Friday, January 13, 2017

Writers on the Couch: Megan Chance

Today we are humbled and excited to welcome the wonderfully talented Megan Chance to our Writers Couch.

Megan Chance is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of over 12 books including, The Visitant, Inamorata, An Inconvenient Wife and The Spiritualist. calls her a “writer of extraordinary talent.” A former television news photographer with a BA from Western Washington University, Megan Chance lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters.

Chance joins our interview session today following the release of her latest historical novel, A Drop of Ink. The book already has readers and reviewers enthralled and we can see why.

A Drop of Ink - a mesmerizing, complex
and darkly passionate reimagining
of the Lake Geneva summer that inspired Frankenstein... 

Set in Geneva in 1876, A Drop of Ink spawns an intricate tale that sees a group of five people meet at the Villa Diodati - the place that inspired the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, sixty years earlier. It turns out that everyone of those five characters has something to hide.

Villa Diodati, Lake Geneva

A Drop of Ink is a richly imagined, emotionally nuanced tale of passion, ambition, inspiration, and redemption. Many of us will love that it pays homage to some of the great writers of that period. 

To paraphrase Seattle Times, 'historically minded readers will particularly enjoy this bumpy ride, and the parallels between Chance’s re-imagined literary quintet and the actual participants in that long-ago gothic writing session.'  

Megan Chance was kind enough to drop by and answer ten probing questions for us - we hope you enjoy learning more about this inspiring author as much as we did. It turns out, Victor Frankenstein is her favorite villain. Want to find out more? Read on.

Megan Chance on the Writers Couch

A Hollywood studio is all over one of your books. Which is it and tell me about the director and/or cast.

Thus far, the only one of my books that has actually garnered any Hollywood interest—and which was briefly optioned—is An Inconvenient Wife, so I suppose I would pick that one. I do hear often that it would make a good movie. When I write, I always visualize actors as the characters, because, as I write, the story unfolds as if I’m watching a movie in my head. This means that my office perpetually looks like the bedroom of a 15-year old girl, with movie star pictures everywhere. For An Inconvenient Wife, I envisioned Kate Beckinsale as Lucy, Johnny Depp as Victor Seth, and Kevin Spacey as William. They’re all too old to play those parts now, although (ironically, given how Hollywood treats women of a certain age) Beckinsale might still be able to pull it off. For the director—well, at the time I would have said Martin Scorsese, given how beautifully he did The Age of Innocence, but now I’d rather have a female director. I think Jane Campion, or Catherine Hardwicke would be great, but I think my first choice might be Sam Taylor-Johnson.

My favorite non-writing day...

Consists of waking up, not exercising, reading the Sunday New York Times for about the three hours it takes, baking something challenging and fun and delicious, reading more, and hanging out with my family. Perhaps doing Latin homework. I started studying Latin this year, for no other reason than I’ve always wanted to. I was persuaded not to study it in high school because it was a dead language, which is a decision I’ve always regretted. I’m really enjoying the puzzle of it, and finding it tremendously rewarding. I really enjoy learning new things, and pushing myself until I’ve perfected them, and that is what I most like to do on my non-writing days.

Tell us what excited you in your latest travel holiday

My husband and I went to New York City—a city I have always loved—with no agenda other than going to the Belmont to watch American Pharaoh run the last leg of the Triple Crown. Beyond the race, we had no schedule, and spent our days simply going wherever we wanted to go, taking the subway, walking, popping into unknown restaurants. It was a great trip because there was nothing we had to accomplish. Then, what made it even better was the Belmont. The racetrack was packed, the lines were long, the trains to get there were overwhelmed, but the sheer energy and excitement of that race was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. People were screaming, shouting and stomping. The stands were shaking. Everyone was hugging everyone else, and we were all strangers with nothing in common but wanting that horse to win. To watch him do that … I can’t really describe what it was like. We were all one person and one voice in that moment, and all of us were with that astonishing horse, and I will simply never forget it. 

Which historical period holds your fancy for male/female clothing

I am one of those people who likes comfort over fashion. My husband and my oldest daughter are both much more fashion conscious, and they despair over me. So, given this, I think it’s odd that I have a secret fascination for men’s clothing. I love looking at the fashion spreads in Esquire, for example. I love reading their articles about men’s fashion. I love it when a man wears something a little different. I have no love for suits, tuxedos, or uniforms. They’re all so boring. But give me a jacket in a deep blue or green velvet, or a tuxedo that’s cut like a frock coat or a duster, maybe with a Nehru collar, or colorful vests, and I’m in love. I rue the late nineteenth century, when men’s clothing, which had until then been made up of a mix of colors and fabrics, moved toward a singular color, and that mostly black or blue. I love the early century, when there were different cuts of trousers and coats, and when men might wear checked trousers with a form-fitting frock coat, along with a vest of any of a multitude of colors and fabrics, and a broad swath of a silk neckcloth. And let’s not forget a watch chain decorated with all sorts of baubles and ornaments. It was a very individualistic period for men’s fashion, and some of the cuts were gorgeous, and really showed off a man’s form. I love to see a man who’s a bit of a peacock—why shouldn’t they be as unique as women when it comes to fashion?

Who is a writer who has moved you?

There are many, but my favorite these last several years has been Elizabeth Knox. She’s a New Zealand writer, and she’s lyrical, smart, challenging and emotional. Her The Vintner’s Luck is probably my very favorite book. I have read it several times, and it never fails to completely satisfy and move me. I have no idea why, and I almost hate sharing it, because the book feels so very personal to me. I recommend it often, but I have no desire to discuss it with anyone, or debate it—it feels secret and lovely and mine alone. I also love her Billie’s Luck, which was the first book of hers I read, and which kept me up until two in the morning to finish. I’ve also read that several times.

Who is your classic writer soulmate?

Can I have more than one? Balzac, Byron, and Edith Wharton. Balzac, because he’s prolific, cynical, smart, funny, realistic and I feel I relate to him on a cellular level. Byron for all the same reasons, plus I know Byron’s life well enough that I can often read between the lines of his work, and so his pain and his rejection of that pain and his struggles for love and acceptance are real and moving. Lastly, Edith Wharton, whose emotional novels about women are so true and lovely and heartbreaking that I am slayed every time. I think each of these writers writes about the things I am most interested in—that is, how our emotions control and define us, how we live with the consequences of our decisions, and how those decisions are often limited by social strictures and judgments. Society likes to keep things in their proper place, and these writers all write about what happens when someone slips out of that place to try to make a different kind of life for his/herself. So in that way, they are all my literary soulmates.

Honoré de Balzac, French author

Who is your favorite literary villain and why?

Probably Victor Frankenstein, who—make no mistake—is the villain of Frankenstein. It’s not that his motives for making the creature are bad, it’s simply that every single decision he makes is. He is weak, self-deluded, self-righteous, defensive and ultimately immoral in the way he turns away from the creature he has created. His decisions are what set himself and the creature he brings to life—who, by the way, is more human, compassionate and moral than his creator in every way—on their destructive path. Victor Frankenstein is, as we all are, both the hero and the villain in his own story. He is the classic man against himself, and that makes him interesting as a villain. Reading his arc in Frankenstein is like watching a trainwreck, and he’s got no one to blame but himself for everything that happens.

What kind of writer are you?

I know most writers either refer to themselves as a “pantser” or a “planner,” but I am somewhere in between. Once I’ve done the research, and I’m devising the story, I generally have a sense of 1) where to start, 2) what happens at the quarter point that turns everything on its head, 3) what happens at the halfway point to turn it again, and 4) a turning point at three-quarters of the way through. I may not know the end, and I have NO idea how I’m going to get from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4. That’s where the story comes alive for me. Knowing too much tends to kill it, knowing too little leads to frustrating dead-ends. This structure seems to be a happy medium.

I’m a very disciplined writer—that is, I write every day, though I try to take one day on the weekend off. I learned early on that I could not tell the difference between the writing I did on days I was inspired, and the writing I did on days when I was not, and so there was no point in waiting to be inspired, and in fact, inspiration is made, not born. I go to my office to work at about ten a.m. every day, and I don’t stop until I’ve written at least five pages. Why five? Because I also discovered that it took me five pages to hit “flow,” or “inspiration,” or whatever you want to call it. If I could get to five pages, I could go on to ten, or sometimes fifteen, or now and then, twenty. But if I never got to five, I never hit “flow.” Some days, of course, it doesn’t happen, and five pages are all I end up with. But if I don’t get to five, I never get beyond it.

I’m also not one of those people for whom every word must be perfect before I go on. For me, a book is made during the editing and revising stages, and so what I try to do in those early drafts is just to get a sense of the story and the characters. For any book, my process is this: I write 200 pages and hand it off to my critique partner, who helps me refine and brainstorm new avenues. Then, usually, I end up throwing out those two hundred and starting over. I may do this several times before I get to a point where the story starts to definitively gel. Yes, I wish I had an easier and less page-intensive process, but I don’t seem to have much control over that. The process is what it is. It’s usually at about Draft Four—though it may be Draft Five or Six or Seven— that I feel everything mostly works. After that, it’s all about editing and refining plot, character and language. Some books are easier, and some are harder, but they all move along pretty much in this same way.

What is your favorite fairy tale?

I have two, actually. Beauty and the Beast, and The Goose Girl, which is a little more obscure. In looking at them again, I can see that the stories are similar thematically. While the Goose Girl is a kind and honest princess who is betrayed, and the Beast is a spoiled prince who betrays himself, the moral of both stories is that people are not always what they seem, which (see below) also seems to be a theme I pursue often in my own writing. Not only that, but The Goose Girl has a magical talking horse, so there’s that.

What are the recurring themes in your writing?

 I think all of my recurring themes tend to radiate from one big premise, which is that the biggest lie we tell ourselves is that there is a central “truth,” when it fact, truth is an incredibly malleable concept. Truth is not only subjective, but it is not even real. It depends completely on who is seeing it and who is interpreting it. I would say that more terrible things have been done in the name of “truth” than nearly anything else, because we use the concept of truth to control those who are not like us, and to further our own personal agendas. Whenever a single human soul is subjugated, marginalized, or silenced, for whatever reason, we all lose. That is a pretty consistent theme in my work. Related to this are two of my other favorite themes: first, people are not always what they seem to be (which is why the fairy tales I’ve chosen are not really a surprise), and that sometimes we are not even who we think we are. Also, I am fascinated by the decisions we make and the truths we believe that inform those decisions, and how we live with the consequences. We are really so very messy, after all, which makes for some really good stories.

Wow, thank you again, Megan Chance, for visiting our Writers Couch. It has been an honour. Also a huge congratulations on the release of your gorgeous new book, A Drop of Ink

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