Today author Iris Anthony joins us on MPB to discuss her historical fiction The Ruins of Lace!
GC: Can you give me the story behind your pseudonym, Iris Anthony?
IA: This story has been in the works for about ten years. In the meantime, I’ve built up a readership with my own name, trying hard to keep writing books I hoped those readers would enjoy. This novel lies a bit outside the expectations I’ve created for my other books though the themes I write about are the same and I approach the world of my stories with the same beliefs. I don’t want my other readers to worry I’ve stopped writing the kinds of books they’ve come to expect (I still plan on publishing books under my own name) and at the same time, I’d like the chance to see if there are a group of readers out there that might enjoy more Iris Anthony novels.
GC: How did you first get interested in this little-known time in history?
IA: I first ran across a mention of lace smuggling when I was researching costuming for a different book. Once I discovered that lace and smuggling were once connected, I was hooked! I knew I had to write about it.
GC: Watching the story from your poor little lace smuggler's POV was both my favorite and least favorite. When did the Dog's voice come to you and what was your initial reaction to his presence in the story?
IA: The dog’s voice was the first one I heard when I began to imagine this story. From the beginning, I knew he’d have to be a character. The only thing I knew about the use of dogs at the time was the fact that over 40,000 of them were killed during a 15-year period as they tried to cross the border with their lace. But how would you teach a dog to smuggle lace? Avoid detection? Cross a border and then return? I tried, for several years, to find answers to those questions. What I finally discovered haunted me; I cried as I wrote those scenes. And I wanted redemption for the dog. He was never there just to showcase a unique point of view, he represented humanity. And because he did, he needed a character arc the same way the other characters did. I gave him the most important line in the whole story…by having him say nothing at all at the end.
GC: I've never asked an author this, but why, why, why did you choose to end the book the way you did? I can't decide how I feel about it to be honest. I was wondering if your process could help me process.
IA: That ending! I had no idea it would be so controversial.
I first ran across that mention of lace smuggling back in 2002 and I finally felt able to start writing this story in 2008. The story itself went through about three major rewrites and this version of the story had several different endings. The ending was something my editor and I worked very hard on up until the final edit. At one point, I had Lisette and Alexandre literally walking off into the sunset with the dog trotting along at their heels, but early readers wanted something more complex to go along with the rest of the story.
So if having the main players walk off happily-ever-after wasn’t quite right, then what was? Writing the ending was like trying to fit together the pieces of a puzzle.
The count had to die. He’d always died, in every version. Alexandre had to live; that too had always remained the same. If Lisette didn’t die, and if she couldn’t just walk out of the church with Alexandre, then what should happen to her? Her character arc required sacrifice, but did it have to be the ultimate sacrifice? And what about the lace--it had to mean something in the end, didn’t it?
No and…surprisingly, no.
Lisette did not have to die, although she had to be willing to. (Remember: she’d always stated she would do anything to free her family from the debt she’d placed upon them.) And the lace…in the end, the value of the lace is the value that people have placed upon it. So the value of the lace to Alexandre is in direct proportion to its ability to save Lisette. Watching her fall, he assumes she’s dead so the lace has become worthless. That’s why he uses it to try to bind her head. And ‘knowing’ that she’s gone, his primary concern then becomes to avenge her death. (If you want to know definitively whether she lives or dies, my hint would be to look to the dog for the answer (see above).
In many ways, this book is about voices. Both literally--with seven different POV characters--and also symbolically. There’s a character who can’t speak (a dog), a character who’s not allowed to speak (the lacemaker), a character who has to figure out what kind of voice he has (Alexandre), a character who despises his voice (the count), a character who doesn’t think she has the right to speak (Lisette), a character who ought to speak out more (Heilwich) and a character who can’t quite figure out what to say (Denis). And maybe the most important ‘character’ of all: the lace. In the end, I had to figure out what all those voices needed to say and I had to offer them each (lace included) a chance at redemption.
GC: What's next for you?
IA: What’s next are too many books! I’m in the beginning stages of research for another Sourcebooks title. I’m also editing a book for a different publisher and look forward to picking up a third manuscript for revision at some point early next winter. If there weren’t so much to be done, I might start panicking, but the truth is, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
Thank you so much for hosting me and for your interest in The Ruins of Lace!
GC: Thank you, Iris!
Win a finished copy of this wonderful novel below!