6 February 2012

author Amy Corwin talks about The Vital Principle

Writing The Vital Principle was an enormous challenge, so much so that I suspect if I’d known how difficult it would be to write a historical mystery, I might have been too intimidated to start it. Thankfully, I’d already spent five years researching the Regency period, so I thought I had at last a good start. And I had two characters who fascinated me, Knighton Gaunt and Prudence Barnard.

But as soon as I started writing, I was up against it. The first challenge was how to get thirteen distinct characters on stage without totally confusing the readers. I rewrote the first four chapters over twenty times to attempt to work this out, sending it to several folks to read and tell me what worked or didn’t work for them.

I had a blast writing the mystery plot, though because it let me delve in the medicine of the period, a subject about which I’ve grown increasingly fascinated. As I told my husband, if I had another couple of lifetimes, I’d have been interested in becoming a forensic pathologist. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor because I don’t want to go to bed at night obsessing over the possibility that a mistake or inaction on my part might have cost someone his or her life. But forensics…yes. And that’s one of the great things about writing. It introduces you to subjects you’ve never even thought about before. I adore learning new things.

Ironically, the thing I love most, learning, is also the source of my greatest woe. Because the more I learn about a subject I’m researching for a book, the more I realize I don’t know. How can I possibly hope to portray the Regency period with true accuracy? I have no direct experience of life in the 19th century. Everything we read is filtered through someone else’s perceptions and we all know how misleading that can be. History is largely a matter of comparing information from various sources to find the territory in the middle that has a whiff of truth.

Not only is the historical authenticity difficult, but my stories are set in England. Although I’ve visited the country several times and went to school for a year in Scotland, well, I sincerely doubt my experiences are directly applicable to a historical murder mystery. So although I work hard to be accurate, it can be frustrating as a writer, too, because you’re aware that your knowledge is limited.

Despite the frustrations, however, it is exhilarating and rewarding to help the characters wandering around the alleys of your mind find life on the pages of a story, and share their story with others. I love my characters and admire them, often wishing I were more like them. Pru is so calm and collected, even when under stress, and she generally manages to say the right things. In a great many ways, I wish I were more like her, even if she is a terrible charlatan and completely unable to contact the spirit realm as the other characters believe. So she’s a bit of a bad girl, too, though in the nicest possible way.

I only hope others enjoy reading my characters stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Blurb: The Vital Principle
An inquiry agent seeks to expose a spiritualist as a fraud only to uncover a murder.

In 1815, inquiry agent, Knighton Gaunt, is asked by Lord Crowley to attend a séance with the express purpose of revealing the spiritualist as a fraud. When the séance ends abruptly, an unseen killer poisons Lord Crowley, leaving Gaunt to investigate not fraud, but murder.

Suspicion turns first to the spiritualist, Miss Prudence Barnard. But as Gaunt digs deeper into the twisted history of the guests at Rosecrest, he discovers a series of deadly secrets. Long-time friends soon turn against one another as the tension mounts, and Gaunt is challenged to separate fact from fiction before another death at Rosecrest.

The Vital Principle is the first mystery in the Second Sons Inquiry Agency series and features coolly intellectual Mr. Knighton Gaunt, the agency’s founder. This witty, historical whodunit in the tradition of Bruce Alexander’s Blind Justice will keep you guessing until the unexpected end.

“Murder, mystery, and a dash of romance combined with witty dialogue and unforgettable characters make The Vital Principle a book that will definitely go on my keeper shelf!” —Lilly Gayle, author of Into the Darkness and Slightly Tarnished.

In this scene, inquiry agent Knight Gaunt is questioning Miss Prudence Barnard, a spiritualist he was hired to expose as a fraud. While he doesn’t quite believe she murdered their host, he’s not entirely sure she didn’t, either, and she’s not making it easy for him.

Her expression tightened. “Then you do remember. Although I'm sure you believe I was close enough to Lord Crowley to pour a few drops of Prussic acid into his brandy. That is what you’re insinuating, isn't it?”

While her accusation was true, he couldn't actually picture her doing that. He had closely observed her the previous evening, waiting for her to try some trick. If she had approached Crowley’s snifter that closely, he ought to remember it.

“If you wish to admit—”

“I do not.”

He nodded. It would have been extremely difficult for her to carry around a bottle of Prussic acid without either pockets or a reticule.

Of course, he intended to verify the lack of pockets or reticule with Miss Barnard’s maid and the other lady guests. One of them may have noticed.

“If you’d just ask the dowager—” She stopped and then added hastily, “But don’t bother her now. She’s not well. It’s been very difficult with first her husband dying and now her son….” She ended awkwardly and glanced away, turning to focus on the sewing basket and magazine. Then her gaze flashed to his. He could see a sudden memory leap into her mind as her expression changed.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I was wrong.” Her dark brows scrunched briefly. “I—”


She shook her head.

“What did you remember? There’s no point in holding back. Ultimately, I’ll discover the truth.”

A Brief Bio:
Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and recently joined Mystery Writers of America. She has been writing for the last ten years. She writes romance, historical and cozy mysteries. To be truthful, most of her books include a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered that killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line.

Amy’s books include the three Regency romantic mysteries, I BID ONE AMERICAN, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, and THE NECKLACE; Regency mysteries, THE VITAL PRINCIPLE, and A ROSE BEFORE DYING; and her first cozy mystery, WHACKED!, will come in in 2012 from Five Star.

Join her and discover that every good romance has a touch of mystery.

Website: http://www.amycorwin.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/amycorwin
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AmyCorwinAuthor
Blog: http://amycorwin.blogspot.com


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting Amy today.

MomJane said...

The concept of your story is fascinating. I also love series stories. If I love a book, I hate for it to end.

marybelle said...

THE VITAL PRINCIPLE sounds amazing. I do love a good murder.


Amy said...

Thanks so much for hosting me and I'm glad to see you here. I have to agree, there's nothing like a good spot of murder and mayhem. :)

Hope you all enjoy your day!
Happy Reading,
Amy Corwin

Karen H in NC said...

Hi Amy,

I'm ba-a-a-ck! LOL You knew I'd be here!

Interesting post today. I read mostly historical romances set in the Regency and Victorian eras (my favorites). It's obvious you take great pains to write historically accurate stories. But, in fiction, is that level of accuracy all that necessary? As a reader, I appreciate historical accuracy, but I'm not fanatical about it. That said, if there is a well-known historical event in the book, I'd like that event to be written as accurately as possible. However, I have read works where the author states they have taken creative license with an event in their book, changing things ever so slightly to fit their story. As long as the author includes a disclaimer, I'm not likely to take offense at the historical inaccuracies in the story. Do you hear from your readers if they discover a historical error in your books?

The historical mystery is a sub-genre I have only recently discovered and I'm enjoying what I've read so far. Your books are going on my BTB list.

Catherine Lee said...

I love your take on research, Amy. I'm not a writer, but as a librarian I am familiar with research. I easily get involved, sometimes too deeply, in the research of faculty colleagues and even students. Because, as you say, the more you research, the more you find that you DON'T know. I want to give the faculty (and students) EVERYTHING. I've had to try to restrain myself and learn when I've given enough information. It's easy to overwhelm students with too much info.

catherinelee100 at gmail dot com

Amy said...

You all bring up really good points about research. Sometimes I get carried away, but I do think that it is important to get a feel for the period. As a reader, I was never particularly concerned with accuracy, though. I figured a lot of things were just for purposes of the story so it didn't bother me when authors strayed too far into fantasy. LOL

I'm just trying to walk that fine line between too much detail or not enough.

Thanks for your comments and insights.

Renald said...

I like romance and historical stories.

Chelsea B. said...

Thank you for sharing, Amy! I look forward to reading your book!