Thursday, August 6, 2020

Julie McElwain

Julie McElwain is a national award-winning journalist. Born and raised in North Dakota, she graduated from North Dakota State University, and moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for a fashion trade newspaper.

Her first novel, A Murder In Time, was one of the top 10 picks by the National Librarian Association for its April 2016 book list. The novel was also a finalist for the 2016 Goodreads’ readers choice awards in the Sci-fi category, and made Bustle’s list of 9 Most Addictive Mystery series for 2017.

The series continues Kendra Donovan’s adventures in Regency England with A Twist in Time, Caught in Time, Betrayal in Time, and Shadows in Time.

My Q&A with McElwain:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

When I came up with the idea of having a modern-day FBI agent involuntarily thrown back into England’s Regency era, I knew that I wanted to develop this as a series and I wanted to have the word “time” in the title, which then could be used as a through-line for the entire series. The title for the first book — A Murder in Time — was easy because it’s so straightforward. We’re literally dealing with the main character, Kendra Donovan, who finds herself in the early 19th century and is forced to solve a murder.

As a general rule of thumb, I want each title to relate to something that is happening in the book. In the latest installment, Shadows in Time, Kendra must deal with the shadowy past, both when she investigates the violent murder of a young man in a remote cottage and when a woman comes forward, claiming to be the Duke’s presumed dead daughter.

So far, I think we’ve been successful in coming up with titles that work with each story and strikes the right tone. However, I imagine this will become more challenging as the series progresses.

What's in a name?

When I was coming up with the name for my main protagonist, Kendra Donovan, I did a lot of research because I really wanted it to mean something beyond sounding good. When I found out that Kendra means both “greatest champion” and “prophetess,” I thought that was perfect. Kendra knows the future in broad strokes because she is from the future. And she has proven herself a champion for victims. Interestingly enough, I address the meaning of Kendra’s name in my latest novel, Shadows in Time. While I haven’t spent the same time researching the meaning of other character names as I did with Kendra, I always think naming characters is an important part of storytelling. In many ways, it’s a very sensatory process; the name needs to feel right both for the character and the time that the novel takes place. People have been naming their children unusual names since the dawn of man, but I shy away from popular modern-day names. Or, at least, I will research them to see if they were used in the Regency period, otherwise that name could become too distracting or jarring in the story.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would not be at all surprised by Shadows in Time. In fact, it combines all the interests that I’ve had since I was a child — a fascination with time travel, a love of history and mysteries, a bit of romance, and a kick-ass heroine. The only thing my teenage self would be surprised about is why it took me so long to come up with this concept.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Oh, this is an easy one to answer! The ending is much harder for me to write than the beginning of a novel. Because I’m writing a series rather than standalone novels, there needs to be a sense that these characters are moving forward in their lives, even as the mystery in each book is solved. The characters’ relationships with each other are always developing, growing, becoming richer and more complicated — and that doesn’t end with the last page of the book. At the same time, I want to leave the readers satisfied that a story has been told to its natural conclusion, even though the characters’ journey will continue.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I suppose I can find tiny bits of my own personality in all my characters, but I am the least like my main protagonist, Kendra. I needed a character who was whip-smart with an almost photographic memory so that she had a broad knowledge of many things — she can’t rely on Google when she’s thrown back into the past. She has also been trained to view life in almost harshly logical terms and is wary of the metaphysical or spiritual world. While I like to think that I’m pretty logical, I also tend to be very spiritual. In that, I probably am more like the Duke, who is both a man of science and a man of faith. And I can relate a lot to Lady Rebecca. I grew up with three brothers, so I was always fighting for “girl power.” In fact, when I was 16, the first thing I had published was a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, responding to one gentleman’s letter suggesting a woman’s natural order was to serve her husband. I disagreed, just as I imagine Rebecca would disagree.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My father was a huge newshound, so I grew up watching 60 Minutes and TV news shows that often showcase criminals, crime, and humanities darker side. It wasn’t something I was conscious of, but I’m sure that propelled me to write mysteries. I also watched shows like The Bionic Woman and old reruns of The Avengers, which had Emma Peel karate chopping her way through the bad guys. That sense of female empowerment resonated with me, and I think you can recognize shades of Jaime Sommers and Emma Peel in Kendra Donovan.
Visit Julie McElwain's website.

--Marshal Zeringue