Thursday, April 1, 2021

Tasha Alexander

Tasha Alexander is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lady Emily mystery series. The daughter of two philosophy professors, she studied English Literature and Medieval History at the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, live on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming.

Alexander's new novel, the 15th Lady Emily mystery, is The Dark Heart of Florence.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Titles have long been the most frustrating part of writing for me. Of my sixteen novels, only two have my original titles. At this point, I expect my publisher will want them changed. For example, I wanted Uneasy Lies the Crown to be called The Death of Kings, which was deemed (among other things) too masculine. The title of my current book, The Dark Heart of Florence, captures the flavor of the story well enough, I suppose. The working title was The Ninth Circle, taken from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which, perhaps, offers more insight into the book. The ninth circle of hell punishes treachery with a frozen lake. The worse the offense, the deeper the guilty party is frozen in it. Just how deeply the villain in Dark Heart should be placed isn’t cut and dry, at least not if you consider their motivation and principles.

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

My teenage self would be delighted that I’m writing, although she’d probably have hoped I was far, far hipper than I am. In high school, I would have assumed that I’d be writing about—and living in—New York, even though for nearly all of my life I was far more interested in historicals than contemporary fiction.

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

Beginnings are definitely trickier for me, mainly because I can’t be precisely sure how they should read until I’ve finished writing the entire book. This might be different if I could construct a decent outline, but my brain just won’t work like that. Instead, I figure out the story as I go, relying more on instinct than organization. Once I’ve got a complete manuscript, I circle back to the start and revise, finally able to flush out the first chapter.

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

Well, sadly, no one has irrevocably settled an enormous fortune on me, but times have changed since the late Victorian/early Edwardian days. Emily, my protagonist, is like me in some superficial ways. We both like classical antiquities, travel, and studying languages, but our worlds are entirely different. I find it satisfying to write about something removed from my own life. It broadens my horizons and keeps me interested.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Travel has informed every book I’ve written. It’s the source of endless ideas. Every new place helps me better understand people from all kinds of backgrounds. There are many ways in which we're all alike, but at the same time, it’s critical to recognize that we don’t all have similar lives. Cultural mores, opportunities, and daily experiences make an enormous impact on individuals. They can also keep us from recognizing the ways in which we are the same. Traveling with an eye toward learning about new cultures makes it possible to write more fully realized characters.
Visit Tasha Alexander's website.

--Marshal Zeringue