Thursday, January 7, 2021

Molly Greeley

Molly Greeley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her addiction to books was spurred by her parents' floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A graduate of Michigan State University, she began as an Education major, but switched to English and Creative Writing after deciding that gainful employment was not as important to her as being able to spend several years reading books and writing stories and calling it work.

She lives in northern Michigan with her husband and three children, and can often be found with her laptop at local coffee shops.

Greeley's new novel is The Heiress.

My Q&A with the author:

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

The Heiress is the untold story of Anne de Bourgh from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and the title is very much a nod to one of the main things we know about Anne from Austen's novel - that she is the heiress to a grand estate in Kent. Coupled with the subtitle ("The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh") I think the title does some pretty decent lifting as far as getting the reader into the story. Anne is voiceless in Pride and Prejudice - she has no speaking lines whatsoever, and is known only as the rich, supposedly sickly cousin of Mr. Darcy - and as such is something of a blank slate; the "revelations" aspect of the subtitle indicates that there is more to her, and to her story, than we might expect.

What's in a name?

Because The Heiress is an Austen continuation, many of the characters were already named long before I came along to write about them. Of the secondary characters who were my own inventions... well, the Regency era in England was not (in general) a time of terribly unique given names; there's a reason there are so many Annes, Janes, and Catherines in Jane Austen's works. To stay true to the time in which I was writing, I scoured British registrars of births and deaths for the period, and chose names for my characters from there.

The one character whose name I agonized over was Colonel Fitzwilliam, who, though an Austen creation, is not given a first name in Pride and Prejudice. In the huge canon of Austen spin-offs and continuations, naming him "Richard" became the norm somewhere along the way; but since this doesn't stem from the original work, I wanted to distance myself from it. I finally settled on "John" for his first name, and I'm afraid I have no better explanation than it feeling right.

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

I think my teenage self, who adored Austen and Austen adaptations, would nonetheless be completely surprised to find she had grown up to write a book like The Heiress. As a teenager, though I did dream of growing up to become a writer, it was fantasy books I aspired to write. I suppose some of the more fantastical/hallucinatory elements of the story could be considered nods to my love of fantasy... but as my teenage self would no doubt tell you, that's a stretch.

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

Beginnings are almost always harder for me than endings. Even - as with The Heiress - when I don't have a clear idea of how the story will end when I begin writing, I tend to know it when I get there. I must have rewritten the beginning of The Heiress five or six times trying to find a way to thrust readers into the story, while staying true to the slow and ponderous life my main character was living at the story's start. The end, though, seemed to fly from my finger ends and onto the screen, one of those rare moments in writing when it feels as if you're not in control, in the best possible way.

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

In general, yes, I do see myself in my characters. No character I've written is truly "me," but most of them contain elements of myself, even if only in a single thought they have. My antagonists might even have bits of me in them, since I try to twist my head around their thought processes and get to the why of their behaviors.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

There are so many non-literary inspirations! Movies, certainly; I find myself watching movies now the same way I read books, trying to deconstruct the way the story is told, how the viewers are shown who a character is, how settings are used effectively. And I do make a playlist for every book I write, which I listen to with headphones when I need to really shut out the rest of the world and plug into the world I'm trying to create. On each playlist, there tend to be one or two songs that lyrically resonate with the characters I'm writing; I listen to those again and again.

Nature is also something of an inspiration; in both The Clergyman's Wife and The Heiress, the woods around Anne's estate of Rosings Park play a role in the main characters' emotional lives, and this stems from my own experience of just being able to breathe more deeply when I'm in the woods, and of my mind getting swept clean of those clamorous, intrusive, everyday thoughts that can get in the way of writing.
Visit Molly Greeley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue