Christine Frost is a historical and speculative fiction author who explores the lives of real women in history. It is a pleasure to introduce her here on No Wasted Ink.
My name is Christine Frost, and I’ve been working in publishing and communications for nearly 20 years. I’m also a teaching assistant and writing instructor for literature courses at Harvard Extension School. In addition to writing novels, I study world history, and it serves as the core inspiration for the stories I create. I love to cook, and whenever possible, I integrate that passion into my novels; I run a series on my blog about the history of cooking in fiction. I live in the Boston area with my husband, and we enjoy Renaissance festivals and everything from sci-fi to historical and epic fantasy series.
When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I used to staple paper together in elementary school and write and illustrate stories, and during high school, I was very introverted and spent much of my time working on a fantasy trilogy that I’m still developing, though it’s changed a lot. But it all coalesced in the summer of 1994, when my brother died in an accident. He had just recommended that I watch The Crow, starring Brandon Lee. I saw it with his friends while the funeral was being planned, and the movie had an enormous impact on me. The sudden loss threw me into a tailspin—so I began writing a massive work, a dark urban fantasy that was very much influenced by the movie. It was my way of keeping his memory alive. Like the fantasy trilogy I wrote in high school, it remains unfinished and is being redeveloped, but it was while writing that story to help me deal with the grief that I realized I wanted to be an author.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I started working on my master’s degree in literature and creative writing. At the end of a graduate certificate program for communications, I took a creative writing workshop, which led to me applying for the master’s program. I took a number of workshops and courses having to do with medieval literature, such as one on Tolkien’s influences. It was then I really learned how to focus on following through with a story and come to appreciate the intensive revising process.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
Dark Lady of Doona is about Grania O’Malley, who is also known as the Irish pirate queen. While I’m a sticker for verisimilitude in my work, the premise is based on speculation that she may have served as a spy in order to help retain her territory at a time when the English were especially brutal in Ireland. So, while it is historical fiction, it has elements of a spy novel, only set in the 1500s during the time of Elizabeth I. It’s about Grania’s strength—in protecting her family, in being a formidable captain who commanded hundreds of men, and making a mark on history at a time when women weren’t as visible in the public realm.
What inspired you to write this book?
The more I read, the more unusual women I find who have been marginalized by history. I want to give them a voice and let them tell their story. It began with my first novel, about the consort to Romanian warlord Vlad Dracula. I have a long list of stories to write based on this idea, and they span all eras and places, from ancient Mesopotamia to Maine during the War of 1812 and beyond. Grania O’Malley was particularly inspiring to me, and learning about medieval Ireland was a wonderful opportunity to explore my family’s heritage.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I’d say it’s changed over the years. I was strongly influenced by dense, very complex Gothic novels, but have learned to pare down wording and structure. What I’ve learned from teaching writing is that developing a writing style is always a work in progress.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
Grania O’Malley earned the nickname Dark Lady of Doona after conquering a castle. She sought vengeance against a rival clan who killed a lover, and Doona was the name of the castle. As soon as I saw the name while doing research for the book, I knew it had to be the title. It’s poignant, yet shows her tremendous fortitude.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I love finding these incredible women and showing how powerful they were in what has traditionally been considered a man’s world. And it’s never an easy road, no matter what their station in life. They’re often the outliers, the rebels who have a hand in shaping history, even though the recognition was slight or late in the coming. I hope that readers will see Grania O’Malley as a symbol of perseverance—and that it may spark an interest in delving into history to see what fascinating things are there that have important lessons to teach all of us.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I don’t think so. People who know me well may be able to identify little things, quirks and behaviors that help with characterization, but overall, I try to create an authentic portrait for these historical figures, so I stick to what I’ve learned through my research.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
My early years were influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake’s fabulous Gormenghast series, and Neil Gaiman. I love epic fantasy in particular, but Neil Gaiman’s innovative style and how he uses myth and urban fantasy is very inspirational to me. In recent years, I’ve become fond of Modernist authors such as John Dos Passos, and reading Cormac McCarthy was a game-changer in terms of learning about how beautifully lyrical yet sparse writing styles can be, even when portraying the depths of the bleakest worlds.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
I’ve been fortunate in this regard. When working on my master’s, I had the opportunity to learn from Stratis Haviaris, who was the founding editor of the Harvard Review, and Paul Harding, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Tinkers in 2010. I’m immensely grateful to have been able to work with them both.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I have a background in graphic design, so I did this one myself.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never give up. All too often, as a student and teacher, I’ve heard people say writing is hard. It is, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Dig deep—get into the soul of your writing style by reading your work out loud; don’t be afraid to revise until it feels right—you’ll know when it resonates with you. And like many other writers advise, read as much as possible. Go outside of your favorite genres and explore everything you can. You never know what amazing new influences you may gain.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you to all the readers out there! Your feedback and reviews have helped me evolve as a writer, and I’ve enjoyed hearing from many of you.
Imprint: Her Raven Domain Productions