By J. N. Duncan
Welcome to another ITW Q&A, this time with debut author, Anna Lee Huber, whose historical/mystery novel, THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE comes out next month at a store/site near you. Anna Lee Huber was born and raised in a small town in Ohio. She is a graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN, where she majored in Music and minored in Psychology. THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, the first book in the Lady Darby historical mystery series and will be released by Berkley Publishing on November 6th, 2012. She currently lives in Indiana with her husband and troublemaking tabby cat. When not hard at work on her next novel, she enjoys reading, singing, travel, and spending time with her family. Visit her website. And now on to the fun stuff!
Tweet us how you would describe THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE (140 characters).
THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE is the 1st in a new historical mystery series set in Scotland 1830 & features a portrait artist w/ a macabre reputation
THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE is your debut book. Lots of people say they should/could write a novel, but very few actually get this far. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you to the point of publication.
I was born and raised in a small town in northwest Ohio, graduated from high school in South Carolina, college in Nashville, TN, and currently live in northern Indiana. So I know the Midwest and Southeast fairly well. J I wrote my first book in the fourth grade. It was a story titled PROM DUTY that I somehow convinced my teacher to read to the class, and subsequently I’ve always thought of it as my first success. I then wrote several more stories, including a series featuring my own gang of mystery solving teens (à la Nancy Drew, Bess & George) and a spin-off of WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO?.
Life got busy in high school and college, and somehow my writing fell to the wayside. But I picked it up again about two years after graduating, rediscovered my love for storytelling, and have been writing ever since. THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE was my fifth complete novel, but my first mystery. It was a learning process with the other four manuscripts. It took me awhile to find the best style to fit my voice.
You have 1830’s, high-society Scotland as the setting for your story. Tell us a bit about why or how you decided on this.
I chose the year 1830 precisely because it fell after the discovery that enterprising criminals like Burke and Hare were at work in the cities, and before the passage of the Anatomy Act of 1832. Citizens were already disturbed by the work of body snatchers, who stole recently buried bodies from their graves and sold them to medical schools and anatomists. The knowledge that criminals looking to take advantage of the lucrative trade were also murdering hapless citizens off the street to sell their bodies, whipped the public into a panicked frenzy. This played in neatly to their response when they discovered that my protagonist, Kiera, Lady Darby had assisted her late husband, a great anatomist, with his dissections, whether she did so willingly or not. Kiera is feared and vilified, and her removal from London swiftly becomes necessary, to the remote Highlands of Scotland
I chose to set my story among high-society because I needed Kiera to have the time, education, and means to become a truly gifted portrait artist, and to enable her to be able to travel great distances in future books. A woman of a lower class would not have had the freedom or the money to do such things as easily.
Anatomy is not your everyday topic to have in a story. What inspired you to have this element be a part of a female character no less?
I wanted to make sure I gave Kiera a set of skills that would make her useful in a murder investigation. In that time period, ladies were normally sheltered and cosseted from such grim realities. There needed to be a strong reason why gentlemen would allow her to become involved, and continue to do so in future books in the series. I started out with the idea of making Kiera a talented portrait artist with acute observation skills, but I knew that wasn’t enough. And I realized that the one proficiency, particularly for that time period, that would make her invaluable to a murder investigation was a detailed knowledge of human anatomy. So I set about finding a way to give her that education.
Your story is part mystery and part romance. How is it to blend these two genres together and how is it to attempt to appeal to both audiences?
I found it very natural to blend the two genres. For me, it helps to think of love and romance as being the natural order of things. The vast majority of people have romantic entanglements throughout their everyday lives, for one to emerge during the course of a mystery is certainly not far-fetched, as emotions are running high and fear often draws you toward the people you instinctively trust. I’m a big fan of the romance genre, but I love the fact that since I’m writing mysteries with romantic subplots I get to draw the romance out over a longer period of time throughout several books. It progresses more naturally for me that way, and allows me to delve deeper into the psyches of the hero and heroine, and greater explore the issues between them. As far as attempting to appeal to both audiences, I don’t really consciously make an effort to do so. I simply write the story that comes naturally to me, the story I want to tell. The fact that there is a romantic subplot, to me, just makes the main protagonists more well-rounded, more relatable. And it provides me with a whole new set of fears and problems to explore and make my characters deal with.
Writing strong, intellectual women is not uncommon these days, but in 1830’s Scotland, this was not seen as or the expected norm. Tell us about how it was to write a heroine who is both very capable and smart in an era when women were not viewed as such.
Kiera is an outsider. Certainly because of society’s fear of her after the discovery of her involvement with her anatomist husband’s work and dissections, but she was categorized as being odd long before that. Part of it is her unwomanly pursuit of being a portrait artist, and the eccentricities involved. Part is her discomfort with large gatherings and meaningless small talk. But much of it is her extreme intelligence and her inability to view the world as others do. She doesn’t understand flirtation and affectation, and she refuses to conform to what society expects merely to make them more comfortable. She is not anti-social or shy, she simply refuses to pretend to be someone she’s not or hide her intelligence, and this often places her on the fringes of society.
Give us a top three authors who have inspired or still do inspire your writing.
Mary Stewart, Jane Austen, and Deanna Raybourn – such talent!
Given this is a debut, what has been your favorite and least favorite aspect of the process?
My favorite aspect has to be the fact that I’m actually being published. After so many years of trying, for it to finally be happening is truly a dream come true. My least favorite part—definitely the waiting. In the beginning, there is so much time between the stages of the process, sometimes months. I think of myself as a relatively patient person, but the eighteen month journey from offer to publication has really tested that assertion.
Historically set books often require a fair amount of research. What kinds of research did you do for this book? Did you find anything particularly difficult or surprising to work with?
Lots of reading—from encyclopedias, to journals and diaries, to detailed research texts. Some were for cultural reference, while others pertained to more specific areas of study, like nineteenth century medicine, or the practice of grave robbing. I also visited the UK—strolled through the Highlands, toured castles, and tried to get a feel, a sense of my environs. My visit to the Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh was particularly insightful. There you’ll find the famed would-be-body-snatcher-turned-murderer Burke‘s death mask, skeleton, and several articles made from his tanned skin, including a book cover. I also always keep an etymology dictionary handy, as I find making sure the terminology and turns of phrase I choose to use are historically accurate is often the most difficult thing.
What is your favorite scene from the story?
Ooo, I’m not sure I can pick just one. I love the atmosphere I created in Chapter 3, as Kiera and Gage visit the chapel cellar to examine the body. I think the scene between Kiera, Gage and one of their suspects, Lord Marsdale is particularly humorous. And I’m especially proud of the last chapter. The emotions and word flow are spot on.
This is the first of a series. What is in store for future installments?
The second Lady Darby novel, which will release in September of 2013, is very psychological, and deals with some pretty weighty issues, including insanity and battle fatigue. The third novel, out in July 2014, shifts to deal with paranormal, and why the graves at an old abbey are being disturbed. And, of course, they will all continue the story of Kiera’s growth, and the development of her relationship with Gage.
If you were going to give one piece of advice for writers out there that you’ve learned in reaching publication, what would you say?
Don’t give up. The only way you can be certain you won’t succeed is if you give up. Just keep doing what you love. The more you write, the more you learn, and the closer you get to publication. Believe that it will happen, and it will.
If you could shelve your book next to any other in the bookstore, which would it be?
Another tough question. Probably…Deanna Raybourn, simply because I’m such a fan, and I think her novels are the closest in similarity to mine.
As a bookseller in your local bookstore, what would you say to a customer who picked up your book and asked about it?
I had two wonderful people phrase it succinctly in two different ways. A friend described my book as, “Agatha Christie meets CSI.” And the marvelous Julia Spencer Fleming said, “Fans of Tasha Alexander and Agatha Christie rejoice!” I’ve also had many people describe it as a gothic, and I would certainly agree.
Anna Lee Huber is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN, where she majored in Music and minored in Psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her husband and troublemaking tabby cat, Pita. When not hard at work on her next novel, she enjoys reading, singing, travel, and spending time with her family.
To learn more about Anna, please visit her website.