A: I was drawn to the dark humor of 16th century writers like Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, and pamphleteers. It was difficult living under Henry VIII with his erratic political and religious policies. The writers from that time reacted with droll skepticism and piety (or what they believed was pious). A more sophisticated world view was dawning but they were still heavily influenced by old beliefs and superstition. Their sometimes strange logic and polarized thinking intrigued me.
Q: In a sentence, what is your book about?
A: The daughter of an infamous alchemist must prove her innocence in the murder of a friend and uncover its connection to a mysterious ship and influx in the number of rats before she is convicted and London succumbs to the plague.
Q: Why write a mystery?
A: I love period mysteries, especially those set in Tudor and Elizabethan England. However, I became more interested in learning about the citizens of Tudor London rather than read court-centered intrigues. I’d never written a mystery before, so I took it on as a personal challenge. For years I’d been reworking a story about the daughter of an alchemist. I decided to keep some of the characters and raise the stakes for my heroine. The result was a completely different story for her.
I wrote The Alchemist’s Daughter as a standalone and when Kensington was interested in doing a series I had to scramble to come up with plots for two more books. Death of an Alchemist will be released in February of 2016 and has more alchemy in it.
Q: What differentiates your heroine from others?
A: Bianca Goddard is an amateur sleuth combining her love of science with the desire to understand what motivates humans to murder. To my knowledge, there are no alchemist sleuths in literature. While Bianca riles at being called an alchemist, she does understand its usefulness. As the series goes on, she will slowly become more inclined to dabble in alchemy, but this has to come with great inner conflict.
Q: Who do you think would like your book?
A: I think mystery lovers, historical novel readers, and those interested in Tudor/Elizabethan period novels will connect with the book. It might appeal to a higher young adult audience, too. There is a slight element of the mythic, too. As one reviewer put it, if you like historical mysteries with a little romance and creep factor thrown in, you’ll like The Alchemist’s Daughter. It’s kind of a strange book in that it’s difficult to categorize exactly.
Q: What is your interest in alchemy?
A: Alchemy was as much a philosophical belief system as it was a rudimentary science. It evolved over several centuries and across three continents and encompassed not only science, but religious, mathematical, and mystical ideas. Alchemists believed one must have the right destiny to succeed and failure was a fault of personal character.
Alchemists strove for perfection in their approach to chemistry and in their devotion to it. One may not be born with the right destiny but if one were disciplined, they could create their fate. The improbability of success was assured, and in my mind, this certainty makes for a provocative group of explorers forced to confront constant failure, poverty and denial.
I come from a medical background and studied chemistry and biology in college. I love history, too, so all of these subjects appeal to me and I get to keep learning about it all.
Q: What do you hope readers will get out of the book?
A: Basically I hope to entertain. My writing style is a bit campy, and I want to take the reader on a ride through 1543 Tudor London. The Alchemist’s Daughter is commercial fiction, not meant to be taken too seriously—I want the reader to have fun.
Q: Tell us some things that are special about Maine for you.
A: Riding the ferry to Peaks Island under the Fourth of July fireworks on Casco Bay. Sunday afternoons eating coconut ice cream at Big Daddies in Hollis after working all day in the fields. Double rainbows stretching over Boyd Pond in Limington after a summer storm. Watching a solar eclipse from my deck overlooking Great Pond in Cape Elizabeth. The stars any night anywhere in Maine.
Q: You have a whole other identity as a farmer – what do you grow, and does your knowledge of agriculture influence your writing?
A: We grow a variety of fruit–blueberries, raspberries, sour cherries, elderberries and lingonberries. Farming keeps me grounded and reminds me what really matters. I’m proud that we took 7 acres of quarried land in Limington and have turned it into a productive farm. We’re still learning and it’s a challenge to figure out what pest or disease is seeking to ruin our hard work. I love being around farmers and folks who garden. If the world falls apart tomorrow at least I can eat blueberries.
Mary Lawrence studied biology and chemistry, graduating from Indiana University with a degree in Cytotechnology. After working for years as a cytologist, she now farms and writes in Limington. The Alchemist’s Daughter is the first book in the Bianca Goddard Mysteries. You can visit her at www.marylawrencebooks.com