Interview: Anna Castle

Please welcome Anna Castle, author of the Francis Bacon Mystery Series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I wake up with my book in my head and have one of those golden mornings when the story just flows from my brain through my fingertips. I laugh, I cry, Icastle_murder_by_misrule do the dialog out loud. I get my quota done by lunchtime, after which, because it must not be summer in Texas, I take the dog for a long walk in a woodland glade which has magically appeared in my urban core neighborhood. I come home and have a fragrant bubble bath. While I’m deciding what to have for supper, Viggo Mortensen drops by with a picnic feast he has prepared with his own manly hands. You don’t need to hear the rest.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Do people really have these things? I mean people with two names, not like Charo or Liberace? I guess my accessory would be a pad of small sticky notes for tagging library books; color, earth tones, for the anonymity; fragrance, microwave popcorn, because snacks are important; phrase, “No, that’s not how it was,” because I can be a little pedantic at times.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
How about an anecdote? I was working at an Austin software startup in the early 90’s. One morning one of my fellow workers told us he had written a mystery novel. I was stunned; we were all working 70 hours a week. He got up at 5:00 to write, he said. He sold that book a few years later and went on to a brilliant career as a thriller writer. His name? Jeff Abbott. That was when I learned that you just had to start writing, whenever and however you could. You don’t wait until all the stars align and everything is perfect. Although I did wait until I got a steady job in a university library. 40 hours a week, no emergencies — you have time for a whole ‘nother thing.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Never for the first draft or language editing. I need to hear the words in my head. Classical radio for copy-editing and formatting; Elizabethan chamber music for plotting. Mostly, I like silence with splashes of bird song and the odd woof.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A handmade truffle, smooth and dark on the outside, and inside, full of nuts.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I love living in the sixteenth century in my head. It was time of rising prosperity (except for the poor, of course) and expanding horizons. People knew they were living in a great age; they expected to find ever greater marvels around every turn. I wanted a famous historical figure for my protagonist because that seemed to be a selling point. I stumbled onto Francis Bacon and knew at once I had found my guy. There are surviving letters from 1586 suggesting that he got into some unrecorded trouble at that time, just the sort of thing we mystery writers look for. I chose Christmas and the season Misrule for the fun of disruption of normal life. Also, I had been in London twice at that time of year, so I could imagine the weather reasonably well.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I love people with big dreams — aspiring minds, in Christopher Marlowe’s apt phrase. All my characters want something worth striving for and that dream animates their every decision. Francis Bacon wants to revamp all of science and education in order to usher in a new era. Thomas Clarady wants to be a gentleman and be treated with respect. Even my villains are working towards something they desire greatly. Everyone is very busy outside the plot of the immediate story.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led him to be the person he is today?
Bacon’s history is real, so the trick there is doling it out in non-boring doses. Thomas Clarady was invented as a foil for Bacon. Francis is a genius, intellectually gifted, but socially awkward. Tom, therefore, is a charmer, a people person, good at reading expressions and moods. Francis is a squirrely little geek; Tom is a handsome man of action. They’re both strivers, of course. Francis was born into the upper crust, as stable as any environment could be in that era. His future was laid plain before his feet until his father died suddenly, leaving Francis with no sustaining properties at the tender age of 18. It took him decades to recover from that bad start. Tom’s father is an adventurer. His childhood was full of ups and downs, which makes him very adaptable. Francis always knew his mind and spoke it, even if it risked the Queen’s wrath. He worked on the same central themes throughout his life. Tom is malleable; he likes to try things on and meet new people. He can get carried away by the next new thing.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Well, Bacon is Bacon. He comes ready-mixed. Maybe he’s a mash-up of Aristotle, William Blackstone, and Elton John? Thomas Clarady comes from somewhere in the intersection of Archie Goodwin, Marcus Didio Falco, and Tom Jones. (Fielding’s character, not the singer. Although I do adore the singer as well.)

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’d mix historians with the people they wrote about. Francis Bacon and Lisa Jardine; Christopher Marlowe and Charles Nicholl; Violet Wilson and Penelope, Lady Rich. Except those three Elizabethans would not get along very well. I’d love to get Bacon, Marlowe, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, and Ralegh together to discuss their posthumous reputations. Let’s add Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, to get another woman in the group. We could watch some BBC historical dramas together. Popcorn would be a delightful novelty for all of them, except maybe Ralegh.

What’s next for you?
Book 2, Death by Disputation, goes to my editor, Jennifer Quinlan at Historical Editorial, in August, then I want to write a Francis Bacon short story. September will be a plot-a-thon — the most fun part of the whole writing process — for book 3. Then I want to take a break from this series and edit one of the other books I’ve got loitering about, waiting for a turn. I don’t know which one yet, so I won’t say. More writing, that’s the main thing. Bring it on!

—————————————
Anna Castle lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes the Francis Bacon Mystery Series, among other things. The first book in the series, Murder by Misrule, has been chosen as a Kirkus Indie Book of the Month for July. Learn more on Anna’s website [www.annacastle.com] or look for her on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/anna.castle.104]

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8 thoughts on “Interview: Anna Castle”

  1. Thanks for stopping, Anna. From what I remember of Francis Bacon, he’d make a great detective. And I love this: “That was when I learned that you just had to start writing, whenever and however you could. You don’t wait until all the stars align and everything is perfect.” Too true!

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  2. Anna, so cool to see you here! I was excited to rip through your interview and see what you’ve been up to! Congrats on your books! It feels like we met in guppies so long ago — I remember both of us slugging through the query trenches! Looking forward to reading your book!

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  3. Anna, Being a Tom Jones fan (the singer), I can’t tell you how many times I do a double-take when I read the name! And even though I’m a pantser at heart, my brain has started to loosely embrace the concept of plotting–or should I say, the concept of knowing where I’m headed. November will be a plot-a-thon for me, and it’ll be interesting to watch how the project unfolds when I have a roadmap.

    Good luck with Bacon!

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  4. Lovely interview, Anna! Lots to ponder. That would be one amazing dinner party, what with the discussing of reputations, ha! (I’m guessing you don’t subscribe to the notion that Bacon is Shakespeare). Was your graduate work in history or English?

    And have you read Deborah Harkness’s Discovery of Witches Trilogy? In the second one (I think), her protagonist hangs out with some of these same people, which I found delightful and interesting. I can’t wait to read your books!

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  5. Thanks, everybody! Sorry to chime in so late. Diane, every time I think the name “Tom Jones” I hear “Delilah” playing in my head. I’m just glad it’s not “Poke Salad Annie (she got your granny.)” Cynthia, I haven’t read Harkness’s fiction or her non-fiction book about the period. I keep not getting to it! I have read one of most other series set in this period, but in some ways, it’s better not to.

    Oh, and the plot-a-thon is the most fun part. No slogging through the weeds of setting descriptions or character interactions (he chuckled, she grinned, he stood on his head and farted.) Pure story: What happens next? How do my people feel about what just happened? Brainstorming all the ways I could seriously injure Francis Bacon while taking him out for a walk…

    Anyway, this was a fun interview. Thanks for having me!

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  6. I’m late to the party, but thanks for stopping by, Anna! The Elizabethan period is my favorite, and the one I spent all my time in during graduate school. I can’t wait to read your book! Mary already quoted my favorite line from this interview, but I also found myself drooling over your dinner party guest list. Bacon, Marlowe, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, and Raleigh? Count me in!

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