Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Joanna Lowell Interview - Artfully Yours

Photo Content from Joanna Lowell

Joanna Lowell lives among the fig trees in North Carolina, where she teaches in the English department at Wake Forest University. When she’s not writing historical romance, she writes other things as Joanna Ruocco. Those books include Dan, Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith, The Week, and Field Glass, co-authored with Joanna Howard.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I used to make little books by folding and stapling cut up sheets of paper and covering them with drawings and misspelled stories, usually about adventurous mice. When I was in second grade, I showed one of the books to my teacher, and she took me down the hall to the library. She and the librarian let me put my book on the bookshelf. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt in that moment. A book I wrote was in the library. I loved the library. I loved taking books out, and suddenly, I realized I could put books in. I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do. So, thank you Mrs. Oakley and Mrs. Crank!

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I’m an anxious, bookish person, and when I was a kid, I worried about getting trapped somewhere without books, which led to mental lists about which books I’d want with me, if I ended up in a trapped-with-advanced-notice situation and got a chance to pack. Back then, I had all-time favorite books. (I was obsessed with Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, for the swashbuckling and the extraordinary protagonist, so it always topped my lists.) Now the idea of picking favorites makes me break out into a cold sweat. There are too many. Just looking at this past year, in romance, I particularly loved On the Hustle by Adriana Herrera and A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall, because they’re witty, deeply felt books that push the genre in the best possible direction. And beyond romance, I loved Checkout-19 by Claire-Louise Bennet and Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Getting to interact with readers and other romance writers has been magical. My debut with Berkley (The Duke Undone) came out during a more locked-down phase of the pandemic, so I was absolutely over the moon when I first had the opportunity to gather with others at an in-person event. I got invited to speak on a romance panel as part of the annual Bookmarks Festival where I live in North Carolina. The weather was gorgeous, and there was an outdoor book fair, and booths for book signings. The panel itself was incredible—I was surrounded by absolutely brilliant game-changing romance authors—and the audience was generous and enthusiastic, and asked great questions. I kept pinching myself. The day was a dream from start to finish.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
The pandemic. “Distraction” isn’t the right word, but the pandemic, and the national political context, and the global grief, made it difficult to keep writing. Sometimes escaping to a fabricated reality through fiction felt impossible, and also frivolous. At other times, it felt like a relief, and maybe even important. Romance novels have happy endings, and I think many of us began to crave them more than ever. Still, I found staying focused on writing and meeting my deadline extremely challenging. Artfully Yours is the third book in my Victorian artists series, and it was definitely the hardest to finish, with lots of false starts along the way.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
People need stories. I believe that. I think storytelling is as essential as dreaming. Stories enlarge our realities. They can help us describe, explain, and remember the world, and also imagine other possible worlds. They wake us up to wonder of the things. We’re all caught up in large social and cultural narratives, and so storytelling can also be a way of disrupting norms, depending on who is doing the telling, and how, and why. The more vantages the better.

  • 1. Artfully Yours is the shortest book in the Victorian artist series, but it was by the far the longest manuscript I wrote. A lot of side character shenanigans and subplot got edited down. I know, and envy, authors who write lean drafts. Mine include everything but the kitchen sink. (Now that I think about it, multiple sinks did make it into the book itself, due to the baking and barber shop scenes!)
  • 2. “Everything but the kitchen sink” isn’t a phrase that appears in Artfully Yours. I tried to avoid idioms and terms that weren’t in circulation during the Victorian period. Some historical romance writers do choose to work with modern language, to very good effect. We’re all putting past and present into conversation when we write and read historical fiction, and so anachronism is inevitable and often shows us something interesting about our assumptions. But my project in the Victorian artist series was to maximize the Victorian vibes with language choice, so if I (or the copy editor) realized a word first appeared in print in the 20th century, I replaced it with a word that had an earlier origin.
  • 3. Nina has a pet marmoset named Fritz, a very dear but mischievous companion. I based him on Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s marmoset. In earlier drafts, Nina also lived with a wombat. I included the wombat because wombats were briefly the rage among Victorian artists—Dante Rossetti kept one in his garden—and because I used to obsess over wombats myself. I wrote a grade school wombat report and even sewed tiny wombats out of felt. You can look at Pre-Raphaelite drawings of wombats online. My felt wombats are lost to time.
  • 4. Alan loves to swim, so I researched late 19th century swimming as a sport and a pastime. Many races and exhibitions took place in the Thames and aquatic entertainments were a big attraction. I’d read a little about the 16th and 17th century winters when the Thames would freeze over, and people set up Frost Fairs on the ice. I’d read a little about the mid-19th century summer when Thames released the Great Stink. Neither of those situations screamed “swimming” to me, but it turns out Victorian men and women enjoyed diving from London Bridge and engaging in competitions that involved feats like treading water while drinking tea and eating sandwiches.
  • 5. I quote the Romantic poet Lord Byron in Artfully Yours. Infinitely scandalous, Byron was described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” and even now, Byronic heroes abound in literature. Byron was also a swimmer. In 1810, he swam the Hellespont, inspired by the Greek myth of Hero and Leander. In early drafts of the book, I had pages about Byron, and Hero and Leander, none of whom are even characters, so you can see why so much editing was required.
  • 6. Nina wants to run her own bakery. My dad ran a bakery / pizzeria when I was growing up, so it’s a very familiar and comforting sort of dream to me. Whenever I talked to him about the book, he asked me about the availability of different types of leavening agents throughout the 19th century, so I had to keep my freshly gleaned historical baking details at the front of my mind. They’re mostly gone now, alas.
  • 7. Before I was born, my dad made wedding cakes at a different bakery, and some of Nina’s ideas for marzipan cake sculptures are based on his stories.
  • 8. Nina works with her brother as an art forger. Some art forgers copy masterpieces, such as Yves Choudron, who created reproductions of the Mona Lisa after the painting was stolen from the Louvre in 1911. Some paint in the style of famous artists, imagining what they might have painted. Nina falls into the latter camp.
  • 9. Alan detects forgeries using a technique similar to the one developed by the 19th century art historian Giovanni Morelli. Morelli believed the key to forgery detection was examining the minor details, the more insignificant the better. Earlobes and toes were the give aways.
  • 10. In this book, as in all my books, a Jersey cow makes a brief appearance.
What is the first job you have had?
Coffee shop. It closed mysteriously mid-week with no advance warning, so maybe it wasn’t really a coffee shop? I never got my last paycheck.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love! After all, as Nicholas Cage says in Moonstruck, “We’re here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts….”

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I try not to think! My partner is very kind and reads to me, so I can focus on listening until I get too sleepy to connect the words.

What was your favorite subject when you were in school?
English all the way. I’m still in school for English. I teach in an English department.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Ten too many tanks of axolotls.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Toddlers with red hair on airplanes. I get a feeling of doom. It’s from a dream. I had a horrible dream once about dropping out of the sky in a plane and I was surrounded by red-headed toddlers. I am happy to see red-headed toddlers in other contexts!

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I went with my Yiayia to our family’s village in the Peloponnesus. It was my first time outside the US. I’d never experienced that kind of sun. I got sun drunk. I ate infinite figs and befriended a donkey.

Sparks fly between a lordly art critic and a lady forger in this enthralling Victorian historical romance from the author of The Runaway Duchess.

Nina Finch isn’t suited for a life of crime. Raised by her art-forger brother, she can paint like Botticelli. But she’d so much rather be baking gooseberry tarts. She finally has the money she needs to open her own bakery. Unfortunately, her brother’s carelessness lands her—and their forgeries—directly under the nose of London’s most discerning art critic, Alan De’Ath. De’Ath knows the paintings are fake. He doesn’t know that Nina had a hand in their creation. In fact, he offers her a job in his household. Accepting it is the most dangerous thing she has ever done….

Alan takes pride in seeing things other people miss. He plans to catch the forger and cement his reputation. There’s only one problem: the closer he gets to the beguiling woman he hired, the less he trusts his perspective. Nina isn’t what she seems. But despite their false start, she just might hold the real key to his heart.

As Nina and Alan’s attraction grows, divided loyalties threaten to pull them apart and shatter their worlds. They’ll lose everything, or discover how powerful true love can be….

You can purchase Artfully Yours at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JOANNA LOWELL for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Artfully Yours by Joanna Lowell.