Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on Stephanie Burgis, author of magic, wonder, history, and romance! Patty has been a fan of Stephanie, especially, since her middle grade Kat, Incorrigible books came out. Now Stephanie is adding some more grown-up magic to her mix – as well as romance and alchemy!
Welcome, Stephanie! Thanks for joining us. For those who don’t know you yet, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, and now live in a small town in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. (The sheer number of coffee shops that we have is actually a running joke in our town!) I write fun, funny fantasy novels for kids and wildly romantic, historical fantasy novels for adults.
What kind of research went into writing your newest book, Masks and Shadows? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I spent three years working on a PhD in opera history, focusing on the opera and politics of Vienna and Eszterháza (the Hungarian palace where Joseph Haydn worked) between 1765-1790…and at the end of those three years, I only had half of a PhD thesis written, but I had a full first draft of Masks and Shadows! (Oops. 😉 ) Masks and Shadows is set at Eszterháza in 1779, and it’s centered around the opera house and structured like an opera itself – over-the-top, romantic, and full of intrigue. Of course, my plot is fictional – but it’s carefully structured around historical reality, and I worked very hard to make the historical characters consistent even in my fictional plot.
It’s a fascinating setting, because Eszterháza was a glorious, decadent palace set in the middle of rural Hungary and surrounded by terrible poverty – and within the bounds of his estate, Prince Nikolaus was an absolute ruler. He was married, and he insisted that his wife (a fascinating, strong woman in her own right) reside at Eszterháza with him against her will, but she generally stayed in the shadows there, keeping to her own rooms, while Nikolaus kept his young mistress at his side as his public consort (and the mistress’s husband had an honorary post in Nikolaus’s guard). So much simmering tension! So many rich conflicts! Even before you add alchemy and secret societies to the mix (and secret societies were VERY popular in the empire at this point in history!), the reality itself was more than a little operatic.
What was the inspiration for Masks and Shadows? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
My initial inspiration came when I was doing unrelated PhD research and came across a fascinating article on the legal battles fought throughout the 18th century over whether or not castrati should be allowed to marry. The castrati were men who had been castrated as boys to keep their beautiful, high-pitched singing voices, and as adults, the most successful of them were the absolute superstars of eighteenth-century opera. They were famous not just for their astonishing (“unearthly”) voices, but also for their romantic affairs and their celebrity dramas. The top castrati got incredible salaries and adulation…but no one could agree on whether or not they could get married! Various castrati and the women in their lives went to court again and again throughout the century, and the arguments echo 20th century arguments over gay marriage in really fascinating ways. The Catholic Church’s position was that they couldn’t marry, because they couldn’t father children (and thus it wouldn’t be a “real” marriage); the Church of England originally said that they could, but then in a very famous case near the end of the century, they annulled one castrato’s marriage because they said it had never been a real one anyway.
Of course, as I read that article, I immediately started imagining my own castrato character and the woman who would fall in love with him; and of course, it had to be the most unsuitable match possible.
I loved writing their romance!
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I’ve always been a huge history geek, but I also loooooove reading stories with magic and adventure and romance. My books mingle all of my favorite elements in a story!
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
My next adult historical fantasy novel is coming on November 1st: Congress of Secrets! It’s set at the 1814 Congress of Vienna, where the royals, aristocrats, and power-brokers of Europe have gathered to waltz, to scheme, and to divide up the continent in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. But of course not everyone is really who they seem…and behind the scenes of the glittering balls and theatrical performances, dark alchemy is lurking within the highest ranks of Viennese society. It destroyed one young girl’s childhood in Vienna 24 years ago – but now she’s back, reinvented as a wealthy English countess, and this time she has a plan of her own.
Congress of Secrets is full of disguises, deception, intrigue and unexpected romance, and it was enormously fun to write, especially because Vienna is one of my favorite cities in the world.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I always have a writing soundtrack for every project, to put me in the mood – and it becomes almost a Pavlovian response after a while, since I turn on a particular playlist and (aha!) my subconscious knows “Now it’s time to write that book!”
For Masks and Shadows, I listened obsessively to the Farinelli soundtrack (the closest we can come now to hearing what a castrato singer at the height of his powers might have sounded like) and also my favorite Haydn opera arias. For Congress of Secrets, I listened over and over again to Schubert’s Complete String Quartets for just the right dark, romantic, Viennese period feel.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Everywhere! J You should be able to find (or order) my books at every brick-and-mortar bookstore and every online bookstore, too.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
You can check out my website (www.stephanieburgis.com) or follow me on Twitter (twitter.com/stephanieburgis) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/stephanieburgis)