Today I’m, very happy to welcome author Amy Carol Reeves! Amy has a PhD in nineteenth-century British literature. She published academic articles before deciding that it would be much more fun to write about Jack the Ripper. When she is not writing or teaching college classes, she enjoys running around her neighborhood with her giant Labrador retriever and serial reading Jane Austen novels. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two children. Ripper was her debut novel and you can read me review here.
To find out more about Amy visit her Website!
T: How did Ripper come about?
ACR: My ideas for Ripper started back in graduate school. I went on a trip to London, and took a Jack the Ripper tour with Donald Rumbelow. I read his book, The Complete Jack the Ripper, on the plane ride home. But at that time I thought there were way too many books and movies on Jack the Ripper. It was only after graduate school, when I had already decided to be a young adult book author, that I considered that there were virtually no fiction works on Jack the Ripper for young adults. So I buckled down and wrote my book.
T: Have you always been interested in Jack?
ACR: Yes, it’s such a fascinating unsolved case, and the more I researched, the more baffling and bizarre the case seemed. I never came up with answers, just many more questions. Everyone always asks me which of the suspects I think is most likely the killer. In all of my research, I found that none of them seemed to be the Ripper. But since I was writing fiction, this worked in my favor a bit as it allowed me, as a writer, to “fill in the blanks” for my own story’s purposes.
T: Ripper is a historical YA, but it has some paranormal aspects to it, which did you find easier to write?
ACR: That’s a difficult question. I found challenging aspects to both. The historical research was certainly time consuming, but not necessarily difficult. Because of my PhD studies, I already knew what sources and books to go to for information on Victorian culture. Researching the medical history of the period was much more difficult and I had to do a lot more digging. Although writing paranormal is fun, I found that as a writer it is difficult to establish the “rules” for the particularly paranormal aspect. A lot of my editing and revising involved making sure that I was consistent when it came to the “rules” of Abbie’s psychic abilities.
T: You teach at the University, what do your students think about having a YA author as a teacher? Are they excited about you getting published?
ACR: Some of them are. Some of them don’t care!
T: How did you come up with the twists in Ripper?
ACR: When I set out to write Ripper, I wanted it to be more than just a whodunit. It was very important for me to have Abbie figuring out her own family’s history, for her to be unraveling the story of her enigmatic mother, as she solves the crimes. She is also trying to figure out what she values and who she loves (yes, there is a love triangle). So what I had to do was smoothly integrate Abbie Sharp’s own story into the murder mystery plot. The historical murder plot had already been laid out for me (i.e. the dates, circumstances of the murders, etc.) so it was mostly meshing the facts into the story I wanted to write.
T: Are you going to write a series for Ripper, or rather Abbie?
ACR: Yes, I’m working right now on the sequel, Renegade. It will be out next year. So stay tuned…Abbie’s adventures are by no means over!
T: What comes next?
ACR: Apart from the Ripper series, I’m working on a young adult Gothic historical thriller.
T: Does Shawn have any input on your writing? (i.e. help edit, critique, or just read and say that’s great) Does he help promote you and your writing?
ACR: He’s great with giving me feedback for early first drafts. He also “talks me off a cliff” when I’m at a really stressful stage in the writing or revising.
T: Does being a professor help or hinder your writing?
ACR: It certainly helps. My writing days can be so long and solitary. It’s nice to get out and to interact with students in the classroom.
T: Who were your favorite authors when you were young?
ACR: Oh there were so many. I loved C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tales. But I also really got into Gothic romances. Jane Eyre was one of my favorites. As I do now, I serial read Brontë sister novels. Also, I love anything and everything by Jane Austen. Although Pride and Prejudice is my favorite of her books, as a teenager, I was introduced to Austen through Northanger Abbey. I think that I initially thought it was a Gothic novel, but then quickly realized that it was actually a hysterical parody of Gothic novels. Nonetheless, I was hooked and loved it, and read all of her novels after that. I also really loved Dodie Smith. Although she’s known for 101 Dalmations, I think that her book I Capture the Castle, is one of the best young adult books every written. I love her teenage narrator Cassandra.
T: What got you into nineteenth century British Lit?
ACR: I think all the reading I did in high school. The nineteenth century is such a rich literary time. The number of novels produced was amazing.
T: You have two fantasies you discuss on your website, if you could have one which would it be tea with Jane Austen or a date with Lord Byron? (We won’t tell Shawn if it’s Byron)
ACR: Most certainly a date with Lord Byron. (insert girlish giggle here)
T: What are your favorite pieces of work from Jane and Byron? (personally I love Bryon’s poetry and that he was a scoundrel)
ACR: Yes, he was a scoundrel, which is partly why he was so fabulous. None of the outlandish reality television stars can compare to Byron’s rakish and adventurous behavior. He was quite notorious. In terms of his work, I really like Don Juan. I think it’s hysterical and very clever. In terms of Austen, like I’ve already said, I love Pride and Prejudice. It is an absolutely perfect book.
T: How different was writing Ripper compared to the work you normally write?
ACR: It was much more fun than the academic papers I have written. Although I liked writing academic papers, I always felt as if my brain wanted to spin off in more creative directions. My previous unpublished works were a picture book and a middle reader novel. Both of them were fun to write and hard work in terms of revisions, but I didn’t feel the connection with them that I had with Ripper. I think that a large part of my connection with Ripper was because it was my first creative work that used my passion for nineteenth-century literature and history.
T: Have any of your students been inspired by you to write?
ACR: Some have told me that they are.
T: Who are your favorite fictional characters today?
ACR: I recently read Jane by April Lindner, and I really liked it. I felt as if her Jane captured the character of Brontë’s Jane: she’s rational but passionate, but she’s also steely, and has a good sense of right and wrong. I also love Theia in Gwen Hayes’s Falling Under series. There’s something so modern and yet fairy tale-ish about the story and Theia’s character; it’s like she’s brave, beautiful, classic and enchanting all at the same time.
T: What authors do you relate too?
ACR: I correspond a lot about writing and books with my good friend, Jamieson Ridenhour, author of Barking Mad. We both have PhD’s in British literature, and our pages are “haunted” by a lot of nineteenth-century books that we’ve read. I also love my “agency sister” Gwen Hayes.
T: Who or what influences you the most?
ACR: As I’ve mentioned, certainly the Brontës. Particularly Charlotte. In fact, the love triangle in Ripper was lifted straight from Jane Eyre. Simon St. John is based on St. John Rivers and William Siddal is similar in character to Rochester.
T: If you could live anywhere or at any time where would you live?
ACR: Regency Era England. Victorian England would be fun too, but I think that women had even more freedom during the Romantic Era in England; and the dresses were better. They also didn’t wear such tight corsets.
T: What’s your favorite work of fiction?
ACR: It’s a toss-up between Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.
T: What work/author do you love teaching about?
ACR: I really love teaching M.G. Lewis’s The Monk. I think particularly because of students’ reactions to it. They are always skeptical, thinking it looks too long and dry but then many of them tell me that once they start it they can’t put it down. That it reads like a Stephen King novel. Since I see a large part of my job as a professor is to get students excited about literature, The Monk really does the trick. Every time I teach it, I hear many of the same comments, “I can’t believe this book was written in the 1700’s. It’s so crazy!”
T: If there’s one thing you could pass on what would it be?
ACR: Moby Dick. Blah.
T: What stories do/did you read to your children?
ACR: We read all sorts of things of course. My son and I read Where the Wild Things Are so many times that he had the book memorized word for word at the age of three. Both of my children, as I do, also really like Bunnicula books. We read a lot from the Bunnicula series together before bedtime.
T: Does Shawn remind you of any fictional character?
ACR: I think I have to say, Atticus Finch. Shawn’s such a good dad. And he’s a southern lawyer so it’s fitting
T: Were you as rebellious as a teen as Abbie is?
ACR: I don’t see Abbie as being rebellious simply for the sake of being rebellious. Mariah (although I love her) is more the character who likes to rebel just for the sake of rebelling. Abbie pushes against the boundaries set upon her to follow her conscience, not just to rebel.
And no, I wasn’t a rebellious teenager. I liked to question authority figures a lot. I liked to ask “why” a lot when it came to rules and ideas. But no, I didn’t do too many typical teenage-rebellion things. I was too much of a reader.
T: Do you think Abbie fits into the mold we normally think of for the late 1800′s?
ACR: No, I am under no illusion that Abbie Sharp is a typical Victorian girl. In my mind, she is more representative of one of the not-so-typical females who “pushed” against the system a bit, because there were women who did this. I’m thinking of, for instance, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, one of the first female physicians. I worked very hard to establish Abbie’s unconventional background to make her independence more believable. She was raised by an educated and artistic mother who would have passed on her own values to Abbie. Her mother gave Abbie an unusual amount of freedom too. Through Abbie’s knife-throwing games and through playing with the local children, she learned to be more adaptable and street-smart than the typical Victorian girl. (Of course this helped her when she began working in the East End.)
T: When you were writing Ripper did you listen to any music? What got you in your frame of mind? Did you drink more tea, coffee or hot chocolate (for those of us that don’t drink coffee)?
ACR: I like to go jogging in the mornings. I think a lot about my writing as I jog. When I get back, I drink coffee (hazelnut or vanilla flavored, of course!) and with the dogs at my feet, I write.
T: Research is an important tool when writing, considering you have a PhD in nineteenth-century British Lit what other research did you need to prepare? What kinds of research did you have to do on Jack?
ACR: There was a lot of research on Victorian culture, on the Ripper murders themselves, and on the medical field at the time. When I began to write the book, I had several historical sources already on Victorian culture and on Jack the Ripper. It was time-consuming to go through these, to make sure that I had a good grasp on the period and the nature of the murders. Researching medicine at the time period was also time-consuming as at first—I had no idea where to start.
T: What is your favorite quote?
ACR: “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” –G.K. Chesterton
Thank you so much to Amy Carol Reeves for being with us today and being so gracious in sharing with me.
And Check out the Trailer: