Q&A with @KerriManiscalco Author of #StalkingJacktheRipper
Did you see the awesome giveaway going on here? You can win your own copy of the new book, Stalking Jack the Ripper, skull and rose bubble bath, and a soap collection! As an added bonus, here is a Q&A with the author, Kerri Maniscalco. She is giving us the scoop on her latest book, Stalking Jack the Ripper, her writing tips and more!! Read below for the scoop.
Stalking Jack the Ripper is without a doubt a new take on the legendary mystery of Jack the Ripper. What drew you to the story of Jack the Ripper, and why did you choose him as a villain?
Unsolved crimes and history have intrigued me since I was a teen. I was fascinated by the Ripper case in particular because of the mystery that still surrounds it. There are so many theories and suspects, and as a writer it’s a wonderfully blank canvas for creating your own backstory. Who was Jack? Where did he come from? What were the circumstances leading up to that Autumn of Terror? I think the most interesting villains are ones that fit into that questionable gray area—the place where we understand their motivation, even if we’re horrified by it.
I chose Jack because I wanted this story to focus on a young woman who turned the tables on him. When I researched case details, I immediately thought about the forensic team behind the scenes. It was one of the first times in history forensics were applied to a case with gusto, so I imagined how interesting it’d be if a teenage girl was involved with stopping this notorious killer of women. From there it evolved into Audrey Rose’s story of how her world and Jack’s converge.
Audrey Rose is a brilliant, sensitive, headstrong and decidedly modern girl—even by our 21st-century standards. What do you hope teens who read her story will take away from her character?
I hope that teens—and readers of all ages, really—are inspired to live their authentic lives, regardless of what society thinks. Audrey Rose would encourage curiosity and fearlessness. The world needs trailblazers and I hope readers are inspired to continue on their paths, even in the face of difficulty. Our actions today will hopefully inspire others tomorrow, and that’s how progress and change are made. Sometimes it’s fighting those quiet everyday battles that shift perspective one degree at a time.
There are allusions in the story to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the interactions between Audrey Rose and Thomas (or, as they might prefer, Wadsworth and Cresswell) are reminiscent of a Watson/Sherlock pairing. What stories inspired you as a teenager, and how did your favorite stories affect your writing?
Whether in friendships or with adversaries or romantic interests, push-pull relationships and witty repartee get me every time. As a reader I hang on the edge of my seat, salivating with the will they/won’t they that builds on each page. Growing up, I was obsessed with gothic horror stories and books about amateur sleuths. Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, the Nancy Drew series. I loved the palpable tension and the way the atmosphere was a character unto itself. When I read stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado,” I felt the beat of the buildings, the psychological darkness seeping onto the page, and was blown away by the character motivations.
I’m a pretty big Shakespeare fan, and the way he crafted allusions and double meanings into his work is a huge inspiration. In fact, the opening Macbeth quote is more than just an allusion to the blood being spilled in the book…
Poe was another master at including allusions in his work, and I adore those little Easter eggs that are left for readers to snatch up. And Frankenstein’s monster? My goodness. Shelley’s monster and his reflection on both himself and his dark deeds, and how he related to Satan in Paradise Lost—that was so powerful to read. My favorite characters—whether heroes/heroines or villains—are the ones who are more gray than black or white. I think that’s the common bond between all of my most cherished reads and what has inspired my writing the most.
Most writers have a specific writing routine—whether it’s chaotic, strictly regimented, or somewhere in between. What would you say is the most unique aspect of your own writing process?
One of the more unique aspects of my writing process includes a lot of pre-writing research that I tackle like a nine-to-five job. Most of it is pretty gory, so I balance out the darkness with plenty of cuddle time with my kitty muse, Bella. I’ve found I work best creatively when I’m in a routine—I get up, write/research until dinnertime, then stop to cook for (and with) my family. Cooking is something I’ve loved since I was a kid standing on a stool in my grandma’s kitchen. While I’m chopping up veggies, I’m plotting and planning my next day’s material. One little quirk of mine is I always leave off on a high point in a chapter. I’ve found that when I do it’s easier to dive back into writing the next morning. I already know where I’m heading and then the writing flows into the next scene. I also take breaks throughout the day to either do yoga or some crunches (or any form of exercise). If I do sets of fifteen it helps oxygenate my brain and keep the creativity flowing.
After dinner I answer emails and work on any interview requests or online events I’ve committed to. I also chat with readers and writers on Twitter, then I either read or watch a little TV before bed. (Usually I’ll try to watch something that evokes atmosphere and I’ll think of how to incorporate those feelings into my work.) I’ve found that if I try and write in the afternoon and mess up my morning routine, I have a difficult time with getting into my groove. I’m definitely a creature of habit when it comes to my schedule. No matter what I’m doing, though, I always strive for balance. If I’m off-kilter my work will suffer, so I’m a big supporter of having at least one day a week to step away from writing and get out of the house. It’s good to nourish your muse.
Audrey Rose often speaks of a darkness within herself, less consuming but akin to the darkness within Jack the Ripper. Do you think we all have that darkness within us, lingering just below the surface?
To a certain extent I think we all have darkness that surfaces from time to time, whether we want it to or not. Maybe not murder or anything so drastic, but darker emotions. Anger. Frustration. Negativity. Jealousy. Pessimism. We’re human and have a multitude of feelings on any given day, but it’s what we choose to focus on that truly matters.
For Audrey Rose it’s a bit different. She often struggles with her passion for studying the inner workings of the human body and society’s opinion on it. During that time frame [the Victorian era], forensics and cutting into a corpse were considered to be desecrating the dead. Which was blasphemous for a man to do, let alone a young lord’s daughter. She won’t be deterred from her chosen path, but doubt sometimes crops up if she allows herself to think about her dark deeds. On the outside she might appear to be on the same path as Jack, but Audrey Rose knows there are lines she won’t cross for science or discovery. Which is what ultimately separates her from the Ripper.
How much of the book, if any, is inspired by personal experience?
Honestly? I believe it’s hard for any writer to not have a bit of themselves or some personal experience creep into their work. Audrey Rose and I would definitely get along in real life. We both have a love of dresses and forensics. Lucky for me, my sister has a boutique, so I’m always adding to my dress collection. When we were growing up, my parents encouraged my sister and myself to pick a job we loved and work hard to achieve our dreams. Our gender wasn’t considered a limitation for a second. I attended art school in New York City but considered changing majors and studying forensics. I was serious about it, and took criminal justice and psychology courses. It was so refreshing to be good at science after being told in high school that girls weren’t as good as boys were. Part of hearing that from teachers inspired me to write about this girl who uses forensics like a superpower to hopefully stop one of the most infamous killers in history. And she does it all with style, naturally.
The details in the book are remarkable—from the specifics of dissection and Victorian-era medicine to the historically accurate descriptions of late 19th-century London. What research did you do to make the story so authentic?
Thank you! I pored over actual Ripper case files and studied the notes the forensic team/medical examiners had taken during their autopsies. I thought it was really important to capture the medical techniques of the day and spent a great deal of time investigating what was around, how it was used, and what the general thoughts of the public were. One of my favorite parts in Stalking Jack the Ripper is when [Audrey Rose’s] uncle, a brilliant forensic medical examiner, has his own theories that cannot be proven by medical professionals, but are practices and truths we know today. I also did a lot of research into how autopsies are conducted today, what bodies smell like after trauma, to fully flesh out my understanding of how our procedures might differ from Victorian practices. I’m also into history, and growing up outside of New York City meant that there were many historic sites to visit. Family vacations always included stops along the way—whether we’d attend a historic home tour or visit the Vanderbilt Mansion, history was incorporated into our activities. When it came time for my Victorian research, I really enjoyed getting lost in the details of the period. Fun fact: the house I grew up in was built in the 1700s, with an addition in the 1800s.
Writing for an audience of teenagers is no easy task. Why did you choose to write for young adults?
Young adults are complex and intelligent, and have so much passion for their beliefs. It’s a time in our lives where we’re struggling to either be who we are or find out who we are through trial and error. It’s this faltering step into the adult world, where ideals can be crushed or fostered. YA literature shows us—in a big way—that we can be the light in the darkness. We can all be the heroes/heroines of our own stories. Thanks to my grandma, I still believe the impossible is absolutely possible, no matter how many doors are slammed or how hopeless things may appear. That’s just an unexpected, crushing plot twist, which, as YA readers know, makes the resolution all the sweeter. All of the firsts and the unfettered belief that we can make a change in the world so we attempt to do just that—that’s the true magic of YA literature, and why I chose to write for teens.
What’s next for you? Will we see a sequel to Stalking Jack the Ripper?
The early response to Stalking Jack the Ripper has been absolutely incredible. Things I never dared to dream have been happening and I just sit back, pinching myself most days. I’ve always wanted to have a series of interconnected stand-alones, like novel-length penny dreadfuls, and am thrilled to say there will be two more gothic adventures for Audrey Rose. Right now I’m hard at work on book two, and I’ll just say that it’s got a new setting that’s as creepy as Victorian London. We get more forensics and autopsies, some scary folklore, and twists and turns that will hopefully keep readers guessing until the end. There may also be an infamous castle involved where a bloodthirsty legend is said to haunt the halls at night. I cannot wait for it to hit shelves in the fall of 2017.
Don’t forget to head over and enter to win your own copy of Stalking Jack the Ripper, skull and rose bubble bath, and a soap collection! Pamper yourself with a nice, warm bubble bath while reading a new thriller. Enter here.