Bad Boyfriends in Literature

I’ve had several reviewers and fans say that in the Ripper series they do not like Abbie’s love interest, William Siddal. Apparently, there are A LOT of Simon fans--I’ve received several e-mails from Ripper and Renegade readers saying that they don’t understand why Abbie picks William over Simon. The answer is simple and is nothing new in literature: Abbie knows that Simon would be better for her, and yet, she cannot conquer her feelings for William. Ever. In Abbie’s defense, many heroines in literature don’t always pick sensible boyfriends. Here are a few examples. Case #1: Heathcliff

Heathcliff in Emily Brontё’s Wuthering Heights, is perhaps the worst boyfriend Cathy could pick. A “fierce, pitiless, and wolfish man” (to use Cathy’s own words) when he can’t have her, he ruins the lives of everyone around him, even abusing her own daughter. And although I love to get sucked into a wildly dysfunctional Brontё love story, by the time he tries to hang Cathy’s dog, well…I can’t summon up any sort of literary bad guy crush.

Case #2: Mr. Rochester

In Charlotte Brontё’s novel, Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester has a pretty strong argument for being bad boyfriend material. Falling in love with him as she cares for his illegitimate daughter, Adele, Jane has to endure all of Rochester’s snotty neighbors and his manipulative games. He feels the need to tell Jane about all of his romps with former mistresses. And he’s keeping a little (ok, a gargantuan) secret in his attic.  St. John Rivers, the handsome but cold-fish theologian seems like a safer bet. But alas…when Jane stands at a crossroads as two men vie for her heart, she, without regrets, follows her heart.

Case #3 Mr. Darcy

In Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, arrogant beyond belief, Mr. Darcy is rude to heroine Elizabeth Bennet upon first meeting her; he convinces his friend Bingley to forget about the girl he loves—Elizabeth’s beautiful sister Jane, and he asks Elizabeth to marry him in perhaps the most condescending proposal in the world: “I have fought against my better judgment.” Finally, it’s very hard to get over the fact that his name is: Fitzwilliam. Fortunately, Lizzie Bennet is no wallflower. She angrily refuses him and dresses him down for ruining her sister’s happiness.  But he earns back her love, paying off the rake Wickham to marry Lizzie’s ruined sister Lydia, easing Bingley back into the arms of Jane, and eventually winning back Lizzie’s heart.

GIVEAWAY: Go to my Facebook page wall and write the name of your favorite bad boyfriend in literature. It can be from any book: young adult, romance, or mystery, and I will enter your name in a drawing for a signed copy of RENEGADE. The contest ends at 5:oo next Friday (July 26).

Exploring Old St. Pancras Church

A church rises up in the background on the cover of the final book in the Ripper trilogy, Resurrection. This church, Old St. Pancras, has a fascinating history and was one of the main places I explored while visiting London on my research trip in March. Old St. Pancras Church and Highgate Cemetery are both major settings in Resurrection.What’s so remarkable about Old St. Pancras Church?

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It’s VERY old!

The church is very old, possibly the site of the oldest site of Christian worship in England, possibly dating back to the fourth century. Although the church had fallen into disrepair, the Victorians completed many renovations upon the place. These renovations revealed remarkable remnants from the Church’s history including stones dating back to the Norman period. The last major renovations during the Victorian period took place in 1888, the year before Resurrection takes place.

The Cemetery’s Lost Bodies and Bones

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One of the most bizarre and interesting pieces of the place’s history has to do with the construction of a railway behind the church. The Church’s cemetery blocked its path, and railway workers irreverently dug up and moved aside graves and coffins. Thomas Hardy, later a Victorian novelist, was in charge of removing the coffins. In an effort to maintain some dignity for the dead, he clustered them about the base of a tree immediately behind the church, now called The Hardy Tree. He wrote a haunting little poem about the tree in “The Levelled Churchyard.” My favorite lines are: “We late-lamented, resting here, / Are mixed to human jam, / And each to each exclaims in fear, / ‘I know not which I am!’”

Many graves were lost. Ripper fans might remember William Siddal’s long dead relative, John Polidori. Lord Byron’s physician and an author of one of the first vampire novels, Polidori died quite young. He was buried in this churchyard and unfortunately, his remains were lost. Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous Romantic era feminist writer (and mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley) had been buried here. Fortunately, Mary Shelley’s spunky daughter-in-law saved Wollstonecraft’s body and the body of her husband, William Godwin. However, the graves of other members of Wollstonecraft’s family were lost.

Why yes, the Beetles were there!

More recently, The Beetles were photographed in the gardens surrounding the church during their Mad Day Out photo shoot. Pretty awesome!

I photobombed my favorite feminist! (Well…sort of)

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I’ve had a serious girl crush on Mary Wollstonecraft ever since reading her feminist essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Women in high school. One of the major highlights of my churchyard adventures was finally locating the small monument to Mary Wollstonecraft. The morning was very cold and rainy, but I begged my sister to snap several photographs of myself next to my BFF. I was geeky excited!

Girls Can Be Doctors Too – Even in Victorian London

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While in London, I visited the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery. The gallery is the restored first floor ward and entrance to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and contains fascinating information and displays about England’s first female physicians. Who was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson?

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was one of England’s first female physicians. She helped found hospitals for impoverished women and co-founded the first medical school for women in London. She paved the way for ambitious women, like Abbie Sharp in my Ripper series, who wanted to be doctors. During Abbie Sharp’s era, Dr. Anderson’s hospital was called the New Hospital for Women and was renamed later the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. Dr. Anderson’s charity hospital for women was similar to Whitechapel Hospital in Ripper, except that all of the physicians and nurses were women.

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In Ripper, Lady Westfield wishes for Abbie to volunteer at Whitechapel Hospital because it is “vogue” for young women to participate in “charitable services.”  Victorian women, when they did work outside the home, were expected be philanthropic, merely caregivers extending their “innate” nurturing qualities to the public. Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson firmly distanced herself and her medical students from this stereotype. In 1867, Dr. Anderson stated, “I am strongly in favor of taking the work done by women out of the region of philanthropy. Of course, the real motive of anyone doing the work I do is the desire to gain knowledge. You are glad, and incidentally the poor are cured.” By the 1880’s her medical school was every bit as rigorous and professional as medical schools for men; her female medical students would have studied in New Hospital’s operating theater and surgical wards, completing their clinicals at the Royal Free Hospital.

New Hospital for Women

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Most of the hospitals during the Victorian period were unsanitary and unpleasant. Dr. Anderson was very concerned that her hospital was well-ventilated and bright. Dr. Anderson’s sister, the celebrated interior designer Agnes Garrett, designed many of the rooms and fireplaces in the hospital, using blue as a calming accent. Lovely blue print tiles frame the fireplace in the entrance hall and accented the walls in the wards. Hospital beds were well-spaced, large windows cast light throughout the rooms, and fresh flowers rested near beds.

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The bag in the photograph is similar to the type of medical bags that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson would have used to visit patients outside of the hospital. It would have contained medicine bottles, syringes, any instruments necessary for a house call. The photograph of the entrance hall to the hospital looks exactly as it would have during Abbie Sharp’s time at New Hospital with the exception of an enormous statue that Anderson likely gave to one of the hospital’s donors. The doll in the photograph was used during the 1930’s to teach female medical students.

The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and India

Dr. Anderson’s hospital not only improved the lives of Londoners, but as the hospital grew, her physicians traveled internationally. Strict cultural rules in India prevented women from being cared for by male physicians. Particularly, after New Hospital became the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, many qualified female medical students worked as physicians in India after completing their degrees.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and the Suffragist Movement

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Although one of Dr. Anderson’s sisters, Millicent Fawcett, was an active suffragist, Anderson herself didn’t participate in the suffragist movement until her retirement. She worried that too many ties to the campaign would harm the reputation of her hospital, and it was a savvy political move, particularly since New Hospital relied so much on donations. Nonetheless, her work demonstrated her unceasing belief in the essential equality of genders.

Adventures in Highgate Cemetery...

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Although I have visited Highgate Cemetery before, I had very specific places that I wanted to see this time because of the Ripper series. The West part of the cemetery (the most fascinating and beautiful part) can only be entered through taking a guided tour in which tickets must be purchased in advance. Apart from seeing Egyptian Avenue again, I needed to take photographs of the Rossetti family plot where Elizabeth Siddal and Christina Rossetti are buried—the plot where Dante Gabriel Rossetti had his wife, Siddal, exhumed and then reburied one year after her death. He wanted to retrieve his unpublished poetry that he had placed lovingly in her coffin. (The guy needed money!) But I was nervous, terribly nervous, about getting back to the family plot. This is why… Highgate Cemetery is privately run by mostly unpaid volunteers who very much care about its upkeep and reputation. (Incidentally, the cost of this upkeep runs at about £2000 per day! So donations are important.) But before the Friends of Highgate Cemetery was formed in 1975, the grounds had fallen into disrepair and were plagued by vandals, Satanists, ghost hunters, and small mobs of crazy people trying to drive a stake through the heart of the “Highgate vampire.” (I’m not kidding.) The volunteers now care deeply about the reputation of the Cemetery and shun sensationalism. Although well-documented and true, Siddal’s exhumation falls into the sensational category and is not included on the guided tours. 

Anecdotally, I had a friend who visited Highgate Cemetery and when he asked his elderly guide about Siddal’s grave, she replied: “We don’t tell that story here.” (He proceeded to tell the story to all the other members in his tour group to her tight-lipped chagrin.) When I visited the Cemetery in 2005, my tour guide told me to “be very careful about who you discuss that story with here.” So, understandably, I was nervous about how I would “sweet talk” my tour guide into showing me the place. On the entire walk up Swain’s Lane I went over with my fearless research assistant (my younger sister) potential strategies for getting our guide to take me back there. I was seriously stressed…

Our tour guide, “Peter,” was older, looked a bit hurried, and he didn’t smile much. After briefly debating tactics, I decided that begging (and not mentioning Siddal’s name) would be the best approach.

Here’s how it went:

“Hi Peter, I’m working on a book series, and I need to see the Rossetti family plot. Could you please take me to it?”

Peter furrows brows, sighs audibly, says in an authoritarian British accent: “There is NO WAY I’m taking our group back there. It is too far off the path. We don’t have time..”

Me (wishing that I had removed my eyeglasses before speaking to him as they do no favors for my face): “Please…I came all the way from America to see it!”

Peter: “I will make NO PROMISES!”

“How’d that go?” I whispered to my sister.

“Well, other than seeming a bit desperate, pretty well. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

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I tried to walk toward the front of the group during the whole tour. I nodded a lot, smiled a lot. I tried not to be too obnoxious or take too many photographs. And the tour was fascinating. Peter was an excellent guide. I learned that a very rare species of spiders had recently been discovered in some of the tombs. I learned about the symbol of the lotus on the entrance to Egyptian Avenue—rebirth. I learned even more about the Victorians’ funny views of death, how so many of the graves are above ground so that they could feel connected to their dead loved ones. I walked through Egyptian Avenue, trying to see it through Abbie Sharp’s eyes, through her world. Peter even took us inside one of the tombs; it was cold, gloomy, and windswept in spite of the sunny spring day. I knew at the point when Peter told us what a terribly rotten man the menagerist, George Wombwell, was for neglecting and mistreating his animals that Peter, in spite of his scary British accent, was really a kind man and that he would, in the end, take me back to the Rossetti plot.

He did.

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A bit out of the way, the plot is not that large. Only a few of the Rossetti’s are buried there, and the graves, compared to many in the cemetery, are very simple and modest. As you can see from the photographs I’m posting, you can barely see the names on the stones. Still the plot is marked with the overgrown beauty of so much of the rest of Highgate Cemetery. But it is the resting plot of two remarkable women, and I wished that I had brought them flowers.

I hope to return to the Cemetery before too long. It is such a testament to Victorian sentimentality and oddness and such a rich background for some of my favorite books including Dracula, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.

Trip to London

I just returned from a trip to London where I did some hands on research for the Ripper trilogy. Renegade comes out next month, but next year the final book, Resurrection will hit bookshelves in April. Specifically, on my agenda, I wanted to meander around Highgate Cemetery again and the Kensington area where Abbie Sharp lived. I visited Old St. Pancras Church, a fascinating little church, one of the oldest churches in England—a background setting for Resurrection. Over the upcoming weeks, I will be doing more specific blog posts on these places but here’s a brief photo album highlighting my trip![gallery ids="184,186,187,188,189,190,191,192"]

THE NEXT BIG THING

1: What is the working title of your book? RESURRECTION

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve had this book planned since I wrote the first RIPPER book. This is the third book in the RIPPER series, so I’m continuing that story. Specifically, in this book Abbie is pursuing the Ripper through London. She knows at this point that either she will survive or he will.

 3: What genre does your book come under?

Young adult.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Definitely Emma Watson would play Abbie. I would love to have Maggie Smith play Lady Westfield. In terms of the male characters, I can’t think about who would ideally play them, particularly the Ripper. He’s so unique and twisted--I can’t think of anyone who would do the role justice. :)

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Abbie, William, and Simon must defeat the Ripper once and for all, but he’s not going down without a fight.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

RESURRECTION is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and will be published by Flux/Llewellyn in 2014.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m still writing it, but overall, it’s taking me about six months.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is a difficult question to answer. So many, specifically nineteenth-century books shaped my ideas. Abbie Sharp, in my mind, is like a knife-throwing version of Jane Eyre.

 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

If got the idea for RIPPER during a trip to London a few years ago. But I knew, even then, that I didn’t want the story to just to be about the murders—I wanted to add some paranormal and to have a main character with a complicated past.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Max is clever, and this time when he confronts Abbie, he’s not alone. There’s some pretty ferocious fights in the book. The stake are high and the monarchy gets involved in this one--yes, that's right, Queen Victoria herself. I’m actually flying back to London this spring to walk around some of the settings for these scenes—just to make certain that they’re realistic and vivid to my readers.

Check out the awesome sites of these other authors! Anne Greenwood Brown, Lynne KellyS. J. Kincaid. and Jamieson Ridenhour. 

Interview with Kami Kinard

Kami Kinard
Kami Kinard

 Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister (Scholastic, January 2012). Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in periodicals for children and adults. Kami also works as a teaching artist for SC schools, and teaches writing courses for continuing education programs. She lives with her family in balmy, buggy, and beautiful Beaufort, SC. Recently I finished reading Kami's middle grade book, The Boy Project. I really enjoyed it—there were so many laugh-out-loud segments. This past week, I interviewed Kami about her process of writing the book, what inspires her, and of course, who she would duel if given the opportunity!

1. So I loved The Boy Project, and I wanted to know a bit about what inspired you to write it. Can you talk about when you first got the idea for the book?

I got the idea for writing The Boy Project after reading my old middle school and high school diaries. As an adult, I hadn’t remembered wanting a boyfriend in middle school, but when I read the diaries it all came back to me. I thought that girls who are in middle school now could relate to that feeling.

2.  You do a really great job of making the main character Kara feel authentic—she wants a boyfriend pretty badly. And yet, she comes across as independent and likable. How did you strike that balance as you wrote the book? 

Thanks Amy. I think it is important to acknowledge that wanting to be loved is a basic human need, and that wanting that doesn’t make us less independent. I knew I would be criticized by some for writing a book about a girl who wanted a boyfriend – and I have been occasionally – but more often I get fan mail from girls who could really relate to Kara. As I wrote the book, I tried to make sure Kara reflected a normal girl who had talents and personality but who wasn’t afraid to admit that she also wants to be liked by a boy.

3. The Boy Project is a uniquely middle grade novel. Can you talk about the difference between writing a middle grade novel and a young adult novel? What is easier/harder about writing a book specifically for this age group?

Right now, the trend is for middle grade novels to have main characters who are twelve and younger. This in and of itself is a little limiting. You also have to keep the language fairly clean, and although there can be kissing scenes, there can’t be more. There can be allusions to murder, but you wouldn’t show a murder. Usually characters in a middle grade novel won’t smoke or do drugs. There are always exceptions, but these are the general rules.

Since I haven’t written a YA novel, I’m not sure I could say which is harder. One is probably not harder than the other, but you do have more freedom with a YA novel in regards to language and content.

4. What is a typical writing day like for you? And when you write, do you have any special habits? Any favorite snacks that you must have or music that you must listen to as you write?

I haven’t had a typical writing day in a while, sadly. But a good writing day would start out with me walking the dog, then checking email and social media, then writing for a few hours in my small office until I pick up my daughter from school. I have to have quiet when I write, so I don’t listen to music. When I am working on a tough revision, I like to snack on Hot Tamales. It’s a bad habit, but it works for me.

5. What authors inspire you? What are you reading now?

I am currently reading Lucky You by Carl Hiaasen. I love his novels for adults. They are the best kind of crazy. I like funny books, so authors like Hiaasen, Tom Angleberger, and Jeff Kinney inspire me, but I also love beautifully written books like Wonder by R. J. Palacio and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. J.K. Rowling is also inspiring, of course!

6. I love your blog, Nerdy Chicks Rule, and the “nerdy chicks” you talk about in history and literature. If you could be any heroine in a novel who would you be?

Hmmm. I would be Alice from Alice in Wonderland. That’s what popped into my head, and I’m sticking with it!

7. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do? Do have any favorite hobbies?

I like to create things. Sometimes I paint, sometimes I make jewelry, and sometimes my daughter and I make things for her crafts blog. (www.craftycrafts.wordpress.com)

8. Which character in literature or history would you duel if given the chance? Why?

I’m basically a pacifist, so I’d have a hard time dueling anyone unless we were using Nerf swords. If it came down to that, I think I’d still have to duel with someone like Greg Heffley’s friend Rowley or Barney Fife. Maybe then I would stand a chance…

Thanks so much, Kami, for the great interview answers!  

Here's a summary of The Boy Project:

For anyone who's ever felt that boys were a different species....

Wildly creative seventh grader, Kara McAllister, just had her best idea yet. She's going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara's project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy's bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara's research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it...

Full of charts and graphs, heart and humor, this hilarious debut will resonate with tweens everywhere.

Visit Kami's website

Follow Kami on Facebook

Follow her on Twitter

The Boy Project Book Trailer

Writing RIPPER Part Deux

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Renegade

So as many of you have seen from my previous blog entry, the sequel to Ripper, Renegade, is well on its way to coming out in April of 2013. I’ve finished the story, we’ve posted the beautiful cover reveal, and I want to share a bit about my experience writing a sequel.

What was DIFFICULT about writing a sequel:

1. I had to get over my nervousness. Once Ripper was on bookshelves, I felt so much pressure to “deliver” with the second story. I was very happy with the ending to Ripper, particularly with the cliffhanger. In the sequel, Jack is back and he’s worse than ever, and as I wrote Renegade, I felt very conscious about keeping up the pacing and energy of Ripper. I found, the more I wrote, as I relaxed, and just let his scenes play out in my head, that Jack’s energy just came out full force on the page. But I had to shuck all self-consciousness as a writer first and just continue the Ripper story.

2. Consistency!  Ah! This drove me nuts. I had to continuously read and re-read portions of Ripper to make certain that I was being consistent with plot elements, and back stories. It’s really important to keep the storyline as consistent as possible in order to keep the world as real as possible to your readers.

What was EASIER about writing a sequel:

1. I already knew my characters. I read somewhere (I really wish that I could remember the article!) that working on a new novel is like wandering through a city to get your bearings. To truly know the city you have to meander down alleys and streets, backtrack, move forward again. During Ripper I was constantly “reworking” scenes as I got to know my characters better. I found myself during the editing process thinking “level-headed Simon would never do that” or “you need to make William even more of an ass here.” While working on Renegade, I already knew my “city” so to speak. I knew exactly what Simon would say or do in a scene. I knew the layout of Whitechapel Hospital like the back of my hand.

2. Writing Renegade, was easier also because I was no longer writing about an actual historical occurrence. With Ripper, I had to constantly refer to a timeline that I kept by my laptop with the dates and times of the murders. I had to work my fiction story, as much as possible, around the actual events. With Renegade, all I had to worry about was being consistent within my own fiction story, there were no historical constraints.

3.    The sequel was even more fun! Truthfully, I had more fun writing Renegade. The stage had already been set in Ripper and so the love triangle could heat up, the dynamics between Abbie and Jack could go further, and I even added an additional opponent for Abbie—a lamia named Seraphina, who I am quite fond of. She is a terrifying and fascinating Byronic character—I’ll post more on her in the upcoming month.

SC Book Festival 2012

So my weekend at the SC Book Festival was awesome! My panel this year was "Write of Passage: Young Adult Writers," and my fellow panelist Kami Kinard (author of THE BOY PROJECT) and I discussed the specific challenges that young adult writers face.  Among the things we talked about were how writing for middle grade readers is VERY different from writing for young adult readers. We also discussed the unique challenges of characterization and the surprises and challenges we encountered on the path to publication.

RIPPER Midwest Book Tour Continues...

So today was an exciting day on the RIPPER book tour.  This afternoon, I visited Leo Jr./Senior High School to give a reading from RIPPER.  I got several awesome questions, including "How do we know Jack the Ripper was a man?" (My answer...we don't.) My evening continued with a RIPPER book signing at the Barnes and Noble at the Glenbrook Mall in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  The signing was a success, and I was able to visit some of my favorite professors from my undergraduate days.