Libba Bray may be a New York Times best-selling author, but if you click around Bray’s website you’ll quickly see that she hasn’t let her success go to her head. Bray’s warmth and eccentricity shine through in blogs, interviews, and social media presence, making her the perfect person to spotlight on The Daily Quirk!
Bray’s body of work includes the historical paranormal series The Gemma Doyle trilogy, two daring contemporary comedies (Going Bovine and Beauty Queens) and now The Diviners, a supernatural-themed series set in the roaring ’20s. To celebrate the paperback release of The Diviners, Bray was kind enough to give The Daily Quirk some insights on her writing process, her own quirky lifestyle, and what to expect in Lair of Dreams, the next book in The Diviners series.
The Daily Quirk: First off, your website bio is easily one of the most fascinating and entertaining author bios I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Have you ever considered writing a memoir? What might you title it?
Libba Bray: Thanks very much. It’s good to know that when I pop the top on the six-pack of crazy that is my past, people don’t automatically head for the doors. You are not the first person to suggest a memoir but as I am the person who finds my life the least interesting thing to revisit, having already lived it in all its Jesus-why-are you-telling-that-random-cute-dude-about-your-ELO obsession-while-waiting-for-the-high-dive-and-why-for-the-love-of-all-things-holy-are-you-wearing-a horizontal striped-bathing suit, I’m probably not ready to jump into the memoir game.
But if I did write one, I suppose the best title would be Mistakes Were Made, and it would feature a picture of me giving myself a home perm. Alternately, Wait, What Did I Just Take? might be a fine, if cautionary, title.
TDQ: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not busy writing?
LB: Hold on…you’re allowed to walk away from the keyboard? That’s not what my agent told me. Now, I’m pissed.
TDQ: If you could have any other dream job, besides being such a fabulous writer, what would it be?
LB: I would compose and sing jingles for coin-operated kiddie rides. Songs like, “Mr. Dinosaur Secretly Hates You for Oppressing Him By Riding on His Back,” “I Should Have Let Them Take Me to the Glue Factory While I Had the Chance,” and “My Soul Is Screaming Inside This Dolphin.”
Do you suppose this is why they won’t let me write picture books?
TDQ: You create an incredibly vivid 1920s setting in The Diviners, and your Gemma Doyle trilogy is set in the 1890s. What is it about historical fiction that appeals to you as a writer?
LB: I’ve always been interested in history. I can remember being fascinated by Tudor England and ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the French Revolution. So I naturally gravitated toward fiction that took me into the past: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, A Tale of Two Cities, The Canterbury Tales, The Great Gatsby, Sounder, Ivanhoe, Frankenstein.
But of course the other aspect is that history often allows one a side door through which to enter into discussion/examination of the present. With The Diviners, I very much wanted to explore where we were as a country in the years following 9/11, which made me wonder, well, where have we been as a country? I was interested in all of those questions of American identity, or more specifically, the creation of a narrative around identity. And then, in the bonus round: Ghosts and monsters and serial killers.
TDQ: What is your research process like when tackling a historical setting?
LB: I’ve actually MacGuyver’d a time machine using bits of string and old cheese spread. (Old cheese spread, it turns out, plasters over any quantum mechanical difficulties.) When the time machine isn’t working, which is, sadly, all of the time (Oh, cheese spread: Why must you fail me?), I rely heavily on the following:
I read books on the time period about which I’m writing. For The Diviners, this included books like Ann Douglas’s Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s; Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s; Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem between the Wars by Shane White, Graham White, Stephen Robertson, Stephen Garton; Joshua Zeitz’s Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern; Priscilla Murolo’s From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States; and Jesus and Gin: Evangelicalism, the Roaring Twenties and Today’s Culture Wars by Barry Hankins, among many other titles.
I read fiction, essays, and poetry from the time period: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Alain Locke.
I make use of New York’s amazing libraries and librarians: The NYPL & Brooklyn Public Library, the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The MTA Transit Archives, The New York Historical Society, The Paley Center for Media, and the Museum of Chinese in America’s Archives.
I talk to historians and experts.
For The Diviners, I also hired a research goddess, Lisa Gold, who could find me links to harder-to-find stuff (or at least, harder for me to find using my terrible skills), especially primary sources.
Last but not least, readers will sometimes alert me to interesting facts, and/or when they correct whatever detail I inevitably get wrong in some way, I then include them in the research process if it’s an area of interest/expertise for them. It takes a village. And usually, I am that village’s idiot.
TDQ: While working on The Diviners books, do you find yourself inadvertently incorporating ‘20s slang into your daily vocabulary? What’s your favorite 20’s word or phrase?
LB: Yes. But only to annoy my friends and family. I try to keep the irritation fresh. I’m a giver that way.
There are lots of great 1920s slang words/phrases like “The elephant’s eyebrows” (something that’s terrific), “Ossified” (really drunk) and “Tell it to Sweeney” (tell somebody who actually cares). But I suppose my favorite is “Everything’s Jake,” which means “Everything’s fine; it’s cool.” To me, that still feels hip. Or maybe I’ve been down the rabbit hole of research too long.
TDQ: The Diviners is a truly creepy story with a villain that terrified me! What fictional villain terrifies you the most?
LB: Honestly, it’s the real-life villains who terrify me most. I’m looking at you, John Wayne Gacy. Ditto Charles Manson. Dudes put me off clowns and isolated ranches for life, man. *shudders*
TDQ: Can you tell us anything about the next book in The Diviners series, Lair of Dreams, or any other upcoming projects?
LB: Well, I can tell you I’m still writing Lair of Dreams. So there’s that, to be filed under, “Why does Libba cry and eat coffee grounds from an old can?” I can tell you that it picks up about two months after the end of The Diviners, and we are introduced to a new Diviner, Ling, whose skills are paired with Henry’s in the dream world, and, of course, there’s all-new shenanigans for Evie and Company. And demonic llamas. Who…dance the Charleston. I might be lying about the llamas. Maybe. *eats more coffee grounds*
The Daily Quirk would like to thank Libba Bray for taking the time to participate in an interview with us (and give us a few laughs in the process)! To find out more about Libba and her books, check out her official website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.
And to enter to win a copy of The Diviners and a custom tote, check out the Giveaway Here!