Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Sally Smith O'Rourke, author of Days of Future Past
FQ: You have proven many times over that you have that historical romantic vein running in your blood, with the intriguing ‘Jane Austen’ bent of some of your novels. Is history something you love to explore? Are you a research demon when it comes to past centuries?
O’ROURKE: Indeed, I love history. I believe the old adage that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. Many ideas come from research I do for enjoyment, so I guess you’re right, I am a research demon or junkie, depending on how you look at it.
FQ: There are many authors who say they must ‘write from something they know,’ whereas others say their ideas come from the imagination. In your case, because all of the emotions are so deep in your tales, how exactly do your ideas come to you?
O’ROURKE: I guess I’m a combination of the two. The base storyline is generally from my imagination, but everything around it, details, relationships, and events are often based on my own experiences or those of people I know. Some does come from intense research. (An aside, the house manager of the Jane Austen House Museum told me that my depiction of Chawton made her feel as though she was walking down the road there – I’ve never been to Chawton)
FQ: If you could go into a book, any book, which would it be? And which character would you wish to be, and why?
O’ROURKE: You don’t stipulate fiction or non-fiction (although I suspect you meant fiction) and my choice is a bit of both. As a young teen-ager I picked up a copy of Anna and the King of Siam at a garage sale. After telling my mother how much I enjoyed it, she gave me a copy of The English Governess at the Siamese Court so that I would know the real story and not just the fictionalized one. There are those who believe that Anna Leonowens’ memoir was fictionalized. We will never know for sure, the world has taken Margaret Landon’s novel as the ‘real’ story. The bottom line, though is that in the mid-nineteenth century, in the heart of the Victorian era, Anna Leonowens was a fiercely independent woman who traveled the world and wrote about her experiences. Her bravery in a time when women were expected to marry well, have children and follow the proprieties of a repressive society, is extraordinary.
FQ: The vistas written are stunning; whether it be a bungalow in California or a Scottish 1800’s world. Is there a trick, I wonder, when it comes to writing such descriptive and detailed locations, to somehow not lose the characters or the core of the story? Much like Austen, your writing has that small ‘core’ of people, yet the world around them is so lofty.
O’ROURKE: I thank you for the compliment. I don’t think there’s a trick, although I don’t really know how I do it. Based on research and experience I visualize a scene or sequence and write it exactly as I see it in my mind. Perhaps that is why my writing has been called cinematic.
FQ: Time movement, history, past lives; are these subjects you are most interested in when it comes to writing a novel?
O’ROURKE: I’m sure my love of history is, at least, partially responsible when it comes to using time as a vehicle. However, not all are time related, The Maidenstone Lighthouse is a ghost story (of course, the ghost is from the past) and Christmas at Sea Pines Cottage is strictly contemporary (although is narrated by the family’s pet Golden Retriever, Meteor). But I must confess a desire to venture into the past.
FQ: Along those same lines, are there other genres you wish to explore with your writing?
O’ROURKE: I don’t really write in any particular genre, although they all include a love story, they are not considered romance. My books are listed as general fiction, and frankly because they don’t have a genre are often hard to market. My publisher put a ‘romance’ type cover on The Man Who Loved Jane Austen for the mass market edition, and we got several letters complaining that it wasn’t a romance novel. That said, I won’t be doing mystery or crime drama or anything like that, perhaps I will eventually write an actual historical novel, only time will tell.
FQ: Can you tell our readers what may be coming up next?
O’ROURKE: I am currently working on a ghost story that takes place in San Francisco, working title: The Bridge. I plan to do the third and final Jane Austen book, Farewell, Sweet Jane and on the back burner is a story that takes place on the Monterey peninsula of California and is peopled by fairies. I’ve been considering a novel set during the Civil War which may become my historical novel. So many stories, so little time.
FQ: I always end my interviews with a question that readers love to know the answer to: If you could have lunch with any author, alive or dead, who would it be, and why?
O’ROURKE: I would love to sit by a fire and have tea with Jane Austen. I find her mind, wit and talent amazing and fascinating. Comparing my writing to hers is the ultimate compliment. Thank you.