Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Holly Luhning Is Here!

SO excited to welcome fellow Canadian, Holly Luhning, to my blog for my first EVER author Interview!

I first heard about Holly and her novel, Quiver, through a mutual friend, and I'm really happy to have the opportunity to spread the word about this talented gal.

Raised in rural Saskatchewan and now living in Toronto, Holly holds a PhD in eighteenth-century literature, madness and theories of the body {not only talented, but smart}. She has received a Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award, and her collection of poetry, Sway, was nominated for a Saskatchewan Book Award.

A Bit About The Novel ...

In sixteenth-century Hungary, Countess Elizabeth Báthory tortured and killed over six hundred servant girls in order to bathe in their blood; she believed this brutal ritual would preserve her youth and beauty.
Danica, a young forensic psychologist, is drawn to Báthory’s legend. She has moved from Canada to England to work at Stowmoor, a Victorian insane asylum turned modern-day forensic hospital. One of her patients, the notorious Martin Foster, murdered a fourteen-year-old girl in homage to Báthory. He cultivates his criminal celebrity and Danica struggles to maintain a professional demeanor with the charismatic Foster as she begins to suspect that his activities may be linked to a cabal that idolizes Báthory.
Danica’s life in London becomes increasingly complicated when  Maria, a glamorous friend from Danica’s past, arrives to do archival work in the city. She claims to have discovered Báthory’s long-lost diaries and slowly reveals horrific passages to Danica. As Danica’s career and her relationship with her artist-boyfriend, Henry, begin to break down, Maria lures her into a complex social sphere. Unsure of who to trust, Danica’s professional and personal lives become dangerously entwined, and she must decide what she is willing to risk to satisfy her attraction to Báthory’s ominous legend.

I LOVED this book!! It was unlike anything I've ever read before; it was dark, sexy, a bit grotesque, and entirely glamorous. I recommend reading it on a dark, rainy evening, with a glass of Shiraz {Holly's recommendation -- see below}, all curled up in bed to get the full effect - just make sure there's someone else in the house in case you get scared... or is that just me??

Read on for my interview with Holly, and stay tuned till the end for a little treat ...

Where did you first hear about the Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, and what was it that drew you to her as the subject for your debut novel Quiver?
While I was researching an undergrad paper, I came across Raymond T. McNally’s non-fiction book about Báthory, Dracula Was A Woman. The book had nothing to do with my paper, but I took it out of the library anyway. I was interested in Báthory’s historical and political stories, but I was even more interested in contemporary fascinations, and even obsessions with her – artists, musicians, criminals who have been influenced by her legend. I was intrigued by this sustained, contemporary fixation on her; the social anxieties this fixation reveals in regard to issues of violence, beauty, ritual, and femininity.
Some parts of your novel are pretty dark, and describe gruesome situations; as a writer, was it difficult for you to go to those places? To put yourself in the shoes of someone like Bathory, or Martin Foster?
It was taxing to work with such dark material, but it was also something that was entirely necessary to the story I wanted to tell, so I just did it. The Báthory diary sections were perhaps the most intense to write. I wrote the bulk of them in a cabin in the woods of northern Saskatchewan, on a two-week writers’ retreat. I actually don’t remember much about writing them, but around day ten of working on those sections, I started to have pretty terrible nightmares, and I had to put them aside for awhile.

Kind of an off the cuff question, but if you had the chance to sit down with Bathory today, what would you say to her? What kind of questions would you ask?
I would not want to sit down with Báthory, for several reasons. There are many versions of Báthory that have been constructed in stories and studies, and the Báthory in Quiver is my fictional version of Báthory. That version draws from historical record, but the book as a whole is mainly driven by enduring fascinations with her legend, which I understand as different from Báthory as a person. I also can’t really imagine working through time/cultural/language challenges in order for us to engage in productive conversation, or why she would deign to speak with me.

How long did it take you to write Quiver?
It took quite awhile. I first attempted to write poems about Báthory, and it took some time to realize, and then admit to myself, that this project needed to be a novel. Once I started actually writing the novel, it took about five or six years, counting all the drafts and rewrites and editing, etc.

Did you have a specific writing process? What was a typical day like for you during the creation of your manuscript?
I was doing my PhD while I was writing the first draft, so I didn’t have a regular writing schedule – sometimes I wouldn’t work on it for a couple of months, because I had to focus on the academic work, and then sometimes I was able to book off two weeks where I could work on the novel exclusively.

At any time during the novel writing process, did you find yourself coming up against resistance (by resistance I mean anything that kept you from doing your work, from writing your novel. Writers block can be resistance. So can distractions, and Starbucks, etc.)?
There are many things that can and do interfere with writing a novel. It is rare for a writer to have all of his/her time allocated for writing a novel, particularly a first novel, so if you ever want to finish, you have to learn how to effectively manage your time. My “day job” while I was writing Quiver was finishing my PhD dissertation and going on to do a post-doc. I would allocate the necessary time to do that work, and then when I was able to schedule chunks of time to work on the novel, it got to the point where I would usually use that time pretty well, because I knew it was kind of then or never.  And during the few months leading up to when I submitted the manuscript I had to sacrifice a lot of social activities in order to have the time and to stay in the headspace to get the work done – that was hard, but also necessary if I was ever going to complete things.
What was the process like for you, going from completed manuscript, to finding an agent, to getting published? Any advice for writers going through this process now?
The main thing is to focus on the work and to make your manuscript as absolutely solid and as good as you can possibly make it on your own. These days, a publisher might not have the resources to invest in a lot of substantive in-house editing, so you want to submit something that is as polished as possible.
I read in a review of your book that the only downside to it was the cover (which is I know is out of your control) because it gives the wrong impression according to the reviewer. I myself have seen your book on bookstore shelves sitting next to teen vampire books, so I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on this, because I can see how that might be a misleading categorization.
As you say, things like cover and marketing are beyond my control.  I trust that my publisher has strategies to try to get the book to as wide an audience as possible. There’s never just one way to market a book – for example, Quiver has just been released in the U.S. with an entirely different cover and marketing label. I didn’t write the book with any one genre or audience in mind, and I’ve been happily surprised at times at when the novel has found an unexpected audience, such as older YA readers, even though I never anticipated 16 - 18-year-olds as a target audience!


If you were to pair Quiver with a glass of wine what kind would it be?
A lovely shiraz.
What are you currently reading?
Bill Clegg’s Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be? and why?
This is hard, because I love traveling and have many favourite places. In general, though, I’d say someplace with ocean, beach, starry skies. 

THANK YOU Holly for answering my questions and allowing me to share your thoughts with my readers. And now .... A GIVEAWAY!!!!! One lucky ready will win a copy of Quiver

All you have to do to enter is comment below by 11:59pm GMT, November 18  and make sure you include your email address. It's that easy!! Giveaway open to international readers.


  1. Absolutely amazing and the interview is really interesting. 5-6 years to write it? Wow, that would be the reason why I couldn't write a novel - I have the attention span of a fruit fly... Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed your post. Love from London xo

  2. LOVE IT. This book is sounding like a must read.