Please welcome mystery author Anna Lee Huber, who’s joining us today to celebrate the release of her second Lady Darby Mystery, MORTAL ARTS (Berkley Trade, September 3, 2013)!
Anna Lee Huber is the award-winning author of the Lady Darby historical mystery series. She is a graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. She currently resides in Indiana with her family, and is hard at work on the next novel in the Lady Darby series. Visit her at www.annaleehuber.com.
Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue–in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes. After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh, but the city is full of many things Kiera isn’t quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator–and romantic entanglement–Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery. Kiera’s old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother–and Kiera’s childhood art tutor–William, has thrown everything into chaos. For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father. Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor’s plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing. Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend-and save the marriage of another…
MORTAL ARTS promises to be another fantastic adventure, and I’m so delighted to have Anna Lee Huber here with us today! And so, with no further ado, on with the questions!
Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I was born and raised in a small town in northwest Ohio. I’m the second of six children, and all of us had very active imaginations. We loved to reenact or improve upon our favorite movies and TV shows. Star Wars was at the top of our list, and we would run around our yard in snow boots and our mother’s old nightgowns tied with belts, swinging those long, skinny plastic baseball bats as light-sabers. We were also big fans of The A-Team, and pretended our riding lawn mower was the van. Somehow, I always ended up being Hannibal. “I love it when a plan comes together.”
What inspired you to start writing?
I started writing my own stories at a fairly young age. I’m not certain now what got me going, but I think it was just a desire to capture all of the wonderful stories I was already making up in my head. Later, after college when I began to seriously pursue the idea of a career as a published author, I think it was the remembrance of all the fun I’d had when I was a child crafting my own worlds and characters. I wanted to recapture that feeling.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
I wish I could hammer into my head the lesson that you need to start in the middle of the action. It took me a long time for that to truly sink in. I kept thinking my stories needed all of this set up for readers to understand. That I had to lay out the backstory right away or they would be lost. So not true. It’s so much more fun to jump right in to the action, and feed mysterious little chunks of backstory as you go along. Only reveal what’s absolutely necessary. Once I finally “got” that, it made all the difference in the world. And I’ve never looked back.
Your new novel, MORTAL ARTS, is the second in the Lady Darby mystery series, which features a female sleuth (the aforementioned Lady Darby). What inspired you to create a female detective in a time when women rarely performed this role?
I think the inherent conflict that brings. Females were marginalized for so long, and to some extent still are, but they have so much to offer, and I love exploring that. Not to sound crazy, but honestly, it all began because Lady Darby started talking to me in my head. She was just there, already fully formed, and I just needed to ask her questions for the knowledge to come to the forefront. Once I understood her backstory—her role as a gifted portrait artist, and her marriage to a famous anatomist who forced her to draw his dissections for a textbook he wished to write—I knew she would be the perfect sleuth. There is so much meat to her character, so much to explore just in terms of her growth as a person. But she also has real skills to bring to an investigation, not just acute observation or the right connections. She doesn’t come to the profession easily. She resists it. But as time goes on, she begins to realize how fulfilling it is, and that she has an important decision to make, whether to continue to assist Mr. Gage or move on with her life in other ways.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
I love historical mysteries with a dash of romance, which is why I chose to write them. But there is also a special place in my heart for Gothic suspense novels. Mary Stewart is my favorite author, and every one of her Gothic suspense novels are a gem. I simply can’t choose one over the others. I love the darkness and mystery, the uncertainty, the atmospheric settings that leap off the page. The handsome, shadowy, dangerous men, and the love that triumphs in the end.
In MORTAL ARTS, Lady Darby finds herself in Edinburgh, Scotland, investigating a girl’s disappearance in order to clear the name of a family friend. How did the move to a city setting impact your plot, and did you find it easier or more difficult to set a mystery in a more populated environment?
The majority of MORTAL ARTS actually takes place on an estate and in a village just north of Edinburgh—an area that today is part of the city proper, but in 1830 was not. So while the area is more populated than the Highlands, it’s still not as jammed with citizens as Edinburgh was. I enjoyed switching up the setting. It allowed for more ease of movement from place to place, and a greater variety of characters for Kiera and Gage to encounter. In many ways, I had the best of both worlds. The advantages listed above that you would find in a city, and also the isolation and wildness of a more remote environment when I wanted it. I tend to gravitate toward the countryside, just because it fascinates me and I love utilizing new and different settings. But city scenes can also be fun.
Do you have a favorite scene or section from MORTAL ARTS? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?
I think that scene that stands out the most for me is when Kiera encounters William Dalmay for the first time. The entire plot of MORTAL ARTS grew from that scene because it was the first that came to me. Once I imagined it, I knew I had to answer the questions it generated. Who was this man? Why was he drawing on the walls? What is his relation to Kiera? And why is there such an air of sadness and despair permeating it? As soon as I started filling in the blanks I was hooked, and it became a story I absolutely had to tell.
What is the last book you read, and why did you choose to read it?
Oh, my goodness. The last few months have been such a whirlwind. I haven’t had nearly enough time to read as much as I would like. The last book I finished reading (I have about six I’m partway through) was The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. Kearsley is one of my must-read authors. I adore everything she has written. And she is one of the kindest, most gracious authors out there. An amazing person!
Writing a series involves special challenges for the author. What did you find most difficult—and most fun—about solving a second mystery with Lady Darby?
I think the most difficult thing is keeping the continuity. I found myself worrying that I’d forgotten things from the first book, or that Kiera’s voice had changed, or that the psychology of the characters was not carrying over correctly. I’d written THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE as the first book of a series, so I’d purposely left some details about the characters and their backgrounds hazy and mysterious so that I didn’t write myself into a corner I later wished I could change. I know some series authors struggle with that.
The best part of writing a series is that you get to live with your characters for longer. You get to delve deeper and move slower, really getting down deep into their psyches and making sure their psychology and growth is correct. I don’t like it when a character’s development and healing feel rushed and unrealistic. If they’re coming from a dark place, they aren’t going to be magically healed in a few days. Writing a series allows time for those characters to really deal with their issues at a more accurate pace.
Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
I have several book signings and appearances coming up. An entire listing of them can be found on my website at http://www.annaleehuber.com/events.php. The most recent are this weekend.
I’ll be discussing and signing my latest novel at the Lake Forest Book Store in Lake Forest, IL (outside Chicago) from 7-9pm CT on Friday September 13th.
I’ll also be signing books, along with the fabulous Susanna Calkins, another historical mystery author, at the Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, IL from 11am-1pm on Saturday September 14th.
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
A plotter with wiggle room.
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Socks or no socks?
Depends on the shoes and the weather. With boots and tennis shoes, yes.
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Okay, now you’re just making me hungry. Ummm…depends on my mood. But if I had to choose…probably…Italian?
Thank you, Anna, for joining us today! I’ve already got MORTAL ARTS in my reading pile, and it’s one no fan of historical mysteries should miss.
MORTAL ARTS is available in ebook and trade paperback formats at all national and independent booksellers (in the real world and through Indiebound), at BooksAMillion, at Barnes & Noble, and on Amazon – in other words, just about everywhere!