Please welcome Tracy Grant, author of the new historical mystery THE PARIS AFFAIR (Kensington, March 26, 2013)
Teresa (Tracy) Grant studied British history at Stanford University and received the Firestone Award for Excellence in Research for her honors thesis on shifting conceptions of honor in late fifteenth century England. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, with her young daughter and three cats, and is on the board of the Merola Opera Program, a professional training program for opera singers, pianists, and stage directors. Her real life heroine is her daughter Mélanie, who is very cooperative about Mummy’s writing. Tracy is currently at work on her next book chronicling the adventures of Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch.
In the wake of the Battle of Waterloo, Paris is a house divided. The triumphant Bourbons flaunt their victory with lavish parties, while Bonapartists seek revenge only to be captured and executed. Amid the turmoil, British attaché and intelligence agent Malcolm Rannoch and his wife, Suzanne, discover that his murdered half sister, Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, may have borne a child—a secret she took to the grave. And Malcolm suspects there was more than mere impropriety behind her silence. . . .
As Malcolm and Suzanne begin searching for answers, they learn that the child was just one of many secrets Tatiana had been keeping. The princess was the toast of Paris when she arrived in the glamorous city, flirting her way into the arms of more than a few men—perhaps even those of Napoleon himself—and the father must be among them. But in the mêlée of the Napoleonic Wars, she was caught up in a deadly game of court intrigue, and now Malcolm and Suzanne must race against time to save his sister’s child from a similar fate. . . .
I met Tracy through Facebook (yep, Facebook – it’s a great place for authors to meet!) and I’m thrilled she agreed to join me for an interview today.
And so: on with the questions!
Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I still live. My parents took me to old movies a lot. When I was six we saw the Laurence Olivier-Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice. I loved it and immediately wanted to read the book (or rather have it read to me). My mom said “I’m not sure you’ll like it, but we can try”. I thought it was wonderful—to me, at that age, it was a story about girls (older than me but young enough that I could identify with them) dealing with their sisters and parents, growing up, falling in love. (Every time I reread Pride and Prejudice I get different things from it, but I was totally hooked at the age of six).
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve been making up stories as long as I can remember (inspired by my mom who read me books and told me stories) and writing them down since third grade when we were assigned writing a story in class and I realized I had a wealth of characters and plots inside my head. After that I was always writing a story or a play. On a family vacation when I was thirteen my mom and I began to plot a Regency romance together. We worked on it off on and on for several years. I went on to college at Stanford where I majored in history. The summer between my sophomore and junior years in college, my mom and I went back to our Regency romance in a very focused way. We sold it (to our own amazement) the next winter. That book, The Widow’s Gambit, was published in May 1988, just before I graduated from Stanford.
My mom and I went on to write seven Regency romances and four novellas under the name Anthea Malcolm and one Regency/Peninsular War-set historical romance, Dark Angel, under the name Anna Grant (it’s since been reissued under Tracy Grant as it connects to later books). After my mom died in 1995, I went on to write three historical romances as Tracy Grant. But I found that elements of historical fiction and historical mystery were creeping more and more into my romances. My mom had introduced to the British “golden age” mysteries by writers such as Dorothy Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. Those are still some of my favorite books—particularly the ones where there’s a love story threaded through the mystery series and a romantic partnership involved in the mystery solving.
The summer between high school and college I discovered Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and introduced my mom to them (leading to endless discussions). I realized that what I really wanted to write was an historical suspense novel with a love story in it but with room for the sort of intricate suspense plot I’ve always loved in mysteries and the intricately-detailed social and political historical background I’ve always loved in historical fiction. That was the beginning of the Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch books.
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?
The more you think things through in advance, the less you have to revise. At least in my case. I’m still someone who writes multiple drafts, but with advance planning I’m much less likely to have to throw away scenes.
Your new novel, THE PARIS AFFAIR, is a fast-paced historical mystery set in Paris shortly after the Battle of Waterloo. What inspired you to set your novel in such tumultuous times?
I wrote about Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch at the Congress of Vienna (Vienna Waltz) and then the battle of Waterloo (Imperial Scandal). It seemed a natural progression to set the next book in the series in post-Waterloo Paris. So many of the tensions from the Napoleonic Wars are still simmering beneath the glamorous veneer of Restoration Paris. Foreign troops are encamped in the Bois de Boulogne. In what came to be known as the White Terror, the “Ultra Royalists” seek vengeance on those who supported Napoleon. A number of the real historical people who were important actors at the Congress of Vienna (and important characters in Vienna Waltz) also played key roles in Paris in the early days of the Bourbon Restoration. Talleyrand, his niece Dorothée, her sister Wilhelmine of Sagan. Talleyrand is something of a mentor to Malcolm, and Suzanne and Dorothée became close friends in Vienna Waltz. I was able to write about Napoleon’s minister of police, Joseph Fouché, whose ability to stay in power through régime changes was perhaps only equaled by Talleyrand. And of course the Duke of Wellington, who was an important character in Imperial Scandal, was there. I was able to work a lot of real life political and romantic intrigues into the plot.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
Pretty much impossible to pin it down to one. But I’ll say Pride and Prejudice, because it’s a superb book and because it started my fascination with the Regency era at the age of six. My parents took me to see the Greer Garson/Laurence Olivier film. I loved it and immediately wanted to read the book (or rather have it read to me). My mom said “I’m not sure you’ll like it, but we can try”. I thought it was wonderful—to me, at that age, it was a story about girls (older than me but young enough that I could identify with them) dealing with their sisters and parents, growing up, falling in love. Every time I reread “Pride and Prejudice” I get different things from it, but I was totally hooked at the age of six.
Your novel features a pair of protagonists, British attaché and intelligence agent Malcolm Rannoch and his wife, Suzanne, who must solve a mystery centering on the murder of Malcolm’s half-sister. What was your favorite aspect of writing a novel with dual protagonists? What did you find most challenging?
I love writing the interplay between Malcolm and Suzanne. Their marriage began essentially as a marriage of convenience, and they still have a number of secrets between them. Neither shares their feelings easily, but they really bond over solving mysteries together. So their relationship develops in the course of their investigations. As they talk through the mystery, they are confronting issues in their relationship. As they face adventures together they are seeing new sides of each other. It’s fun to write them together and it’s fun to intercut between scenes of them handling different parts of the investigation.
To the extent that there are challenges, I guess the biggest challenge is deciding whose point of view to write a scene from. Usually it’s pretty clear to me, but occasionally I get into a scene and realize it would work better from the other character’s POV.
Do you have a favorite scene or section from THE PARIS AFFAIR? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?
I have several favorite scenes, but one I can talk about without major spoilers occurs at the opening of the book. In somewhat raffish disguise, Malcolm and Suzanne have gone to meet with Antoine Rivère, a former official in the Bonapartist government who was a British agent. They meet Rivère at a tavern by the Seine. Suzanne creates a distraction by singing a bawdy song while Malcolm talks to Rivère. Rivère threatens to reveal information that will shake the British delegation to its core if the British don’t get him out of France. Then he tells Malcolm his murdered half-sister, Tatiana Kirsanova, left a child behind when she died. Just then a tavern brawl breaks out.
I love writing action-filled openings. I enjoy writing Malcolm and Suzanne in disguise, away from the formality of diplomatic and court life, and it was a lot of fun writing a tavern brawl. I watched a tavern brawl in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie several times when I was writing it :-).
What is the last book you read, and why did you choose to read it?
The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie. I love this series – wonderful, intricate mysteries and fascinating developing relationships among the ongoing characters. Each book is a riveting adventure and at the same time feels like a visit with old friends. Deb is also a great friend, and I bought the book at a recent signing and reading she did.
How did you push yourself to get past difficult moments in writing and editing THE PARIS AFFAIR? Do you have a favorite place to write or to edit your work?
I write almost every day at a Peet’s Coffee & Tea at a nearby outdoor mall. I have daughter who is now fifteen months old, and they are really welcoming to both of us. My daughter Mélanie has a snack and plays while I work, then we take a break and walk around (she is still very proud of learning to walk) and visit a play park in the mall, and then we go back to Peet’s and I work some more while Mélanie naps.
I get past the difficult points by telling myself I just need to write 100 words and then I can tale a break and look at Facebook or Twitter or check my email :-). After a 300 words or so I usually don’t need so many breaks. I try to write at least 1000 words a day. When I’m editing it’s similar, but I’ll take mini-breaks between scenes instead of based on word count.
Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
I’ll be reading from and signing The Paris Affair at Book Passage in Corte Madera (near San Francisco) on March 30th at 4:00 pm. I would love to see friendly faces in the audience! If you can’t be there but would like a signed copy, you can order one through the store, and I’ll sign it and personalize it on the 30th. http://www.bookpassage.com/event/teresa-grant-paris-affair
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
Plotter. But I do draft scenes as I’m plotting. I write in Scrivener, which I find makes it very easy to write scenes out of order.
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
During the day, I go back and forth between lattes and Earl Grey. But at night, I quite like writing with a glass of red or sparkling wine. Or occasionally a single malt :-).
Socks or no socks?
Tights in the winter. Bare legs in the summer.
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
We have three cats now. I can’t imagine not having cats – I often work with one of more of them curled up on my lap. I had a dog who was a wonderful writing companion until a few years ago, and when my daughter is bit older, we will add another dog to the family.
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Italian. I’m looking forward to dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant, Il Fornaio, after my event at Book Passage.
Thank you, Tracy, for joining us today! I’m so glad you were able to take the time to talk with me about THE PARIS AFFAIR!