Tell people you’re interviewing an ex-nun on your blog and you get a certain kind of look because, let’s face it, that vocation comes with a ton of associations. We’ll explore some of them in my interview with Alice Loweecey, along with “incidental” chat about writing and books. 😉
If you notice my tone gets cheeky at times, it’s because I know Alice can handle it. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything she can’t handle. Full-time work, motherhood, a moderatorship on Absolute Write… Alice juggles these roles and still has a take-no-prisoners mentality towards authordom. Perhaps that’s why Midnight Ink took a leap of faith – if you’ll forgive the pun – and signed her for a three-book mystery series.
Alice’s first novel comes out in February and has earned early praise. Publisher’s Weekly called FORCE OF HABIT a “spirited debut” and said Alice’s “fresh take on crime fighting is a delight.”
So I don’t make any accidental faux pas, what are the other touchy subjects I need to avoid? No Sound of Music cracks, right? Anything else you consider out of line?
First of all, thank you for having me on your blog! And yes, please, no Sound of Music references. Sister Act, either. I still wield a mean ruler. Other than that, I can’t think of anything.
Would you like to fill our readers in on your novel’s premise?
Giulia Falcone is convinced she’s going to Hell. First, because she left the convent. Second, her new job with a private investigator has her sneaking around and lying. Adjusting to life in the outside world isn’t easy. Makeup, dating, and sex are all new to her. And despite a crush on her boss Frank Driscoll—a foul-mouthed, soft-hearted ex-cop—Giulia is sure he’d never fall for an ex-nun.
Her first case involves drop-dead handsome Blake Parker, a man with immense wealth and an ego to match. He and his fiancée are getting disturbing “gifts” with messages based on biblical verses. When Giulia is drawn into the stalker’s twisted game, salacious photos of her appear, threatening her job and her friendship with Frank. No one imagines—least of all naïve Giulia—the danger ahead, when following the clues turns into a fight for her life.
Your road to authordom took a circuitous route with a four-year stint in the convent. Guilia’s a former nun, and I can’t help being curious about how you two might be similar or divergent. For instance, it’s implied Guilia took the veil in part, at least, due to family pressure. Was that the case for you?
No indeed! I was a hard-headed teenage rebel, and the convent was the most rebellious thing I could do. I was helped along by some excellent reverse psychology and the allure of being “chosen” and “set apart”. Don’t misunderstand me—I know several women who have legitimate callings to the religious life. There’s a good chance I was one of them, once, but in the long run the life was not for me.
In future books, will we learn more about Guilia’s reasons for leaving the vocation? And if it’s not too personal, how long did you wrestle with your decision to “jump the wall”? What were the reasons behind such a drastic change?
In book 2 of the series, currently titled Bad Habits, Giulia goes undercover in her old convent to investigate a suicide. Being thrown back into the life causes her to question her own reasons for returning to the world. There are also catfights, excessive drinking, and inappropriate lacy underwear. Stay tuned!
It would be disingenuous to come up with a bullet point-type list of reasons I jumped the wall. The process took me more than a year, and was filled with panic, denial, and lots of anger. The latter, unfortunately, on the part of some of the other Sisters. Looking back on it, I can see that they too were afraid. Many Sisters were leaving, and there was an undercurrent of “Who’s going to push my wheelchair when I get old?” Change sucks. But sometimes change is the only answer.
So…life after the nunnery: You have a tantalizing bit on your bio page about playing a prostitute on stage very soon after leaving the convent. How on earth did you arrive at that juxtaposition? Was writing part of your life at that point?
I’d been involved in amateur theatre since high school. I always loved putting on the character of someone else. My last year in the convent, I received permission to act in a college play. That was interesting for some of the other cast members, who didn’t recognize me in the habit offstage. I enjoyed their startled reactions. When I became a regular person again, one of the first things I did was to audition for local amateur theatre. I was cast in a repertory company (the same group of actors doing several plays) and one of the roles I won was the hooker in The Owl and the Pussycat. So much fun! It’s a two-person show, and my male co-star was naturally shorter than me. My costume consisted of a skintight tank top, black vinyl mini-skirt, fishnets, exaggerated makeup, 5-inch stiletto heels, and a riding crop. For my initial entrance, I came storming onto the stage, whacking the riding crop on pieces of the set, and yelling. My (short) co-star had several comic expressions and could make his voice crack. The audience always laughed. Of course, my parents were in the front row opening night, and my father’s horrified gasp at my costume nearly caused me to break character.
While you may have a three-book deal, I know you worked very hard to achieve publication. What did it take for you personally?
I have this folder on my hard drive labeled “Passes.” It represents four solid years of work, three complete novels, and several layers of rhino hide.
The novels are three different genres: religious horror, paranormal, and mystery. The mystery has an interesting story behind it. I queried Nathan Bransford with the religious horror, mentioning in my query that I was an ex-nun and thus knew religion. He passed, but suggested that he’d like to see a mystery starring an ex-nun who solves crimes. I dismissed that suggestion initially, because “I wrote horror.”
However, the idea percolated in my head, and wouldn’t leave me alone. Eight months later I had Force of Habit. I queried Nathan with it, he asked for the first three chapters—and passed. In the politest way possible, too. Ya gotta laugh.
So there I was on the query-go-round. This turned into roller-coaster time. I got requests for partials and fulls. I also got form rejections on requested fulls (ouch!). I got two offers to revise and resubmit on two different books. I had one agent love my characters and another say they were bland. It truly is a subjective business.
Then in spring of 2009, I sent a “Why not?” query to Kent D. Wolf, an agent whose list of sales and genres he was seeking looked interesting. The next day, he called to request the full of the mystery. (Agents don’t normally call for that. I was a bit startled.) Two days later, he called to discuss the book, the characters, the convent, and how I felt about revising. (Is the sky blue? Of course I was willing to revise!) Two days after that, he called to offer representation.
That was the long answer. The short answer is: Six days. Okay, four years, 185 rejections, and six days.
Any sense of what you brought to the table that earned you a three-book deal out of the gate?
I think the mystique of the convent played a part. Almost all the people I’ve talked to about the book want to know more about the convent. It’s such a closed world, and one that sometimes appears to be vanishing.
Peeps, that concludes part 1 of this interview. In part 2 we’ll cover Alice’s suggestions about plotting, time management, and conquering writerly fear.
To be entered in the draw for the nun doll to the left, you will:
1. Comment below or in Part 2 of this interview, which will run in one week’s time;
2. Live in continental North America and;
3. Have your name drawn by RNG.
To have your name entered twice, retweet this post, post a link on your Facebook page, or a link on your blog, then make sure to post the url below. Contest is open until midnight MST, Sunday, February 6, 2011.
To read more, Part 2 can be found here.