I'm really happy to welcome author Stephanie Burgis, whose debut novel, A Most Improper Magick, will be releasing in April 2010. Thanks so much, Stephanie, for taking the time to answer these questions!
Hazra: Can you tell us something about your debut novel, A Most Improper Magick?
Stephanie: A Most Improper Magick is set in Jane Austen’s Regency England, with glittering balls, snobby aristocrats, and highwaymen lurking in the darkness.
In this version of Regency England, magic is the greatest scandal of all - but Kat Stephenson, the twelve year-old daughter of a vicar and a witch, is ready to break all the rules of her society to win her older sisters their true loves.
Hazra: How did the idea for A Most Improper Magick come to you?
Stephanie: I was actually in the middle of chopping onions for lunch when the first two lines popped into my head, spoken very clearly in Kat’s voice:
“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.
“I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”
At the time, I was actually in the middle of writing another novel, one for adults which was MUCH darker and more serious, but those first lines completely hooked me. I just had to write them down for safe-keeping...and then I had to figure out what happened next...and then I ended up writing the whole of Kat’s first novel, having the time of my life with Kat and her sisters! I’ve never had so much pure fun in writing as I have with all three books in this trilogy. (I’m working on the third book right now.)
Hazra: Oh, I love the first line! Kat sounds like a great heroine: spunky and fun. Tell us something about the other characters of the book. Any favorites (excluding Kat)?
Stephanie: I love all three of Kat’s siblings so much. Kat’s brother Charles doesn’t feature much in this first book (although he will later in the trilogy!), but both of her sisters, Elissa and Angeline, are major characters in the book and I LOVED getting to write them. Elissa is very, very proper--except that she has a guilty love of Gothic romance and a secret yen to be a real Gothic heroine; Angeline is smart, sarcastic, and 100% confident in all of her crazy plans...but they don’t always work exactly as planned, to say the least. As Kat’s older sisters, both of them try to keep Kat in line, but Kat is way too strong-willed and smart to let them get away with it!
Hazra: What is the best thing about writing in the historical fantasy genre?
Stephanie: I’ve always been a big history geek - by the time I was eight or nine years old, I was devouring history books about the kings and queens of England and the American revolution. As I grew up, my focus changed (I’m now much less interested in kings and queens and more interested in ordinary people in history), but my love of history has gotten even stronger. Although I’m grateful to have been born in the modern era, I love getting to imagine myself into past eras by reading and writing historical novels. Adding fantasy to the mix is just another layer of fun! Long skirts, balls, highwaymen AND magic - how could I possibly resist? :)
Hazra: How do you incorporate writing in your daily schedule?
Stephanie: With great difficulty! ;) I have a bright & active one-year-old son and no childcare, so I write either while he’s napping or while my husband is looking after him. I don’t get very long writing sessions any more, so I’ve had to learn to be efficient with my writing time.
Hazra: Can you share one great and one not-so-great aspect of being a debut writer?
Stephanie: The best part is the sheer excitement. I can still hardly believe that my books are really going to be published! I’ve been wanting to be a professional writer since I was seven years old, and I’m 32 years old now, so this is literally a lifelong dream come true.
The not-so-great aspect is the set of nerves that comes with it. Will people like it? Will people buy it? All those worries about what people might think could eat my brain if I let them. I have to work really hard nowadays to ignore that anxious part of my mind and just focus on having fun with Book 3 of the trilogy.
Hazra: Which authors have you been inspired by?
Stephanie: Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer are definitely my two strongest inspirations for The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson (I LOVE their Regency romantic comedies!), but some of the other writers who inspired me as I grew up were Elizabeth Peters, JRR Tolkien, and Emma Bull.
Elizabeth Peters writes wonderfully quirky characters, and her Amelia Peabody historical adventures (starting with Crocodile on the Sandbank) are told in a great, fun voice that just sweeps me away.
JRR Tolkien was my first introduction to fantasy, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve re-read The Lord of the Rings.
And Emma Bull writes fabulous historical and contemporary fantasy with great romantic subplots; I read her first book, War for the Oaks, when I was 14, and immediately decided that I wanted to focus on writing fantasy rather than historical romance, which I’d been writing until then.
Hazra: Great to meet another Tolkien fan! You have a degree in historical musicology. What role does music play in your life and your writing?
Stephanie: I love music, both listening to it and playing it myself. I actually thought when I was a teen that I would be a professional musician as my non-writing dayjob, and although I changed my mind while I was in college, making music is still one of the biggest pleasures in my life. Even while writing, I find it much easier to focus when I’m listening to music that fits the characters or story.
As a historical fiction writer, I also found the years I spent studying music history enormously helpful, since I absorbed an awful lot of European history along with the wonderful music. I wrote my Master’s Degree thesis (and researched a PhD dissertation) on late 18th-century opera and society, and all of that research I did in grad school has been really useful for my short stories and novels.
Hazra: Finally, if you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite fictional characters, who would they be?
• Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet (but probably not Mr Darcy, since he’s shy in company and would just sit there silently looking aloof and distinctly unimpressed, even if he didn’t mean to be unfriendly);
• Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson, my favorite literary couple;
• Georgette Heyer’s Sarah Thane (from The Talisman Ring);
• Catherine Morland from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey
Thanks so much, Stephanie, for your lovely responses. I'm waiting to read about Kat when your book is released. You can find out more about Stephanie Burgis by visiting her website.
A Most Improper Magick introduces the spunky Kat Stephenson. Kat's mother was a scandalous witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and her stepmama is determined to sell Kat's oldest sister into a positively Gothic marriage to pay it off - so what can Kat do but take matters directly into her own hands? If only her older sisters hadn’t thwarted her plan to run away to London dressed as a boy and earn a fortune!
When Kat makes a midnight foray into her mother’s cabinet of secrets, though, she finds out something she never expected. Her mother wasn’t just a witch, she was a Guardian, a member of a secret Order with staggering magical powers - and Kat is her heir.
A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis is the first in The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson trilogy. It will be published by Atheneum Books on April 20, 2010, and you can already pre-order it from Amazon.com, Borders.com, Chapters.indigo.ca, or any of the international branches of Amazon.