In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. A.C. Gaughen is the author of Lady Thief, a novel about a female thief hiding her identity in Robin Hood’s band of thieves. Here is what A.C. had to say about reading, writing, and whether she and Scarlet can ever be best buds.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
My name is Annie Gaughen, and in a post-apocalyptic situation I would MOST LIKELY be one of the first casualties. I say this because I have very few redeeming physical abilities—I have zero reflexes (you know when the doctor taps your knee and your knee is meant to jerk—mine doesn’t. It doesn’t even twitch). The only situation in which I will survive is if I’m given the chance to team up with someone brawny and physically capable to whom I can be the brains of the equation. Or, possibly, if I’m given access to baking items and I will earn my keep with delicious baked goods.
Clearly, this explanation shows why I shouldn’t write dystopian. Instead, I’ve written historical fiction (Scarlet and Lady Thief), I’ve been working on a contemporary, and I have a fantasy heart-project that’s on the back burner while I’m in grad school and working with a non-profit in Boston.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
I think I have two responses to that. My process when I’m writing successfully usually involves the nearest Panera (it’s become something of a good-luck-writing-paradise) and copious amounts of either diet Coke or tea (and they have free refills on BOTH!). I can plug in my computer and bang out upwards of 5k words over about 6-8 hours; I like working like that, with singular focus and attention. I can’t always do that, but when I can, it’s good.
My second answer has more to do with what I do when my writing stalls. I try to walk away in a conscious way—I know that my work isn’t going to get any further/better inside the four walls of wherever I am, so I try to leave, see people, watch movies, read books—but do it with intention. If my friend is telling me a story that is making me laugh or beg her what happened next, I try to figure out what’s making me so interested, how that might be lacking in my book. A writer is someone on whom nothing is wasted!
What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?
That historically/economically/nationally speaking (from the perspective of several modern academics), Prince John was actually a remarkably efficient and successful ruler. Yeah, that’s not going in there.
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
Soo…I label all the books I’m working on by the name of the protagonist. I call them that and refer to them as such. So when I first started shopping Scarlet, it just turned out that my working title was actually kind of appropriate and clever, and no one ever talked about changing it.
Lady Thief went through many thought bubble changes though! I initially suggested that title for Book Three and my editor suggested it worked better for
What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?
YES! Tuck Everlasting. I HATED that book—not because it isn’t excellent, but because I was heartbroken by the ending. I decided then and there that I had to rewrite it. And so it began…
How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
I can’t say with certainty that anything ever needs to be scrapped—just shelved. But I have about 100 notebooks holed up somewhere in my mothers house, and about 20 more on my computer, that all represent a story in some stage or another. I have about five that I have currently open in Scrivener.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
Eleanor of Aquitaine. She is just the coolest—one of the most fascinating, admirable women in English history and writing her—and researching more about her life—was a total joy. She so effortlessly epitomizes the complications of power, femininity, and the difficulty of loving more than one thing at once.
Is Scarlet someone you can see yourself being friends with? How do you think she would feel about you and your lifestyle?
GOD NO. Scarlet would hate me. I would tell her exactly what I think of her life choices and she would not want to hear that, and as her friend I would struggle (as I do as her writer!) with remembering that I need to let her make her own mistakes. It can be painful to watch, but it’s how we get through the conflict and how we become the girl at the end of the story. Arguably, the girl with the happy ending.
However, I like to think that we would have a grudging respect for each other. And that I could recruit her to teach a knife skills class for my non-profit.
What is your favorite of the two books you have written on Scarlet? Is there anything about the first novel that you would have changed?
I’m really proud of Lady Thief. And while I couldn’t say I like one BETTER, I think I’m definitely more proud of the work I put into (and the struggle, heartache, infinite wordsmithing) Lady Thief.
I would possibly have reconsidered Scar’s name! It was pointed out to me afterwards that in all the research I did, all the endless tracking word etymology, the one word I never thought to check was scarlet. Turns out using it to describe a color is not historically accurate for the time period.
Ok, I may not have chosen differently—but I would definitely have liked to know that going in!
Would you have liked to live in the middle ages? What would you have wanted your position or role to be in society?
NO NO NO NO. NO NO. It was an incredibly brutal time, ESPECIALLY for a girl. Ok, maybe that would be my condition—if I could be a dude, I would live in the middle ages. Or a pope! I’d take a pope.