Broken Pieces

Getting to Know Deborah Hawkins #Author of DANCE FOR A DEAD PRINCESS

 Image of Deborah Hawkins
Can you tell use a little about yourself?
I grew up in the South where everyone is a born storyteller. I majored in English but had to go to law school when I couldn’t find a teaching job.  I always wanted to write.  I came close to selling a novel through a literary agent in 1995, but it didn’t happen.  I kept writing and now that my children are grown, I can publish my work.
How do you feel about self-publishing?
I’m obviously a fan since I’m self-published.  I think it is a great opportunity for writers to speak in their own voices and to find their own audiences.  Since I am self-employed as an attorney, it made sense for me to be self-employed as a writer, too.
What do you hope people will take away from your writing?  How will your words make them feel?
Kirkus Reviews called Dance for A Dead Princess a “satisfying novel” and I liked that description.  The Midwest Book Review described it as “a cut above genre writing.”  One of the best compliments I have received was from the reader who said she didn’t want the book to end.  The best books for me are the ones I just want to stay in forever.
What is your favorite scene in Dance For A Dead Princess?
I love the morning after Taylor’s ex-fiancee, Chris Hunter, takes her to dinner to tell her he’s marrying someone else.  Nicholas has seen Taylor with Chris the night before and he guesses bad news is coming.  He finds a miserable, hung-over Taylor alone in her hotel room next morning, and he devotes himself to cheering her up by showing her around London.  He tells her the women in his life, including Diana, had a knack for getting their hearts broken, and he’s had lots of experience with “the morning after.”  Nicholas describes himself as “the steady shoulder to cry on.”  This day is a turning point in their relationship.  For the first time Taylor sees beyond Nicholas’ carefully cultivated image as a spoiled, conceited, womanizing duke and sees the deeply flawed but warmly human man that she could care about.   She starts to like him for the first time.
Do you have any advice for readers or writers?
Before I published my book, I started leaving book reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Now I see how much it helps an author to have review feedback from readers.  Even a few lines can say a great deal about how the book came across.  So my advice to readers is write book reviews.  Even short ones help.
What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?
First, I would say the complexity of the book.  It really is two separate love/mystery stories woven together.  Second, Nicholas Carey is not a superficial alpha male.  One reviewer called him “complex, brooding, romantic.”  And I love that description.  He has weak points.  He can be vulnerable.  His wife only married him because he had a title even though he worshiped her.  He doesn’t have a clue about Lucy, and he blames himself for the way she’s turned out.   He races cars, but he would rather sit up late playing the piano.  He is so much more than a dominate male figure, and Taylor doesn’t fall in love with him as long a she thinks he’s just one more alpha male.  Third, Taylor herself is not a typical romantic heroine.  She already has her own money and her own success from day one of the story.  In fact, these are the qualities that draw Nicholas to her.  She is always a strong woman, like Elizabeth Howell in the inner story.
Where did you come up with the idea for your book?
I really identified with Princess Diana because we had children about the same age and loved motherhood.   I do criminal appeals for a living, so I read a lot about murder every day. (I know how that sounds.)   Because I was interested in Diana, I read about the tragedy in the Place d’Alma tunnel quite a bit.  I felt something wasn’t quite right with the accident stories, although I have never been a “conspiracy” sort of person.    One day I read that she received a threatening phone call in January 1997 foretelling her assassination.  She made a video tape naming the killer and gave to someone in America for safekeeping.  It has never been found.  The fiction writer in me took over from there.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No.  I discovered writing two stories together was quite difficult, but I’m really happy with the way the modern romance and the Tudor romance work together.  The details of each had to parallel the other to keep the book from being disjointed.  The stories have important parallels. Thomas Carey, who became the first duke near the end of his life,  was the son of a well-to-do and ambitious sheep farmer from the village of Burnham in Kent.  He sent his son Thomas to Henry VIII’s court to train as a knight.  Eventually Thomas and Henry would fall in love with heiress Elizabeth Howell; and Henry would circulate rumors Thomas murdered his wife to be free to seek Elizabeth’s hand.   Similarly,  Deborah Downing’s death under mysterious circumstances at the Abbey in 1994 and the coroner’s inquest led to gossip Nicholas was responsible for killing his wife.  That gossip reaches new heights when his ward Lucy is found dead on a night when Nicholas has no alibi and when Taylor, who by now has fallen in love with Nicholas, has just discovered he cannot sell Burnham Abbey to her client as long as Lucy is alive.   Both Thomas and Nicholas are accused of murdering those who stand in the way of what they want.
What has been your toughest criticism as an author?
The only reviewer who posted a three-star review on Amazon complained about the twists and turns in the plot.  But that’s the point of a mystery novel, to keep the reader guessing.  Everyone else has loved the plot because you don’t know what’s coming next.
What has been your best compliment?
There have been a number, so it’s hard to pick just one.  I liked the reviewer who said Nicholas was her favorite part of the book and called him “complex, romantic, and brooding.”  I wanted him to be a lot deeper than the average hero of a romance novel.    Another great line from a reviewer was “Enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.”   As a writer, you always want to keep the reader turning pages.  And I was happy with Kirkus Reviews’ description of my book: “British history and contemporary conspiracy collide in this satisfying novel.”  That comment made me feel that I had accomplished my goal of  weaving the two stories together in a way that a reader would understand.  The best compliment of all came from the Diane Donovan of the Midwest Book Review who said, “Fans of good solid fiction writing will find Dance for a Dead Princess is clearly more than a cut above genre writing, and will relish the definitive conclusion which leaves nothing hanging and much to enjoy.”


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