Diva Interview: Author Alexandra Richland
I haven’t read many historical romances. That was until I read the first book by Alexandra Richland a few years ago. Starlight tells a story of a young woman making her way in old Hollywood in the early ’50s. The amount of knowledge, research, and understanding of the era truly impressed me as a reader. Richland really captured the essence of the time and it showed so well in her writing. I asked her to visit the Divas today and share with us a little about herself and her books.
Hello, Alexandra! Thank you for visiting Write Divas. Will you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you so much for approaching me for this interview! I’m a huge fan of Write Divas and thrilled to be featured on your blog. By profession, I’m a registered nurse with a pediatric focus, and I work at a downtown Toronto hospital. Nursing wasn’t my first university degree. I attended the University of Toronto for six years and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and then a Master’s Degree in Organic Chemistry. While I enjoy mathematics and science, I missed the human connection that is absent in laboratory work. Therefore, I decided to become a nurse. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love my job. It can be very difficult working with ill children, but overall, it is very rewarding.
As someone with a deeply rooted interest in medicine, writing seemed like a peculiar pastime. However, I’ve always been a dreamer. It wasn’t until six years ago that I realized the stories I had constructed in my head could be written and fleshed out into proper novels. I had never considered writing before, but as soon as I started, I couldn’t stop. The words flowed so easily. I had many ideas I wanted to explore in the genres of contemporary and historical romance, and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity and ability to bring them to fruition, as well as have people all over the world embrace my books.
What draws you to historical fiction, specifically historical romantic fiction?
I’m a classic film fanatic, and the 1950s are my favorite time period. I love the clothes and the simple, idealistic approach to romance in films in the early part of the decade. I’m inspired by the classic romances of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, James Dean and Pier Angeli, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, and the fictional romances between Natalie Wood and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, and Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront.
Sure, Janet and Tony, Debbie and Eddie, and Jimmy and Pier eventually broke up (Natalie and Robert also divorced, but remarried less than ten years later), but in the first years of their relationships, the media portrayed them as the perfect Hollywood couples—which appeals to the hopeless romantic in me.
It is this kind of idealistic romance that I chose to focus on in The Starlight Trilogy. I am drawn to the idea of soul mates and an everlasting love, and the T-shirt-and-jean-clad rebel tamed by the virtuous ingenue. Setting the story against the backdrop of classic Hollywood allowed me to combine my love of classic films with my fascination with the timeless romance. I also enjoyed channeling my favorite actors, Marlon Brando and James Dean, and my favorite actress, Natalie Wood, into my main characters, Aidan Evans and Elizabeth Sutton. It was my dream project!
The Starlight Trilogy takes place in Hollywood. What kind of research did you do to write books set in this era?
My love and interest in all things classic Hollywood over the last ten years provided me with a solid factual foundation on which to base Aidan and Beth’s fictional Hollywood lives. The way the studio system worked, life at the studio, what filming a movie was like, studio contracts, the 1950s Hollywood social scene… I possessed a lot of knowledge on these subjects. Therefore, I hardly had to conduct additional research. I did take some liberties to fit the story I wanted to tell, but overall, I remained as true to the times as possible. My goal was to weave this information into my trilogy subtly to educate people on what life was like back then for actors/actresses without boring my readers or having the story read like a journal article.
My advice to authors writing historical fiction is to double-check everything. For instance, in an early draft of Starlight (The Starlight Trilogy book #1), I had two characters slathering on sunscreen by the pool. I also mentioned a character buying a bottle of water, a Rolodex placed on someone’s desk, and a popular 1950s sitcom playing on the television. Well, it wasn’t until the story was being edited that it was pointed out to me that sunscreen, as we know it today, didn’t exist back then. Bottled water also didn’t exist, and the Rolodex wasn’t invented yet. Furthermore, the sitcom I had mentioned did première in 1954, when this particular chapter took place, but not until November. The chapter was set in February. These are details I didn’t think twice about when writing the first draft of story. Accuracy is important in historical fiction, so don’t assume anything. Get the facts. If you want to usher the reader into the world you’ve created, you must stay true to the time period. Would mentioning a Rolodex ruin my story? No. Would most people know the Rolodex wasn’t invented in the early 1950s? Probably not. But all it takes is one person to point this out in a review, and then the integrity of your entire story is questioned. You’ve put so much effort into writing your novel. Ensure this effort is also applied to the details, and your story will be better for it.
What key factors do you recommend for anyone wanting to write in a different time frame?
In my previous response, I addressed the importance of research when writing historical fiction. In reply to this particular question, I will add another important tip that relates to this subject: know the lingo. You don’t want to use popular slang from the time period so much that every chapter screams, “Hey, this story is set in the past!” You also don’t want your story to be so full of time-specific terminology that your readers have difficulty deciphering what people are saying. However, you should know the widely used terminology from the year(s) your story is set in. For example, in the 1950s when The Starlight Trilogy takes place, the refrigerator was referred to as the icebox. It isn’t a major detail, but by referring to the refrigerator as an icebox, it indicates subtly to my readers that I know my characters and the setting well, and I care about presenting the story as realistically as possible.
When used appropriately, incorporating popular words and phrases from the time period into your novel doesn’t burden your story with unnecessary detail but adds an authenticity to your writing that fans of the era will respect and enjoy. Another thing to consider is, who is speaking? Whose point of view does the chapter belong to? If it’s 1954, and an elderly man in a stuffy suit is addressing his friends, he most likely isn’t going to use phrases like “cool, man” or “hey, baby.” If it’s Aidan Evans, The Starlight Trilogy’s main male character based on James Dean, and he is replying to one of his male friends, “cool, man” would suit his character. If he was greeting Beth, “Hey, baby” would be appropriate. But remember, more relaxed terminology isn’t age related. Aidan is a rebel by early-1950s standards. He wears T-shirts and jeans when many men his age are wearing suits and fedoras. Another male character in his age group with a squarer disposition wouldn’t use casual lingo. This is why it is important to flesh out all characters beforehand (whether writing historical or contemporary fiction), so their actions and way of speaking are consistent with their personalities. People can change throughout the course of a story. Just make sure their words and mannerisms are era appropriate and reflect who they are every step of the way.
Your novel, Frontline, your novella Slip Away, and your short story, Gilded Cage, are set in present day. Do you find it more difficult to get in the modern-day mindset after writing about the past in The Starlight Trilogy?
Because I am fairly familiar with the 1950s, and I live (obviously 🙂 in the present day, I find it is easy to write about the past and the present. However, in terms of minute details, writing a story set in present times is easier. I don’t have to worry about whether a certain device is invented yet, or whether my characters’ terminology is inappropriate to the setting. Research is required when writing any type of story, but if your modern-day novel is on a topic you are already familiar with, it does eliminate a lot of the fact checking of every chapter like you would need to do when writing a historical novel.
Can you share any insight you have for authors when it comes to writing a believable romance in a historical fiction?
The Starlight Trilogy takes place in the early 1950s. Back then, the world was far from idyllic, but in my opinion, there is something very romantic about the time period: the sophisticated way people dressed, the whimsical courtships portrayed in classic films—sharing milkshakes at the local drugstore and a kiss under the stars. In The Starlight Trilogy, Aidan Evans is a bad boy method actor from New York with a traumatic past and experience in intimacy. Elizabeth Sutton is an eighteen-year-old virgin who moved to Los Angeles and signed a contract with Starlight Motion Picture Studios after living a sheltered life with her parents in fictional Clarkson, Oregon. Aidan has strong feelings for Beth, but he also wants to protect the good in her. Therefore, he must cage his desires and go slow with her, teach her what it means to be deeply loved by a man who would do anything for her. Consequently, when it came to writing Aidan and Beth’s romance, I paced their courtship. I brought the readers along on a sensual journey that starts with a kiss on the cheek and progresses to lovemaking between two people who are truly each other’s soul mates. While I wasn’t scarce on details about their intimacy, I did avoid using crass descriptions that wouldn’t fit the classic romantic world I created in this trilogy.
My advice to authors writing romance in historical fiction is to look at how you’ve constructed your characters and how they fit into the book’s setting. Also, look at the time period. Do research. What was going on in the country at that time culturally, socially, and politically? From a 1950s perspective, American society changed drastically from 1950 to 1959. Toward the end of the 1950s, sex in the media and in society overall became less taboo, so if your book is set then, perhaps your characters would have a more lax approach to intimacy, and thus, your terminology could reflect that. If your characters are idealistic and innocent, don’t write intimate scenes that read like pornography. Ultimately, every decade had people in kinky relationships and more reserved relationships, and everything in between. Just because your book is set in the past doesn’t mean you must avoid one-night stands or graphic sex scenes. The important thing is to be consistent. Know your characters. Consider how they would approach intimacy, what words they would use to describe their romances, and write their stories accordingly.
What do you have coming next?
Currently, I’m reviewing Stardust (The Starlight Trilogy book #3) before submitting it to Write Divas for professional editing. I’m also in the middle of writing the Frontline sequel. Both books will be released in 2015.
About the Author
Alexandra Richland spends rotating twelve-hour shifts working as a registered nurse at a Toronto hospital, indulging in her love of science and medicine and caring for patients with their own unique tales to tell. When she is not on duty, Alexandra escapes into her own imagination. Therein lies a fantasy world of thrilling adventure, gorgeous men, classic Hollywood glamour, exotic getaways, and a seductive dose of romance. Alexandra captures these stories in her popular novels, The Starlight Trilogy and Frontline, her novella, Slip Away, and her short story, Gilded Cage. Say hello to her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Ms.AlexandraRichland) and on Twitter (@RebelMissAlex).