Debut novelist Beatriz Williams says she has been hiding her fiction writing for years. A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London, writing on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant. Now, as the “at-home producer of small persons,” (four, to be exact) she’s written a first novel that has gotten dazzling reviews.
She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry.
You can visit her online at http://www.beatrizwilliams.com, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/beatrizwilliamsauthor, and on Twitter at @bcwilliamsbooks. Or come to see her at R. J. Julia on May 24 at 7 p.m.
Library Journal gave it a starred review and wrote, “Outstanding…With a complicated romance, intriguing suspense, a dashing hero, a feisty heroine, and a fantastic but plausible time-travel explanation, this book will hit the mark for readers wanting something exceptional for their summer reading.” And Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and called it a “a delicious story about the ultimate romantic fantasy: love that not only triumphs over time and common sense, but, once Kate overcomes Julian’s WWI-era ideas about honor, includes mind-blowing sex.”
We at Books New Haven are delighted to welcome Beatriz to our pages.
Q: Tell us about your new book.
A: Overseas is a sweeping love story, alternating between France during the First World War and contemporary Manhattan during the financial crisis, in which a young woman unravels the mystery of a dashing British infantry officer who seems to have known – and loved – her before.
Q: Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?
A: I’ve been obsessed with the Downton Abbey-eque world of the First World War, and the carnage it wreaked on Western culture and psychology, for most of my adult life. At one point a few years ago, an image pepped into my head of a brilliant young man, an officer in the mold of Roland Leighton and Rupert Brooke, walking the streets of modern Manhattan. I couldn’t seem to get him out of my mind – the story kept building and evolving, until at last I knew I had to get it down on paper.
Q: Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?
A: Well, I certainly didn’t welcome that first idea! I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction and never even attempted a modern setting, but Julian Ashford was just so intriguing to me, a man of the Romantic period dealing with all the irony and cynicism of the modern world, that he won me over. I knew this had to be a love story – the setting and Julian himself seemed to beg for it – so I set about creating the most rich and compelling love story I could. Once the pieces all clicked into place, about a year and a half after the initial idea, I sat down and the words just poured out.
Q: Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?
A: I used to be something of a pantser, with only a basic outline in mind, but writing Overseas really transformed my process. Not that I’ll ever have every scene worked out before I begin – so much inspiration hits in a serendipitous way, when you’re immersed in the story—but I’ve learned to let a good idea cook for a while, until I know all the major turning points, all the key moments, and then I sit down and write like a fury. It’s an incredibly exhilarating, exhausting, and rewarding experience.
Q: How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?
A: As a mother of four young children, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for my muse to visit! Nothing gets you out of a writing rut like hard, disciplined writing, so I go somewhere where I don’t have any distractions. I turn off the wifi, sit myself down with a cup of coffee, and make my fingers move. The first few paragraphs can be rough going, but then I’m immersed in the world and the words just flow.
Q: What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?
A: I’ve always been a fairly solitary writer – I think it comes from being a perfectionist, not wanting to show my work off until it’s as close to perfect as I can make it. I have enough experience now to know when something’s drastically wrong before I get too far, so the rest is just a matter of closing up plot holes, inspecting each sentence, polishing and polishing. I never stop polishing, even at the page proof stage, which drives my editor crazy! I have a wonderful collaborative relationship with my agent, who vets my ideas and helps me out when I’m stuck, and then it’s up to my editor and proofreaders to make sure I don’t publicly embarrass myself.
Q: Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?
A: Hoo, boy! It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s especially true when you’re writing in the first person; I think non-writers don’t always understand how you can completely inhabit another person’s skin as you’re creating a story. Now, I’m not denying that I frequently rely on my own experiences and passions when writing; that’s part of the process of creation, that everything’s filtered through the author’s frame of reference. When I was writing Overseas, I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t want to stop and research new industries, locations, and forms of exercise, so I placed my characters on Wall Street, made Kate a runner, and set part of the book in Lyme. But while we do share certain characteristics, I’ve always experienced Kate as her own person, as a like-minded friend or a sister who happens to be channeling her story through me. Of course, try convincing others!
Q: Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?
A: I know we’re all tired of authors saying that their characters are composites, but it really is true! There’s only one secondary character in Overseas who’s genuinely based on a single real-life acquaintance, and since I’ve only met that person once, I think I’m safe. I do frequently borrow bits and pieces of real-life conversations and events, though, so I’m more worried that someone will read a sentence and think, “Oh, this character’s supposed to be me!” when that’s not the case at all.
Q: Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?
A: Absolutely not! Now that my kids are a little older, nothing gets me out of bed once my head hits the pillow. But I will lie awake thinking about a scene, and so far I haven’t lost anything by morning.
Q: Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?
A: Housework. And I hate housework! But when you’re stuck on a scene, that pile of unfolded laundry can look surprisingly inviting, which is why I try to get myself out of the house for a few hours each day to write.
Q: What about being a writer has made you truly happy?
A: I love the fact that I can get paid to do the one thing I’ve ever really wanted to do for a living. I finish a manuscript now, and I’m filled with that exuberant buzz of creativity, and I think about how lucky I am that this is my job. Best of all, it’s something I can do as a full-time, hands-on mother of four. I never have to feel guilty that I’m not giving both sides of my life my full attention.
Q: What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?
A: Persistence, persistence, and humility. Never make the mistake of thinking you know your craft perfectly, or that your book can’t be improved. Read widely and deeply, write every day if you can, and remember that good storytelling is at least as important as good writing.