On a trip to England years ago, I recall learning that Queen Elizabeth has kept a diary ever since she was a young girl. This poses an interesting question. When it’s understood (or just assumed) that one day these private entries will be read by someone other than herself – or perhaps even made public – how candid might they actually be?
I like my dogs and horses better than my children.
Camilla wore the most ghastly shoes at lunch today.
Philip’s a dear but his snoring is really vexing me.
Perhaps instead, she sticks to safe ground to avoid controversy and the potential ruffling of feathers.
The morning began with light rain but cleared by midday.
I think I’ll buy a new hat.
I tried a different marmalade on my toast. It was amusing.
In Rebecca Yelland’s compelling new book, Dancing at Midnight, a mother’s secret journal takes center-stage after her death and causes her estranged daughter to suddenly start questioning everything that she once believed was true. While catharsis may be good for a troubled soul, it’s not without the risk of collateral damage – a scenario this author thoughtfully explores.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! Have you come down from the ceiling yet?
A: I’m not sure. Every time my feet start to touch the ground, a great review or acknowledgment pops up and I’m in the clouds again. Most recently, I was awarded the indie BRAG medallion for literary fiction. It’ll be a few weeks before I land.
Q: Seriously, what did you do to celebrate the book’s release?
A: When I received the first copy of Dancing at Midnight in the mail, I was grinning like an idiot. But other than plastering all over social media to friends and family that my book had been published, nothing particularly special. The real work of promotion had only just begun.
Q: When did you first know that the burning desire to be a writer was in your blood?
A: I come from a family of artists. Literally. My uncle and grandfather were both painters and my grandmother and her family were musicians. I guess you could say it was in my DNA to seek some sort of artistic outlet like writing. I started out composing poems as a child and graduated to songwriting in my teens and adulthood. Eventually that led to writing my first novel. Expressing my thoughts on paper is a natural as breathing.
Q: What’s the earliest thing you can ever remember writing?
A: A poem when I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember the name. It received an award and was published along with other winners for our school district. Sadly, the publication was lost many years ago during a move. I hope to find another copy someday.
Q: Successful wordsmiths are often voracious readers. Is this the case with you?
A: In my case, not so much. I’ve always had a way with words. My mind absorbs everything around me – including the use of language. I read a lot when I was younger. But with the demands of a full-time job that required hours of computer work, my poor eyes needed a break in the evenings. However, after publishing my book, I have been able to enjoy a short work sabbatical and have been catching up on my reading.
Q: What’s your favorite genre?
A: I’d have to say memoirs and biographies. I am fascinated with the true life stories of people who have overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. I’m encouraged to learn of such individuals who have emerged from the other side and survived.
Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party and can invite six authors (living or dead) that you most admire. Who’s on that auspicious guest list and what question(s) would you like to ask each of them before the evening is over?
A: J.K. Rowling – What sparked your brain to create the elaborate world of Harry Potter?
C.S. Lewis – If you had to give one reason to believe in God, what would you say?
Judy Blume – You are so relatable to young girls. What’s your secret?
Mary Shelley – What was the inspiration for the “monster” in Frankenstein?
Virginia Wolf – Do you believe that depression is a life sentence that cannot be overcome?
Amy Tan – Do you think women of the past were right or wrong to hide their traumatic experiences from their daughters?
Q: You’ve spent a large part of your career as a human resources professional. What aspects of that job have yielded the most insights on what makes people tick, and how have you applied those insights to the development of fictional characters?
A: I’ve worked in several different industries with several different employee populations. In preparing performance reviews, interviewing candidates and handling the delicate nature of terminations, I’ve been exposed to many personality types in the process. As a result, I’ve come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. Observing a large spectrum of human behavior on a daily basis has only helped me in creating believable characters for my story.
Q: What was the inspiration for Dancing at Midnight?
A: I was randomly looking through my family’s genealogy one day and realized there were a lot of missing pieces in the lives of some of my relatives – including my own mother. I knew some about her life, but not enough that would help explain her often erratic behavior. My mother has since passed away and there are so many things I will never know. In writing Dancing at Midnight, I was able to give my character the answers that I had hoped to find.
Q: The plot of your debut novel revolves around the discovery of a mother’s private journals and the secrets she has kept hidden from her family. What is your own theory about the keeping of diaries (i.e., a cathartic way to examine one’s life with no intention of those entries ever being read OR a confessional that is meant to explain past deeds and seek redemption after death)?
A: Diaries can be a very therapeutic way for otherwise introverted individuals to express their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Especially when dealing with trauma they would prefer to keep private from the outside world. In the time period of my novel, it makes perfect sense then that June would use her diary to sort out her feelings in a time where many of her experiences were not openly talked about like they are now. I believe keeping the journal was the only thing that helped her to go on living.
Q: Do you keep a diary?
A: I’ve kept a diary at brief points in my life. I usually ended up losing interest after a while and forgot to keep them up. I prefer to talk about my feeling to a live person if possible.
Q: How much of your own personality was put into Dancing at Midnight?
A: I am a combination of both Carolyn and June. But mostly June. Both characters suffer from an anxiety disorder as do I. As a daughter, my mother was very much like June. As a mother, I have suffered trauma that I feel is often misunderstood by family and friends. It’s interesting that how in writing this book, my personality became more evident in the mother.
Q: Have you ever entertained the idea of penning an autobiography?
A: Yes. I’ve had a very eventful life and wish to write about it someday. However, in consideration of others that may be affected by my story, I’m waiting until the right moment to present itself.
Q: Who’s your favorite character in Dancing at Midnight?
A: That would be Jimmy! I don’t know how that character came out of my brain. He is wonderful! I want to marry him myself.
Q: Is there a takeaway message you’d like your readers to have by the final chapter?
A: There are two things actually. First, not everyone is who they appear to be. Carolyn’s frustration with her mother was based on lack of knowledge and understanding. We never know what someone else has endured unless we have lived in their shoes. Judgement should be reserved when you don’t know the whole picture. Second, not everyone heals from trauma the same way. For some the trauma lasts a lifetime. Our society is so quick to shame people into “moving on” and just “getting over” it. Mourning is unique to each individual. The timeline should never be judged or rushed.
Q: Like a lot of authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. Was it easier or harder than you expected to wear a multiplicity of hats and get this book in front of a readership?
A: I originally opted to pursue self-publishing as a simpler and faster way to get my book published. It has proven to be anything but that. Although my book has received outstanding reviews and honored by indie BRAG, the promotion has been an extremely frustrating process. Writing a good book means nothing if you can’t get it out to the masses!
Q: What are you doing to promote it and which methods are working the most effectively for you?
A: I’ve done a lot of giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook and Amazon. Goodreads has given me the most exposure, but it’s still limited in the grand scheme of publishing. At this point, word of mouth had brought about the best results so far.
Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to adapt this to a feature-length film. Who comprises your dream cast for it?
A: A film would be my biggest dream! I saw the book as a movie in my head the whole time I was writing it. The cast suggestions below are based strictly on physical resemblance and types.
Jimmy – Alex Pettyfer
June –Aleixis Bleidel
Alice – Jessica Hamby
Tom – Brant Daughtery
Carolyn – Rachel McAdams
Sharon – Reese Witherspoon
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m terrified of frogs! My brother lives in a rural area and in the summer it looks like one of the Egyptian plagues outside his house.
Q: Who or what inspires you as an author?
A: My inspiration is based solely on my need to put my thoughts on paper. It is very therapeutic for me to express myself in this type of format. Sometimes even I am surprised but what I write.
Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?
A: Unfortunately, I’m the most creative when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I wish I could plug my brain into a computer and transfer the data. By the time I get up and go to my computer I don’t always remember what I want to say! So I write mostly at night/early hours of the morning. It’s my best time to concentrate.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m currently working on a sequel to Dancing at Midnight. I wasn’t planning on writing one but there has been an overwhelming request to do so. You’ve got to make your readers happy, right?
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Publishing my first novel has been an incredible personal accomplishment. I have many more stories in my head. I look forward to expanding my collection of titles in the future.