Sunday, October 23, 2022

Briana Una McGuckin

photo credit: Stephanie Layne
Briana Una McGuckin lives in a charmingly strange old house in Connecticut. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Connecticut State University and an MLS from Long Island University. Among other places, her work appears in the Bram Stoker Award–nominated horror anthology Not All Monsters, the modern Gothic horror anthology In Somnio, and The Lost Librarian’s Grave anthology. McGuckin has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, a perhaps concerningly large collection of perfume oils, and a fascination with all things Victorian.

Her debut novel, On Good Authority, is a kinky, below-stairs Victorian, Romantic Suspense/Gothic Romance.

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

The working title was Morality Play, which was a little more literal than where I ended up. At the center of the whole story is a game that Marian and Valentine play as children, trapped in this Victorian workhouse; it’s like cops and robbers, but they’re acting out their respective parents’ arrests, trying to reconcile ideas of right and wrong, of justice, with the unfair reality of their situation.

This struggle over right and wrong follows Marian into adulthood, where she must serve as lady’s maid in a house with a terrible master who tries to take advantage of her—and also confront her own dark, kinky desire for adult Valentine, when he’s hired as footman in the house.

I think On Good Authority is a pretty opaque title—even misleading, because we use the phrase for when we have reason to believe information is true. But I mean the phrase in the way that the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre meant On Being and Nothingness: straightforwardly. This book is about what good authority looks like—especially in consensual BDSM--and, necessarily, what bad authority looks like too.

What's in a name?

I have to talk about Valentine Hobbs, the footman love interest, here. A few agents, and others, assumed Valentine was a girl, going by the name. But no, Valentine is a given name for men, too—more popular in earlier centuries than now, of course. I just thought, if I was going to write a good, kinky man—a respectful, consent-minded Dominant—wouldn’t it be perfect if he was called Valentine? The idea of a gentleman named Valentine, who looks proper but is wielding a riding crop… I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

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

I don’t think she’d be surprised by any of the content. We’d been blending sensual romance and philosophical ideas even in our fanfiction, back then. But she’d be stunned to know that we finally finished something. In her day, we thought first drafts had to be perfect, and abandoned them at about fifty percent of the way through when we could see that perfection was impossible.

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

I have a very hard time starting a story if I can’t see a satisfying ending to echo the beginning. With On Good Authority, I had a specific twist in mind that locked beginning and end together for me. What changed most was what was in the middle, to accommodate that twist. Of course this means I can’t talk specifics…

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

There is a bit of Valentine Hobbs in me—a part I would be too shy to show anybody, except in fiction—but I am mostly Marian-like in my daily life. I understand her desires, especially her desperation to prove herself to be a good person. I know what it’s like to have those inclinations taken advantage of, too.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music, always. For this book it was a lot of Depeche Mode. And perfume oils. I often wear perfume oil to set the tone or scene for whatever I’m writing for the day. …To get the sense of the book, I’d recommend Depeche Mode’s “Dream On,” played in the dining room of an old Victorian manor, with all the windows open, with the smell and sounds of a summer thunderstorm breezing in.
Visit Briana Una McGuckin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue