Lauren Marsh is one of the most likable interviewees I’ve ever had the pleasure of grilling. It’s a sad fact that some people just don’t seem to have the time to engage with you properly, but the author, who you might know better as L.S Kilroy, was nothing short of delightful.
Her affable nature is reflected not just in her answers to my probing questions, but also on paper. Her debut novel The Vitruvian Heir is an instantly approachable effort with a stylish steampunk theme that has to be regarded as a successful premiere for her doubtless talent. I hope that it’s an indication of what lies ahead for the eclectic Massachussets native.
Hi Lauren, how are you?
I’m really well – but really busy!
Tell us about The Vitruvian Heir and your writing process for it. Was it smooth?
It was – but it was also twenty years in the making! The seed of the idea came to me in high school. When I was a sophomore, my history teacher was telling us about the time when Catherine de’ Medici ruled the French court. She had a group of beautiful female spies called the Flying Squadron (L’escadron Volant), whom she recruited to seduce important men in court and then report back to her. My fifteen-year-old self took this fascinating lesson and formed an idea for a new story.
What if a future version of the United States had somehow come under the control of an emperor who commanded that everything be returned to the Victorian and Edwardian periods – women were stripped of rights, had to wear corsets, etc.? And what if, there was a woman who was running this underground circle of female spies trained to extract information from powerful men? What if she was planning a coup? What if she sent her best girl in to charm the emperor himself? But then the girl falls in love with him…That was my teenage sensibility. At this point in my career as a young writer, I used to write down summaries for story ideas all the time and draw book jackets to go with them. I would keep them in an old Peanuts suitcase under my bed. That story was eventually discarded along with its bedfellows somewhere between high school and college. Then, a couple of years ago, when women’s rights issues were heavy in the media, the germ of this idea resurfaced and became The Vitruvian Heir.
When did you discover your passion for writing?
Almost as soon as I could write a sentence, I was making up stories.
As a child, I was sort of sickly and sheltered so I made friends with books at a very young age, both out of necessity and genuine enjoyment. Early exposure to the classics fueled my own writing. At age fifteen, a man in a bookstore asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. “Writer,” I said, without hesitation. It’s the only thing in my life that I’ve never once questioned.
Who would you say your biggest inspiration is?
I’m a huge throwback to the classics. I devoured Wuthering Heights when I was twelve. So, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, and Emily Dickinson were my particular favorites as well as children’s authors C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and L.M. Montgomery. In the idea of writing a dystopian piece, I’ve definitely been influenced by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. As my favorite books, I think Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment are two of the best works ever written. I also love the short stories of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.
What drew you to write a steampunk styled novel?
I’ve always loved the Victorian Era and the genre lends itself to that. But I hadn’t necessarily planned on The Vitruvian Heir being a definitively steampunk work until I began making notes and started the writing of it. I had the story and it seemed to fit best against the backdrop of this Neo-Victorian society. And I’m glad of that because while my other work doesn’t usually fall into this category, I do want to continue to build on this world I’ve created and I think there’s the potential for a wide readership in both fans of steampunk and other readers.
How have you found the reception for The Vitruvian Heir so far?
Very positive. It’s garnered a few comparisons to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – which I know of, but have never read. I probably should! But I think it’s a lovely compliment. And I’ve started doing more and more author events, which I enjoy. My favorite part is answering questions and getting to hear what readers were wondering as they experienced the book.
Which words of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
This advice may sound unconventional, but it’s worked for me. It’s true that practice makes perfect and you should try to get into a routine to hone your craft – take a class, workshop with fellow writers, and do the thing. Stephen King said “Writers write,” and that’s true. If you want to be good at something, you need to work at it. However, that isn’t always easy. Sometimes with schedules and what not, especially if you work full-time at a job that sucks away your energy, if you have a relationship that you need to devote time to, or a child, you can’t carve out a determined amount of time every day to write.
I would go weeks without writing a word even when I was in the middle of working on a book. Sometimes it wasn’t even because of other factors in my life, it was just because I didn’t feel like it. If I’m not inspired and I’m not feeling it, I can’t write. And I think that’s okay. Because every time I’ve tried to force it, the product is crap. So my advice is: Write, but only when you feel it. Even though I don’t write creatively every single day, I’ve still managed to produce three books and a slew of short stories in spite of being a high school teacher at one point and having a very stressful corporate job at another. When you feel it and when you’re enjoying it, pushing yourself to work when you go home at night isn’t as hard as you might think.
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Who else should we be reading right now?
I happen to adore young adult books and I also happen to know some wildly talented published authors, all who write YA Fiction. And there’s something for everyone here. If you like a paranormal spin on things, E.E. Holmes is
the author of The Gateway Trilogy, which right now includes two books – Spirit Legacy and Spirit Prophecy – with a third on the way. If you like fantasy with a lot of Celtic mythology, Shannon Carter released The Heir of Tara, which is the first book in a planned series of four. If you like superheroes (and who doesn’t?), Matt Phillion is the man behind The Indestructibles and The Indestructibles: Breakout. And if you’re an equestrian or just like horses, Kim Ablon Whitney has written The Perfect Distance, Blue Ribbons, and Summer Circuit in addition to two other wonderful YA books, The Other Half of Life and See You Down the Road.
And finally, when can we expect a new book?
Ah, the loaded question. I have a compilation of short stories that I want to be my next release. Hopefully that will be out by early 2016 or sooner. But I have some other things in the works – and one of those is the adaptation of The Vitruvian Heir into a graphic novel. That’s going to be a true labor of love, but I could not be more excited about it.
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