Q&A With Tasha Alexander

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Q&A With Tasha Alexander 

Tasha Alexander is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the historical mystery series The Lady Emily series. The Lady Emily Series has sixteen books in the series and is still going. A Cold Highland Wind which is the current book in the series is out now. 

Q: I read the first book And Only To Deceive, a few years back and enjoyed it. How did the idea of the Lady Emily series come about? 

A: The seed of the idea came when I had a sudden, vivid image of a young woman in a Victorian gown standing alone on the cliff path between Imerovigli and Fira on the Greek island of Santorini. I scribbled down a description of the scene, but it was only two years later that I revisited it, when I’d decided to start writing a novel. Still fascinated with the vignette, I started asking myself questions about it. How could she have come to be there? Why was she alone? Why Santorini? The answers I came up with formed the basis of the novel. I’d say more, but it would give away the plot!

Q:  I enjoy reading mysteries, whether they are who done it, thrillers and historical. What intrigued you about writing historical mysteries? 

A: When I started writing And Only to Deceive, I didn’t deliberately set out to make it an historical mystery; my only goal was to write a book I would enjoy reading. Given that I love intrigue and history, it’s no surprise I subconsciously gravitated to historical mystery. It’s a genre that allows me to delve into things that have always interested me while constructing intricate plots that I hope are compelling.

Q: Who are your favorite mystery authors both the past and the present? 

A: I’ve loved Agatha Christie from the time I was about ten years old. Dorothy L. Sayers is a huge favorite, and it’s hard to think of something better than Elizabeth Peters. Her Amelia Peabody series perfectly combines historical and archaeological detail with cunning plots and a cast of characters I wish could spring to life and come over for tea, or a whisky and soda, which Amelia would certainly prefer.

Q: As the author of the series, do you recommend readers read the series in chronological order, or can you read them as standalone? 

A: As a reader, I always prefer reading in chronological order; there’s little I like better than finding a series that already has a dozen or more books in it so I have the whole stack waiting for me. That said, I make sure the novels in the Emily series can work as standalones, too, although reading out of order will mean you encounter some character arcs sooner than you may wish. That won’t ruin it, though.

Q: Can you reveal a little bit about the plot of the next Lady Emily book, or is it too early to say?

A: I turned in the manuscript of the next installment earlier this month. Death by Misadventure is set in the winter of 1906; Lady Emily and husband Colin are invited to the opulent home of Baroness Ursula von Düchtel in the Bavarian Alps. Outside is a mountainous winter wonderland with a view of Mad King Ludwig’s fairytale castle. Inside, the villa hosts a magnificent but eclectic art collection—as well as an equally eclectic collection of fellow guests, among them a musician, an art dealer, a coquette from the demi-monde, and Kaspar, the Baroness’ boorish son-in-law, whom, it begins to appear, someone wants dead. 

Almost forty years earlier, Niels, a young German lord, sings to himself in the forest surrounding those same Alps, capturing the attention of a not-yet-mad King Ludwig. Niels and the king become fast friends, their relationship deepening into something more as their time together stretches on. But while King Ludwig is content to live out a fantasy where their responsibilities don’t matter and the outside world doesn’t affect them, Niels knows that their bliss cannot last forever.

Decades later, Emily continues to investigate Kaspar’s increasingly lethal mishaps when tragedy strikes, ensnaring the guests in a web of fear and suspicion. It’s up to Emily to sift through old secrets and motivations, some stretching far into the past, to unmask the killer.

Q: What is your advice to would be authors on writing great murder mysteries?

A: To be a good writer, you’ve got to read everything you can get your hands on. If you want to do mysteries, reading lots of them helps, of course, but don’t limit yourself to them exclusively. Reading widely is the best way to learn how to write. Second, it’s critical to figure out methods that work best for you. I can take someone through my writing routine in detail, but that isn’t likely to help them much. It doesn’t matter whether you outline or don’t, write in the morning or evening, use a computer or yellow legal pads and a fountain pen. Your process will be your own. It may vary from book to book, but so long as it gets you to a complete manuscript, you know you’re doing it right!

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to The Lady Emily series? Whether they do or not, who would be your ideal cast to play Lady Emily, Colin and the other characters? 

A: ABC has a TV pilot in development, but I have to admit I am terrible at coming up with suggestions for actors, probably because the characters are so clear in my head that it’s difficult to picture them any other way. That said, Emily Blunt and Henry Cavill are the two people readers most often tell me they picture as Emily and Colin.

Q: Would you ever write a spin off series to the Lady Emily series?

A: I’d never say no to the possibility, but at the moment, I’m more than content continuing to tell Emily’s stories.

Q: Who were/are your biggest supporters of your writing goals and talent?

A: My parents have encouraged my creative endeavors since I was a child and no human could be more supportive than my husband, the brilliant novelist Andrew Child. He’s got a fantastic editorial mind, which makes him the perfect beta reader. Because he’s a writer, he understands every stage of the process, from brainstorming ideas to working through tricky plot problems. He comes on my research trips, reads every draft of every book, and always brings champagne on launch day.

Q: Where is your favorite place or places to sit down and plot, research and write your books? What is the research process like when writing a historical mystery series?

A:  After we moved to a ranch in Wyoming in 2017, I had an office for the first time in my life. I do most of my research reading there (when the weather is gorgeous it’s impossible to resist sitting on the deck instead), and all of my writing.

Mark Twain said The secret of getting ahead is getting started. He was a smart guy, Twain. The blank page can be intimidating; especially in those moments when it feels like you’ll never, ever have a decent idea again. If you’re writing a historical, or anything else that requires substantial research, it’s easy to get sidetracked. After all, it’s part of the work. This is why I have more than three hundred books in my office. Fascinating though all of those tidbits of information you’re gleaning may be, it’s important to remember two things: First, that it’s possible no one other than yourself (including your readers) is going to share your enthusiasm for, say, the technical details of Victorian plumbing. Second, you can’t finish a book when you’re not writing; research isn’t writing.

Before I start writing, I let myself read enough primary sources and thorough secondary ones that I feel comfortable in the time and place I’m setting my novel. I take a research trip, filling notebooks with observations. When I get home, I give myself a few weeks to percolate, having learned over the years that letting my brain quietly do its thing in the background is far more productive than consciously trying to force ideas to come. Then, I write.

Inevitably, things will crop up that require more research. If it’s a question of dipping back into a source and quickly finding an answer, I do it. If it takes more than that, I mark the spot and don’t look at it again until I’ve finished the draft. Once I’ve got a draft, I can indulge in the luxury of returning to research, but at that point, I know so specifically what I need to find that I’m unlikely to go all the way down the rabbit hole, which in no way means I’m not tempted.