Mirth & Matter: The Journal of Elizabeth Bunce (elizabethcbunce) wrote,
Mirth & Matter: The Journal of Elizabeth Bunce

Morris Award Interview Series: Elizabeth Ross on BELLE EPOQUE

Before we dive in with Elizabeth's gorgeously illustrated interview, let's get caught up with the others.

Rachel Hartman and Stephanie Kuehn on CHARM & STRANGE.

Corey Whaley and Carrie Mesrobian talk SEX AND VIOLENCE.


Onto BELLE EPOQUE! I loved this delicious dip into late 19th C. Paris, and its absolutely irresistible tour guide. With sharp-eyed Maude Pinchon, a professional "beauty foil," you'll travel from steaming laundry to artist-filled coffee houses, to the most rarefied society ballrooms. Watching Maude find her way, navigating society at all levels, and discovering her true passions along the way, was simply delightful. A satisfying comeuppance and Maude's own transformation only add to the sophistication of this terrific debut novel. Well done, Elizabeth!


--First, give us the vital stats on BELLE EPOQUE. What was the inspiration for the novel? How long did it take to write? Was this truly your first book, or are there secret manuscripts lurking in desk drawers or dark closets?

BELLE EPOQUE was inspired by a short story by Emile Zola. The story is about an agency of ugly women who are rented out, essentially as props, to society ladies to make them appear more beautiful. Fascinating and horrifying, it seemed completely relevant to today’s world. It was a light-bulb moment for me, the idea of expanding this into a young adult novel. 

It took me about a year and half to write the first draft. And yes, BELLE EPOQUE was definitely my first novel. (See my publication story below!)

--Everyone loves to hear great stories about The Call! Would you share yours? How did you hear about your Morris Award nomination? Were you familiar with the award? How familiar were you with your fellow finalists’ work?

I had missed a call from New York. I was a bit groggy and sleep-deprived that morning (I have a young baby). There was a message from my editor, Krista Marino telling me I was a Morris finalist. I was completely astonished and delighted. I also remember feeling happy for my main character, Maude. As a wallflower, she doesn’t seek the limelight, naturally. So this was a nice moment for both of us!

As for the other finalists, I’m in a debut group with Cat, Steph and Evan. I had already read Blackbirds (wonderfully dark and eerie historical fiction). I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Bird’s Advice. Next up is Charm & Strange, which I’ve heard amazing things about. Hopefully I can read Sex and Violence on the flight to Philly. I’m really looking forward to meeting these other authors in person. It will be such a treat to be at ALA midwinter.

-- Can you describe your path to publication? What can readers expect next from you?

My path to publication was pretty much like winning the lottery. I met my editor at a writing conference where she bought BELLE EPOQUE after reading the first couple of chapters. All I had written at that point were those opening pages. It was both incredible and terrifying for me!

Currently I’m at work on a new novel set in 1940’s Los Angeles. I’m extremely excited about this new book. Stay tuned…

--You have another interesting career as a feature film editor. I’m curious to know how (or if) that craft has influenced your novel writing process. Are you naturally efficient, or do you leave a lot on the cutting room floor?

The craft of film editing definitely taught me about story and structure. In the same way that writing is rewriting, with editing you also keep playing around with a scene until you are immersed in the story and the edits are invisible. Editing has also made me comfortable with killing my darlings. As an editor you slave away on whole scenes that eventually end up getting cut, but the pace of the film as a whole benefits. I think it’s the same with writing novels.

Working in film has also influenced how I research and how I write. For example I approached BELLE EPOQUE a bit like a film production. Pasted over my office walls were visuals for locations, sets and costumes. Also I listened to different film scores for each chapter. I find that music adds instant emotion to what I’m writing and submerges me in the world of my novel.

I had a brilliant experience making the book trailer for BELLE EPOQUE with my VFX/animator husband. I was able to find my dream actors (even though I felt a bit like Durandeau at the casting session!). During the filming it really felt as though Maude and Isabelle had walked off the page and come to life.

A still from the trailer for Belle Epoque

--Tell us a little about your experience being a first-time novelist. Has it been what you expected? Any wisdom or insights or surprises to share about the joys or challenges of life during and after the first book?

I didn’t realize how attached I would become to my characters, to the point where I didn’t want to let them go and finish the novel. Maybe part of this reluctance came from the fear of sharing the book with a wider audience. After selling BELLE EPOQUE so early on, the only way I was able to complete the novel was by pretending it was just for me.

Once a book is published I was surprised by how it has this life outside of you, the writer. Once it’s out in the world, it really is set free and delightful connections can be made with complete strangers. It’s quite a privilege in that way.

I suppose the only wisdom I can share about writing a book is to let go of the result. I know we’ve all heard this at writing conferences but it’s true – the writing is the only thing you can control.

--And finally: How much do you love librarians?

I’m extremely grateful to librarians – they have really smiled on Belle Epoque. And beyond my book, the work they do is invaluable. They can unlock the passion for reading. How magical is that! I hope to mingle with many of them at ALA midwinter.

Thank you Elizabeth! This was fun.

Tags: belle epoque, blythe woolston, book trailer, carrie mesrobian, cat winters, charm & strange, elizabeth ross, evan roskos, in the shadow of blackbirds, john corey whaley, morris, morris award, morris award interview, morris award interview series, morris shortlist, rachel hartman, sex & violence, stephanie keuhn, william c. morris award, william c. morris ya debut award, yalsa, youth media awards
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