This week's guest is historical and YA fiction author Jennifer Donnelly. Her first novel, "The Tea Rose" garnered lots of praise from places like Booklist and the Washington Post. The sequel, "The Winter Rose" recently hit shelves.
For more about Donnelly and her books, check out her website.
WN: What is "The Winter Rose" about?
DONNELLY: It's about the hard and simple things of life -- love, courage, forgiveness, redemption. It's the second book in my Rose trilogy, and it reunites readers with the Finnegan family, whom they met in The Tea Rose. Many characters from The Tea Rose return in The Winter Rose, but the book's story centers on Sid Malone, an East London crime lord, and a new character: India Selwyn Jones, a young doctor. The book opens in 1900, on the dangerous streets of Whitechapel. East London is no place for a well-bred woman, but India Selwyn Jones is not one to observe conventions. She's brilliant, dedicated, talented, and headstrong. She's trained as one of a new breed, a woman doctor, and is determined to practice where the need is greatest. It is on these grim streets where India meets – and saves the life of – Sid Malone. Hard, violent, devastatingly attractive, Malone is the opposite of India’s cool, aristocratic fiancé, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him – enticed by his charm, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.India and Sid fall in love, even as they fight against their feelings. Theirs is a volatile, passionate and bittersweet affair, and it causes destruction they could never have imagined. A big, old-fashioned epic, very much in the tradition of A Woman of Substance or The Thornbirds, The Winter Rose brings the early twentieth century vividly to life, sweeping from London's wretched slums and privileged society, to the plains of Kenya, to California's dramatic seacoast.
WN: It's a sequel to "The Tea Rose." When you wrote that book, were you expecting to write a series?
DONNELLY: I wasn’t. In fact, after I finished it, I wrote something completely different -- A Northern Light, a young adult novel. But after awhile, I missed the Finnegans and wanted to find out what was happening with them. As there are three siblings, I hit upon the genius idea of using a trilogy to tell their stories!
WN: You write historical novels. What kind and how much research do you have to do for a book to get the time period accurate?
DONNELLY: I do an absolute ton of research. Years' worth. It's crucial to getting the history right, of course, but it also feeds the action of the book, determines some of the plot and helps define the characters. History is very much a character in its own right in my books.
WN: Were you a reader as a kid? What turned you on to the idea of being a writer?
DONNELLY: I was a non-stop reader. My idea of a really good time was a Saturday trip to the library. And it still is. I can't remember a distinct moment when I thought, "Aha! This is it! I want to be a writer." Words and stories and books were just always there. My mom's a great storyteller and read to me as a kid, and told me her own stories. My dad's side of the family, all Irish, were also great storytellers. So reading and writing were always as natural to me as breathing.
WN: What's the most influential book you've read and why?
DONNELLY: It's so hard to pick just one, but if pressed, I would say Ulysses by James Joyce. I read it as a college sophomore and it opened my eyes to the people and the world and truth and the astonishing power of art.
WN: What's the best advice you received as a writer?
DONNELLY: I learned some very valuable lessons at my first writing job -- which was as a general assignment reporter at the Watertown Daily Times, a daily paperin Watertown, NY. I learned that you don't wait for the muse -- you sit down and get busy. Writing is not airy-fairy daydreamy stuff, it's hard work and you have approach it with discipline and drive. On hard days, when inspiration has deserted you, and you're struggling to keep the thread of the story going, and struggling with self-doubt and all that horribly writerly angst, discipline is the one thing that will keep you going. And you have to keep going, no matter how hard the struggle. You have to.
WN: What's next for you as a writer?
DONNELLY: I'm currently working on a new young adult novel, and I'm mapping out the plot for the third book in the Rose trilogy, The Wild Rose.