Last fall, I read an article about forgotten females from history that profiled Locusta, a Roman poison assassin, who is considered to be the first serial killer. The fact the first serial killer was a woman struck me and the more I read about her, a story began to weave in my mind.
About a week later, my priest gave a sermon warning about the ease of falling into a cycle of sin and penance. Often we realize our actions are incorrect, feel guilt, and then performance penance. But after guilt wears away, it becomes easy to commit the sin again. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied this concept to a murderer. The essence of my novel was born in the church pew.
Inspired by the notion confession could provide a source of false permission for murder, I lifted Locusta’s inspiration out of Rome and placed my novel at the height of the Catholic church in England. The exact year is open within the book, but I imagine it to be around 1517 when Martin Luther proclaimed his “95 Theses.” During this time, the priest was a powerful official at the local level and the historic practice of “indulgences” helps bolster why my assassin, Lavinia Maud, may (falsely) think she can simply go to confession and receive forgiveness for mortal sin.
I set out to write an anti-hero the reader cheered for. Giving Lavinia faith, even though it is corrupt, makes her more accessible and unique as a fictional murderer.
2. If your book was made into a film, who would you like to see play the lead?
Does anyone not think Anna Kendrick would make a fantastic period poison assassin?
3. Have you ever been pulled over by a cop?
I was unnecessarily pulled over by a cop on the campus of Iowa State University during my undergraduate studies. It was Friday night, about 1:30 a.m., and I was driving from the engineering lab to my dorm. The cop asked me what I was doing about on campus so late at night and I told him I had just finished my homework.
His face squished into a disbelieving expression before asking again with short tone.
I pointed to my backpack on the passenger seat and said, “Really, I was in the lab. I’m an aerospace engineering major.”
His face immediately softened as my explanation cleared away all doubt. All he said was, “Alright, have a safe drive home.”
4. Have you ever danced in the rain?
Not that I can remember, but it did rain every day my husband and I climbed Kilimanjaro. That was in live B.C. (before children).
5. If you could have one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?
The Melting Pot!
I am originally from Wisconsin, so the first cheese course would satisfy my itch (even though I’m lactose intolerant - it is a cruel irony). Followed by salad, meat and then CHOCOLATE, there is nothing missing from that meal! And after you’re complete, you feel as if you don’t need another meal for the rest of your life . . .
My family’s tradition is fondue on Christmas Eve, which is also my birthday. I cherish the memories of those family meals, gathered around the steaming pot, and am keeping the tradition with my own children. Fondue is also the one meal which takes longer to eat than prepare.
6. Which do you use more often, dictionary or thesaurus?
Thesaurus! It’s not even a competition.
While writing Apricots and Wolfsbane I often became frustrated the perfect word did not exist back in the 1500’s. Thesaurus.com has a handy “Word Origin & History” sidebar that provides a rough hack of the year a word was recorded. When in doubt, I check a word using that quick resource, and if I find a word is too modern, there’s a handy list of alternatives waiting.
Seriously, if anyone ever events a time machine, please go back and introduce the words “sadistic” and “intrigue” to Tudor England.
7. If you could live in a book, TV show or Movie, what would it be?
I would be a character written by Aaron Sorkin. Life would be more exciting if everyone bantered with such wit and I can do a mean “walk and talk.”
8. How would you survive a Zombie apocalypse?
Let’s be honest, I probably wouldn’t.
But since I’m not one for confrontation, my strategy would be to hide away somewhere with an emergency supply of food and water, hunkering down until I could resurface to replenish supplies and go at it again.
9. What genre do you write in and what draws you into this genre?
I write historical fiction. I have always loved the renaissance/Tudor period and you’ll find me each year at the Texas and Sherwood Forest Renaissance Festivals proudly sporting my garb. (Yes I know these festivals are not always historically accurate but who cares?) I love the clothing of the period and the romanticism of long forgotten politeness and chivalry.
However, I am thankful God put me in this century; I’m far too independent of a woman and would have been stifled by old fashioned customs.
Historical fiction also fits my style of writing. I tend to be prosey :)
10. Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages a day?
Unless I’m on an editing deadline, no, I write as fast or slow as my inspiration. Despite experience in journalism, I loathe writing deadlines, which is ironic since I like schedules in most other aspects of my life. Apricots and Wolfsbane began as a nanowrimo project which I extended into a “novel writing quarter.” At my best, when the juices are flowing, I write a max of about 1,000 words an hour.
I tend to write in spurts, and then take long breaks, focusing on marketing and the other aspects of being an author during that downtime. Stepping away gives me a chance to return to a manuscript with new perspective and ideas.
11. Do you let a book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
Yes! Time is your best friend when editing.
Once I have a novel outline fleshed out, I start writing. Each time I sit down to write, I review what I wrote the previous session and then continue on. When the whole manuscript is complete, I immediately go back and take a first crack at editing. I also have a list of my common writing tics/habits that I’ll go through and clean up. Once that is complete, I let the thing sit.
Manuscripts should age like a fine wine or cheese.
It is amazing how many errors can be spotted, or improvements seem, when writing is approached with fresh eyes. I continue this cycle until I find I’m tweaking to the point most of my edits are in the realm of “line edits.” At this point, I solicit advice from beta readers.
12. What part of your writing time do you dedicate to marketing your book?
Both too much and not enough.
Along with aerospace engineering, I double majored in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. I love marketing and the science behind persuasion, so I find those aspects of writing interesting. But they do take time . . .
Writing is relaxing. Especially with a glass of wine or chocolate, under the covers, in bed. It provides an escape from whatever tribulation the day possessed.
Marketing feels like work, but it’s a necessary evil to get my books in the hands of readers. I would rather be writing, but there is always something more I can do to spread word about my work.
To strike a balance, I tend to accomplish both in spurts: writing until I hit a block or a piece needs to sit, and then focusing on marketing for a period.
13. What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
I have a love/hate relationship with the fact writing is a subjective medium. The engineer in me would love to uncover the formula which would create a perfect book. But that singular attribute captures why writing is so difficult . . . and beautiful.
Yes, bad reviews sting for a moment. I know there will always be those who disagree. But every good review makes up for the bad ones ten-fold. Everytime I hear my novel enraptured a reader, it makes all the toil and fret worthwhile.
I am a firm believer that good reviews can contain criticism. No book is perfect. Not even the classics, and not mine. When I’m searching Goodreads or other sites for my next TBR, I give more stock to the reviews that provide some nit over the ones that are 100% glowing - they’re more likely to be objective.
14. Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
My first “day job” is at Johnson Space Center where I work as a flight controller in Mission Control. Specializing in Guidance, Navigation and Control, I had the honor of operating the Space Shuttle and now am developing operations for upcoming human space vehicles.
When I’m not at work, I’m the blessed mother to a three and a six-year-old. The parents out there will understand why I’m calling this a job, but it is more rewarding than any book I could publish (and perhaps more challenging). When I’ve finally got them tucked into bed, I relax by escaping into the worlds I create with my keyboard.
Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victims' bodies—to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Believing confession erases the sin of murder, her morbid desires are in unity with faith, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.
At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.
With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.
About K. M. Pohlkamp