Deanna Raybourn’s books are pure pleasure for the smart, historically-inclined, slightly Gothy woman with a wicked sense of humor. Her Lady Julia Grey novels follow their eponymous, witty, sharp-as-a-tack heroine as she solves twisted, gory mysteries in Victorian London and points beyond, often competing with her black-sheep, detective husband, Nicholas Brisbane, in the process. Raybourn has also written a stand-alone novel, The Dead Travel Fast, which follows Theodora Lestrange into the Carpathian mountains, where Very Odd Things are happening.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Raybourn herself is witty and sharp as a tack — and has what appears to be a bit of a taste for the Gothic. When I spoke with her over Skype, she was impeccably turned out, in an outfit not dissimilar to the one you see here, and behind her, on a shelf, was a very impressive, black, stuffed bird.
EAG: I’m totally digging the big bird behind you.
DR: Oh, my raven? Yeah, that’s Grimm. [Turns to look.] I’m trying to look and see if there’s anything on my book shelf that I’m gonna regret letting anybody see…
EAG: Lady Julia Grey is unable to have children. Is that something you planned from the start, or did it develop as a natural extension of the story? Most women of that era would have been expected to settle right down and have a bunch of children, which isn’t all that conducive to solving mysteries.
DR: It was planned from book one that Julia was not having children.
EAG: Did you base Nicholas Brisbane on anybody in particular? And did he just kind of appear to you fully formed, or did he show himself a little bit at a time?
DR: Nicholas is completely fictitious. He was created completely and utterly out of the recesses of my own head. As the series has gone on—and bearing in mind I deliberately did not create all the back story for him—I’ve been finding out bits and pieces of the back story for him and creating them as I’ve gone along, which has been a lot of fun. I deliberately wanted to keep him as enigmatic and mysterious as possible, even to myself. As his relationship with Julia has developed, I figured out there were some things I didn’t know about being a straight guy in a relationship with a woman.
EAG: Go figure.
DR: Then I had to go pick my husband’s brain: “This is what I think Nicholas would do in this situation, is this a typical dude reaction?” Finally, about the third or fourth time I did this, he said, “Look, you have to understand, we are hardwired to do two things: We provide, we protect. That’s it. Those are our two default settings. If you’ve got that nailed, everything else is gravy. That part- that’s the essence of who we are.” And that’s when it really clicked.
That sort of very sparky dialogue is something that comes up in my fiction is because that’s really the only way I know how to be in a relationship with a man; my husband and I do that. I always felt like marriage should be fun. If you’re not having a ball with this person, why did you marry them? And we’ve been married–well, next month it’ll be 21 years. He makes me laugh harder than anyone else in the world. When I’m in a bad mood, he’ll sing my name to the tune of Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac. He does all kinds of things just to amuse me and he’s just great fun. He’s just a rock. I mean, for 14 years I wrote and wasn’t published and I could’ve been teaching—I have a teaching certificate—and at the beginning of every school year I would say, “Oh God, I need to get a job,” and every time he would say to me, “You have a job, you’re a writer. You just don’t get paid for it yet.” Oh my God, what a guy, right? So to me it was very important that, if they were going to have this long term relationship in the book, and it was going to make sense and it was going to work, there had to be that dynamic of “this person is rock solid, we’re here for each other, we get each other on a fundamental level.”
EAG: Tell me about what the creative process is like for you.
DR: I’m a morning person. I prefer to write in the morning — you know, what separates writers from people who want to be writers is putting your tail in the chair and writing. And for me, 95% of it is biting the bullet just to get in the chair. Within 2 minutes, that [resistance] is gone and I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I try not to write for too long; I write seven to ten pages, max. I type really fast, so that’s about an hour and a half, and then I do house stuff.
EAG: I imagine that all of the work you’ve put into becoming a published author has contributed to a lot of changes in your life.
DR: Oh, tremendous. I probably couldn’t even list them all for you. I wrote my first novel when I was 23, and I didn’t get a publishing deal ‘til I was 37, and then it took another two years before the book actually came out in print. I’ve only technically been published for four years, so to have gone that long a period of time with lots of rejection—some of it nicer than other types of rejection—really does a number on you as far as your own confidence in what you’re doing. And I never gave up, I never stopped writing. I would be writing, still, even if wasn’t published because that’s just what I do. Now, of course, there are a lot more avenues for it with self-publishing, or blogging ,or things like that. I might have pursued one of those if I hadn’t gotten a traditional publisher.
I was probably a head case for the two years after I got a publishing deal and then the books actually came out in print and then it was another two years of having to wrap my head around that–so I’m just now starting to get a handle on all of this! And I think some of it is, as you get into your 40s, you get more comfortable with yourself. As you get accustomed to seeing your book in print and handling book tours and talking to readers and things like that, you just start to learn how to take it all into your stride. It was change after change, after change, after change, and my mother joked my motto should just be ‘Expect the Unexpected’. And actually, last year in Vegas, I was this close to getting a tattoo that said specto subitus because I can’t tell you how many times I’m all ‘I’m so freaked out this is happening!’ and my mom will say ’expect the unexpected’. It’s kind of taken me a long time to wrap my head around that and it’s been wonderful.
There are times when I hyperventilate with gratitude because I just feel like the luckiest girl on the planet. I get to do what I love and I get paid nicely for it, I get readers who are amazing and wonderful and then I have this huge added bonus of people saying, “I was going through this really rough divorce and your books helped me through that,” or “I took your books to chemo.” I still burst into tears when I get those emails where it’s meant something to somebody. It’s hugely humbling and I’m immensely grateful for it.
Emma’s unofficial motto has long been “PUBLICATION OR BUST!” Jack Move is her fifth from-scratch magazine. A writer and creative gun-for-hire, she’s had a hand in all types of media, at every step in the process. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. Follow her on Twitter (@ealvarezgibson) and find out more at www.emmaalvarezgibson.com.