The time she had laryngitis

Posted July 25, 2014 by Stacee in Signings | 0 Comments

I met Deborah Harkness last year during SDCC, so it seemed only fitting that I would get see her again this year. Somehow I got approved for The Book of Life on NetGalley and I devoured it.

On the day of the signing, we were coming from SDCC and got down to Warwick’s around 6:45. I had a reserved seat, so I skipped standing in line and just settled in on the bench and waited.

I got to my seat at 7:10 or so and was immediately told that I could get in line to have my books signed. Deborah was already at the table and they were taking people row by row to get their books signed beforehand.

I got up to Deborah and thanked her for coming. I asked if she had survived SDCC. She said that her panel was the next day and that she was looking forward to it. I told her that I loved The Book of Life and she said she was so happy to hear it.  After the books were signed, we were able to take a photo with her. Warwick’s had one of the employees ready with cameras. We took a quick photo and then I went back to my seat to wait.


Deborah came out and mentioned that she had a touch of laryngitis so she had to put her teacher voice away. She thanked everyone for coming to support her, especially when she was a history teacher who wrote a vampire book.


She had the people who had read the book raise their hands. When she saw that people hadn’t read it yet, she told everyone to keep that in mind when asking questions.

There are 3 MCs in the books: Diana, Matthew and Ashmole 782. She talked about the series and how Diana’s vision expanded like a circle of light to show different parts to the reader. The circle of light gets smaller in The Book of Life.

She then had a friend read the passage of the book.

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I get such a kick out of hearing the words I wrote while in my pajamas read by someone else.

One of the things I did in the first chapter was try to show Diana and Matthew’s homecoming through several pairs of eyes. 1592 changed Diana and Matthew. As Gallowglass said, she is not the witch she was in the beginning. She’s grown into her powers. She really comes out of her cocoon of grief with both arms swinging.

Then there was a reading from chapter 3.


So you can see that they’re going to have an interesting time of it since that’s chapter 3. Often I’m asked what are your books about. There are a few themes that are important. One was to accept what you are and not run away but embrace it. Once was to have empathy for those who are different from us. The last one was about family. The advertising for Discovery was “a tale of forbidden love” which probably worked better than “a tale of two dysfunctional families”.

The journey Diana and Matthew take in book three are about how important it is to have family around you. Now I want to thank you all for taking the Bishops and De Clermonts into your house and your hearts.  For remembering them and rereading about them and loving them.

Who is your favorite character to write?

That’s a fun twist on the question. That’s definitely Gallowglass. Whenever I’m having a bad day, he always makes me laugh. A very close second is Miriam. She says all of the things that I’d love to say because she doesn’t care.

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Is there any way that it may continue?

This is basically a question of is it really a trilogy. Yes, it is. The story of Diana and Matthew and Ashmole 782 is definitely finished. I have a lot of stories, but I don’t know what is going to come out first. I need to take a bit of a break, a bit of a breather, but yes. I don’t want to tell you that I have something written before I do.

Why do you seem to love Elizabethan England so much?

I’ve loved it since I was about 7. My mother is from England and we went back and it was just all over. They could take me to any castle and I was done. I don’t know what sort of alchemical love thing happened when I fell in love with a time period. It’s also my field of study.

During your research did you find anything interesting?

I’ve been studying alchemy and Elizabethan England since I was in college. When people ask me how long it’s taken me to write the book, I’ll say 30 years. In grad school, you don’t really learn the velocity of a horse riding on frozen ice.

There were days that I would learn something and it was sort of eerie. One of them is on the front page of your book. The snake and the firedrake, that’s a real alchemy symbol.


How do you make the transition from academic writing to fiction?

I wrote from 1982 to 2008 without any plan to write something else. I love teaching and I love taking complicated ideas and making them accessible to people. I do see my writing as teaching, just now I have a really big classroom. I’m just taking something I love and sharing it.

They’re both really difficult. I just tried really hard for the fun and the story tell itself. I’ve learned that a little bit of history goes a long way. I have to remember that if it were modern times, would I go into 7 pages of description for a table?

HBO or movie and who’s playing Matthew?

In spring of 2011, WB optioned the trilogy when Discovery had been out for 3 months. They got it for 18 months and had to either put it into production or let it go. We decided to let it go because we realized that it couldn’t be made into a 2 hour movie. When it came up again, I was full blown working on book 3, so I decided to let it sit on the shelf for a bit. I’ve just started conversations with interested parties now.

I’m not going to say who would be good for the part. Partly because I don’t know how how a movie goes. Do you know how hard it is to get your family to sit down to dinner? I can’t fathom getting 185 people to commit to one movie for 3 months.

I also won’t say anything because I’d hate to have the actor cast as Matthew to sit down for his first press tour interview and someone say, “did you know that at Warwick’s in 2014, Deborah Harkness told everyone who she wanted to play Matthew and it wasn’t you?”

How did you decide what locations to include?

I lived in upstate NY and I went to Oxford. If you think about Discovery, Diana and Matthew don’t really leave the house. For Shadow, I had to actually to travel. I focused on smells, but as a novelist, I was able to focus I bumblebees for 3 hours. It was fabulous.

Then I remembered that Matthew went to Prague in the springtime, so I got on a plane and went. I spent 10 days walking up and down the street, just to get the feeling. There’s sensory details that I think need to be part of it, not just a house by house description.

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Did the idea of Ashmole 782 come from you finding a lost manuscript?

I really found a lost manuscript at the Bodleian. I looked for it for years and when I finally stopped looking for it, I found it. I was looking for something else and found it instead. It sort of formed the idea of how magic is in a library. No matter how much I thought I knew, there’s so many magical things that happen. For the record, Ashmole 782 is real, it is missing. I’ve called for it many times.

What would be your witchcraft reference book?

It works probably be an alchemical text called {I have no idea}. Diana reads it and it’s just beautiful.

When you first started, did you ultimately know where the arc was going to go?

I had an idea of the trajectory, but there were very surprising things that happened along the way, mostly characters. Like there was no Hamish. Or Gallowglass. And I had to change a lot because he takes up a lot of space.

As I was writing, some characters became more important and some were less important.


What was your favorite book to write?

Hands down: Shadow. They are all very different. They’re like children, each one is unique.

What was special about Discovery was that I was anonymous and I could write it without expectation. Also, I was meeting these people for the first time. Shadow was my time period and I loved it. Book of Life was challenging because I’ve learned my favorite thing about writing is creating more characters. If you’re going to have a trilogy that is actually three books, I had to stop doing that.

In terms of emotion, I cried so much and laughed so much with book 3.

How did the idea come to you?

I had just finished a scholarly work on Elizabethan England, which basically me at I was in the library for 8 hours a day. I went on vacation in 2008 and in the airport saw that there was an entire wall on books with vampires, witches, werewolves and shapeshifters. What happened when I was in the library?

Then it turned into what would my vampire neighbor be like? He couldn’t have fangs because I would definitely know. And why do these women want to be witches? Don’t they know historically that it ends badly? In between classes I would keep thinking about it. If you were a vampire, how would you date? I would just make up stories and eventually these 2 imaginary characters started talking to each other and I started writing it down.

How do you work around your school schedule?

As a scholar, you’re always writing, so we become adept at working around writing. Basically, writing is a lot like yoga. It’s a daily practice.

I just have to write a word. Maybe a couple of words. If I ended up with a couple of pages every day, that would be great. After a couple of months, I had Discovery. I think that when people decide to write a book, they sit down and psyche themselves out about it. All they have to do is write one word. Every book that has ever been written was done one word at a time.

The Q&A was finished with that question and since my books were signed, I was able to leave.

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For the last 3 years or so, I’ve really only read YA. A Discovery of Witches was very highly recommended to me and now I will do the same to you. If you haven’t read them, you’re really missing out. I cannot suggest them enough.  Not only are the books amazing, Deborah really is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

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