This evening in the Library we have Tonya Mitchell who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
Thank you, Pam. I’m a great fan of your books. I’m thrilled to have found your Lucy Lawrence series.
Thank you! You are very welcome Tonya, please introduce yourself:
I received my BA in journalism from Indiana University. My short fiction has appeared in The Copperfield Review, Words Undone, and The Front Porch Review, as well as in various anthologies, including Furtive Dalliance, Welcome to Elsewhere, and Glimmer and Other Stories and Poems, for which I won the Cinnamon Press award in fiction.
I am a self-professed Anglophile and I am obsessed with all things relating to the Victorian period. I am a member of the Historical Novel Society North America and reside in Cincinnati, Ohio with my husband and three wildly energetic sons. A Feigned Madness is my first novel.
Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?
I read voraciously as a child. There was never a time I wasn’t reading something. When I was eight-years-old, I told my mom I wanted to write a book. I had no idea what I wanted to write, mind you, I just knew I wanted to write books. I cherish To Kill a Mockingbird to this day. I still remember the first time I read it, the colour of the couch, the way the sun shone through the window. But it wasn’t until I read Jane Eyre in high school that I really started gravitating to historical fiction. History fascinates me in ways few other things do. It’s so intriguing, because as a reader I’d think: Wow, things were really like this? How did these people cope? How did they survive? I love seeing characters in those tight spaces, battling it out with the cultural beliefs, social mores, and injustices of their time—particularly women, who had so little power. I think I became a lover of all things British when I started reading—devouring actually—Agatha Christie novels. The combination of mystery inside, oftentimes, an English manor house hooked me every time. And who doesn’t love Miss Marple?
Are you a self-published/traditional or hybrid author?
I’m lucky enough to be traditionally published by a small press. My debut will be out this fall. I wanted to go the traditional route simply because I wanted to walk into a bookstore one day and see my book there. That’s been a dream for as long as I can remember. Getting published was a hard road for me, though. I had lots of fits and starts along the way, lots of imposter syndrome. I’d read an excellent book and think: How the hell can I do this? Who am I kidding? There have also been changes in the publishing industry that have made it harder to get published traditionally. The Big Five in the US tend to see debut authors as a huge risk, so if you don’t stand out from the get-go, and I mean stand out amongst the brilliant, already-successful authors with big followings, chances are you won’t get far. It’s very competitive.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
In a nutshell, the authors who were writing what I most wanted to read. After Jane Eyre, I began looking for other dark stories: Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker. At some point along the way, I figured out that gothic was really what I loved. From there, I went on to read Shirley Jackson, Margaret Atwood, and Laura Purcell. If there’s something dark and murky about it, something uber twisted, chances are I’m going to love it. What that says about my mental state, I’m not sure 😉
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
I think the hardest part is that horrible first draft. Facing the blank page is a monster to me. I know the first draft is supposed to be bad (there’s a reason writers call it the vomit draft), but it’s hard to write drivel and move on. But that’s what you have to do, keep writing badly until it’s down. It’s the next passes, the editing, that I prefer because I have something to work with I can make better. That’s not to say editing is easy, it’s just that I’d rather have something to improve than work from nothing. I like the research too, though sometimes keeping myself from going down rabbit holes is a struggle.
What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?
Proceed as if success is inevitable. I have it stuck to the wall in my office where I write to remind me. Oddly, it didn’t come from an author. It was a meme I think, but honestly, it helped. It’s what got me through all the highs and lows. It helped me keep my head down and working as I approached each milestone. There was some doubling-back of course, but it was all about forward momentum.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
I have three teenage boys at home, so school hours are the best time for me. Things get a little chaotic after that. I also work late at night sometimes if things are flowing after everyone has gone to bed.
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
I’d probably be drinking too much coffee in Starbucks, lamenting that I should’ve become an author.
If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?
I’d go back to the Victorian period, probably to the 1880’s. It’s when my book takes place. It was such a fascinating time. At the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, rooms were lit by candle and transportation was by horse; by the time she died, the world was ushering in electricity and automobiles. The industrial revolution was well underway, but the women’s movement—suffrage, gender equality, etc. was way behind. The dichotomy of that boggles. Reading and writing female protagonists from that era, women who wanted to break free of the mold men were so determined to keep them in, makes for such vivid storytelling. Plus, the clothes. To die for.
Please tell us about your debut novel.
She isn’t the madwoman with amnesia the doctors and inmates at Blackwell’s Asylum think she is.
In truth, she’s working undercover for the New York World. When the managing editor refuses to hire her because she’s a woman, Elizabeth strikes a deal: in exchange for a job, she’ll impersonate a lunatic to expose a local asylum’s abuses.
When she arrives at the asylum, Elizabeth realizes she must make a decision—is she there merely to bear witness, or to intervene on behalf of the abused inmates? Can she interfere without blowing her cover? As the superintendent of the asylum grows increasingly suspicious, Elizabeth knows her scheme—and her dream of becoming a journalist in New York—is in jeopardy.
A Feigned Madness is a meticulously researched, fictionalized account of the woman who would come to be known as daredevil reporter Nellie Bly. At a time of cutthroat journalism, when newspapers battled for readers at any cost, Bly emerged as one of the first to break through the gender barrier—a woman who would, through her daring exploits, forge a trail for women fighting for their place in the world.
Available: October 6th 2020
Pre-order book: https://www.cynren.com/catalog/a-feigned-madness)
Pre-order ebook: Amazon
If you would like to know more about Tonya and her work, please check out her links below: