Today I’m welcoming Anna Lee Huber to my series of author interviews. Anna is the author of the Lady Darby mysteries which take place in 19th century Scotland. The first was The Anatomist’s Wife and the second is the newly released Mortal Arts.
Elizabeth: Welcome, Anna. Can you tell us about your Lady Darby mysteries?
Anna: My Lady Darby mysteries are set in 1830 Scotland and feature Kiera, Lady Darby, a gifted portrait artist and the scandalous widow of a famous anatomist. When a woman is murdered at her sister’s estate in the wilds of northern Highlands, Kiera is forced to team up with gentlemen inquiry agent Sebastian Gage to find the culprit. In future books they will also join forces to solve cases of murder and mayhem.
Elizabeth: When plotting your story, how do you balance the elements of the mystery and the development of the romance between Lady Darby and Mr. Gage?
Anna: Since the Lady Darby novels are at their heart mysteries, the mystery definitely must come first. I usually plot all of the main parts of the mystery—the turning points and major discoveries—and then I weave in the other elements, like the romance and individual character development, trying to match the tone and theme. I continue adding greater detail for all the story elements until I feel my plot is complete.
Elizabeth: Lady Darby is an artist, and it helps her see the world a little differently than the other characters. Does Lady Darby get this from you? Are you a painter or involved in the visual arts?
Anna: I am not a visual artist, though my husband and one of my brothers are. I’m constantly picking their brain about little details. What I am is a musician and a writer, and I’m often struck by how similar the artistic mind is, no matter the medium of expression. It’s amazing how much translates from one type of art to another—the mindset, the worries, the worldview. It definitely gives me greater insight into Lady Darby.
Elizabeth: What first made you interested in this time period and place as a setting for your novels?
Anna: I love the 19th century. It fascinates me. And I adore England and Scotland. So I knew I wanted to set my historical mystery series then and there. But I didn’t choose the exact year and location until after I crafted Lady Darby’s backstory. Once I realized that she had unwillingly accrued knowledge from her anatomist husband by being forced to sketch his dissections for an anatomy textbook he was writing, I knew that 1830 would be the perfect year. It’s just after the trial of Burke and Hare—Edinburgh body snatchers turned murderers—and two years before the Anatomy Act of 1832. This time period gives me lots of juicy bits of history to explore, as well as exploring the fear and unrest felt by the general public regarding the trade of body snatchers and the actions of anatomists. I chose to set The Anatomist’s Wife in the Highlands because I needed an isolated location, and because I simply love the beauty and melancholy of the terrain. Mortal Arts take place just north of Edinburgh, and I chose this spot because it suited my plot.
Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your stories?
Anna: My stories are not based on real historical figures, though sometimes they are woven into the periphery. Instead I use the details of history to build and inform my plots, trying to remain as historically accurate as possible. I also try very hard to make my characters true to their time period, with some fictional license. I like to include a Historical Note at the end of my novels to explain what’s real, and what historical facts I might have altered in some way.
Elizabeth: What is your writing process?
Anna: My writing process is continually evolving, and I suspect it always will be. Once I have an idea for a plot, I do intensive research into the history surrounding it and brainstorm possibilities. Then I plot my novel, starting with the main points—inciting incidents, turning points, etc.—and progressing to ever smaller details. By the time my chart is done, the story is pretty well fleshed out. I also create a character arc and diagram for each main character and for Lady Darby and Gage’s relationship, taking into account motivation and fears, and other important psychological details. Then I write each scene, each important bit of information discovered, each emotional moment on an individual index card. I prefer to do it that way so that I can shuffle them later if needed. I don’t like to over-plot. If I feel like I’ve gone into too much detail, then I feel like I’ve already written the story and it bores me to do so again. I also like to leave room for spontaneity. After all that, I’m ready to write.
Elizabeth: Where will we next find Lady Darby? What are you working on now?
Anna: I am finishing Lady Darby Book 3, A Grave Matter, which is due out in July 2014. After the events in Mortal Arts, Kiera retreats to her childhood home in the Borders region to heal. But when a man is murdered and an old grave at an abbey disturbed, she must once again team up with Gage to solve the crimes.
Elizabeth: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.
Anna: I grew up part of a large family in a small town in northwest Ohio. I wrote my first story in the fourth grade and have pretty much been writing ever since. My second love is music, and I graduated from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a Bachelor’s degree in Music with a minor in Psychology. My husband and I own a web development company and currently live in northern Indiana with our troublemaking tabby cat, Pita. When not writing, I love to read, sing, travel, and spend time with my large extended family.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Anna: I like rocky coasts, like Cornwall or Maine.
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Anna: Depends on where I’m hiking. If the terrain interests me, I’d choose that. Otherwise, shopping.
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Anna: I play the piano, but I absolutely love the violin. I’ve always wanted to learn to play. If I was choosing a concert to attend or a CD to listen to, violin would likely win out.
Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?
Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Anna: Either if it’s emotionally intense or moving, but I if I had to choose, a love scene.
For more information about Anna and her books, visit her website:
or find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorAnnaLeeHuber
or Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnnaLeeHuber
Elizabeth: Thanks to Anna Lee Huber for visiting today.
Anna: Thank you so much for having me!