Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Marty Ambrose

Marty Ambrose is the award-winning author of a historical mystery trilogy: Claire's Last Secret, A Shadowed Fate, and Forever Past, all set around the Byron/Shelley circle in nineteenth-century Italy. Her fiction has earned starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, as well as a gold medal for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association's Literary Palm Awards.

My Q&A with Ambrose:

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

When I played with the title of my final novel in the Claire Clairmont historical mystery trilogy, Forever Past, I was very conscious that it had to signal the end of this series but, also, reflect that nothing in life is every truly finished until we draw our last breath. So, while Claire is finally learning the fate of her lost daughter, Allegra, conceived out of wedlock with Lord Byron, she has to keep delving into the past to find the last clues to the mystery—a “forever” journey that is both exhilarating and painful. And, along the way, she realizes it is long past time for her to put those days behind her and make peace with the turmoil of her youth.

But I also wanted my readers to connect the title with Claire’s undiminished love for her daughter; it has been both a joy and torment at the emotional center of her being. Her relationship with Lord Byron was hauntingly brief, but her deep maternal feelings for Allegra, no matter the outcome of her quest, are eternal.

What's in a name?

One of the easier aspects of writing historical mysteries with actual literary figures as characters is that the names are already set. My protagonist, Claire Clairmont, was part of the Byron/Shelley circle and a real person who lived a long life in the nineteenth century. So, I didn’t have to struggle to come up with interesting names for most of my characters. However, one name in Forever Past does have an intriguing connection to the plot. After Claire gave birth to her daughter, she originally called her “Alba”—which meant “sunrise.” A few months later, though, Lord Byron asked her to re-name their child, “Allegra,” meaning “happy and lively.” Claire complied, and their daughter was always referred to as Allegra Byron. However, the original name of Claire’s daughter pops up toward the end of the book, symbolizing the “dawn” of truth about Allegra’s fate—an unexpected plot twist leading to the final scene. I loved it.

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

I don’t think my teenage self would be surprised that I write historical mysteries which take place around nineteenth-century literati. I’ve always been obsessed with the poets and authors from that era, especially Lord Byron. However, I think the younger version of myself would’ve been surprised that it took me so long into my writing career to create novels around these fascinating literary figures. But I had to develop the writing confidence (and the skills—hopefully) to take on such complex literary legends and attempt to weave the threads of history around them. Quite the challenge. But I guess the creative process all unfolds in due course.

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

I definitely find beginnings much more difficult to write; they set the tone, mood, and conflict of the entire novel. I struggle with them. It will often take me one-two years to complete a novel because I don’t have a clear idea of how the work is going to come together until I’ve written the beginning and first hundred pages of the novel; that part takes me months and months. The great twentieth-century poet, T.S. Eliot, said in the Four Quartets, “In my end is my beginning,” but, for me, it is the opposite. There is certainly a circularity about the way a writer has to jumpstart the imagination, but I have to start the book first to know where I’m going—for the most part. Then, I like to have only a vague idea of the ending; in fact, I prefer to let the novel end itself and sometimes even surprise me. That’s magic time.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I think it’s very important for a writer to have another creative art that has nothing to do with words. When I was finishing Forever Past, it was a very intense, emotional process because I didn’t want to let go of the characters after working with them for six years and two previous books. So, I took up soapmaking. It’s a perfect “paired art” for me because I’m working with my hands and creating something with unusual patterns, colors, and scents. As I make the soap, my mind empties of words and I focus only on pure creation. Then, when I go back to writing, I feel refreshed and ready to apply all of those sensory experiences to descriptive language. Not to mention, I have amazing gifts for friends and readers, such as my Claire Clairmont “book soap.” Okay, even the soap has a literary connection. It’s a win-win.
Visit Marty Ambrose's website.

My Book, The Movie: Forever Past.

The Page 69 Test: Forever Past.

--Marshal Zeringue