So, awhile ago, like probably two years ago, (which is a long time in internet time) I met Victoria. She had commented on my blog and we chatted back and forth a bit. When I procrastinate have time, I like to check out the blogs of the people who stop by and talk to me.
To this day, Victoria’s blog, The Opposite of Popular, remains one of my favorites. It’s in my top five, along with Jenny Trout and The Bloggess. First off, Victoria’s hilarious. She’s also smart and has an appealing sort of half conversational – half confessional tone to her writing. The first time I was there, I must have read fifteen posts in a row. I was delighted to learn that she was writing a novel. Not only was she writing a novel, she was writing a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a side of Casanova.
Well, it’s time, people. That Beauty and the Beast retelling with a side of Casanova is available TODAY! It’s called The Rose and the Mask , and it’s fantastic. (Full Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to get to read an ARC, and it’s so much fun. I really, really loved it.)
It’s true that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, but often, they fall flat. That doesn’t happen in The Rose and the Mask. I’m also a sucker for good dialogue, and Victoria is a dialogue genius. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this book. Just do yourself a favor, and go get it!
But first, I’ve got a little interview with Victoria, so you guys can get to know her a bit, too.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I work part-time in an office so some of my days are pretty much the same as they were before I started taking writing seriously: work, home, dinner, TV, bed. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I’ll be so absorbed by my current writing project that I’ll spend my lunch break scribbling in a notebook and dash straight to my computer when I get home. As for writing days… well, there’s really no such thing as a typical one. What they have in common is that they all contain writing, procrastination, snacks and crushing self-doubt, in varying proportions. I’m working on enlarging the “writing” slice of that particular pie!
Do you have any collections?
Oh, yes. To name a few: Lego Minifigures, My Little Ponies, those beautiful hardback editions of classic books that have been A Thing recently. And that’s before we even start on my Disney stuff. Let’s just say that I have nine Disney Beauty and the Beast mugs, and they’re the tip of the iceberg…
Introvert or extrovert?
I’m definitely an introvert. Other people are awesome and I love many of them dearly, it’s just that I need a lot of time to myself. Although I will admit that it’s sometimes hard to draw a line between “I need some time to myself” and “I just want some quality time with my pajamas”.
What do you like best about writing?
I think, because of the introvert thing, I find it a lot easier and more satisfying to connect with people through the written word than face-to-face. A lot of my friendships are online for that reason. I think I come across a lot better when I’ve had a chance to edit myself!
I also love playing with language. I get a lot of fun out of arranging words, and I like the fact that I can often somehow sense whether a sentence is right or not. I’ve no idea if I’m correct because I’ve no idea whether I’m actually any good as a writer (how do you know?) but, when that happens, I feel like I am.
What do you like least?
The lack of… supervision, I guess. This is actually one of the best things about writing, particularly if you’re self-publishing—you get to write what you want, when you want, how you want. But it’s also incredibly difficult in a way I didn’t see coming until I started trying to treat writing like a job. I mean, in a regular job—at least the low-level kind I’ve had—you have a manager who is expecting you to do your work within a certain timeframe and to a certain standard, and who’ll correct you if you mess up. They’re also there to train you and to give you feedback, even if that’s just to confirm that you’re on the right track.
With writing, particularly with your first book, and particularly when you’re self-published, there’s none of that. Nobody cares whether you finish it or not. No one’s going to confirm that you’re doing well or nudge you back on course if you’re not. No one’s going to identify any gaps in your knowledge and suggest further training. All of that has to come from you. Learning to do all of that is at least as hard as learning how to actually write, and just as important if you want to make a career out of writing.
The Rose and the Mask is your first book – HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!! It’s a fantastic Beauty and the Beast retelling with a side of Casanova. Can you tell us what drew you to those two tales?
Oh, gosh. I could go on for days about my love of Beauty and the Beast—and frequently have to be prevented from doing so. But I suppose what it boils down to is that it’s a story about people who are different, and isolated by that difference, but find a meaningful, literally-magical connection with one another. When I rediscovered the story as a weird, socially-awkward teenager, that aspect of it seized me right in the core of my being and I guess I’ve never quite shaken it off.
Of course, Beauty and the Beast has a lot of troubling implications—well, not even implications. The harmful message that love can transform a cruel “beast” of a man into a gentle “prince” is right at the heart of the story, at least as we’re most familiar with it. I was very mindful of that while writing The Rose and the Mask, and a lot of the challenges I faced were to do with reworking that message while still retaining what I loved about the original. But I think that’s the value of retellings: passing on much-loved stories, but allowing them to adapt and grow when they need to.
As for Casanova… well, he’s just a fascinating character! He’s remembered as this great romancer, of course, but that’s actually one of the less interesting things about him. He was a musician, a professional gambler, a spy, a criminal—in fact, he famously escaped an allegedly inescapable prison, using a scheme that involved a spike hidden in a Bible hidden under some pasta. How do you read about that and not want to write about him? But what really fascinated me is that he was able to convince a lot of people that he had magical powers, often to his own great benefit. That ended up being a major component in how I portrayed him in the book and sent a lot of things in a lot of interesting directions! (She says, mysteriously. You’ll have to read the book!)
What do you like best about Faustina?
She copes well under pressure. I love to read (and write!) about women who can take things in their stride, because I’d like to be better at that myself. There’s plenty about her that’s, shall we say, less-than-admirable—like the career in burglary and art forgery—but I’d be happy to learn to channel her in a crisis. I also think she’s pretty funny, although there’s a chance I could be biased.
What do you like best about Benedetto?
He’s funny too, although, again, this is coming from the person who wrote his jokes. He’s also quite comfortable with who he is—as much as he can be, given certain curse-related complications. He’s a thoughtful introvert and he’s self-aware in a way that Faustina isn’t, so much. Having said all that, though, I think we’d drive each other up the wall if he were a real person. He’s much too tidy and careful to cope with me!
Is there anything you hope readers take away from The Rose and the Mask?
I guess I just want them to have fun. Life is hard and scary and often much, much too serious—and there should be literature that reflects that. But I’m not the person to write it. I’m not good at that. What I’m good at—at least, what I hope I’m good at—is fun, creating a place to escape to. If someone finds even a tiny bit of happiness in my work, then I’ve done something worthwhile.
Of course, if they could also take away from it a sense that I’m awesome and they’ll buy all my future books, that would be nice too.
What’s up next for you—care to share a bit?
I’m working on a Cinderella retelling, set in the same universe as The Rose and the Mask and bringing some background characters to the fore. I’m having a lot of fun with it: creating a new couple who are very different to Faustina and Benedetto, and finding new ways to twist the story. It’s been hard to focus on it while preparing for the launch for The Rose and the Mask, but I’m excited to get back to work on it soon!
Faustina is a beauty and a thief, not necessarily in that order. She doesn’t believe in magic, just luck, and hers has run out. The last thing she needs is to get roped into a ridiculous revenge plot by her brother—especially when that brother is Giacomo Casanova, Venice’s most notorious libertine.
Benedetto Bellini has never been particularly lucky. The fact that he’s under a beastly curse proves that. Now he’s got a second problem, one that’s washed up on his island in its undergarments and attempted to steal his silverware. He finds Faustina intriguing and infuriating in equal measure. And, thanks to the curse, he’s stuck with her.
Faustina doesn’t know what to make of the sweet, shy and deeply irritating man holding her captive. Does he have something sinister in mind, or is he just trying to keep her safe? And why won’t he take off his mask?
Click here for an excerpt. (Do it. No, really, doooooooooooooooo it.)
Victoria Leybourne is an author, blogger and tea-drinker who was born in England but grew up on the internet. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her vigorously making excuses for not writing while watching animated movies, belting out showtunes and/or attempting to pet every cat within a three-mile radius.