Friday, January 10, 2014

Author Interview with Phoebe Stone!

The DMS was lucky enough to interview Phoebe Stone. Lizzy recently reviewed The Romeo and Juliet Code, and we are excited to learn more about her story. So, without further ado... take it away, Phoebe!


What inspired you to write The Romeo and Juliet Code?

Sometimes a first chapter will just sort of flow out of me and I can’t say I decided to write it, it just sort of happened. I am tempted to say what others have said, that a first chapter comes as a gift from the unknown. But that sounds bewildering and it isn’t at all bewildering. Maybe another way to say it is that I have a canoe and I know how to drop that canoe in the river and jump in. After that, the current takes me away and all I have to do is ride and keep the balance. I just know where the river is. I think my mother showed me.

On another level I know I wrote The Romeo and Juliet Code because I wanted to be transported to Maine on the coast, to live in a big old complicated house with odd relatives and secrets abounding. It filled a longing and a need in me!! I had also been looking for a story in which I could explore my love of England and my childhood memories there. And at the time I wrote The Romeo and Juliet Code I was reading a lot non-fiction about spies and World War II and somehow the story just rolled out of all that. Writing a novel takes a bit of good faith, good faith that the words you write and the steps you take will eventually bring you to the clearing in the woods called “the end.”

How long did it take you to write The Romeo and Juliet Code? Did the sequel, Romeo Blue, take longer to write or was it easier to write after completing the first one?

Actually the first draft of The Romeo and Juliet Code took about four months. Yes, it was easier and quicker to write than the sequel Romeo Blue. I wanted to write very short, plot driven chapters. And once I had the “voice” of Flissy down, it went pretty quickly. The revising was perhaps slower. Going back and cutting out and adding new parts is technically challenging. It’s like building a house and then removing porches and adding third floors and back staircases. The house can’t then be a mish mash. It still has to look as if all of it is just where it should be! I have grown to be pretty clever at revising. It may be like ice-skating. You can’t tell someone how to do a triple jump. It’s just something you can do after so many years of practice.

Yes, the sequel Romeo Blue was harder to write in some ways. Flissy is older in this book and is more layered and aware. The complexities of the family are clearer and yet more convoluted. I pitched this book to a slightly older audience. There’s more in it. It has more depth and more dimension. And the sequel took place in the USA during World War II and I had to be very careful to make everything accurate historically. I had to check facts constantly. I read The New York Times from those exact days as much as I could. I also read a lot of 1940’s Life Magazines. (I bought them every week on eBay.) I wanted very much to write a sweeping love/war story with the second book, a sort of larger piece that encompassed not only the lives of the Bathburn family but the life of the world around them at that time. Romeo Blue was much more ambitious, and it was a book with a wider scope. Harder to write!


You write books of different genres. You must do a lot of research for your historical fiction books. What was your research process like for The Romeo Code and Romeo Blue? Was there any aspect of your research that was the most interesting?

I did tons of research for both books. I visited Maine for long weekends and went to every museum, every historical society, every beach and cliff walk I could find. I even visited a bed and breakfast that had once been a Coast Guard station. I talked to people in Maine who had been around Portland during the war and joyously wrote everything down. My husband and I were staying at a B&B on the water and one of the other guests told me at breakfast about a spy whom he had seen arrested when he was a boy. The woman spy had been hanging her colorful laundry in a certain way (sideways or upside down) on the clothesline creating a code for a U-boat off shore. I got very interested in all sorts of codes when I was writing the story. And began to build my book as a kind of box within a box within a box, everything connected. Writing a book is like forming a puzzle anyway with interlocking pieces…Each piece fits into the following piece and in the end you either have a nice smooth finished object or you don’t. If you don’t, you won’t have to buy kindling for your fire in the fireplace for a while!

Where did you come up with the characters: Flissy and Gideon?

I was in school for a year in England and I had a very charming fifth grade teacher named Mr. James who teased me about my American accent. He was terribly funny and very British.  I can still remember his stories and his funny delivery. I adored him and he was good to me, giving me special attention and helping me relearn how to write, calculate and think in British English! Uncle Gideon is most definitely based on Mr. James, his humor and his warmth. I still have my notebooks from those days with pages of addition, subtraction and division all done with pen and nib dipped in a pot of ink!  Oh but Mr. James is lost to me now. I went back to England to my old school in Sidlesham, West Sussex a few years ago and no one could tell me who he was or where he went. There are some teachers in your life that you will always love and be grateful for. Mr. James illuminated and transformed the world for me and I wish I could thank him.

Bronte Parsonage 
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?

Well, when I was in England as a child I read all of E. Nesbit’s books. She was a very big deal then and there. I remember sitting by our little coal fireplace in Cambridge and reading those books. Of course I also loved The Secret Garden too and meant for The Romeo and Juliet Code and Romeo Blue to be a kind of tribute to that wonderful book. I also loved the Bronte sisters (Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights etc.) when I was a little older. I went back to see their house in Northern England when I was there recently. I love to visit the houses of authors and artists.  There is no better way to sense a writer’s spirit. Houses are such entire works of art, whole worlds, vessels for a life!!  I just love houses!!! Can’t you tell from my books?

If you could live during any time period in history, when would it be? Why?

Well, I am pretty much in love with France during the late 1800s when art was so incredibly important that people would come in droves to big exhibitions. I love the décor and style in general from that era. I am obviously a complete romantic!!

Oh but then I love England too. I got to experience England in the late 1950’s as a child and I feel so lucky to have been there then.  It was so very English then. That was before people used airplanes for general travel and the ocean was a huge divider. Thatched cottages were very common. Businessmen still wore bowler hats in London. The place was unspoiled. It wasn’t at all like America. Now we’ve just mixed up everything and we’re all the same. It’s not as much fun!

If you could befriend a character from any of your books, who would you befriend? Why?

Hmm, that’s a tough question. That’s kind of like having to pick your favorite child. I guess I like Granddaddy from Deep Down Popular because he was so fiercely loving and honest and willing to fight against big corporations even though it proved hopeless. I like Flissy Bathburn’s (The Romeo and Juliet Code) ability to love at all costs too. She’s a meddler and she can’t contain her own enthusiasm even though she’s been taught otherwise and she keeps breaking her own inner rules. She can’t stay inside her borders, and I find that appealing.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?

I want to live on the ocean. I think that’s why I wrote The Romeo and Juliet Code and Romeo Blue. I want to hear the ocean roaring and crashing. I don’t want to live near a quiet ocean. I want to live near a noisy, wild, dramatic ocean! I don’t want to swim in the water. I’m not a swimmer or a sunbather. I just want to hear it and see it and feel it. It’s a little bit scary and it reminds me of what is important. Perhaps I would like to be living on the ocean in England or France. Then I could truly get lost in another culture as well. I guess I am ready to lose myself again!


Are you currently working on a book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Well, yes I am always working on a book. And um, I guess I can’t say much about it. If I talked about it now, it would pop the magic bubble! I have to wait until the first draft is done…So until then, mums the word! Hmm, I wonder where that saying came from. I should look up its origin. But that’s another story!











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31 comments:

  1. Great interview!

    If I could live anywhere I'd probably choose Aruba. It's my favorite island.

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  2. I love this interview Phoebe sums up England in the late 1950s perfectly. I can still remember the excitement caused by my dad’s boss (the owner of the farm) flying to The! West! Indies! That was how we said The! West! Indies! back then it was such a big deal. The Romeo and Juliet code sounds like something I have to read.

    Can I live in two places? I love England so don't want to leave but on the other hand I would love to live in Australia with my family. If only I could afford two homes!

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  3. This is a great interview. I loved The Romeo and Juliet Code and the Romeo Code when I read them. I sure hope the new book is a continuation of Flissy Bathburn's story. I think I am living where i want to now in Manhattan, but I wouldn't mind another year living in London. That would be fun, too.

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  4. Such an interesting author interview and so thought provoking - I had never considered a second book might be more difficult to write in that characters (especially young ones) may well have become more layered and aware.

    Wonderful giveaway. If I could live anywhere in the world? I quite like the idea of a remote Greek island but only if it had good internet access.

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  5. I love hearing about inspirations for stoires

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  6. I suppose, though I'd love to live somewhere on the beach (with warm water), the truth is that I'd probably choose to go home to MS so I could be close to my family.

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  7. Wonderful interview! Love the name 'Flissy'!

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  8. Hi everybody! I just loved reading your wonderful comments. Isn't it interesting how most of us want to live near the water and I don't even like getting wet and cold!

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  9. I loved this interview...I really need to get this book!

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  10. If I could live anywhere it would be somewhere warm and tropical like Hawaii. I loved well researched, historical reads and this sounds like one I would enjoy, I do love books set around the WWII era.

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  11. I'm tempted to say here - in Florida. But, if no economic or political or weather anything was difficult or different in the way I live now then I would probably live in the UK. Or somewhere in the U.S. that has a gorgeous country side. There's something marvelous about living with wide pastures or hills... also I need the sea near me too.

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  12. Thanks for the great interview, Jess! I enjoyed meeting Phoebe and learning about her books. I love to hear about other writers' journeys. Wishing her all the best. Have a lovely weekend! :)

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  13. I actually really like where I live now. But I would like to be closer to the ocean too. Somewhere far away from lots of people, like in the country with green rolling hills and cows and horses.

    Great interview! I love England too. And the ocean.

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  14. What a lovely interview and I love her canoe analogy. If I could live anywhere it would be near the ocean but with a rural setting. I grew up along the eastern coast and the shore was my second home, but I prefer the empty beaches with cliffs and pines.

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  15. I would love to visit Maine and live by the ocean one day. Sounds like an interesting plot--great interview!

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  16. Wonderful interview! How lucky to have visited England in your youth. It is sad that the world has become more homogenized and each country less distinct. Best of luck with your release.

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  17. What a lovely interview! I love how you still remember your teacher, Phoebe--he seems like someone special! And I'd definitely want to live by the ocean. But I like it warm and with the ability to swim--but mostly just warmer than it is here right now :)

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    1. Thank you Meradeth and everybody else...I actually remember all the people who were kind to me when I was little. It was dazzling to me when an adult took the time to be charming to a child.

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  18. Great interview. I remember seeing the initial post here that made me interested in the book. It was great to read more about the author and what inspired her.

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  19. I adore this book and so enjoyed learning more about where it came from. Thanks so much for the interview!

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    1. Like you, Phoebe, I want to live on the ocean.

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    2. Oh hi Barbara. Thanks for your words about my book, We must be kindred spirits!

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  20. I have a bowler hat EXACTLY like the one in the picture! I love it. :) I would love to live in Norway during the Medieval Ages. :) VIKINGS!!! ERIK THE RED!!!! (I would be Erik the Read ;) )

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  21. Your book sounds fantastic! I'd definitely live in a house on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi in Wisconsin. I know just the house...

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  22. This is a great interview! Awesome questions and answers! I love The Secret Garden, and I've always wanted to read Wuthering Heights :) The Romeo and Juliet Code sounds really good, too -- thank you for the giveaway! There are so many places I would love to be -- London, Paris, Vostok, Sydney, etc. -- but if I had to pick one, I would probably live somewhere where it would snow like Boston or Denver. Magnificent post!! <3

    ~Katertot @ A Belle's Tales

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  23. Oh my, this sounds great! Nice interview and cool giveaway! Thank you!

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  24. If I didn't have to work or go anywhere, then I would love to live in a cabin on the mountain, near a lake and some hiking trails. I would need a good spot for my garden though!
    Dede

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  25. Always good to meet another fellow writer who loves to live by the sea/ocean. And France and England in the 50s are places and periods I'd love to be in. I have read about The Romeo& Juliet Code and hope to get to it soon. It was great hearing how Phoebe learned about the kid who was a spy at the B&B!

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  26. Great interview! If I could live anywhere in the world I do believe it would be in the mountains of Sicily. I love it's history and it's way of life.

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  27. Thanks for the giveaway and great interview!
    If I could live anywhere in the world...I'd definitely choose to live in France. I would try all the pastries and go to Paris as it is the city of love & fashion. :)

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  28. The coast of Maine has always seemed so romantic to me.

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