So happy for Felicia, an amazing writer, mom, CP (Critique Partner) with a loyal group of historical romance writers she hashtags with on twitter and is an amazing person! I was glad to e-chat with her about writing, her new debut novel APPETITES & VICES and how she balances it all!
Hello, congrats on Vices! Let's jump right in... pretty exciting to have your book debut this week! How did that feel? Excited? Relieved?
It was exciting and terrifying and every emotion in between. It's been wonderful working with my agent and editors and all the amazing folks at Carina/Harlequin, who I adore, and I just hope everyone likes what we put out.
Tell us about your book, what is it about?
Appetites & Vices tells the story of Ursula Nunes, the least popular Jewish heiress in 1840s Delaware, and Jay Truitt, a recovering opium addict hiding behind his rich playboy persona. What starts as a faux engagement to help Ursula's social standing turns into actual love. The novel follows Jay's struggle to build a new life and Ursula's struggles to fit into both Jewish and gentile society, while discovering that life is a little easier with a partner. The book explores the difficulties of American Jewish identity, addiction, and cross-cultural romance.
Your novel is a romance (and like all good books) touches on other issues as well such as addiction, antisemitism, class-ism in society, especially in the 19th Century, do you feel that was an important aspect of the story?
I think all the issues in the book--addiction, antisemitism, and the fact that it's during a period when America is just starting to define itself as a young country, play off the romance and make the story what it is. Additionally, dealing with the antisemitism was really important to me as an #ownvoices Jewish writer. It's set during a period where western antisemitism was transitioning from its medieval iteration to the stereotypes we find today. Moreover, it was important to me to show antisemitism in the form that most people encounter on a regular basis instead of in crisis. I think when dealing with Jewish history, we're used to seeing stories about the dire periods, i.e. the Holocaust, the pogroms and the Inquisition, but without showing the periods between, someone can be led to believe that those events were isolated instead of the bubbling up of something that lived and still lives in society, just under the surface.
Talk about your research process, as one who loves historical research do you find that you fall down the rabbit hole of research or how do you approach it while writing? For example, I find it can help with plot.
Research totally helps plot. Appetites & Vices is set during a recession, the one caused by Andrew Jackson's economic policies, including the destruction of the American banking industry, which caused the European banks to, in turn thrive. That source of conflict, given that my heroine lived in America but her father was part of a Dutch and British banking dynasty, became an important additional ingredient in the book.
I also spent a ton of time trying to recreate what being Jewish looked like in the west, in the first half of the 19th century. I knew I was describing something that no longer exists in the same form due to the evolution of rabbinic Judaism during that century, the destruction of many of the European Jewish communities during the Holocaust, and the fact that American Jewry is compromised of Jews from around the glove and has almost developed its own culture from the mix of traditions.
Well, this brings me to the age old question, plotter or pantster?
I'm sort of a combination. When I get an idea, I like to play a little bit to see where it takes me before I do a formal outline and synopsis, both which I draft pretty early in the writing process, though are often modified through the drafting process. I often simplify the plot if my world count starts to get too high and I haven't developed every piece of it.
As a mom who’s busy, how do you balance writing and life?
Poorly? There never quite seems to be enough time for anything, but it somehow always gets done. I'm lucky to have a really supportive spouse and boss, which helps a ton.
What is your writing routine? Describe your day as a writer?
I write a lot after the kids go to bed, though I also sneak time during the morning and on breaks at work, but the bulk is done after 8 pm or on the weekends.
Was there ever a time you felt like throwing in the towel? What got you through?
I always think having good, supportive writing friends (most of which are listened in my insanely lengthy acknowledgements section in Appetites & Vices) is what makes the process, which has so many stresses and so many disappointments, all the more bearable, and even fun.
Anything you’d like to share about your querying process?
This was the fourth manuscript I queried. Between the four, I sent out around two hundred queries (90 for the first manuscript with 9 requests; 45 for the second with 6 requests; 36 for the third with 13 requests, and 30 for this one with 16 requests, which turned into 3 offers of representation).
Thank you for that! Your writing is so compelling, what are some techniques you have do you read dialogue aloud? Act out your characters? Etc?
First, thank you and second, um...I plead the fifth? I'm a former theater geek so you can probably guess what I do (in the privacy of my own home with the door very closed).
How many drafts of this book before it was sold?
Oh gosh, probably three or four. There was also an R&R from an agent in the mix.
What a great title! How did you come up with it?
I credit my critic partners. I had a horrible placeholder title for the longest time but friends don't let friends query with bad titles.
What drew you to historical writing? Romance? It’s a little bit like time travel, right? But with kissing!
My grandparents, my mom's parents, had newstores in New Jersey, the kind that sold newspapers, candy, etc., as well as paperbacks from wire-racks. We all got to read things that either didn't sell or were slow sells (there is a really funny story about my mom in high school with the Exorcist before it was popular. Her physics teacher caught her reading it, opened it up and turned to a particular scene involving a crucifix. He asked if her mother knew she was reading it. And she was like "Of course, my mother gave it to me." And that was the end of that). Anyway, my grandmother was the one who loved romance, insisted on only reading books with a happy ending, so I think I write what she would enjoy reading with my own historical flare.
How did you get interested in writing?
I always read a lot. I didn't always like what I read, or I often though I could write a better ending or find a better role for the character I was most like, so I started writing my own stories.
What do you do when not writing?
I work full-time and have two little children who both, because they are mine, need a lot of attention, so I get to do a lot of puzzles, a lot of rounds of matching games, and a lot of kitchen dance parties.
What is it that keeps you going, keeps the fire burning?
I've been very lucky in a lot of ways so I think I'm always driven to make the most of it and to try to spread it around to as many people as possible.
Oh, that’s so sweet! Do you have any good luck charms/mantras/inspirational things?
It's odd, my family is rather religious but not at all spiritual, and I tend to believe things like luck are random. I do, however, believe in the American myth that as long as you work hard enough and want it badly enough, you can find a way to win in the end. Intellectually, I know everyone's path isn't equal (which is highly unfair), but I think I will always believe in the possible, especially if we recognize our duty to help each other up the ladder once we're at the top.
Yes! You are certainly generous with your time! What do you love most about your main character, Ursula?
What I love the most about Ursula is that she doesn't give-up. No matter how many times things go awry, she knows what she wants and keeps going for it, until she finds a way to get it.
Love that! What books have influenced you? Who are your favorite authors?
I feel like my writing inspirations come from two places, historical romance, especially authors like Joanna Shupe, Alyssa Cole, Beverly Jenkins and Elizabeth Hoyt as well as humorous women's fiction, especially Susan Isaacs, Jennifer Weiner, and the late, great Nora Ephron. Heartburn was a game-changer for me, I read my mother's copy when I was ten (because I was forty-something at heart) and I adored every moment of it--the tone, the humor, the dynamics, and very much the particular culture it spoke about, which felt so familiar to me.
Who is your favorite classic author?
I'm a Dickens girl, though mentally I rewrote a lot of his novels with a heroine at the center, not a hero. I wanted the good lines.
Ha. Yes, I love Dickens too! What are you currently reading, watching?
Currently, I'm reading an ARC of Getting Hot with the Scot by Melonie Johnson, and it's fabulous!
What are you working on next?
The second Truitt book, Dalliances & Devotion is coming out August 26, 2019, and after that, there are many balls in the air. There are some fun manuscripts that I hope find homes. If not, there is always the next WIP.
Thank you Felicia!
APPETITES & VICES (Carina Press February 2019):
He’s her ticket into high society…
Banking heiress Ursula Nunes has lived her life on the fringes of Philadelphia’s upper class. Her Jewish heritage means she’s never quite been welcomed by society’s elite…and her quick temper has never helped, either.
A faux engagement to the scion of the mid-Atlantic’s most storied family might work to repair her rumpled reputation and gain her entrée to the life she thinks she wants…if she can ignore the way her “betrothed” makes her feel warm all over and stay focused on her goal.
She’s his ticket out…
Former libertine John Thaddeus “Jay” Truitt is hardly the man to teach innocent women about propriety. Luckily, high society has little to do with being proper and everything to do with identifying your foe’s temptation—an art form Jay mastered long ago. A broken engagement will give him the perfect excuse to run off to Europe and a life of indulgence.
But when the game turns too personal, all bets are off…