A.B. Michaels | New Release | The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker

Today, enjoy a trip back to the Golden Age of American history, with a fascinating historical read set in New York in the early twentieth century. First a blurb, and then a wonderful Author Chat with A.B. Michaels!
The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker
(The Golden City, Book Six)
By A.B. Michaels

While exploring the remote possibility of contacting her dead husband through a spirit medium, a young widow is pronounced insane and committed to an asylum against her will. As she struggles to escape the nightmare she’s been thrust into, she is stripped of everything she holds dear, including her identity and her reason to live. The fight to reclaim what is rightfully hers will test every aspect of her being, up to and including her sanity. Is she up to the task, or has her grip on reality already slipped away?
Book Six of The Golden City series, The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker explores two major forces of early twentieth-century America: the religious movement called Spiritualism and treatment of the mentally ill. Like all of A.B. Michaels’ novels, it is a stand-alone read.
Series Buy Links (In order):
The Art of Love
The Depth of Beauty
The Promise
The Price of Compassion
Josephine’s Daughter
The Madness of Mrs Whittaker
Thanks for coming on my blog to chat, A.B. To start with, what do you think are common traps for aspiring writers?
In my experience, aspiring writers face three main hurdles. The first is deciding what form in which to write (literary? genre? short story? novel?). It’s important to understand why you want to write in order to figure out what you want to write. If your goal is strictly to make money, for example, that will probably lead you to write something other than, say, the nuances of neo-gothic architecture.
The next challenge (and this, more than anything else, is what separates would-be writers from authors, imho) is sticking with it when your interest and energy begin to flag. Even when it feels like a slog, you have to keep butt in chair to get it done. Ask any quilter (including me) about this: most of us have many UFO’s (unfinished objects) because we lost interest or got to a difficult part of the process. Well, those quilts won’t finish themselves! The same is true for your writing project.
Finally, it’s tough but you must know when to stop “tweaking” and put your creation out into the world (or not). Whether you are seeking an agent or publisher, or have decided to independently publish, there comes a point when you must say, “This is the best work I can produce right now, and it’s time to let others judge it.” If you don’t have the courage to push your little chickie out of the nest, you’ll never see it fly!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal and why?
For sure, it’s the elephant, because they’re both the strongest and among the most intelligent mammals on earth. The females are family-oriented, very protective, and help others. They are able to express emotion (and can even identify themselves in a mirror!). Even though most of them can’t see that well (like me!) their hearing and sense of smell is tremendous. And yes, they do have incredible memories, which is really useful when you are trying to put all the elements of a novel together. Oh, one more thing: they eat a lot!
How important is working with your editor or beta readers, and how would you describe your relationship?
I work with an editor, and I sincerely believe it’s the most important money you can spend as an independent author. Although I’ve never met nor seen the woman who edits my books (she lives in New York and I live in Idaho), I rely on her to honestly (and kindly) point out the problems I cannot see because I’m too close to the work. We work well together because I know she won’t lead me astray, and she knows my goal is to produce the very best story I can, even if it means killing some of my “darlings.” I incorporate about 85 percent of her suggestions; the rest is usually a matter of style or just plain stubbornness on my part. Often, I will keep something, reread it later, and confess, “Ah, I see what she means.” And I make the change.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I work in a specific time period (America’s Gilded Age), so I have collected several books that cover that era. Sometimes I read simply to immerse myself in the history, but often I’ve come up with an idea (or read something that triggered an idea) and then I’ll zero in on finding the details that will bring that idea to life. I use the Internet to find specific information (e.g., train depot locations), and I’ll continue to use all sources throughout the writing of the book. I’ve known writers who actually write their first draft and insert placeholders whenever they need to look up information; they’ll do the research after the draft is complete. I wish I could do that instead of stopping each time I need to insert background material—it would make the writing process a lot smoother! I will say, one of the good things about writing a series is that you can build on research you’ve already undertaken. A note on taking notes: I’m always searching for better ways to capture the nuggets I’ve found. I use the ReMarkable system, which enables me to handwrite on a tablet that converts to print; I’ve also started using a Scan Marker, which lets me digitally highlight a book that is then converted to text. My next goal is to record my notes as I’m reading the book or other source onto Dragon voice recognition software but I’ve been too busy to learn it. Regardless, I’ve come a long way from using a huge stack of index cards and writing a draft from them!
Tell us more about The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker. What did you edit out of this book?
I tend to over-write. When writing The Price of Compassion (Book Four of “The Golden City” series) I realized I had two big stories to tell, and by separating and augmenting each of them, I was able to create Josephine’s Daughter, which is Book Five. For The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker, I realized I had written a lot about a legal case that one of the main characters, Cordelia Hammersmith, was working on. I took those chapters out, added to them, and now have a novella called Affair at the Majestic which will come out in the fall as part of my new historical mystery series. The Majestic case is now mentioned in The Madness of Mrs Whittaker, but the action takes place off stage.
How do you select the names for your characters?
Naming characters isn’t as easy as it sounds. I first determine if the moniker is right for the time period (a female named Taylor, for example, wouldn’t have been realistic in the nineteenth century; you don’t want readers thinking, “What? No one would have named their daughter that back in 1875—it sounds too modern!”). That doesn’t mean you have to stick to the most common (usually biblical) names. One of my main characters is “Cordelia;” another unusual one for that era might be “Temperance.” The name can fit the character.
For practical reasons, I also shoot for names, especially for main characters, that are easy to type. And if their full names are long (like “Cordelia”), then I look for shorter nicknames (in her case “Cordie”). The same applies for foreign names. I introduce a character named “Dovydas,” which is Lithuanian for “David,” but everyone calls him “Dove.” It’s also good to have names that have variations that different characters can refer to them by. For instance, one of my characters, Jonathan Perris, will (in a future book) have an associate who calls him “Jonnie.” Of course, the easiest thing is to pick a short name that works in all cases, like “Gus” (the male lead in my first novel, The Art of Love). The names will often fit the character type, but sometimes it’s fun to have a name that’s counter to the character. The aforementioned Dove, for example, is anything but a peaceful person!
And I must confess that emotion does play a role when I pick out names. If I am creating an unsympathetic character, I will use a name I don’t care for, such as “Arnold” or “Thaddeus.” Conversely, I’ll give more attractive names (to me, at least) to characters I like. My late mother’s name was “Eleanor” and she was a nurse, so I created a character in The Price of Compassion named Ellie who starts out as a nurse but trains to become a pharmacist. I’m looking forward to featuring her in a future story.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Reading book reviews is like hearing scary noises at midnight and looking behind the locked door to the attic: you know you shouldn’t do it, but you just can’t help yourself. Once I know I’ve done my best, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about reviews. But I would be lying if I said it doesn’t bother me when I get a less than flattering one, especially if I don’t think it’s justified —and it’s never justified (ha! ha!). Seriously, I don’t mind people not liking my storyline; for example, my contemporary romantic suspense novels in the series “Sinner’s Grove” deal with some gritty material which puts some readers off. But I don’t think it’s fair to gives one or two stars for that reason. In other words, one can say, “I didn’t care for the subject matter,” and that’s fine, but if the book is well-written (and mine are!) then that should be acknowledged, perhaps with three stars. In my opinion, one and two stars should be reserved for shabbily written books or lousy copyediting, which truly interfere with the reading experience. One reader gave me one star because she didn’t know why the book was in her Kindle. She had obviously forgotten that she bought it or received it as part of a free promotion. It puzzles me that someone in that case would bother to write a review at all, especially if they didn’t actually read the book. Oh well. Fortunately, I get very few silly reviews like that.
The one thing I would love to do is be able to respond to the reviews. I’ve received so many fantastic ones that I would like to express my appreciation. So, I’ll say it here: “Thank you!”
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
I don’t want to give away particulars about any scene in The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker for fear of spoiling the story, but believe me, there are gut-wrenching moments. I will say the most meaningful scenes in any of my books are those in which I can convey an intensely emotional scene without a lot of dialogue. I know I’ve succeeded when I read a review that says something like “I cried toward the end.” Not that I’m out to make people sad, but it’s important to explore all aspects of the human condition. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t enjoy the books we read nearly as much if there weren’t sufficient conflict or circumstances that touched us deeply. Even now, when I happen to re-read certain scenes in my earlier novels and find myself tearing up again, I know I’ve hit the mark. I think I’ve achieved that in The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker as well.
A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.
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