13 Questions shine Operation Awesome's Spotlight
2022 Debut Author
On Good Authority by Briana Una McGuckin
1- Which perfume oil is your favorite?
This is complicated to answer, because I use perfume oils to evoke different moods or places as I write; they’re all transporting, just to very different places. One of the oils I used specifically while writing On Good Authority is called Unsettling Portraits (sold by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab). It got me right into the headspace of Valentine Hobbs, the lowly footman love interest in my Victorian Gothic. The scent notes are “crackled amber resin, faded turpentine and torn canvas, pulverized frankincense, verdigris, and crushed malachite, lead white sandalwood, smoky umber, and lampblack.” The mix of dark, ritualized, almost supernatural grandeur coupled with these humble, unfussy things (the turpentine and lampblack) really brings home the upstairs-downstairs dichotomy of the story. Here is Valentine, this humble worker who is more noble in his heart than his so-called superiors, stuck in this pretty house all stuffed with ugly secrets.
2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?
Modify absolute advice before you take it. Example: it’s not “show, DON’T tell,” it’s “make thoughtful decisions about WHEN to show vs. WHEN to tell, and why.”
3- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader?
It’s not an emotion, quite, but I hope that this book promotes understanding. I hope that I have drawn a clear line between controlling, abusive behavior and consensual kink, and contributed to clarity between the two things instead of their problematic muddling. I hope that people who come from either community see themselves represented here. I hope that readers who do not exist in these spaces get some insight that maybe they didn’t have before, especially about what brings people to the BDSM community, and how different the catharsis of careful, responsible kink is from the corrosion of cruel abuses of power.
4- What is the best part of being an academic librarian?
As an author, it’s having the research superpowers to fall back on when I need to find, for example, a handbook for footmen new to their jobs, so I know what a workday is like for Valentine Hobbs. As a person who loves librarianship for its own sake, the best part is being able to help others satisfy their intellectual curiosity. I love the exploratory work of finding answers, especially for people trying to make sense of the world, or better it somehow.
5- Would you share a picture with us of your book in a romantic setting?
I’ll share two! Would you like it by the fire, perhaps, or with a nice latte and slice of chocolate cake?
6- How do you support your fellow debut authors and have any of them supported you?
My Pitch Wars class (2020) is still very much in touch, and the debuts among us retweet each others’ book news whenever we can. We touch base with feelings/questions about our publishing journeys in the Discord that a few of our class members very wisely organized. I’m also really interested in holding the door for folks who are still querying or on sub. I try to be available for manuscript reading and feedback as time allows; there are so many people out here writing excellent stories who don’t have representation yet, and it’s HARD shopping your work without a teammate to tell you you’re doing great! I’ll never, ever forget the slog of it, and I want to be a cheerleader whenever I can.
7- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?
I’m @BrianaUna on Twitter. As for shoutouts… Just three? Oof, I have like ten, but I will stay in my genre lane and just do some people scribbling scary stuff at this particular moment.
twitter handles for my shout-outs:
Alex Woodroe: AlexWoodroe
CJ Dotson: cj_dots
Erin E. Adams: IAmEEAdams
Alex Woodroe, whose debut, WHISPERWOOD, comes out in July of next year. Alex is a beautiful soul who deserves all good things from publishing, as well as from the world in general. Also, she’s good at just plain creeping me out, in that folkloric way that feels timeless—true in your bones.
C.J. Dotson wrote THE CUT, which is in the hotel-horror vein of THE SHINING but, instead of alcoholism, it’s tackling how women struggle to emotionally recalibrate after abuse. (CJ’s too humble to comp The Shining; I have no such qualms!). We don’t have enough stories about how hard it is not to fall back into patterns of abuse after managing to escape them, and this one goes there while also sustaining a satisfyingly supernatural evil as well. C.J. deserves representation, like, several yesterdays ago.
Last but not least, Erin E. Adams’s debut, JACKAL, is also out this October and I’m so excited to get my hands on it. I love stories where there’s this sense that the whole town is implicated in whatever evil, unjust stuff is going on, because that’s the truth, and it’s horrifying—that people will turn away from awfulness because it’s too uncomfortable to look. Erin is also a Pitch Wars 2020 alumna, and to know from the inside, about how much work and tenacious hope this takes… It’s rewarding to watch it all pay off.
8- What is your favorite creative non-writing activity to do?
I love to draw, but I never give it proper attention; it always comes out when I’m listening to a podcast, or in a workshop—I’ll just doodle people or animals. I tell myself that someday I’ll pursue illustration, to put some oomph behind the natural inclination; it would be wonderful to have the motor skill to depict my characters and scenes… I just don’t really know where to begin! More deliberately, I like to do faux-stained glass work with liquid leading and glass paint. It’s very forgiving of errors, and applying paint to glass is soothing. There’s no resistance; the way is smooth.
9- In what ways are the main characters in your book diverse? diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks
Though this book doesn’t deal directly with disability, I have cerebral palsy, so just the fact that I’ve come this far, and get to have a voice in fiction… I mean, I dreamed I would publish novels, but I don’t know if I ever truly believed the world would let me. Always, in the back of my mind, I wondered if people only said I was a good writer because they felt sorry for me, or were humoring me. I thought maybe my parents and my teachers and my friends were relieved that storytelling was something that satisfied me, because I certainly wasn’t about to go play on the soccer team. It’s taken a long time to accept that, no, I do write well, I do have things to say, and—most staggering of all—others are interested in listening to me.
And a book in which the main character has cerebral palsy IS coming from me, mark my words. It’s just going to be a bit. It’s a story I’ve been working out in my head since I was about fifteen, and I’ve not been skilled enough yet to tell it right. Every year I return to it, and every year I feel that I’m closer. We’ll get there. I just want to make sure I do it exactly right, for the child-Briana who dreamed it up, wanting desperately to be understood. I want to give her that, and anyone else who needs it.
10- What's the biggest writing goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime? #WriteGoal #BucketList #WriterBucketList
This question made me well up, because until recently publishing a novel was that biggest writing goal. Now I need a new dream, and what a thought that is. I’m lucky to have that “problem.” I’d be the most fortunate person alive to get no further than this. I’m so grateful. If I wish anything more, it’s that I keep going, and with my whole heart—not too intimidated or self-conscious to continue writing, and not waylaid from telling my truth by worries about what others might think. I want to do this, just this, again and again for as long as I can.
11- What was the query process like for you?
It was discouraging, which I think it is for many people. You’re just throwing queries and pages into the void, hoping that the materials went through, wondering when to follow up, if ever… And the fortune-telling you try to do, interpreting the meaning of what little data you have: your place in the submission queue, whether a partial or full was requested, what this or that agent’s tweet means for their interest level in what you’ve written… It’s exhausting, and it’s lonely. I had been querying six months when I got into Pitch Wars. I’d sent out about 100 queries and gotten one partial request, which had been rejected. My Pitch Wars mentor, Elizabeth Little, said that—based on the manuscript—she was shocked I hadn’t had more interest. But, over the course of Pitch Wars, she taught me something really important about the whole process: rejection doesn’t mean the work is bad; it means that one person didn’t want to take it on, for one of who knows how many reasons, which have more to do with their interests, their vision, their goals, and their expertise than with you or your work. “They just didn’t like it,” she said. Not in a damning way—just simply. That was so freeing to hear. There was nothing I had to do, right now, to fix the work after a string of rejections (provided the work was polished to be what I meant it to be, which it was), because the work wasn’t bad. Was it less than ready for publication? Probably! But that’s why it’s not published yet, and the agent/editor who sees what you are doing will be willing to work on refining the manuscript with you. I just needed to find the right person, who was looking for the thing I made. And I did, in my agent Chris Bucci, who found ON GOOD AUTHORITY in the Pitch Wars Showcase and reached out to me for the full draft.
12- Would you please ask our audience an intriguing question to answer in the comments?
I am always interested in what people’s strong reactions to smells are, because I do use a lot of scent description in stories to place the reader bodily in a moment. My comfort smells are anything to do with campfires, but I also like grass smells. Tell me the smells that mean something positive to you!
13- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
At play, at risk, and in the dark in Victorian England.
When lady’s maid Marian Osley and footman Valentine Hobbs assume their positions at the cliff-top estate of Valor Rise, they already share a history. Raised together as paupers in a London workhouse, they escaped through games of imaginary crimes and sublime punishment. Now they’ve been unexpectedly reunited—in subservience to the brooding Wythe Bornholdt and his frail wife, Diana. A master and mistress with their own dark secrets.
In private, Marian and Valentine return to their playful and addictive games—now tinged with BDSM. But when lecherous Wythe sees something he desires in Marian, he turns the pair’s diversions violently against them.
The line between servitude and bondage is drawn, and the dynamics of dominance and submission will shift in this sensually charged novel of Gothic suspense.
Briana Una McGuckin lives in a charmingly strange old house in Connecticut. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Connecticut State University and an MLS from Long Island University. Among other places, her work appears in the Bram Stoker Award–nominated horror anthology Not All Monsters, the modern Gothic horror anthology In Somnio, and The Lost Librarian’s Grave anthology. Briana has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, a perhaps concerningly large collection of perfume oils, and a fascination with all things Victorian.
On Good Authority by Briana Una McGuckin