Monday, January 25, 2021

Stacie Murphy Interview - A Deadly Fortune

Photo Content from Stacie Murphy

Stacie Murphy began writing A Deadly Fortune in March of 2017 as a way to force herself to stay off Twitter in the evenings. (It didn’t work). The novel was a 2018 Pitch Wars selection, mentored by Carolyne Topdjian. Read their Pitch Wars interviews HERE and HERE
Stacie lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and daughter.


Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
Storytelling is escape. It’s about living vicariously. It’s a no-risk opportunity to be a criminal mastermind or a Martian explorer or a Tudor queen or any of a million other things you can’t be—or wouldn’t even want to be—in real life. Even if it’s just a person with better hair who always knows the perfect comeback immediately instead of thinking of it later in the shower. 

Tell us your latest news. 
A DEADLY FORTUNE is out TODAY (AAAAHHHHH!). It’s available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats. It got a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which called it a “sterling debut” (and made my cry a little.) I have more ideas for these characters, and I very much hope I get to do more books about them. 

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way? 
My reading is the biggest influence on my writing. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and a fast one, too. Some years I’ve read upward of 200 books, although it’s been fewer since I’ve started writing. I read in a more thoughtful way now. I still get swept up in great stories, but I’m way more likely to mentally pick them apart and try to figure out why they work. 

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
I’ve had several people tell me their book club is going to read A DEADLY FORTUNE. That is just the coolest thing ever—the idea that people will be talking about *my* book that way. 

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel? 
I hope they wonder “and then what happened?” when they turn the last page. I hope Amelia, Andrew, and Jonas feel as real to them as they do to me.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing A DEADLY FORTUNE? 
The Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum telephone number. I’m not kidding. While I was writing, there was a particular plot point that worked best if the asylum had a telephone. Telephones were around in 1893, obviously, but I wasn’t sure if it was plausible that they had one on the island, so I started Googling. I found an excerpt from the actual New York City municipal services directory from 1893 (the internet is a glorious, horrifying thing sometimes) with telephone numbers for every public asylum in New York State. I used the real asylum phone number in the book. I think of it as an Easter egg for myself, because it’s no the kind of detail anyone is likely to check, but *I* know it’s there. (It’s 1028-18). 

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 
Twitter. Politics. My child. Ironically all the things that spurred me into writing the book in the first place. 

What part of Amelia and Andrew did you enjoy writing the most? 
They’re such different characters from completely opposite backgrounds, so the contrast made their relationship really fun to write. Andrew is so straitlaced and correct—a rule-follower who has, for the most part, done the expected thing his whole life and gotten the expected results. He’s only beginning to question that as the novel opens. He thinks he’s broken free, but the mindset he grew up with is still very much there. 

Amelia (and Jonas) have always lived in an entirely separate, much harder world. The normal rules for solid, upstanding citizens don’t mean much to them. I love when they casually say and do things that shock Andrew and his conventional sensibilities. He doesn’t think of himself as na├»ve, but compared to them, he is. Bringing them closer together, forging a relationship based on mutual respect and trust and a common purpose was fun. 

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives? 
In general, I think people should adopt the principle of saying yes. Try the thing. Whatever it is (unless it’s crime or hard drugs—don’t try those). Fear of failure—or more honestly the fear of people knowing I have failed--has stopped me from doing so many things before I ever started. The answer might be “No” if you try, but it will never be “Yes” if you don’t. 

What is the craziest thing you have ever done? 
I married a guy I met on Craigslist. Actually, marrying him wasn’t crazy, since I’d known him for three years by that point. But posting the personal ad that led to my meeting him was one of the least considered and most uncharacteristic things I’ve ever done. 

I am, generally speaking, an extremely cautious person. I don’t like new things, I don’t like surprises, and I don’t (didn’t) particularly like dating. But I just wasn’t meeting appropriate men in the course of regular life, and a friend from graduate school told me she’d had good luck meeting people on Craigslist. I used to read the personals for fun (alas, they don’t have them anymore; they were frequently hilarious), but I’d never even remotely considered posting one. Finally, one evening I was messing around online instead of doing the regression analysis I was supposed to be working on for my statistics class, and I just thought “what the hell” and posted an ad on a whim. In just over 24 hours, I got 47 responses. Some were obscene, some were barely literate, and one was a straight up offer to pay me for sex. I deleted all of those and replied to around seven guys who seemed more or less normal. I ended up going on dates of varying degrees of awkwardness with four of them. The fourth one was the keeper. 

And it almost never happened: when he initially replied to my ad, the message got bounced back because the photo he’d included was too large. He almost didn’t bother to re-size and re-send it. There is no way we would ever have met if he hadn’t. It is the most “sliding doors” experience of my entire life. 

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today? 
It’s a combination of two events. I had some significant health issues in my twenties, which resulted in my moving back home after college and staying there for way longer than I wanted. I was sicker at some times than others, but mostly it was like a really long course of endurance training. I could manage my condition, but I couldn’t make it go away. I learned some good things about myself. But one of the downsides—and I only realized the extent of it later---was that it reinforced my innate cautious streak. I was afraid to try challenging things afterward, because I worried about triggering relapses —which did indeed happen every so often. I was afraid that I would have a smaller life than I’d wanted because of it. 

I’d been stable for a long time, but deciding to have my daughter was a huge step, mentally. I didn’t know what pregnancy or the strain of the post-partum period would do to me. Fortunately, I flew through both with no problems. It’s given me the confidence to be bolder about things, and that’s translated to all areas of my life. 

What is one unique thing are you afraid of? 
I spent way too long thinking about this question. I’m terrified of spiders, but that’s not unique. Every time we visit Florida, I have alligator nightmares and keep a vice-grip on my daughter’s arm near any body of water, because that absolutely horrible story about the little boy who was killed at the Disney resort in front of his family in 2016 burrowed into my impressionable new-mother brain and is never ever going away. And I have mentally practiced extracting myself and my daughter from an underwater car/other submerged object an irrational number of times, considering the infinitesimal probability of that ever being necessary. My husband is much larger than I am. I have reluctantly concluded he’ll have to manage on his own. 

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer? 
For the rest of my life, I will remember the feeling of getting to tell my writers’ group that A Deadly Fortune had sold. We always share news and updates at the end of the meeting. I’d already told the group leader, and so that night he said “Are there any announcements. . . Stacie?” in this really weighty tone and looked right at me. I turned around in my chair, and there was what felt like a really long beat before I said “My book sold.” And then there was yelling and clapping and it was awesome. They’re such a fantastic group of people who have had my back on this whole journey, and it was really great to share that celebration with them. 

In no particular order 
  • The Timothy Wilde trilogy by Lyndsay Faye (this is cheating, I know, but I’m doing it anyway). Honestly, I can’t believe it took me so long to read this series. Lyndsay’s worldbuilding is so immersive, and Tim is a fantastic character. 
  • Circe by Madeline Miller. I used to be able to just appreciate good writing. Now I appreciate it begrudgingly, because apparently I’m a green-eyed monster. Every word of this was just gorgeous, and I am angry about the fact that I could not have written it. It did not help when I found out that Madeline Miller and I are the same age. 
  • The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas (cheating again!). Charlotte Holmes is such an original take on Sherlock Holmes, who I have never been particularly drawn to as a character. But Charlotte is awesome. 
  • Code Girls by Liza Mundy. I read it as part of the research for my current project (a WWII-era historical set in Washington DC about a woman who assumes her twin sister’s identity in order to unravel the mystery of her disappearance). It’s an utterly fascinating bit of history, the kind of non-fiction that had me jabbing my husband in the side and saying “Listen to this!” every few pages. 
  • The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. A strange, funny mash-up of horror and women’s fiction that should not work, but does anyway. 
  • Doc by Mary Doria Russell. A re-read this year. Before I read this book, I know I had never given a second’s thought to the internal lives of Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp. I don’t even like Westerns! Now I don’t want to read anything else about them in case it messes up the picture I have from this book. 
  • The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. (No one can stop meeeee!) I’ve been re-reading these in anticipation of the final book coming out. I’m going to be so sad when it’s over. 
  • An Easy Death and A Longer Fall, the first two books in the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris (obviously series are my jam). Great character, great concept, eagerly anticipating #3. 
  • A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn. I adore Deanna Raybourn books. Veronica Speedwell is everything. 
  • Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw. A doctor who specializes in treating the “differently alive” tracks down the cult killing her patients. Reminded me a little of A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. 
Your journey to publication 
I sat down and started writing A DEADLY FORTUNE in March of 2017. Prior to that, I hadn’t written any fiction since eighth-grade English class—and I hated it back then. Even so, I’d always told myself I would like to write a book someday. I wasn’t doing anything to make it happen, though. Part of me was intimidated—what if I tried and it was no good?—and part of me thought that if it was meant to be it would happen naturally. Like, it actually felt like if I just waited until the right time, a book would fall out of my head. (Spoiler: that is not how it works. AT ALL). 

There were two things that made me get serious when I did. First, my daughter was born. Watching her grow was a really powerful illustration of how time passes, whether you’re doing anything with it or not. The other thing was the 2016 election. My day job is Director of Congressional Relations (aka: a lobbyist) for a progressive non-profit, and as you can image there was a lot of angst in my personal and professional circles right about then. I was on Twitter one night, seething about something, and I had this moment of clarity where I thought “This is unsustainable. I cannot do this for four years. I have to have something else to think about or I’m literally going to give myself a stroke.” 

It was a little like alchemy. I wanted to have written a book. It wouldn’t happen if I didn’t do it. And right then seemed like a good time. I thought about all the things I like in books and how to mash them together, and A DEADLY FORTUNE was the result. 

I knew next to nothing about publishing, but I’m obsessive about researching things once I get interested. It didn’t take me long to understand that if I wanted to get traditionally published I needed an agent, and if I wanted an agent I needed a finished novel and a query letter. I also figured out pretty quickly that I needed a critique group, after I gave my husband a scene I’d written and he pissed me off by (completely accurately) pointing out all the things that were wrong with it. 

I could see my 4oth birthday on the horizon, so I set the goal of having a query-ready project by then. In the course of poking around online, I had discovered Pitch Wars—a fantastic program that pairs newer writers with more experienced mentors for a round of revisions and an online agent showcase—and decided to apply. The mentee selection announcement was scheduled for a few days before my birthday, which would mean missing my self-imposed deadline if I got picked, but I figured it would be worth it (and really, I wasn’t going to get picked anyway, so why even worry about it?). The day before the announcement, I got my first ten queries ready and put them in the “Drafts” folder of my email so I could wake up the next morning, check the announcement, shrug philosophically, and start hitting send. 

I got picked. 

I’d pumped myself up so hard about starting the querying process that I was almost disappointed when I saw my name, but I shook that off pretty fast. My wonderful mentor, Carolyne Topdjian, scared the crap out of me by suggesting a pretty massive plot change that would entail restructuring the entire second half of the book, but once I’d absorbed the fact that she was right, I got to work. I know the book wound up stronger because of it. I didn’t get an agent from the showcase, but a few months of querying netted me three offers, and I wound up signing with Jill Marr of the Sandra Djikstra Literary Agency. 

We went on submission, and after a few more months of angst (and another round of revision), I got an offer from Pegasus Crime in March of 2020, almost exactly three years after I started writing. Looking back, it was all very fast, even though it felt like it took forever. I worked hard, and I’m very proud of the book. But I’m also aware that there’s a healthy dose of luck involved in publishing--part of it is just landing in the right slush pile at the right time. I’m grateful every day that I’ve had the opportunity.

A historical mystery in the vein of The Alienist, in which a young woman in Gilded Age New York must use a special talent to unravel a deadly conspiracy.

Amelia Matthew has done the all-but-impossible, especially for an orphan in Gilded Age New York City. Along with her foster brother Jonas, she has parleyed her modest psychic talent into a safe and comfortable life. But safety and comfort vanish when a head injury leaves Amelia with a dramatically-expanded gift. After she publicly channels an angry spirit, she finds herself imprisoned in the notorious insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island. As Jonas searches for a way to free her, Amelia struggles to control her disturbing new abilities and survive a place where cruelty and despair threaten her sanity.

Andrew Cavanaugh is familiar with despair. In the wake of a devastating loss, he abandons a promising medical career—and his place in Philadelphia society—to devote himself to the study and treatment of mental disease. Miss Amelia Matthew is just another patient—until she channels a spirit in front of him and proves her gift is real.

When a distraught mother comes to Andrew searching for her missing daughter—a daughter she believes is being hidden at the asylum—he turns to Amelia. Together, they uncover evidence of a deadly conspiracy, and then it’s no longer just Amelia’s sanity and freedom at stake. Amelia must master her gift and use it to catch a killer—or risk becoming the next victim.
You can purchase A Deadly Fortune at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you STACIE MURPHY for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of A Deadly Fortune: A Novel by Stacie Murphy.