Thursday, March 7, 2013

Interview with Christine Trent and Giveaway of Lady of Ashes!

I have had the pleasure of reading all of Christine Trent's books. Her latest Lady of Ashes is now one of my favorites. To know what I thought of this book, you can read my review. Following this interview is a giveaway open internationally.

Please help me welcome Christine on Library of Clean Reads as she's taken the time to chat with me about her new book and the morbid but utterly fascinating topic of undertaking.

LCR: Hi Christine, welcome to Library of Clean Reads! I have read and reviewed all of your books and, although you've impressed me with all of them (your historical details are so well researched) I think Lady of Ashes is now one of my favorites! It got me all curious about the trade of undertaking. Here are a few things I was wondering about:

The character, Violet Morgan, is a female undertaker during the Victorian era, a most unusual profession. Was this hard to research?

CT: Yes, in that undertakers have always held their practices close. Whether it is how they keep jaws and eyes closed, or their particular embalming methods, each mortician has his own special way of doing things, and is not keen to share it. Funeral directors tend to hand their businesses down from generation to generation, leading to more confidentiality of their practices. I am by no means insulting their traditions, merely stating that it made research difficult. Furthermore, undertaking was largely reviled historically in both the U.S. and Great Britain (read Oliver Twist), which I suspect also led undertakers to become much more private about their procedures.

Such revulsion continues to this day, with many people complaining that funeral homes are vastly overpriced and that funeral directors prey on the grieving. I think this is a shame. Funeral directors provide a great service for grieving families. Imagine a profession where you deal with death day in and day out, providing capable support to the parents of a child who has died, or to a wife who has just lost her husband of many years, or to an entire community who has lost one of its well-respected members.

Funeral home workers must be compassionate in the extreme, yet very efficient and willing to work all hours. The funeral director I interviewed for research has the funeral home’s phone forwarded to his home during any moment that he is not at the funeral home, and regularly takes calls at three o’clock in the morning. As they say, Death waits for no one.

LCR: Okay, I just have to ask this... Have you ever had the chance to see an undertaker prepare a corpse for burial? You know, as part of your research? 

Although I did spend time with a well-respected funeral director in my local area, he didn’t invite me into the basement to observe their work. I’m sure it would have violated all kinds of rules and regulations for me to have done so. I’m not sure I would have wanted to see it first-hand, either. I was spooked enough when the director’s adult son came up from the basement to ask his father a question, and was wearing a tell-tale apron. My mind began racing with thoughts of what he was in the middle of doing. Was he working on a man or woman? Was embalming fluid coursing through his or her veins? Had makeup just been applied? My own imagination was probably conjuring up much more than what was actually happening down there.

LCR: Oh my goodness! I wouldn't want to know what was happening in that basement either! My copy of the ARC of your book says this is the first book in a new historical mystery series. Does that mean that Violet Morgan will be back as a main character in your second book? 

CT: I initially wrote LADY OF ASHES as a standalone book in my tradition of women-in-unusual-professions. I was very fortunate that my editor loved LADY OF ASHES, and it was her idea to turn it into a series. Yes, Violet will be back for more adventures, again performing services for Queen Victoria. In the next book, which I have almost completed, she is involved in the mysterious death of a viscount who has been working on a secret mission for the queen.

LCR: Sounds exciting! I can't wait to read it. Now...if you could put yourself as a character in this book, who would you be? 

CT: Of course I would want to be Violet, to be a Victorian lady with her own business on her own terms. I also wish I was as sassy as she is! 

LCR: If you could travel back in time, where would you go and why? 

CT: OK, this is a very difficult question. Although there are many fascinating eras of history, I have two concerns about all of them: (1) corsets, and (2) indoor plumbing. I mean, I don’t even go camping because of the obvious, er, difficulties. So, if those two issues could be resolved, I’d like to travel back to several points in time to meet the following women: Queen Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, Madame Tussaud, and, now that I’m researching her, Queen Victoria. 

LCR: The main characters in all your books are strong independent females who have had to be courageous at one point in their lives. What is the most courageous thing you've ever done? 

Well….I’m not sure this example is one of courage as much as it is of endurance. My mother has been quite ill for a long time, and at one point in mid-2012, I thought I was going to lose her. Realizing her own precarious situation, she asked me to take her to a funeral home so she could make her final plans. This was in the middle of my doing research for LADY OF ASHES.

So, on one day I would take mom to the funeral home to discuss her casket, the next day I would return to sit with the funeral director to discuss the history of funeral parlors, then I would return my mother for another planning session. It was, to say the least, a very difficult thing to switch gears between mourning for my mother and being completely charged up about funeral research. 

For what it’s worth, those who live on the east coast will remember a 5.8 magnitude earthquake we had that originated in Virginia in August of last year. On that day, I’d left my mother at the hospital for a treatment she was receiving and was at the funeral home, having just concluded an interview with the funeral director. I’m not sure words can express how bizarre an experience that was. 

I’m pleased to report that mom is doing much better, although we still take it just one week at a time. 

LCR: Yes, I would certainly count that as a courageous thing you did. Facing a parent's imminent death is NEVER an easy thing.

Thanks so much Christine for taking the time to chat with me! 

CT: My pleasure, Laura. Keep up the good work on Library of Clean Reads! I hope to be back when the LADY OF ASHES sequel comes out. 

LCR: I would certainly love that!

Giveaway now closed.

The publisher has graciously offered a copy of Lady of Ashes to one of my readers.

Leave a comment stating why you want to win this book and also the name of the book Christine mentions in her interview where undertakers were largely reviled. Include an email address. If you do not include an email address your entry will not be valid.

Extra entries:
MUST be a separate comment or it will not count.
1) If you are a follower, new or current, leave a comment telling me so.
2) Leave a comment on my review post of Lady of Ashes and it will count as an entry.
*Buttons for following found on top left-hand corner of blog.
*Giveaway ends March 21, 2013.
*Open internationally.
*Please read my Giveaway Policy before entering my giveaways.

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