Waverly Fitzgerald puts her readers inside the world of her vivid imagination.
It continues to both amaze and frankly intimidate me how many great authors are not only in the world generally, but right here in my town of Seattle. I’ve had the pleasure of personally meeting many of them via my Noir at the Bar Seattle live reading series, including Waverly Fitzgerald.
Like me, Waverly has her own imprint, called Rat City Publishing, but unlike me, she doesn’t only publish her own work, but many prominent authors in the thriving Puget Sound crime fiction scene, including her frequent collaborator, Curt Colbert. But before she founded her own press, Waverly boasts an impressive list of accomplishments in the publishing industry.
Here, Waverly talks about both her personal professional history and historic literature, which is only one of her many wheelhouses of educated, entertaining expertise.
You started your career in earnest when you were only 13, publishing your third novel by the time you were 25, both ages when most people barely have a clue what they want to do with their lives. Do you consider writing a conscious career decision, a creative compulsion, a personal quest, or all three?
Great question. I’m not one of those writers who feels compelled to write. I love to write, that’s all. I love being immersed in imaginary worlds. I love playing around with words. And I love the surprises that show up when I’m writing—my characters are always doing things that surprise me. Early on in my life, I noticed that some of my favorite writers (mostly female romance writers) were able to make a living writing novels and that seemed like a great career to me.
Your specialty is historical fiction. What do you believe is the appeal of combining fact with fantasy, especially in an era where “truth" is becoming subjective?
Historical fiction appeals to me because it imposes restrictions on my imagination, just like writing in a genre (for instance, mystery or romance) does. I also love doing research—it’s another place where I run into surprises. I try to make my books as historically accurate as possible, even to the point of researching the weather on a particular day. It helps me feel my way into that time period, which is why I write historical fiction. It’s the closest I can get to time travel.
But I also work hard to accurately portray the time period I’m writing about. It drives me crazy when writers focus on the more grotesque aspects of the culture or, on the other hand, dress modern characters up in period costume and have them espouse enlightened beliefs. When I was in college at UCLA, taking a class on the history of the Ottoman Empire, I wrote a paper analyzing all the novels by Western writers written about that place and time. It was interesting to see how the attitude shifted depending on the author’s background. We always see another time period through our particular filter.
Along with your fellow Seattle author Curt Colbert, you’ve published several humorous mysteries featuring a talking Chihuahua, combining two popular topics: crime and animals. What is your process when collaborating on a writing project?
Curt and I collaborate all through the process of writing one of the novels in the Barking Detective series. We toss around concepts at our weekly meetings. Curt writes one chapter and tries to leave it at an interesting place. He reads it out loud to me and then I take it home and write the next chapter. Usually we follow the improv rule, which is always say yes. In other words, whatever your partner hands you, you roll with it. I remember being quite annoyed when we were writing Chihuahua Confidential. Curt had Pepe sniffing a mysterious package (our MacGuffin) and declaring it smelled like nacho-flavored Doritos, but I went with it and it turned out to be an important clue. I do a light edit on Curt’s chapters when I write mine, usually tightening up the language and adding background information. I think part of the reason our collaboration works is that Curt lets me have the last word!
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
I’ve always been a fan of popular fiction. When I was in high school, I read my friend Jeanne’s mother’s Gothic novels and Regency romances. I think those were a huge influence on me. When I stopped writing historical romances (after Doubleday published three of them), I took a break from writing novels for a while and then I started writing mysteries.
I totally missed the Golden Age of mysteries as a reader, and I’ve never been an Agatha Christie fan, but I love PI novels. I have an almost complete collection of John D MacDonald mysteries. I’m also a big fan of the LA noir-ish novelists: James Ellroy, Robert Crais and Michael Connelly. I like books about places I’ve lived, so I also love Sue Grafton’s work since I went to school in Santa Barbara (I mean Santa Teresa!).
In the historical mystery field, I enjoy the writing of Ellis Peters, Stephanie Barron, Ashley Gardner, Ralph Peters and Bruce Alexander. Lately I’ve been reading historical mysteries set in other countries, most notably books by Abir Mukherjee (The Rising Man) on India at the end of the 19th century and Jason Goodwin (The Janissary Tree) writing about the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on two historical novels, one set in late Victorian London, which features a trance medium who channels a spirit who claims she was murdered. And another one set in England in 1643 during the English Civil War, which focuses on an herbalist living in a village full of Parliamentary supporters who rescues and heals a tortured Royalist spy. I’m fascinated by that period because it was a time of extreme polarization in both politics and religion. People were willing to kill for their beliefs and they used propaganda in the form of “fake news” to influence others. I’m planning to go to England to do research this summer. Another advantage of being a writer!
Cheers to that! Thanks Waverly!
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer and teacher, reader and student, author and publisher, passionate researcher and urban naturalist. She wrote her first novel at 13 and sold her third novel at the age of 25. For many years she wrote historical fiction set in Victorian London. For the past fifteen years, she’s been writing mysteries. Waverly has been teaching writing since the publication of her first novel. She teaches writing classes online for Creative Nonfiction and throughout the Seattle area for organizations like Richard Hugo House.