If there is one thing that novelist Deanna Raybourn has learned, it is the old adage "write what you read." Before penning her critically hailed debut, a spellbinding historical mystery titled Silent in the Grave, she spent years struggling to perfect the romance novel. Native Texan Raybourn wrote her first romance at the age of 23. Although she did receive some attention from potential publishers, she failed to publish the book. Ultimately, she stored it away in a box in her attic. Over the next several years, that manuscript would be joined by eight more, all written in the same lusty vein. That's when she finally had the revelation that would lead to her first published novel. "I lean more towards mystery and historical fiction in my reading, so I finally decided to write what I read," she explains on her website. "Apparently THAT is the magical formula for success, in case anyone is writing this down." Two years later, she had finished Silent in the Grave and Mira Books ("known in my house as The Finest Publishing Company on The Planet," Raybourn says) picked it up.
Raybourn's sprawling debut novel takes its title from a foreboding quote in the Bible's book of Psalms: "Let the wicked be ashamed and let them be silent in the grave." This is the final threat that London society hound Sir Edmund Grey receives before he unexpectedly falls dead in the middle of a dinner party. While his wife Julia initially believes Edmund's death to be the result of a preexisting heart condition, private agent Nicholas Brisbane informs her that he believes her husband's death to be of a more insidious nature. When Julia solicits Brisbane to find the killer, they are both drawn into a dangerous mystery and drawn to each other.
Silent in the Grave has already been garnering much praise from Raybourn's fellow writers, the online community, and the literary press for its masterfully paced suspense and historical authenticity. Karen Harper, who wrote the bestselling thriller Hurricane, applauded, "This debut novel has one of the most clever endings I've seen." Dana Stabenow of PoisenedPen.com declared that Raybourn has a "strong voice akin to Amelia Peabody's, a superbly realized setting -- you'll choke on the coal smoke of Raybourn's Victorian London." Meanwhile, Publishers Weekly called Silent in the Grave a "perfectly executed debut," while Kirkus insisted, "Bring on the sequel"! That demand is about to be met, as Raybourn is currently working on the next two books in her budding saga, which will also be published by Mira sometime in the future. Considering that she is currently mounting an extensive book tour in support of Silent in the Grave and managing her new web site (which she says will soon incorporate personal podcasts), one has to wonder where she even finds the time.
Good to Know
Back to Top
Although Raybourn says that the ultra-busy schedule of a hot new writer does not allow for much free time, she admits that she regularly allows herself spare moments throughout the day to mourn the loss of her favorite show Will & Grace.
On her web site, Raybourn boasts, "I double-majored in history and English, which means I know how to find Jesus imagery in any book you care to give me, and then I can write a fifty-page paper about it with footnotes."
A few interesting outtakes from our interview with Raybourn:
"I taught English for three years, and my favorite lesson was my Trojan War lecture. It lasted three days. Aside from teaching, I was written up for insubordination at every job I ever had. The first book I remember writing was a diary of Marie Antoinette when I was in third grade."
"I read like a fiend. I knit badly, but I just learned to purl, so I'm hoping things will pick up. I am addicted to podcasts -- I currently have 600 loaded onto my iPod that I have yet to listen to. I watch too much television, usually classic movies, the History Channel, or Will & Grace reruns. I adore astrology and am always downloading natal charts. I am a Gemini with Libra rising and a Pisces moon."
Back to Top
In the winter of 2007, Raybourn took some time out to answer some of our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
There is no one single book. Life is too short to read books you don't like, so any book I finish is one I wanted to read in the first place. Each of them has shaped me, and by extension my work, in some way. If I read gorgeous fiction, I try to figure out what makes it so appealing and how I can extend that technique into my own writing. If it is a nonfiction book, and I read lots of those, I try to incorporate what I've learned into my life, whether it's a new meditation or a philosophy that broadens what I believe. Every new book is an invitation down a new path.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Anything by Jane Austen.Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion are my favorites, but really, they're all genius. I am continually astonished by Jane Austen. There is a precision about her writing that most authors can only aspire to.
Anything by Elizabeth Peters, written under any of her pseudonyms. You cannot beat Peters for witty, fun mysteries that never stray into silliness.
Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar mysteries. They are deliciously cerebral and very cleverly done. As a fan, I miss her terribly.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Mariana, Forever Amber, Lonesome Dove, The King Must Die, I Capture the Castle -- wildly different books, but all have such perfectly rendered voices. Mockingbird and Lonesome Dove speak to my Southern roots. There are truths there that resonate with anyone raised in the South. Mariana and I Capture the Castle manage to be both funny and heart-wrenching. There is a timelessness about them both. And they would say different things to a twenty-year old reader than a forty-year old reader. I love that. Forever Amber is larger than life. I read it twenty years ago, and I can still see so many of the scenes perfectly in my mind's eye. And The King Must Die is just glorious. Mary Renault did a superb job of grounding mythology in such a way that it becomes entirely believable. Her powers of description were unrivaled. That's really what ties all of these books together: a sense of place and a unique voice. There is an immediacy about great writing that puts you in the heart of the scene, and all of these books do that.
Wuthering Heights, because Emily Brontë was ruthless. Great writers are not afraid to break a reader's heart.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Gosford Park for its pitch-perfect rendering of an English country house and its inhabitants.
Amelie and Chocolat for their charm and for reinforcing the notion that one person's magic is all it takes to change the world.
Snatch for its twisty, gritty take on storytelling and perfect characterizations.
Anything with Audrey Hepburn.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I don't go anywhere without my iPod, and it is stocked with music that is all over the map, everything from Loreena McKennitt to Panic at the Disco! to Aerosmith. I always write to music, usually soundtracks. It doesn't have to relate directly to the time period I'm writing about, but it has to evoke the proper feeling. Right now I'm writing to the second half of the Marie Antoinette soundtrack. If all else fails, I write to Bach.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Something English, no doubt. I am a huge Anglophile, and I love the comfortable exoticism of English writing.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I love to give (and receive!) the serendipitous book -- the one the recipient would have pounced on in the store, but didn't even realize was there. The latest in a beloved series, or something that is similar in tone to books they already have but new and fresh. I love new discoveries and old favorites. If all my presents came from a bookstore, I would be perfectly happy.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I have a small sacred space with candles and incense that sits opposite my desk. It usually smells of roses, but if I need a little extra energy I burn orange or tangerine oil. There is also a beautiful crystal bowl given to me by my publisher. I keep it where I can see it because it is tangible proof of their faith in me. Just above it is perched a stuffed raven. I put together enormous collage boards for each book, pasted with images that invoke the current mood of the particular story -- faces, settings, snippets of letters or poems, clothing. The current collage board is also propped where I can see it as I work. Behind me is a wall of books, including the reference materials I use most, although I am just as likely to scurry to the internet as open a book. On the desk itself I keep a julep cup full of purple pens and a tiny carved cherub's head. In my drawer I have a few toys for when I'm feeling cranky: a wind-up monkey, a Jane Austen action figure, and a boxing nun I call Sister Mary Pugnacious.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I am about as far from an overnight success as you can get. I wrote my first novel when I was 23. It took several more manuscripts and fourteen years' worth of rejection letters before I got published. The worst -- and best -- part of those rejection letters was that almost all of them contained some seed of hope. Almost every editor found something to compliment, and many of them read whole manuscripts before they decided to reject them. I was tantalizingly close to getting published for years before it actually happened.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
Well, I would love for it to be me! It is absolutely thrilling to be able to put a story on paper and have a reader connect with those characters. When someone picks up a book you have written and "gets it", there is nothing quite like it in the world. It feels as if you have made a contribution to someone's life, even if it was just taking them out of the reality of the mundane for a little while. And sometimes that is the most important thing you can do for another person.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Do not ever give up. Keep writing, write every day, and refuse rejection. If there is anything useful in the rejection letters, and there often is, use it and move on. Rejection is not always "no". Sometimes it is just "not right now".
Back to Top