My guest today is an award-winning novelist. Please help me welcome Ana Brazil! Let’s peek at her bio and then we’ll find out more about her.
Ana Brazil is the author of the historical mystery Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper, winner of the 2018 Independent Book Publishers Association Gold Medal for Historical Fiction. Ana’s current work-in-progress features a bodacious vaudeville singer beset with murder, mistaken identity, and multiple romances in 1919 San Francisco.
Ana is a long-time student of history and earned her master’s degree in American history from Florida State University. She also worked as an architectural historian in Mississippi. After many years in software development, Ana is ecstatic to write historical fiction full time. Ana is an active member of the Historical Novel Society and Sisters in Crime, is the Events Chair for Sisters in Crime Northern California, and is a founding member of the Paper Lantern Writers historical fiction collective.
Betty: When did you become a writer?
Ana: Probably when I was twelve. That’s when my mother died and I found great solace in writing poetry. Very bad poetry, of course, but it was verse that helped me express my sorrow and loss. Getting my feelings down on the page led me to read “real” poetry, and to appreciate the rhythm and power of the written word. I also started reading a lot of historical fiction in my teen years—like Dickens, Austen, and Alcott—and I found great stories to be a great refuge.
Betty: How long did you work on your writing skills before you became published?
Ana: My novel Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper was published in November 2017, although much of it was finished about ten years earlier. Every job I’ve ever had had a “writing component.” Sometimes I wrote promotional brochures; sometimes I wrote instructions on how to turn off a database. But I always worked to improve my writing and storytelling. So in actual years, I’d probably written 40 years before my first novel was published.
Betty: What authors or stories do you feel influenced your writing style?
Ana: Great influences: One of my early influences was Anne Rice, especially The Mummy. Her characters, sense of drama, and pacing are really stunning. Plus, she wrote a lot about New Orleans, a city that I love.
Not-so-great-influence: I read a lot of Charles Dickens during my teens and picked up his “cataloging” technique. You know, the “glorious pile—frowning walls—tottering arches—dark nooks—crumbling staircases” type of writing. Good for Dickens; not so good for me. I continually have to remind myself that “cataloging isn’t writing.”
Betty: What prompted you to start writing?
Ana: A love of reading, of course! I enjoyed reading historical fiction so much that I kept thinking, “What would happen if this character and this character intersected with each other? What kind of conflict would they create? What kind of resolution would they get to?”
Betty: What type of writing did you start with?
Ana: I went from poetry (again, bad poetry!) to attempts to write short stories to writing a novel and—just a few years ago–to writing real short stories.
Betty: What do you most enjoy writing? Why?
Ana: I love writing short stories because they are short and contained. But I love writing novels the best because I get to take a heroine through a life-changing journey.
Betty: How did you learn to write? A mentor, classes, conferences, craft books, or something else?
Ana: My love of reading also helped me learn how to write. From reading fiction and non-fiction, historical and contemporary, literature and genre, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. I also really benefit from being in critique groups, especially since I ask my fellow critique group members to be really, really honest.
Betty: What do you wish you knew before you started writing/publishing?
Ana: I have a small independent publisher (Sand Hill Press Review), so there was a lot of time between signing the contract and publication date. I wish that I’d had a second Gilded Age New Orleans mystery to quickly follow the first publication. Lesson Learned: keep writing, writing, writing even when you’re submitting for publication.
Betty: What other authors inspired you (either directly or through their writing) to try your hand at writing?
Ana: I’ve been inspired by Julia Spencer-Fleming, who writes characters who have good hearts and try to do the right thing.
Betty: What inspired you to write the book you’re sharing with us today?
Ana: I was in the Tulane University archives in New Orleans going through boxes of clippings and photographs from the 1880s and 90s, all research for my master’s thesis. Inside those boxes I found information about the most interesting women…all of them trying to make the city of New Orleans a better place by doing good works like starting social settlements, teaching in kindergartens, and protecting animals. I was also a big fan of detective fiction and eventually I had the revelation “if these brilliant New Orleans women could solve social problems, I bet they could probably solve a murder as well.” And so Fanny Newcomb was born. And yes, her last name is a tribute to Newcomb College in New Orleans.
A Jack the Ripper copycat is terrorizing the women of Gilded Age New Orleans.
Desperate to know if her favorite student was a Ripper copycat victim, tenacious and quick-witted Fanny Newcomb turns detective.
Fanny’s hunt launches her into New Orleans’ darkest enclaves, saloons, and houses of prostitution. She questions authority, seeks out clues, and digs into long-protected secrets. Fanny’s search alienates her friends, alarms the police, and antagonizes her would-be fiancé. Her efforts infuriate the Ripper copycat, who vows to murder another of Fanny’s students by the end of the week.
Fanny persists, and even appears to succeed in her investigation, until the night her curiosity plunges her into a desperate confrontation with the Ripper copycat.
Can amateur detective Fanny Newcomb stop the Irish Channel Ripper before he murders again?
Fanny Newcomb sucked the blood from the knuckle of her right thumb. Her fingers were stiff and reddened; her nails were torn. Her cuffs were rolled up to her elbows and she’d undone the top three buttons of her bodice. She dabbed the glow from her forehead with her crumpled handkerchief and surveyed her opponent. The battle had just begun.
The Hammond typewriting machine was not entirely uninjured. The A, P, and W keys were snarled tightly and buried deep in the carriage well. The typewriter was immobilized.
Fanny’s pride was bruised but her spirit was unbowed. “You’re just a machine,” she sneered. “Wires and plates and copper and keys. I’m smarter than you are. It might take me a while to figure you out but I’ll do it.”
Sounds like a terrific story and I love the inspiration for it, too. Thanks so much, Ana, for sharing it with us!
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