An Interview With Paulette Kennedy

Paulette Kennedy grew up where people drink sweet tea and put gravy on everything. She now lives and writes in Southern California. Her genres of choice are dark historical fiction and quiet Gothic horror. Her current work-in-progress is a southern Gothic set in the Ozarks during the Great Depression.

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”

Lisa See

Debut Novel

It’s Sunday. Do you know what that means? It’s the day 2020’s Five Question Interviews go LIVE here on! Let’s read, learn and connect with this year’s fantastic bunch of writers, editors and agents. Up first: author Paulette Kennedy.

Paulette’s Advice for Writers

My advice to writers is to read everything–both inside and outside your preferred genre, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

You and I both write stories inspired by the Victorian Era. What drew you to this time period? Have you always had an interest in history and writing about it?
I think the thing I find most intriguing about the Victorian Era is how similar it is to our own. You see this massive drive and curiosity toward science and technology in the 19th century. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the world slowly became smaller as transportation evolved. We even developed a middle class because of the industrial era. Everything in society changed, and it changed quickly. You see the echoes of the Victorian era all around us today,  even if the technology now is more sophisticated. 

Another aspect that fascinates me about the Victorians is how misunderstood they are nowadays, both socially and sexually. There was much more progressive thought toward sexuality and gender than people generally give the Victorians credit for. Some of the most erotically charged poetry and prose was created during the era, and romantic love as the basis for marriage was celebrated and  encouraged. Queen Victoria was very much in love with her husband Prince Albert, and her influence can be seen not only in the elaborate weddings we still have today, but in the decidedly romantic way in which she mourned him. This created a cultural revolution around funerary customs, which in turn helped to birth the Spiritualist movement and a fascination with the occult. There’s so much creative fodder in the Victorian Era for a writer to relish. I love all historical eras, but the mid-to-late 19th century is my Pandora’s Box. 

Along those lines, what kind of research do you do? And how long do you take before building your book?
When I start out crafting a story, I will often be inspired by a documentary I’ve seen or a nonfiction book I am reading. I craft a rough outline focused on my main character’s arc, and then I start writing. My first drafts are fairly spare, with lots of bracketed notes reminding me to research things in my next pass. My major research comes in during revision. I do a deep dive. I use the internet, I check out books from our library, etc. I do not just skim these resources. For THE GLOAMING VEIL I read an entire nonfiction account of the Great Boer War, a biography of the Fox sisters who were well-known Spiritualists, and a day-in-the life guide to late Victorian living. I find that the more research I do, the more I want to do. I was a history minor in college, and for me, research is far from drudgery–it can become a distraction! This is why I write the bones of my story before I go too far into the rabbit hole.

Do you want each book you write to stand on its own, or will they all be part of a series?
I am a standalone type of novelist. So far, no idea I’ve had has beckoned to become a series, although I’m not discounting the possibility.

What’s the most difficult part of your artistic process? Coming up with ideas? Writing with or without an outline? etc…
Ideas are easy for me–I have way too many–which can become problematic if I don’t choose to focus! Drafting is *not* the easiest thing for me. That’s why I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to make my rough drafts perfect. Just getting the thing written down is my main goal. Revision is where I  soar.

Finally, have you read anything lately that’s made you think differently about historical events or figures? Did that new information have any impact on the outcome of a story you were working on?
I am currently reading a biography of John Adams, which has demonstrated that the lofty idea people sometimes have of the Founding Fathers is a fantasy–we see them almost as if they are demigods. They were very flawed individuals. Jefferson was a racist and a spendthrift who celebrated the ravenous bloodletting during France’s Reign of Terror, for example. 

John Adams often fades into the background compared to the rest of our early leaders, but he had much more integrity than many of the flashier figures of the American Revolution. He was a reluctant politician who much preferred being a farmer. His decision-making process had nothing to do with improving his self-image and popularity. Instead, as an attorney, he took a measured and just view of government policy. In the early days of the Revolution, he even defended British soldiers in court after the Boston Massacre.

I think, above all, our job as writers of historical fiction is to make the past and the people we are writing about relatable. Historical figures as characters aren’t always going to be likeable, but they are human. That human complexity is what makes them intriguing.

Check back next week to meet debut author John Taylor. Keep an eye out for future Five Question Interviews every Sunday from now till the end of June 2020.

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