Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Interview with Kris Waldherr, author of The Lost History of Dreams

Please welcome Kris Waldherr to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Lost History of Dreams is published on April 9, 2019 by Atria Books.

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Kris Waldherr:  Thank you for having me! As far as first fiction, I seem to remember writing a mystery inspired by Nancy Drew when I was in third grade. I was uncertain how to begin a story beyond “Once upon a time.” I’d like to think my writing has evolved since then.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

KW:  I’m a hybrid—a plantser, if you will. (Is that even a word?) When I begin a book, I often start out pantsing, or writing in an intuitive fashion; once I reach a certain length, I go back and plot in earnest. I initially write in a nonlinear manner, where I often draft scenes out of order. Later, I move these sections around like puzzle pieces using Scrivener. However, once I get into the plotting stage of writing, I make bookmaps, diagrams of character and plot arcs, and detailed timelines. I’m a big fan of making timeline spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel. My timeline for Lost History was over six feet long—it spread across most of the wall above my work table!

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

KW:  That I write novels slowly. I need to know as much as I can about what I’m writing before I really go in deep: historical research, character arcs, narrative structure. Though I can write a first draft fairly quickly, that draft is only the starting point. I often revise for what feels like dozens of times before I’m satisfied. Accordingly, Lost History took me about three years from start to finish, though I worked on other projects during this time. I’m hoping my future novels won’t take as long, now that I better understand my process. Luckily my nonfiction books go much faster—I was able to write Doomed Queens and Bad Princess in a matter of months.

TQWhat has influenced/influences your writing?

KW:  I’m like a magpie in that my writing is influenced by everything: art, travel, books, music, films. For example, in The Lost History of Dreams a character’s piano playing was inspired by a Beethoven sonata that reminded me of her bittersweet past. A scene where two characters fall in love was sparked by my viewing a painting of migrating pigeons at the Smithsonian. I also adore research, which definitely inspires my plots and characters. Of this, travel is an essential component—I just wish I could spend more time doing it!

As far as authors, the books of Diane Setterfield definitely influenced the story-within-a-story narrative structure of The Lost History of Dreams—her ability to spin a tale is astonishing. I’m also inspired by the ability of Sarah Waters to reveal character in unexpected ways. She’s such a masterful writer!

TQDescribe The Lost History of Dreams using only 5 words.

KW:  Post-mortem photography meets Orpheus myth. (Do hyphenated words count as one? Hope so!)

TQTell us something about The Lost History of Dreams that is not found in the book description.

KW:  That there’s humor in it—it’s not all shadows and secrets. After all, you need to have light amid the darkness. One of my favorite scenes involved a tour of Hugh de Bonne’s study. (The character of Hugh was very loosely based on the poet Byron.) I used the scene to reveal all the ridiculous rumors being spewed about Hugh’s life, as well as the over-the-top behavior of his fans, who call themselves Seekers of the Lost Dream. At one point a fan faints; another comments that Hugh’s study “smells as it always does—of lemon oil and genius.”

TQWhat inspired you to write The Lost History of Dreams? What appealed to you about writing a gothic mystery?

KW:  Interestingly, I initially didn’t consider The Lost History of Dreams a gothic mystery as much as a tale of lost love akin to Wuthering Heights and A.S. Byatt’s Possession. Lost History is also a novel that’s very much about the power of story-telling; to quote Hamilton, “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” Additionally, my novel was structured after the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is one of my favorite stories of all time. The mystery angle developed while I wrote—the better I got to know my characters, the more secrets they revealed.

However, my initial inspiration for my novel was a dream I had of a man and woman dressed in mid-Victorian clothing. In my dream, they paced back and forth in a rather shabby room lit by only a fireplace as they argued over an inheritance. When I woke up, I had no idea what the dream was about—it was like being dropped into another time and place—but I wrote it down and placed it in my “inspiration” file, where I save ideas and notes for possible books. (Again, I’m like a magpie!) Later, this dream became the first scene I wrote in Lost History, when Robert meets Isabelle and argues with her over Hugh de Bonne’s will.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Lost History of Dreams?

KW:  A lot! In terms of travel, I took two trips to England to visit the various locations where my novel takes place—Shropshire, London, Herne Bay—and another trip to Paris and Sèvres. A final research trip took me to Rochester, where I visited the George Eastman Museum, the world’s oldest photography museum. I also amassed a small library of books about 19th century photography, stained glass, Victorian England, the Romantic poets and more. One of my favorite acquisitions is a replica of Louis Daguerre’s original manual for aspiring daguerreotypists.

TQDo you have any favorite Gothic novels?

KW:  Ah, so many! I love the over-the-top romanticism and emotional intensity of the Gothic novel, which speaks to my sensibilities. The irony is I’m an even-keeled person who hates confrontation and drama; clearly I take it out on the page.

Jane Eyre is perhaps my favorite novel—I think of it as a feminist ur-text actually. More recently, I adored Sarah Perry’s Melmoth, which I consider a masterpiece. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge Sarah Waters fan; her novel Fingersmith has one of the most perfect endings ever. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I was addicted to Victoria Holt novels such as The Mistress of Mellyn as well as Daphne du Maurier.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Lost History of Dreams.

KW:  The book cover was created by Jarrod Taylor, the gifted designer behind the gorgeous covers of Go Set a Watchman, Beautiful Ruins, Hillbilly Elegy and other bestsellers. The Lost History of Dreams cover features a Victorian era photograph of a silhouetted woman wearing a Lover’s Eye pendant, which features as a plot point. The silhouetted woman represents Sida, Robert’s wife, who first appears in Lost History cloaked in shadows. Jarrod’s design is so evocative and mysterious, and definitely lets the reader know what sort of reading experience to expect.

Here’s a crazy story about the cover: Jarrod is also married to my literary agent, but it’s a complete coincidence he was hired to design The Lost History of Dreams. My agent was shocked when she discovered he’d been assigned my book. I only found out Jarrod was the designer after I was sent the design and said I loved it.

TQIn The Lost History of Dreams who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

KW:  Grace, the opportunistic maid, was the easiest to write. She was intended as comic relief to all the gothic goings on, and is rather blunt and flirty. Grace also offers a more modern sensibility, which stands in for the reader’s point of view. For example, when Robert first tells Grace he photographs corpses, she asks, “Why on earth would you do that?” In contrast, everyone else in my novel is rather matter of fact about post-mortem photography, which is how it would have been in 1850 England. As far as hardest character to write, that would be Robert’s wife Sida. You’ll need to read Lost History to find out why.

TQWhich question about The Lost History of Dreams do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

KW:  A question about the history of stained glass after the French Revolution. When I was researching Lost History, I was fascinated to learn there was a boom in stained glass production during that period because so many church windows had been destroyed during the Revolution. At one point all of Notre-Dame’s existing stained glass was replaced with clear glass, and the cathedral used for food storage. Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame helped revive interest in the cathedral and its eventual restoration.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Lost History of Dreams.

KW:  Here’s two favorite quotes:

“He’d said, ‘How can there be so much beauty in this world amid so much sorrow?’ The only solution was to create more beauty.”

“Their estrangement had happened as many do, wrought from good intentions and solidified by discomfort.”

TQWhat's next?

KW:  I’ll be on book tour for The Lost History of Dreams through the end of June—all of my events are listed here. In terms of writing, I’m currently revising a middle grade novel set in contemporary Brooklyn; I spilled out a speedy first draft during National Novel Writing Month after finishing Lost History. I also have two historical novels underway, one set in 1888 London and the second in the late 18th century. Both manuscripts are gothic-influenced. As for which novel will be published next, I have no idea—I suppose whichever is finished first!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

KW:  Thank you so much for having me. Loved your questions!

The Lost History of Dreams
Atria Books, April 9, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

A post-mortem photographer unearths dark secrets of the past that may hold the key to his future, in this captivating debut novel in the gothic tradition of Wuthering Heights and The Thirteenth Tale.

All love stories are ghost stories in disguise.

When famed Byronesque poet Hugh de Bonne is discovered dead of a heart attack in his bath one morning, his cousin Robert Highstead, a historian turned post-mortem photographer, is charged with a simple task: transport Hugh’s remains for burial in a chapel. This chapel, a stained glass folly set on the moors of Shropshire, was built by de Bonne sixteen years earlier to house the remains of his beloved wife and muse, Ada. Since then, the chapel has been locked and abandoned, a pilgrimage site for the rabid fans of de Bonne’s last book, The Lost History of Dreams.

However, Ada’s grief-stricken niece refuses to open the glass chapel for Robert unless he agrees to her bargain: before he can lay Hugh to rest, Robert must record Isabelle’s story of Ada and Hugh’s ill-fated marriage over the course of five nights.

As the mystery of Ada and Hugh’s relationship unfolds, so does the secret behind Robert’s own marriage—including that of his fragile wife, Sida, who has not been the same since the tragic accident three years ago, and the origins of his own morbid profession that has him seeing things he shouldn’t—things from beyond the grave.

Kris Waldherr effortlessly spins a sweeping and atmospheric gothic mystery about love and loss that blurs the line between the past and the present, truth and fiction, and ultimately, life and death.

About Kris

Photo © Robert Presutti
Kris Waldherr is an award-winning author, illustrator, and designer. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, and her fiction has been awarded with fellowships by the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts and a reading grant by Poets & Writers. Kris Waldherr works and lives in Brooklyn in a Victorian-era house with her husband, the anthropologist-curator Thomas Ross Miller, and their young daughter.

Website  ~  Twitter @kriswaldherr  ~  Facebook


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