New York Times Bestselling Author Tasha Alexander: Behind the Shattered Glass( release, Minotaur, $24.99)
Q—The victim makes a grand entrance at a social gathering and falls dead in the opening pages. You get the reader’s attention quickly don’t you?
Alexander—The opening of this book came to me long before I had settled on the overall story. From there, I had to start asking questions about the gentleman in question to figure out what had happened to him…
Q—As the 8th book in the Lady Emily series does it seem the give-and-take between Lady Emily and her mother over a grim topic—such as murder--is something readers have come to anticipate?
Alexander—Emily and her mother have, at best, a sometimes-peaceful standoff. Their views on most things—women’s suffrage, education, appropriate social behavior, and child-rearing—clash, but there is a great deal of humor in their exchanges, and readers are kind enough to tell me they enjoy them. Lady Bromley, however, might not find them quite so amusing.
Q—What made you decide to delve into the two classes, upper class and servants?
Alexander—Emily has long had a less-than-ordinary relationship with her servants. For example, she doesn’t just give them orders—she talks to them—and has come to rely on Davis, her butler, and Meg, her lady’s maid, in ways that go beyond the usual master-servant rapport. In this book, I wanted to explore what life was like below stairs—to get the servants’ side, so to speak. The late 19th century was a time of great change for those in service. The Industrial Revolution gave the lower classes more options for employment, and there was a great deal of debate as to what was a better job: factory work or service. There are pros and cons to both, and I think it is fascinating to consider how the people working the jobs felt about them. Davis, who has spent his entire life in service, is devoted to it, but there are others in Emily’s household who do not feel the same way. The glittering life above stairs was only possible because the strict constraints of the class system forced a large percentage of the population to work below stairs. These were tough, tough jobs. Maids were up before sunrise and on their feet doing hard labor until late in the evening. It’s no wonder they looked for other options, especially if they did not work for a family who treated them well.
Q—Tell us about travel research for this book?
Alexander—I spent a great deal of time at country houses in England. Harewood House in Yorkshire has their kitchen and other downstairs rooms open—it was most enlightening to see them. Haddon Hall, Chatsworth, and Castle Howard inspired bits of Anglemore Park, the Hargreaves family estate, but it owes the most to Burton Agnes Hall, which was a place that felt so beautifully lived in—so much like a real home—that I wished I could move in.
Q—Now eight books and now you’re a New York Times Bestselling Author: what are the reasons Lady Emily and the series appeal to its growing list of followers?
Alexander—That is a difficult question. As a writer, I am immensely grateful that readers keep coming back for more Emily, but we all have different reasons for choosing the books we read. I have always loved a good series because the characters start to feel like old friends, and I can’t wait for the next installment. Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books are some of my favorites, primarily because I adore the characters.
Q—In your mind what is the biggest individual change in Emily and Colin from book one (And Only To Deceive) to Behind the Shattered Glass?
Alexander—I don’t think they have changed so much as they have come into their own, Emily especially. They are both more comfortable in their convictions, and more comfortable working as equal partners in their marriage. In terms of real change, the addition of children to the household, though not as radical for wealthy Victorians with nannies and nurses as it is for us today, certainly has an enormous impact on them.
Q—How long did it take to write the manuscript and did you know the storyline when writing the last book, Death In The Floating City?
Alexander—I don’t outline. My brain doesn’t work that way. I spend several months doing research—reading, primarily. Once I have the seed of an idea, I start taking notes about characters and story. At some point, I have enough that I know I’m ready to write the first draft. Once the draft is complete, I let it sit for a month or so before revising. I write a book a year, and that allows me to comfortably deliver on time. The details of the story always come to me while I’m writing.