Friday, March 1, 2013

Interview with Beatriz Williams author of Overseas

Interview With Beatriz Williams 
author of the International Bestseller

Beatriz, I’m so excited to welcome you to the B& General Fiction forum for the month of March. You know that Overseas was my top pick for 2012, and I’m so excited to be reading it as a group here in March.

Debbie - So Overseas has been out almost a year now.
How was the total (writing, releasing, marketing) experience for you?
Beatriz - You know, it’s a bit like that first year with a new baby! Everything’s new, you have all these highs and lows, so much work, so little sleep. I’ve made so many wonderful friends in the book world, the same way I made mommy friends with my first child. And while it all went by so quickly, the “pre-book” era now seems like ancient history. I wrote Overseas in a rush of creativity back in 2009 and sold it to Putnam in 2010, so there was actually a long period of gestation before the book actually hit the shelves. It gave me time to learn the industry, to spread the word, to learn more and more about the craft of writing and the trade of marketing. I hope that helped me go about the whole business more efficiently and with a thicker skin.

How many languages is it being published in?
We’re at seven at the moment:  German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Polish, and Serbian. (Well, eight if you count English!) We hit the bestseller list for three weeks in Italy, which was really exciting. NORD did a fabulous job of marketing there.

How much do you think social media had a part in the success of Overseas?
Or did it?
That’s a really good question, and I honestly don’t know the answer! I haven’t been a big promoter on Facebook, in terms of buying ads and soliciting follows. I just post stuff I like, whether it’s about my books or someone else’s books or an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph or the chocolates I’m eating to fuel a writing binge. I could probably use it more effectively, but I have a really busy writing schedule (I’m now also writing historical romance as Juliana Gray, which is loads of fun but eats up a lot of time) and I feel the best thing I can do is just write the best possible book I can and hope that readers help me out with spreading the word on social media! (Which many have done, and I appreciate so deeply.) And I know that my publisher Putnam did a wonderful job of reaching out on Twitter and Facebook. How many books did it sell? I have no idea, but I do think people are using social media for book recommendations more and more. I hope it’s working!

What road(s) led you to the writing of Overseas?
It goes way, way back to a college class I took on turn-of-the-century Europe, and how the romantic era (which was already transitioning to a modern sensibility in terms of art and science and social change) really ended for good on the battlefields of the First World War. So I carried this obsession with me all through adulthood, and one day in a writing workshop I had this image of a classic overachieving First World War soldier-poet – Rupert Brooke, Julian Grenfell, Roland Leighton—walking the streets of modern Manhattan. It simmered there for a long time, while I wondered what he was doing there and how he’d arrived, until finally everything clicked together and I sat down to write.  

In our last interview when Overseas released you mentioned that you’re obsessed by the Edwardian generation and particularly the first 20 years of  the twentieth century.
Can you tell us why?
Well, this is really my big hobbyhorse, and it’s the real theme of Overseas behind the sweeping love story that gives it its momentum. I can trace it to a single book: Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain, a war memoir which traces an ambitious young British woman’s experience during the First World War and beyond. In the first half of the book, she falls in love with a brilliant young man named Roland Leighton, and then he’s shot in the stomach by a sniper in December 1915 and dies rather horribly of his wounds a day later. This story is repeated endlessly during the war, because the Edwardians were bred to be idealists and achievers, to believe in honor and sacrifice and duty, and that was all blown to bits in the trenches. So the world we have now is really born of the cynicism and realism of the generation that survived the war, and the tragedy of it all just shatters me. I sometimes think this book was just a way for me to save them somehow, these astonishing young men, and in doing so to save a little bit of what they stood for.

And pertaining to the last question I have to ask you; are you a fan of Downton Abbey?
Ooh, I love Downton! I’m proud to say I was an early adopter, right there on the first episode, and even sucked my husband in. What I love is that Downton is really just the soapiest of soap operas (they nearly jumped the shark when Matthew rose up miraculously out of his wheelchair), but dress it up in period clothes with a fantastic cast and a gorgeous setting and you have something that airs on PBS.

You have a novel coming out in June A Hundred Summers, is it also a historical novel?
It is indeed! I don’t ever see myself writing anything strictly contemporary. Well, never say never, but for now I’m still in love with history.

Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming novel?
It’s set against the backdrop of 1930s New England, and untangles the love affairs and family secrets of four college friends, culminating in the great hurricane of 1938. The day after I sent my agent the first draft, she sent me an email scolding me for keeping her up all night on a weekday, turning pages feverishly, which is something she never does for work reading. So that was when I could say, “Whew! I must have gotten it right somehow.” Big relief!

I saw you recently in a FaceBook post with Karen White (another favorite) enjoying a writer’s retreat.
What is the most important part of getting together with others in your field?
This is truly the greatest blessing of my new career! I met Karen at a writers’ conference a couple of years ago, and we built up a friendship from there. She is so sweet and lovely and talented, and helped to hold my hand through all that “first book” drama. We had so much fun at her beach house a few weeks ago: I was on one sofa with my laptop, and she was on the other with hers, and we’d trade bits we’d written. It was just heaven. She’s working on her next Tradd Street book, but I’m not giving away any spoilers! Karen and other writers have been so generous with their help and support, providing quotes and spreading the word. It really is a wonderful community.

Many of my members aren’t paranormal/fantasy fans.
Tell them why they’ll enjoy Overseas.
To be honest, I’m not much of a fantasy reader either! When Julian appeared in my head in 2007, this was the last book in the world I thought I’d write. All my previous efforts had been purely historical fiction. That being said, I was raised by my pop-culture-deficient parents on a steady diet of Shakespeare and opera, so I’m not bothered by supernatural elements cropping up when I read. I think they have a powerful way of allowing you to tell a story you couldn’t otherwise tell: in my case, the juxtaposition between the world (and its inhabitants) before the First World War, and the world after it. By placing Julian in a modern setting and having him fall in love with a modern woman, I’m able to explore these issues in a way that (I hope) is gripping and engaging to the reader.

Well it’s almost time to start the discussion. So we’ll see you here on Monday when the conversation begins.
Thanks so much, Debbie. Can’t wait to get started!
Buy the book here, visit the author's website here
© Beatriz Williams

Be sure and look for Beatriz's next novel coming in May 2013


  1. Wonderful interview and I loved how you found your inspiration for this novel. It must be so awesome that your book has been translated into seven different languages.