Good morning, dear readers! Today I so happy to bring you an interview with Carol M. Cram to discuss her new novel, The Muse of Fire! I also have an excerpt from the book and a chance for you to win a copy!
Hello Carol and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Muse of Fire!
To begin, tell us a little about yourself and The Muse of Fire.
I came to novel writing after a career as a writer of non-fiction, mostly textbooks on computers and business communications for the college market. My first novel The Towers of Tuscany (Lake Union Publishing) about a fictional woman painter in 14th Century Tuscany was published in 2014 and has done well, recently winning the Chaucer award for Best Historical Fiction pre-1750 and designated Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society. I have been very involved with the arts all my life and so decided to go from painting to music in my second novel, A Woman of Note about a woman composer in 19th Century Vienna (Best in Category for the Goethe Award for Best Historical Fiction post-1750 and also Editors’ Choice). By the time I was finishing A Woman of Note, I had already decided that I wanted to round out my fascination with women and the arts with The Muse of Fire about an actress in early 19th Century London.
What inspired you to write The Muse of Fire?
As I mentioned in the Author’s Notes at the end of the novel, the genesis of The Muse of Fire was my discovery, while cleaning out my office, of an essay I wrote as a graduate student in the Centre for Drama at the University of Toronto. The essay described the 1809 Old Price Riots at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. I remember being fascinated with these riots when I first wrote about them and always wondered about the poor actors and actresses who had to perform during the riots. Hundreds of people – mostly young men out for a good time – swarmed into the pit to yell at the actors and wave placards. During my research, I could not find any first-person accounts written by the performers who acted during what became the longest disturbance in British theatrical history. They must have suffered a great deal—their stories needed to be told. In The Muse of Fire, I include some of the real people who acted during the period, but most of the characters are fictional.
What was the hardest scene to write?
Quite late in the novel (spoiler alert!), I include a #MeToo scene between my main character, Grace, and another actor. This scene was so difficult to write because I knew that it would inevitably and unfortunately resonate with so many women. But I had to include the scene because it was integral to Grace’s motivation and development as an actress and a woman.
What was your favorite scene to write?
I loved writing the scenes that showed Grace developing as an actress. She enters the theater toward the beginning of the novel as a neophyte and discovers a whole new way of being in the world that she never expected, or even dreamed of. Because I’m a huge Shakespeare fan (well, who isn’t?), I really enjoyed the opportunity to weave Shakespeare’s words into the action while showing Grace and the other actors on stage in such plays as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Richard III—all very popular in the theater of the era.
What would you like readers to take away from reading The Muse of Fire?
An appreciation for the wonderful, lively and tumultuous life of the theater in early 19th Century London. The theater played a central role in the lives of all classes of people, which is why they rioted for 66 days when the theater’s managers raised the ticket prices! I also would like readers to enjoy Grace’s journey and appreciate that even though she made some unwise choices, she remained true to herself and what she saw as her purpose in life.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
In Grade 3, the teacher asked us to write a story and I remember writing several pages – way over the top compared to the other kids. The teacher had me up to the front of the class to read my story and I remember how wonderful it felt to have people listen to and like my words.
What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?
I always feel like I could be working much harder than I do! Mind you, I’ve had that problem all my life. I have trouble being satisfied with the amount of work I’m able to accomplish in one day. I think generally, I’m getting better at not being so demanding of myself, but there are still days when I spend more time on the couch than at the keyboard and am then irritated with myself. Recently I’ve been using an app called “Freedom” that turns off websites such as email and social media for a specific time so that I can concentrate wholly on writing and not stop every two seconds to check my Twitter feed or answer an email. I think it’s working although I do find that writing novels doesn’t get easier. I’m on my fourth one (with several more half-finished) and I think it’s getting even more challenging – but in a good way.
Who are your writing inspirations?
Jane Austen, hands down, followed by an eclectic selection that includes Tracey Chevalier, L.M. Montgomery, J.K. Rowling, Marion Keyes, and Maeve Binchy in addition to fun reads like Nora Roberts and Sophie Kinsella. I love historical fiction that helps me learn about a certain period while also delivering a great story and literary fiction by some of our wonderful Canadian authors (Lawrence Hill, Margaret Lawrence, Will Ferguson, Richard Wagamese). I get inspired by great writing and fortunately there is a lot of it out there! I aim to read at least one book every week, although I don’t always manage that.
What was the first historical novel you read?
I believe it was The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas, which I read when I was about eleven. It was pretty much the first really “grown-up” novel I’d ever read and I remember feeling very proud of myself for ploughing through it. I then started to read quite a few of the classic works of historical fiction (Jean Plaidy, James A. Michener, Margaret Mitchell, Colleen McCullough, etc.) and loved the depth of research that went into the novels. I’m still in awe of the amount of research authors do for their novels and struggle frequently with how much – or how little – of my research to include in my own work.
What is the last historical novel you read?
I’m just finishing And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer. The novel weaves several stories from three time frames – late 18th and early 19th centuries, the second world war, and the present day -- around the discovery of a lost manuscript written by J.S. Bach. I love the music references in the novel and also see some parallels to my second novel A Woman of Note about a woman composer in 1830s Vienna. Belfer’s book includes Fanny Mendelssohn, whose work as a composer was an inspiration for A Woman of Note.
If there was a soundtrack for your novel, what songs might we find on it?
That’s an interesting question! Although I have played classical piano all my life and listen to instrumental music while I work, I’m not really a “songs” kind of gal. I can never think of song titles, unless it’s old musicals, and nothing springs to mind about The Muse of Fire. Hmm. Well, I’ll have a go. Here are a few, kind of sentimental picks: Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music; Rolling in the Deep by Adele, Let It Be by The Beatles; I Wanna Be Free by The Monkees (I’m dating myself!); and the Theme from the 1968 Zeffirelli production of Romeo and Juliet because that play is such an integral part of The Muse of Fire.
What are three things people may not know about you?
I teach Nia, a wholistic dance/fitness practice that I credit with keeping my mind, body, emotions, and spirit in balance and helping me be focused in life and as a writer. I am also an avid knitter. I’ve recently discovered sock knitting and love making pairs for my friends and family. Finally, I love traveling by myself, notebook at the ready! I like traveling with my husband too, but traveling alone is so much fun because I can see exactly what I want to see whenever I want to, walk for miles if I feel like it, and eat and relax whenever I want to. I particularly love traveling alone when I’m researching a novel.
What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?
I never expected to launch a career as a writer of historical fiction. Over the past two decades, I wrote (and continue to write) business and computer textbooks. I also started writing fiction and finished a few novels that have never yet seen the light of day. Something was missing. I knew I loved history and many of my favorite books are historical novels, but I was convinced that only people with Ph.D.’s and offices filled from floor to ceiling with musty tomes could even attempt to write historical fiction. But it turns out that all I really needed was an idea, an interest in a particular time and place (Tuscany, Vienna, London), and a willingness to read a lot and consult with experts as needed to get the facts right. I have several more historical novels planned, set in various eras and locations. So far, I haven’t settled on any one period where I want to spend all my time, although I do have at least one more novel planned for medieval Tuscany and one for modern Tuscany.
What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?
I really enjoy reading novels set in just about any time period. I’ve recently read several novels set in the ancient world (The Wedding Shroud by Elisabeth Storrs, A Dance of Pride and Peril by Martin Lake, I am Livia by Phyllis Smith) and hope to one day write a novel set in 5th Century Byzantium. I also like novels set during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer, The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli, The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich and of course anything by Ken Follett). Novels set in the 18th and 19th centuries (I just read Burning Bright by Tracey Chevalier which is set almost at the same time as The Muse of Fire) and during World War II are also go-to’s, but really, I like to stay eclectic with my choices.
What do you like to do when you aren't writing?
I love to travel and when I’m not traveling I love planning trips. This April, my husband, artist Gregg Simpson (www.coastalpatternsgallery.com), and I are going to New York to attend the opening of a gallery exhibition of Gregg’s work (we are so excited!) and then we’re spending the month of May in Italy, mostly Umbria and Tuscany. I also play piano, teach Nia dance (www.nianow.com) as mentioned earlier, and volunteer with the local arts council. I just stepped down from my role as president after ten years so now I’m looking for new challenges. My latest venture is starting a publishing company (New Arcadia Publishing) to partner with writers and publish fiction in the historical and literary genres along with some non-fiction titles (self-help, communications, new age). I’ve published my first title by a local author – Nine Birds Singing by Edythe Anstey Hanen. It’s a powerfully-written work of literary fiction that takes place in Vancouver in the 1960s, in Mexico, and on an island in the Pacific Northwest. I loved working with Edye to bring her book into the world.
Lastly, what are you working on next?
I’m just finishing the first draft of Escape to Tuscany which is a contemporary sequel to The Towers of Tuscany. I’m also about halfway through an historical sequel to “Towers” called The Merchant of Siena that carries on the story of my main character’s daughter, Antonia. In Escape to Tuscany, a recently bereaved art professor buys a villa in Tuscany to offer painting classes and ends up having to face uncomfortable truths about herself and her relationship with her daughter, while also coping with the discovery of a medieval masterpiece that could set the art world on fire. Readers of The Towers of Tuscany will recognize the characters included in the Epilogue who also make an appearance in Escape to Tuscany.
That sounds fascinating, Carol! Thank you so much for stopping by today. It was such a pleasure speaking with you!
Excerpt from The Muse of FireGrace escapes an abusive relationship with her father and through Ned is given the opportunity to go on stage in the chorus at the Theatre Royal. In this excerpt, Grace goes on stage for the first time in her life and discovers a whole new world.
Grace smoothed one hand over the fabric of her costume—it was rough with tiny glass beads that she guessed would catch and fling the light thrown from the candles. A crescendo rose from the orchestra.
“Here we go!” whispered Olympia.
With eight other young women, Grace and Olympia marched with slow solemnity from the stifling dark wings into an inferno. The stage blazed with light and heat. Grace squinted and stumbled but was saved from falling by Olympia’s hand on her arm. The music was so loud that Grace was sure her ears would burst, and at the same time, the sound made her feel like she’d been picked up and taken on a golden chariot to a glorious new heaven.
The other girls started to sing. Much to her surprise, Grace recognized the song. Her mother had taught it to her years earlier. She said she’d learned it when she was at school in Bath.
Grace opened her mouth and let the notes spill out, blending at first with the voices of the other girls and then soaring high above theirs with perfect tone and clarity. Dimly, she was aware of Olympia pulling her hand. Mr. Kemble, black eyes snapping, posed downstage, resplendent in a jewel-encrusted gown.
The song ended, and the girls circled the stage in front of Mr. Kemble. A huge yellow star rose above them, and the wind machine cranked up and blew their skirts so they billowed out like silver-tipped clouds. Grace followed Olympia’s lead and held out her arms and twirled. A procession of actors carrying spears, faces thick with blue makeup, gathered upstage on various levels, some peeking out from behind cutout slabs of wood painted to resemble large boulders. The orchestra reached a shattering climax with Mr. Kemble standing center stage and the entire company singing the final chorus. A shower of sparks burst upward, and the thunder box rumbled. Gears under the stage ground and rattled, and seconds later Mr. Kemble was borne aloft on a square of stage pushed up from below. When he was five feet above the stage, the curtain fell in a swish of red velvet.
Grace joined hands with Olympia and another girl and stepped forward. When the curtain rose, the massed company took their bows and then stood with their arms raised while Mr. Kemble was lowered back to the stage. He stood unsmiling and in profile to accept the cheering and stomping of the crowd.
“What do you think?” Olympia shouted in Grace’s ear. She had no need to speak lower with the noise rolling and cresting from every corner of the auditorium.
Grace did not reply. She could not.
The Muse of Fire by Carol M. Cram
Abandoned at birth, the grandly christened Edward Plantagenet rises from London’s Foundling Hospital to take charge back stage at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, only to be blind-sided when he rescues Grace—a young woman escaping an abusive father.
Grace finds an outlet for her passions as a Shakespearean actress, becoming ensnared by intrigues and setbacks that mar the pathway to stardom she craves.
Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Old Price Riots of 1809, Grace and Ned find common purpose in a quest that threatens to tear both their worlds apart.
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound
About the AuthorCarol M. Cram is the author of A Woman of Note (Lake Union Publishing, 2015) and The Towers of Tuscany (Lake Union Publishing 2014). In addition to writing fiction, Carol has enjoyed a great career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications for Cengage Learning. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist and sharing her Nia practice as a Nia teacher. She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada.
For more information, please visit Carol M. Cram's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
Monday, February 26
Blog Tour Schedule
Review at Peppermint Ph.D.
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Tuesday, February 27
Interview at Donna's Book Blog
Feature at View from the Birdhouse
Thursday, March 1
Review at Teaser Addicts Book Blog
Friday, March 2
Review at A Bookaholic Swede
Feature at A Literary Vacation
Excerpt at Locks, Hooks and Books
Monday, March 5
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Thursday, March 8
Interview at Passages to the Past
Friday, March 9
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Wednesday, March 14
Review at History From a Woman's Perspective
Monday, March 19
Review at Books of a Shy Girl
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, March 20
Review at Clarissa Reads it All
Thursday, March 22
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit
GiveawayDuring the Blog Tour we will be giving away three paperback copies of The Muse of Fire! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US and UK.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
The Muse of Fire