Does that matter?”
“I was just curious,” she said. “You’re much younger than the painters we used to have come here.”
“I’m not as well-seasoned as them, I would think,” he said. “And I imagine I’m quite a bit cheaper.”
“Oh.” She fought away a smile. “So I shouldn’t be surprised when my nose comprises the better part of my face, then?”
“I think I’m skilled enough to keep that from happening,” Antony answered, continuing under his breath, “Anyway, if I were going to make a feature too large it would much more likely be your eyes.”
Her eyes slid over to him again.
He met them for a second before looking away sharply. “Stay still.”
“You just started painting, then?” She looked down and away again.
“I’ve been painting my entire life,” he said, seeming relieved. “Just finished my apprenticeship a year or so ago.”
“So you’re what then?” Adela did the math in her head. “Twenty? Twenty-One?”
“Something like that.”
She smiled. “You don’t know which one?”
“Relax your face.”
She took a breath, forced off the smile. “Is it a secret?”
Exasperation leeched into his voice. “Is what?”
He released a breath. “I just don’t see how it’s relevant.”
“I asked,” she said. “That doesn’t make it relevant enough?”
“I don’t believe that’s the way it works, Miss Tilden.”
She shifted. “Can I please move. I’m going to freeze in this position if I have to keep it up much longer.”
Antony set down his brush, holding his hands up, motioning his surrender. “We can take a break.”
Adela rolled her shoulders, standing quickly to stretch her legs. She turned. “Can I see now?”
He looked up from straightening his paints.
“I’d like to see how you’re painting me,” she continued at his silence.
Antony hesitated. “I prefer people not to see what I’m painting until I’m done.”
She moved closer. “I’m paying for it. I’d think you’d want to know if I’m unsatisfied in any way.”
He opened his mouth, cleared his throat before starting. “Your grandmother’s paying for it, Miss Tilden. Maybe I should show her.”
Adela pouted. “Please?”
He looked at her for another moment. Finally, sighing, he backed up for her to take a look.
Adela moved quickly, her soft slippers barely making a sound on the stone floor. And the painting slid into view. Unlike the other china-doll portraits in the manor—with every inch of the women in them softened, pale—the picture in front of her looked as though he had taken her reflection and pressed it onto the canvas. She studied herself, fascinated for a moment before collecting herself. She pulled herself straight. “You’re using a lot of red in my hair.”
His eyes lifted to her scalp. “Well, there is a lot of red in your hair, Miss Tilden.”
She twirled a strand absentmindedly around her finger, didn’t dispute it.
“Satisfied?” he finally asked.
“You are quite talented,” she said, looked from the painting to him. “I don’t think you have my lips quite right, though.”
She picked up the mirror on the mantel, studying her face before looking back at him. “Don’t you think? My bottom lip is fuller.”
He looked at her lips for a moment, slid his eyes away, nodding. “I’ll fix it when you sit back down.”
She looked at her reflection for another moment before tilting the mirror down to fix the neckline of her dress.
Thank you for joining us today, and thank you again to Jessica Dall for being such a pleasure to interview, and to read. :o)