Interview With M.K. Tod: New Historic Novel Time and Regret launches today!
Today, August 16th, M.K. Tod, an historic fiction writer I admire a great deal, launches her third novel, Time and Regret through her publisher, Lake Union. Here’s a quick descriptive paragraph:
A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her.
From her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a many very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harbouring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.
Her first book, Unravelled, debuted in 2013. From the very first chapter, it contains some of the most eerily beautiful and yet brutal depictions of the Great War (WWI) as her character is forced to remember his days of action in France. The reminiscences become frequent and troubling for both he and his wife. The secrets spawned in that desperate time continue to infect the lives of her characters in deeply intimate, nuanced ways. The book eventually won an Editor’s Choice award from the Historical Novel Society and won scores of loyal readers for its author. I’m very pleased today, to have the opportunity of discussing how a novel this powerful comes together with Mary Tod, its author.
Richard: Mary, I understand you lived as an expat in Hong Kong of all places. The amazing blend of cultures must have been thrilling to navigate!
Mary: Thanks you for the very kind introduction, Richard. And yes, my husband and I spent three years living in Hong Kong. Beyond the opportunities that city gave us to see a different part of the world was the chance to live as a visible minority. Definitely a life-altering experience. Best of all, while there I found a new career as an author. A totally unexpected outcome for this math and science grad!
Richard: So you are a converted geek then. Excellent! When did you truly begin to think you’d be adept at writing fiction? Was it your travels, the words themselves, your characters’ unfolding lives or the research that was your primary muse?
Mary: Before moving to Hong Kong, I had a career in business. So, being in a foreign place with no job, few friends, and a husband who travelled almost every week was both challenging and, to be honest, lonely. I had to find something meaningful to do. You’re an author, Richard, so you know that many people feel they have a story to share. I was no exception. In my case, I had a story ending based on my grandmother who died on the way to the church for her second wedding. I didn’t know what else was going to be in the story, but I was sure I had a great ending.
Armed with several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and the Internet, I began researching the times of my grandparents’ lives, a journey that involved World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. After a few weeks, I was hooked. After a few months, I was obsessed with WWI and the notion that my grandfather had been there. Every detail I read became personal.
By the way, in Unravelled, the ultimate novel I wrote, the woman modeled on my grandmother does not die on the way to her second wedding!
Richard: Was there a specific moment when the idea for the new novel flashed into your brain, or was it a more subtle, accumulation of inspired stories?
Mary: I love telling this story! A few years ago, my husband Ian and I travelled to northern France to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One. That trip was an amazing opportunity to see firsthand the areas where hundreds of thousands of soldiers experienced such wrenching horror and devastating losses. One night we were at a small café in the seaside town of Honfleur. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.
“What are you writing?” Ian said.
“An idea for a story,” I replied.
Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, Ian persisted. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”
Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.
Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favourite genre. In fact, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.
“What kind of mystery?”
And that was the birth of Time & Regret. Needless to say, the bottle of wine was soon empty
Richard: Time and Regret also explores remembrance of wartime. The Great War, which my own grandfather also served in, was the most terrible destruction and loss of life in known history, to that point. It became the “War to end all wars”, in the public psyche, yet it wasn’t quite twenty years later that Europe began to feel catastrophe looming again. We’ve known wars on smaller scales ceaselessly, in my own lifetime. Do you think mankind will ever find a way to stop?
Mary: The optimist in me would love to say yes, however, I believe the answer is no. There’s something in mankind’s psyche, mankind’s basic DNA if you will, that spawns a desire for power and influence. In the wrong hands, those desires often result in corruption and greed, manipulation of those who are weaker or less educated, dynastic ambitions, territorial threats. When confronted with tyranny of this nature, leaders from other countries are drawn in to defend the world order—some would say status quo—and another conflict unfolds.
Richard: I suppose we can always hope for a break in the cycles, someday. With regard to your readers, who are M.K. Tod’s most loyal followers? Do they correspond or make connection?
Mary: I don’t yet have a group of what I would call my most loyal followers. However, I do know that many of my readers are women and a large portion live in the United States. What delights me most is readers who take the time to send an email with their thoughts about one of my novels. And, I’m truly grateful to those who take the time to post a review on one or more of the book review sites. I respond to every one. Not long ago, an 86-year-old man sent me an email saying how grateful he was for the memories Unravelled had prompted. Interactions like these are the lifeblood of writing.
Richard: I agree wholeheartedly. I just wish they occurred more frequently. I think I’ve only had three of them over the last seven years, so here’s a shout out to readers to let your writers know how their books make you feel! When you’re immersed in a first draft, do you think about your eventual readers? Do you make any particular effort to guide a novel in the works, towards them, or is that reserved, in your process, for after the draft has been completed?
Mary: I suppose like many authors I write stories that are like the ones I enjoy reading. Which means a bit of romance, a woman who is either already strong or becomes strong, and a significant dose of conflict. What surprises me even now is the war component. I’ve worked hard to bring war scenes to life without alienating female readers and to help readers understand the causes of conflicts like WWI and appreciate the way ordinary men and women were affected. I definitely tweak the story during the editing process to align with some of the insights gleaned from my reader surveys.
Richard: A common thread running through all your work seems to be the extremes human beings endure and the secrets and lies that permeate our ability to cope. Can you elaborate on your thinking about how this affects us?
Mary: We all lie and we all keep secrets. My first three novels deal with the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of such secrets and lies. One never knows when a secret will emerge to wreak havoc – a circumstance that makes for good stories. I suppose there’s a moral angle to consider, however, I didn’t set out to moralize!
In terms of the extremes people are willing to endure, this was the theme that struck me the most when I began to research World War I. I wanted to honor soldiers like my grandfather who served their countries under conditions that no one should be forced to endure. Every time I think of it, I become angry all over again.
Richard: With the cover for Time and Regret, I see similarity in subject and color to the cover of your first novel. Is this a branding concept, or just based upon similarities in the books? How much involvement do you have with the designs of your book covers?
Mary: The cover for Time and Regret was designed by the team at Lake Union. They asked me for input on covers I like and for my thoughts on what the cover should convey—in this case a sense of past and present given the dual timeline involved in the story. I don’t think they set out to create a consistent look and feel with my previous novels, however, I’m very pleased with the result. The covers for Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence were a collaboration between me and my cover designer, Jenny Quinlan.
Richard: They all seem very effective, to me at least. Most writers I know tend to juggle a few works in progress at a time, eventually succumbing to the one with the most immediate clout. I’m right now trying to dodge two myself! What are you working on right now, and have you fallen prey to a timeframe or deadline?
Mary: I’m working on a new novel set in 1870s Paris. Why Paris? Because I love the city and it has such an aura of elegance, style and romance. Why 1870s? After three novels set during WWI, I knew I had to change time periods. I’ve taken two characters from Lies Told in Silence and gone back to a period when they would have been young women. Happily, this is also a period of great turmoil in French history!
Many thanks for your great questions, Richard. I’m so delighted to be on your blog today.
Richard: The pleasure is all mine, Mary. I hope we’ve brought your work to new readers, today. I’m sure your existing readers will be very anxious to read Time and Regret as well as your Paris novel, when that breaks. I hope we’ll discuss that one when the time comes, as well. If anyone has a comment or question for this author, please post it below. Here is some advance praise for Time and Regret…
“Hugely satisfying – impossible to put down.” — Elizabeth St. John author of The Lady of the Tower
“Time and Regret is something as rare as a treasure hunt with heart. Between the gritty trenches of World War I, the romantic allure of present-day France, and the cut-throat New York arts scene, M.K. Tod has spun a gripping family drama that delves deeply into the effects of war on the human soul and takes us on an intriguing journey of self-discovery. It is a book rich in hard-won wisdom and crucial historical insights, and Tod’s perceptive voice leads us unfalteringly through some of the darkest chapters in human history to a very satisfying conclusion.” — Anne Fortier author of The Lost Sisterhood
Amazon Canada http://www.amazon.ca/Time-Regret-M-K-Tod/dp/1503938409/
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET is available August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.