Please welcome Amy Carol Reeves, author of the Ripper series.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I’m an introvert so a perfect day is always a quiet day; seeing or learning about something new. I love traveling with my husband sans children—whether it’s overseas or just a few hours away to Charleston.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I really love quotes. I have several memorized. On really bad days—like those chilly, rainy Mondays when I have thirty papers to grade, fifty e-mails to answers, and proof edits on my desk—my catch-phrase is Dorothy Parker’s bitter quip, “What fresh hell is this?” On good days, when everything is going my way, and I have fun and challenging tasks ahead of me—teaching Jane Eyre in a Brit lit course, diving into writing the draft of a novel I’m really excited about—I keep an Amelia Earhart or Eleanor Roosevelt quote in my head. One of my favorite Roosevelt quotes is: “A woman is like a teabag—you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Hands down Charlotte Brontё. I think I never would have discovered my love of reading and writing if she hadn’t sucked me into her windswept moor world and made me fall in love with that darkly handsome and tortured Mr. Rochester. As a teenager I fell hard for him and have never recovered. Also, my creative writing professor in college, Dr. Del Doughty inspired me. After reading my portfolio for his class, he encouraged me to be a writer. Finally, Dr. Dinah Johnson, a picture book author, children’s literature professor, and friend of mine, inspired me during graduate school to focus on young adult literature. As one of my dissertation committee members, she gave me lists and lists of young adult books to read and provided helpful feedback for some of my earliest stories.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Not when I write. Usually, I need near-silence to focus on writing. However, when writers block hits or I have a snag in my storyline, I go on a long jog to the Rolling Stones or Abba. (Don’t judge me.)
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My latest book, Resurrection, would be bittersweet. It’s the final book in the Ripper series, following Ripper, and Renegade. As a writer, it was a satisfying finish to the series—Abbie has her final showdown with the Ripper, she decides for good which man she loves, and she comes to grip with many of the mysteries of her past, particular her mother’s secrets and her mother’s perplexing relationship with the Ripper. However, some scenes were almost too emotionally difficult for me to write—a main character dies. I was particularly attached to this character and literally cried on my first drafting of the scene. Also, I know how deeply Abbie cares about this character, and although my last scene is relatively happy (and yes, it does involve kissing in the rain), as an author, I know that Abbie will be forever changed by losing this person. It’s a scar that she will always carry.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I have a PhD in nineteenth-century British literature, and I was always fascinated with the Jack the Ripper story. After a trip to London in graduate school, where I went on the Jack the Ripper tour, I began researching the case. It wasn’t until later, that I decided to write a young adult mystery based on the murders.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Many of my works have gothic elements. I like gothic inspired settings—the Conclave’s sprawling London house, the lamia’s lair, subterranean ruins, and cemeteries. I like these elements because they agitate primitive or subconscious fears in my main characters. Apart from the surface mystery, I’m always intrigued by what “haunts” at an interior level my main characters. For instance, Abbie is trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders and to stop the Conclave’s freakish experiments. But this plotline intertwines with her own frustrations about not really knowing her mother’s character and never knowing her biological father. All of this complicates her relationship with the Ripper as he, she suspects, knew her artistic bohemian mother in ways that neither she nor her Grandmother ever did. These frustrations propel her both in rage toward the Ripper, as well as odd, occasional moments where she feels connected to him.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Abbie had a very unusual childhood, moving around frequently while her mother worked as a governess. Her longest stay occurred in Dublin where she was allowed to play with local working class children. One of her best friends taught her fighting and knife-throwing, which obviously came in handy later. Because of this hardscrabble background, Abbie doesn’t fit in so well when after her mother’s death she moves to Kensington with her Grandmother. I think never quite fitting in, always being a little on the outskirts, serves Abbie well as she doesn’t care much about social proprieties; I feel like this leads to the “risk taking” in her nature.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
- Abbie Sharp definitely has a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in her. She’s fearless, stupidly fearless at times. She likes weapons, particularly bowie knives. Oh, and Simon is her Giles, giving her background information and advice, and Abbie’s always like, “Enough already! When can we fight?”
- Abbie has a lot of Winston Churchill in her, particularly that “never, never give up” mentality. When the odds seemed completely stacked against her, she’s always fighting for a way out.
- A fighting suffragist like Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer, or Emmeline Pankhurst. She’s willing to buck against authority to stand for what she believes to be right. Also she’s likes to wear pants before any big fight—whether it’s with a lamia, drooling revenants, or the Ripper.
If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
1) Definitely, Charlotte Brontё. Particularly, because I feel as if we would get along. She lived a (mostly) normal and proper life as I have, and yet through her writing she lets her mind explore her emotional landscapes, darker thoughts, skepticism, and questions. Like what if one falls in love with a brooding gorgeous man who (damn it!) has an insane wife locked in his attic. Hmmm….
2) Jane Austen would be a MUST as a party guest. After a couple spruce beers, her snark would be at its best.
3) The Marquis de Sade—because every party needs a bit of perversity.
4) My friend, werewolf/mystery writer, Jamie Ridenhour, because he’s just such a great friend, and I know he really doesn’t like Charlotte Brontё so it would be funny to see him verbally spar with her.
5) Agatha Christie. It’s a silly thought, but I feel as if her presence would summon a murder mystery.
6) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, because I’d like to see him try to solve a murder mystery as brilliantly as Sherlock. For some reason, I think it would be very funny and bumbling.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a couple different projects right now. I always keep going back to historical fiction, so I’ll probably start diving into another one at some point soon. Right now I’m doing a lot of reading, particularly nonfiction books about the eras in which I’m interested in writing.
Amy Carol Reeves is a Hoosier by birth, a South Carolinian by marriage, and a Victorian governess in her imagination. She has a PhD in nineteenth-century British literature and published academic articles before deciding that it would be much more fun to write novels about Jack the Ripper. When she is not writing or teaching college classes at Columbia College, she enjoys running around her neighborhood with her giant Labrador retriever and serial reading Jane Austen novels. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and two children.