Today, author Riana Everly answers “10 Questions” about her writing. Riana is not only an author of historical fiction, but history informs other aspects of her life: she has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specializing in Baroque and early Classical music.
Linda Covella: When and why did you decide to become a writer?
Riana Everly: I’ve always been a writer, I think. I published my first poem in the local newspaper when I was six years old (it was about a mushroom and it was three whole lines long), and my mother keeps finding stories I wrote over the years. Most I don’t remember at all, but they are in my handwriting, so I’ll assume they really are mine! As an adult, I was involved in writers’ groups and such, which both taught me a lot and left me in awe of some of the talent around me. I never imagined I could attain those levels of excellence, but I kept writing because I enjoyed it so much.
I began to dabble in longer novel-length stories about five years ago. I set myself a dare – to carry a storyline and characters over a full arc, and see where it went – and 100,000 words later I had written my first novel. I don’t think that one will ever see the light of day, but now I was well and truly bitten, and I kept writing.
I decided to dip my toe into publishing about eighteen months ago. I had shown a novel to some authors whose work I admire very much, and both were insistent that I publish it, so I dove in head first. The result was Teaching Eliza. Spurred on by the unexpected and wonderful reception it received, I polished up another novel I had written some time before – The Assistant – and published that a few months later.
It has been such a wonderful experience, I cannot see ever stopping writing now!
LC: What is your writing process: where do you write, how often do you write, are you a full-time or part-time writer, do you outline or do you plot as you go, etc.?
RE: I am the queen of procrastination, but I also find I work well with deadlines (an interesting combination, I know). Consequently, I am dreadful at writing on a regular basis, but get a huge amount done during such intensive events as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where the goal is to write a certain amount between November 1st and 30th. I can usually write a full novel of around 100,000 words during these one-month writing marathons. And then I put whatever I’ve done away and let it sit for a while, from several months to over a year, before dusting off the first draft and looking at it with fresh eyes to begin editing.
What this means is that it takes a long time for a novel to go from the first word to the finished product, but I hope the process results in a better book!
Between the main NaNoWriMo activities in November, and two less intensive “camps” during the year, I can usually write three novels a year, and spend the rest of the time in various stages of editing earlier works.
I write part-time, as I have a part-time job out of the house, and I am still fairly busy with my family. Most of my writing happens at my main desk-top computer, but I also have a teeny-tiny tablet with a teeny-tiny keyboard, and many a cappuccino has been consumed at the local coffee shop as I sit there writing the next scene or making notes for upcoming chapters
As for those notes and those chapters, I tend to plot as I go. I approach a book with a general story arc in mind. I know the beginning, middle, and end, but how we get from one to the next develops as I write. As often as not, I let my characters take the lead and tell me what they want to do next. Sometimes I chastise them and drag them back to my plot, but they often have better ideas than mine!
Recently, however, I have started writing a mystery series, and these need to be plotted out a bit more carefully. I still let the details of the story develop as they will, but I need a lot more of those definite check-in places so I can drop in the clues and introduce my characters in such a way as to make what I hope is a satisfying and believable solution to my mystery.
LC: Where do you find your inspiration for your stories? Do you draw from your own experiences?
RE: I have many sources of inspiration. Since many of my novels – and all of my published ones, so far – fall under the category of Jane Austen Fan Fiction, it is a given that Jane Austen herself, and her wonderful characters, provide me with a great deal of inspiration.
But, of course, that it only the beginning. Teaching Eliza was inspired by a brilliant performance I saw a few years ago of Shaw’s Pygmalion. The play was set in the modern day, and it started me thinking about how fine literature can adapt so well to different times and places. Of course, the thought of Pygmalion in a Regency setting darted into my head, followed at once by the realization that Henry Higgins bore a lot of similarities to Mr. Darcy, and Eliza Doolittle to Elizabeth Bennet!
History also provides me with a great deal of inspiration, because how people relate to each other and react to circumstances is so often dictated by the time and place in which they live, and historical events can sprout all sorts of unusual or unexpected plots. I love to travel and I love to learn about the history and little stories about places, and so often they provide me with the germs that grow into novels. Likewise art, music, specific locations, all can set off that little voice in my head that whispers, “what if….”
I do sometimes draw from my own experiences. In my upcoming release, Through a Different Lens, two of the characters have particular quirks that we would now assign to the autism spectrum. One of my children is on the edge of the spectrum as well, and so creating characters that share some of his traits – both strengths and challenges – seemed like a natural step to take.
LC: Who is one of your favorite characters from your story(ies), one that you enjoyed creating and writing about, and why?
RE: Oh, you’re asking me about Sammy! He began as a secondary character in Through a Different Lens, more of a plot device than anything, but he wouldn’t stay in the background, and he ended up becoming the hero of the story in a sense.
Samuel Gardiner is twelve years old, the cousin of Elizabeth Bennet, and a bright and curious lad, on the cusp of adolescence. He is also what we would diagnose today as high-functioning autistic. He has had a bit of a rough childhood with a series of nannies and governesses who haven’t known how to manage him, but with his parents’ love and through a lot of hard work – both on his own part and that of his new governess and his cousin Lizzy – he has made huge strides in functioning in society. But Sammy isn’t a diagnosis. He’s a really great kid, with a set of skills and talents and abilities that outshine any challenges he has.
I loved watching his friendships develop, both with a schoolmate and with the formidable Mr. Darcy, and I had so much fun learning to see the world a little bit through his eyes.
LC: He sounds like a wonderful character!
Do you incorporate (or inadvertently find) any of your own personality traits into your characters?
RE: I think it is impossible not to do this to some degree or another. After all, as much as we try to put ourselves into different heads, the only real experiences we have with how people behave are our own. We can observe how others act, but when it comes down to interpreting those actions, we only have ourselves as a measuring stick.
Of course, one of the greatest joys, and greatest challenges, of being a writer is creating characters who are not me. Whereas I am an introvert, for example, it is fascinating to try to envision how a social butterfly would act, what motives her.
LC: Do you find your stories are more plot driven or character driven? Please explain.
RE: To be honest, I find it hard to separate these out. I let my characters guide me from place to place in the story as I’m writing it, but at the same time I like to keep the plot moving steadily ahead. In my upcoming release, Through a Different Lens, the beginning is very much character-driven, but it’s all in service of the plot that builds up at the end. Does that answer the question at all, or just muddy the waters?
LC: A good answer. 🙂 Many authors I talk to say it’s a combination of the two. Plot might take precedence in certain genres such as mystery or thrillers.
Did you read much as a child?
RE: Oh my, yes! I always had my nose in a book. When I was eight, we lived in a non-English speaking country for a while, and the library had an extremely small English-language section, with very few kids’ books. One thing they did have was a multi-volume children’s encyclopedia. I read the whole thing, from A to Z. Twice. Why? Because I needed something to read! And yes, I was also an annoyingly well-informed eight-year-old.
LC: Wow, that is impressive!
How important do you think reading is for writers?
RE: As vital as air is for breathing!
LC: Another good answer. 🙂
Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books? What draws you to them?
RE: That’s like asking me which is my favourite child! Of course I love Jane Austen. Her style, her characters, her acerbic wit, are all such delights for the mind. I discovered a definite affinity for the Victorians as well, in spite of myself, and both Elizabeth Gaskell and Anne Brontë come to mind right away. I also love mysteries, especially classic whodunnits, and while I enjoy Agatha Christie’s tales, I far prefer Ngaio Marsh and her wonderful Inspector Alleyn detective stories. In that same vein of the classic detective story comes P.D. James. She had such a way with words and character! Reading one is like stepping into an entire and complete universe woven from exquisite prose.
LC: Anything new in the works?
RE: Why yes, now that you ask! I’ve already mentioned Through a Different Lens, which is set to be released on January 21 if all goes according to plan. I also have two mysteries written and waiting for editing, and plans for another four to complete the series which will take us into the worlds of all six of Jane Austen’s completed novels. In these books, Mary Bennet (of Pride and Prejudice fame) is the sleuth, teamed up with a professional investigator from London.
I also have a complete and mostly edited original novel set in Upper Canada in the immediate aftermath of the War of 1812, based loosely on a true story. (This is where history is my muse.) It involves a town struggling to rebuild after the devastation of war, former slaves fighting to retain their freedom, a visiting brigadier with tons of personal baggage, a heartbroken heroine and her mysterious lover, and a bad guy who won’t go away. The centre of the action in this one is an inn in the village of Niagara-on-the-Lake which dates from before 1813, and which is now rumoured to be haunted! Yes, I have stayed there overnight, and no, I did not meet the ghost.
LC: Bonus question! Do you have anything you’d like to add?
RE: I’m sure you hear this from most historical fiction authors, but one of the best parts of writing this genre is getting lost down the rabbit hole of research. You never know where a supposedly simple search will take you. In looking up a quick reference about the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1800, I came across all sorts of fascinating things about the Black Loyalists and early Black community in Nova Scotia. Looking up information on Regency-era timepieces led me to the wonderful world of clockwork automatons from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including a little boy who can write what you program into him, and a young woman who plays the piano! For every single thing I go to research, I end up reading about ten completely unrelated – but endlessly interesting – others. If only there were a Regency-era version of Trivial Pursuit! I’d be sure to do very, very well!
LC: It was a pleasure having you on my blog today, Riana. Thanks so much!
Riana Everly was born in South Africa, but has called Canada home since she was eight years old. She has a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies and is trained as a classical musician, specialising in Baroque and early Classical music. She first encountered Jane Austen when her father handed her a copy of Emma at age 11, and has never looked back.
Riana now lives in Toronto with her family. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around the beautiful province of Ontario with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading!
Riana’s debut novel, Teaching Eliza, was included on a list of 2017 Favourite Books on the blog Savvy Verse & Wit, for which she is honoured and delighted and very proud. Her second novel, The Assistant, was recently granted the Jane Austen Award from Jane Austen Readers’ Awards. This is sure to make her insufferable at dinner parties.
Connect with Riana: You can follow Riana’s blog at https://rianaeverly.com/blog/ , and join her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RianaEverly/ ) and Twitter (@RianaEverly). She loves meeting readers!