Lisa Costantino’s novel Maiden’s Veil, winner of the Chanticleer Reviews’ Best Indie Historical Fiction for 2012 award is today’s interview guest. Her book, which receives constantly rave reviews, is not only available in digital form, but also in print.
Lisa, thanks for this interview and congratulations for your award! How would you describe your book to someone who has not yet read it?
The alternating timelines of Maiden’s Veil entwine the lives of two women coping with love and risk. In 1733, tapestry weaver Clarinda Asher was the last Maiden to perform the Veil before the ancient fertility ritual was banished, and she along with it, for the ensuing cataclysm that nearly destroyed her remote English village. When present-day weaver Jess Barlow unearths evidence of the ritual during the village’s May Day celebrations, she and Owen Calder reenact the rite, resurrecting the ritual’s power. Although she too is banished and Owen ostracized, Jess is determined not to suffer the same fate as Clarinda.
Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
If there’s any message, it’s about forgiveness. Each of the four main characters — Clarinda, Benjamin, Owen, and Jess — is tormented by the blame they have placed on themselves for disastrous events both within and outside of their control. Whether they find forgiveness determines their future.
What inspired you to start writing?
I spent many months during my childhood bedridden from a number of surgeries. When you’re stuck in bed, you read. If you read enough, you want to write.
How did you get the idea for the novel?
Originally I planned to write a guidebook to Europe’s oldest continuing celebrations and traditions. Finances put that project on hold, but I was inspired to create a fictional story around the events I did attend, ones believed to have pre-Christian origins. So I created Maidenvale’s May Day celebrations out of a conflation of these festivities, and the Maiden’s Veil from historical and anthropological sources.
Does your book have any underlying theme, message, or moral?
If the reader has read Arthurian literature, she or he may recognize an underlying framework based on the Lady of Shalott: the lady Elaine, who is cursed to remain in her tower and weave in isolation for the crime of falling in love with Lancelot.
Who is your favorite character and why?
My favorite character is the most problematic one: Owen, the male lead in the contemporary story line. He’s in love with one woman while unhappily married to another, and it’s tearing him up. To me he epitomizes the emotional struggle between duty and heart. He genuinely wants to do the right thing, but he’s also desperate for some happiness. I feel for the guy.
Are your plots based on your real-life experiences?
Only to the extent that most writers use moments from their own lives to add authenticity to their stories; in this case, details about England’s May Day festivities gleaned from my own observations and from conversations in the local pubs.
Give us an excerpted quote from your favorite review of this book:
“…like her main female characters, both of whom are artists of the loom, Ms. Costantino has done some expert weaving here herself. The two stories ultimately support and reinforce one another, and all the threads come together in an ending that I found very poignant yet satisfying. With lush evocative descriptions, rich textures, great character development, and some surprising twists and turns, the overall result is a piece of art rather like one of her character’s fine tapestries.”
What would/could a reader or reviewer say about this book that shows they “get” you as an author? Another of my favorite reviews got it: “The author weaves stories that are full of tension that resist standard story lines. Rather than common characters and situations, she introduces real-life dilemmas that seem true and honest.” This was especially welcome insight after another reader had bemoaned the lack of heroes. Heroes are for romance. I don’t write romance.
Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you have learned as a writer from then to now?
Always keep going. Don’t let any sticking points render you stuck. Put unresolved issues in the back of your mind and work on what you know. Resolutions to most of my issues arose during long walks with my dog Lucy.
Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?
My favorite part is when the story is solid and I can take my time massaging the language until it flows seamlessly. Least favorite? Marketing, I’m afraid to say. I’m a very private person, not at all comfortable with blowing my own horn in the Twittersphere. But you do what you gotta do.
What scene or bit of dialogue in the book are you most proud of, and why?
The Midsummer’s Eve bonfire scenes, because they were the hardest to write. The scenes appear twice, from Clarinda’s viewpoint in one chapter, and from Benjamin’s in another. I wanted them to echo but not reproduce the same imagery and action, nor the same responses from the two characters.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your book?
I’d probably make Sharon Calder a bit more sympathetic. But I try not to dwell on it!
What genre have you not yet written but really want to try?
Science fiction, for sure. I love the idea of creating an imagined future, but one within the realm of possibility. I’m fascinated by the sciences and would likely have made a career in one discipline or another, had I any aptitude for math. And I’m a Trekkie at heart.
If your book would be made into a movie, who should play the main character?
Rachel Weisz would be great as Clarinda or Jess. Clive Owen would make an awesome Owen or Benjamin, and I can easily see Brendan Coyle as the farmer Daniel. (Who wouldn’t want a Downton Abbey tie-in?)
How did you get published? Please share your own personal journey.
Impatience, more than anything, led me to self-publish. I went through several cycles of querying agents, and each time I received compliments and positive feedback but no takers. I figured I could continue that game until someone bit, or I could just jump into the self-publishing pool and not wait for representation, a sale, and production, the sum of which would likely take several years.
What general advice do you have for other writers?
Always, always, use an editor or a proofreader before submitting or self-publishing. I can’t bear to read self-pubbed authors who say they don’t care about a few typos. That’s lazy thinking, because plenty of their own readers will care. Poor grammar, incorrect punctuation, bad formatting—all this shows not only a lack of skill in your trade but a disregard for your readers.
What do you find is the best part of being an author?
Having both the motivation and the justification to sit for hours doodling out ideas and doing research.
What is ONE thing that you have done that brought you more readers?
Winning an award for best indie women’s fiction from Chanticleer Book Reviews & Media.
What’s one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you?
I’m intensely jealous of scholarly authors who can bang out cogent and insightful non-fiction on politics, the environment, and world affairs. I wish I was that smart!
Where can people learn more about your writing? On my website: www.lisacostantino.com
From Corporate Editor to Indie-published Historical Women’s Fiction Author
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