Out of Twenty: A.C. Gaughen, Author of Lady Thief, Answers Ten Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. A.C. Gaughen is the author of  Lady Thief, a novel about a female thief hiding her identity in Robin Hood’s band of thieves.  Here is what A.C. had to say about reading, writing, and whether she and Scarlet can ever be best buds.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and ACwhat kind of books you like to write?

My name is Annie Gaughen, and in a post-apocalyptic situation I would MOST LIKELY be one of the first casualties.  I say this because I have very few redeeming physical abilities—I have zero reflexes (you know when the doctor taps your knee and your knee is meant to jerk—mine doesn’t.  It doesn’t even twitch).  The only situation in which I will survive is if I’m given the chance to team up with someone brawny and physically capable to whom I can be the brains of the equation.  Or, possibly, if I’m given access to baking items and I will earn my keep with delicious baked goods.

Clearly, this explanation shows why I shouldn’t write dystopian.  Instead, I’ve written historical fiction (Scarlet and Lady Thief), I’ve been working on a contemporary, and I have a fantasy heart-project that’s on the back burner while I’m in grad school and working with a non-profit in Boston.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

I think I have two responses to that.  My process when I’m writing successfully usually involves the nearest Panera (it’s become something of a good-luck-writing-paradise) and copious amounts of either diet Coke or tea (and they have free refills on BOTH!).  I can plug in my computer and bang out upwards of 5k words over about 6-8 hours; I like working like that, with singular focus and attention.  I can’t always do that, but when I can, it’s good.

My second answer has more to do with what I do when my writing stalls.  I try to walk away in a conscious way—I know that my work isn’t going to get any further/better inside the four walls of wherever I am, so I try to leave, see people, watch movies, read books—but do it with intention.  If my friend is telling me a story that is making me laugh or beg her what happened next, I try to figure out what’s making me so interested, how that might be lacking in my book.  A writer is someone on whom nothing is wasted!

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book that you ultimately decided not to include?

That historically/economically/nationally speaking (from the perspective of several modern academics), Prince John was actually a remarkably efficient and successful ruler.  Yeah, that’s not going in there.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

Soo…I label all the books I’m working on by the name of the protagonist.  I call them that and refer to them as such.  So when I first started shopping Scarlet, it just turned out that my working title was actually kind of appropriate and clever, and no one ever talked about changing it.

Lady Thief went through many thought bubble changes though!  I initially suggested that title for Book Three and my editor suggested it worked better for

What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen book coverdiscovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

YES!  Tuck Everlasting.  I HATED that book—not because it isn’t excellent, but because I was heartbroken by the ending.  I decided then and there that I had to rewrite it.  And so it began…

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I can’t say with certainty that anything ever needs to be scrapped—just shelved.  But I have about 100 notebooks holed up somewhere in my mothers house, and about 20 more on my computer, that all represent a story in some stage or another.  I have about five that I have currently open in Scrivener.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

Eleanor of Aquitaine.  She is just the coolest—one of the most fascinating, admirable women in English history and writing her—and researching more about her life—was a total joy.  She so effortlessly epitomizes the complications of power, femininity, and the difficulty of loving more than one thing at once.

Is Scarlet someone you can see yourself being friends with? How do you think she would feel about you and your lifestyle?

GOD NO.  Scarlet would hate me.  I would tell her exactly what I think of her life choices and she would not want to hear that, and as her friend I would struggle (as I do as her writer!) with remembering that I need to let her make her own mistakes.  It can be painful to watch, but it’s how we get through the conflict and how we become the girl at the end of the story.  Arguably, the girl with the happy ending.

However, I like to think that we would have a grudging respect for each other.  And that I could recruit her to teach a knife skills class for my non-profit.

What is your favorite of the two books you have written on Scarlet? Is there anything about the first novel that you would have changed?

I’m really proud of Lady Thief.  And while I couldn’t say I like one BETTER, I think I’m definitely more proud of the work I put into (and the struggle, heartache, infinite wordsmithing) Lady Thief.

I would possibly have reconsidered Scar’s name!  It was pointed out to me afterwards that in all the research I did, all the endless tracking word etymology, the one word I never thought to check was scarlet.  Turns out using it to describe a color is not historically accurate for the time period.

Ok, I may not have chosen differently—but I would definitely have liked to know that going in!

Would you have liked to live in the middle ages? What would you have wanted your position or role to be in society?

NO NO NO NO.  NO NO.  It was an incredibly brutal time, ESPECIALLY for a girl.  Ok, maybe that would be my condition—if I could be a dude, I would live in the middle ages.  Or a pope!  I’d take a pope.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

About A.C. Gauhen: She’s been madly in love with writing since she was in kindergarten. Some of her earliest memories revolve around books and writing, like reading in front of the class, and reading with her mother. She wrote all through middle school and starting submitting novels when she was thirteen.

St Andrews, Scotland, is where she went to college then she got into grad school, wrote like a fiend, and when she graduated, spent three miserable years as a freelance writer while working on several different novels.  She wrote them, prepped them, submitted them, and kept on working, because as far as she can tell, the actual writing is the only thing that she can control, and it’s the part that really makes her happy.

She also has two dogs,  because every writer should have dogs.

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Publisher’s Description:

Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own.  Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn’t know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all 


Reading Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden is a lovely and rewarding experience. I adore books containing atmosphere and am equally fond of reading about witches. Rickert combines both with a heartwarming and engaging tale about great love, big secrets, relationships, and coming of age - not only for a young generation, but also for the one beginning the process of reflecting and coming to terms with what will likely be their final years. The Memory Garden is filled with lush writing, unforgettable characters, and manages to  immerse readers in the politics of a small town of an earlier time, and in friendships whose strength transcends a painful past.

Another fascinating aspect of reading about witches is how they draw on elements of the natural world in their preparations for cures, charms and enchantments. Rickert adds to the richness of The Memory Garden by prefacing each chapter with an ingredient – fruit, vegetable, herb – and its uses and meaning. I am able to share the APPLE BLOSSOM card with you today. Another clear endorsement of the apple of day philosophy.


For more thoughts on this book, and to see the rest of the lovely cards, visit: Royal Reviews /Book Bag Lady / Lesa’s Book Critiques / The Bibliotaphe Closet / Bookalicious Babe / Mirabile DictuStory Matters

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

Mary McNear on Going to the Lakehouse

Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNearOne of the staples of fictional plots goes like this – something happens (usually life-changing), and then a person (usually a woman) needs to remake their life, often by returning home. Stories like this are surely so popular if only because they bring comfort through familiarity and hope that in a similar situation you have a place and network of friends where you can easily return, be accepted and nurtured through your difficult time. You will probably also find love, because in fiction, if you’re running off somewhere to regroup, it’s a given that your love life has either imploded or was sad and non-existent to begin with.  

I love it when these novels take place on an island, a lake or someplace exotic. I mean, if your life has been blown to hell, you might as well find yourself in a beautiful cabin by the lake. Mary McNear’s new series exploring life in the Midwest lake town of Butternut begins with Up At Butternut Lake, which  follows the story of a young mom and widow (whose husband has died in Afghanistan) who moves back to her family’s cabin beside the lake to make a fresh start for herself and her son Jess. Here is what Mary had to say about the pleasures of returning to the lake.

Although I have lived in San Francisco for almost twenty years and went to college and graduate Mary McNear author of the Butternut Lake seriesschool on the east coast, I was born on the near north side of Chicago, just a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan.  I grew up in Chicago and spent many summers and vacations visiting my grandparents in Racine, Wisconsin, and each summer we visited the lake house my great grandfather built on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin, about an hour south of Lake Superior.

Long after we left the Midwest, in the late 1970s, we continued to visit the lake house in Wisconsin each summer. Now, I bring my own children there in July and August and we do many of the same things that my sisters and I did when we were kids. We putter around in old motorboats, paddle creaky canoes to coves and beaches, shop at the local gift shops and have breakfast at the local diner. We still gather in the evening on the deck and watch the sun set out over the lake.

My life in San Francisco is filled with the hubbub of daily life: getting my children off to school, working on my books, and meeting friends. Interestingly, I know a lot of transplanted Midwesterners like myself who live in San Francisco, and, like me,  many  of them have memories of summers on a lake.

Sometimes I suspect my friends and I share the same fantasy of spending more than just the summer on a lake; after all, what could be a better place to run away to, to rebuild, to rediscover or maybe even to reinvent oneself than on a lake?

Maybe it’s not surprising then that when I decided to write a novel about a woman whose husband had been killed in Afghanistan, and her five year old son, I knew there was only one place for them to start over again, and that was at their family’s fishing cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota. Their lake, Butternut Lake, is fictional, but it is very much inspired by my own memories of the lake I still visit every summer.

About: Mary McNear is a writer living in San Francisco with her husband, two teenage children, and a miniscule white dog named Macaroon. She bases her novels on a lifetime of summers spent in a small town on a lake in the Northern Midwest. Butternut Summerthe second in the series, is scheduled for release in August 2014.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe, and Susan Rieger|Reading Round Up

One of the key things about having less time for one of my great loves (reading!) is that I am much more ruthless about reading what I find to be really enjoyable and/or rewarding. Gone is the time when I can meander through a book with vague feelings of boredom and/or annoyance with a plot. These days if I pick a book up and don’t feel a compelling desire to come back to it, I don’t. The last few weeks have offered up an eclectic mix of reads, but for the most part, I have been happy with my choices.

Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe & Susan Rieger

The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine:  Yesterday, I posted my interview with Jessica Levine, and I was fascinated with her discussion of the psychological nature of her books, women having male muses, and the different types or literature and reading that have spurred the creation of her characters and novels.

I have high praise for The Geometry of Love. The novel’s protagonist, Julia, is in a safe, though creatively stifling relationship with her college sweetheart when she has a chance run-in with their old roommate, Michael (a creative soul mate with whom she once shared a steamy kiss). While both men offer an essential element to Julia’s well-being, her attempts to resurrect their damaged relationships, establish agency in her creative life, and determine her path in life, unfolds in surprising ways and brings all involved all but to the brink of ruin. Levine’s characters are thoughtfully rendered and contain a level of nuance that holds the reader hostage in their messy lives. Julia in particular reminded me of that friend whose life is a mess, and though you’ve heard way too much about her problems, too many times, there is something that keeps you from turning away.

Living in Style: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Glamour by Rachel Zoe: I’m a pretty recent convert to The Zoe Report (Rachel Zoe’s daily beauty, style and fashion newsletter) but I do love a pretty dress, and her astute style curation caught my eye. Though a new devotee, I was fairly excited to find out that she has a new book out. Right off the bat I am favorably disposed to enjoy a coffee table book like Living in Style. There are beautiful photographs of style icons, sneak peeks behind the scenes – at fashion soirees, and practical suggestions for formulating a sense of style, work life maintenance routine and balance. The book is written in a conversational style, and Zoe shares tips from her beauty care routine, and stories about her early days and establishing her career. If you want a more substantive guide for for fashion, make up an style choices, I would subscribe to her newsletter as this is mostly breezy and fun.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger: Susan Rieger’s debut novel is instantly memorable to me, if only because I had so much fun  reading it. I loved escaping into Sophie Diehl’s world of long catch-up emails with her best friend, detailed and informative work briefs, and intriguingly accurate representations of divorce documents. The fact that Sophie is a criminal lawyer who has has no interest in dealing with people adds to the comic elements of the novel, which doesn’t lose its poignancy among the humor. Rieger artfully weaves Sophie’s troubled relationship history, tenuous parental bonds, and deep ambivalence about marriage in to the secondary story of divorce negotiations between a privileged heiress (the fabulously charming, intelligent and empathetic Mia Meiklejohn) and and her prominent physician husband. My only complaint is that it felt a tad long in spots, but having the option to skip around in the legal documents remedied any restlessness that I had.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung