Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College or creating her own fiction.  Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, Thomas & Mercer—and, now, Severn House.

Two years ago, Marty had the opportunity to apply for a grant that took her to Geneva and Florence to research a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets:  historical fiction.  Her new book, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth—the “almost famous” member of the group.  The novel spans two eras played out against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Italy and is the first of a trilogy.

Marty lives on an island in Southwest Florida with her husband, former news-anchor, Jim McLaughlin.  They are planning a three-week trip to Italy this fall to attend a book festival and research the second book, A Shadowed Fate.  Luckily, Jim is fluent in Italian and shares her love of history and literature.  Their German shepherd, Mango, has to stay home.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

It’s 1873 in Florence, Italy, and Claire Clairmont—the last survivor of the “haunted summer” Byron/Shelley circle is living out her final years in genteel poverty, with only the memories of her lost youth.  Just at her moment of greatest despair, the appearance of British tourist, William Michael Rossetti, brings hope that she may be able to sell some of her memorabilia to earn enough cash to support her and her niece/companion, Paula.  But Rossetti’s presence in Florence seems to begin a cycle of events that links with the summer of 1816 when Claire conceived an ill-fated child with George Gordon, Lord Byron, when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and when four tempestuous lives came together around a tragic death.  As Claire begins to unravel the truth, she has to go back to that summer of passion and lost dreams to discover the identity of her enemy.

Find out more on Amazon.

INTERVIEW: 

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Like most authors, it seems like I always wanted to be a writer, but it was my Great-uncle Kaz who really inspired me.  I never actually him since he stayed in Lithuanian when my grandfather immigrated to the U.S. and, then, died the year I was born.  He was an amazing writer, a radical, and a political visionary who held public office and was, later, exiled to a Soviet gulag for his views.  He died in Siberia but, during his imprisonment, he sent letters to relatives here describing his experiences.  Growing up, I remember seeing my grandmother bring out his letters reverently and reading them to me.  He was the family hero and, as I would listen to his words being translated from Lithuanian to English, I realized that the writer has an amazing ability to record the truth and leave a personal record behind.  I wanted to be that kind of person (and writer) who is remembered beyond the work.

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.

In the summer of 2015 when I was recovering from back surgery (had a lot of time on my hands to read!), I happened to pick up Daisy Hay’s biography, The Young Romantics, and learned that she had found a fragment of Claire Clairmont’s (Mary Shelley’s stepsister) journal saying that the famous Byron/Shelley summer of “free love” in 1816 had created a “perfect hell” for her. Of course, Claire wrote those words when she was almost eighty, impoverished, living in Florence, Italy, having outlived the two great poets and Mary by many decades.  Intrigued, I wondered what it would feel like to outlive everyone who had been part of one’s youth.

As I delved into Claire’s life, pieces came together in my thoughts:  her illicit love for Byron, her rocky relationship with Mary and Shelley, and her later years in Italy—and I knew I had to tell her story from two perspectives:  the young, reckless Claire and the older-but-wiser Claire.  Then, there was the mystery of her lost daughter with Byron.  Her lovers.  Her passion for life.  It all coalesced into the kind of genre-bending fiction novel that I’ve always wanted to create.

As I wrote the book, I healed from the surgery, wrote a grant, travelled to Geneva and Florence with my hubby to research the book—and awoke to find myself with a new life.

It turned out to be my own summer of awakening.

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

It took me about a year to research, write, and edit the book; then, my agent sold it in about six months.  After that, my editor and I did about six months of editing and the book was published about six months after that.  It takes about two years to go from finished book to published book.

Are you a disciplined writer?

I’m a very discipline writer because I had to write for many years “between the cracks” with my day job.  I knew I had a very finite time to write and I had to make it count.  Now that I write full-time, I’ve kept the same disciplined approach (though I do occasionally sneak into Amazon for a quick book buy!).

Do you have an agent?  How was your experience in searching for one?

I have always had an agent, and I would suggest that every writer have one; your agent is your business partner, your sounding board, and your cheerleader.  Today, I think it’s virtually impossible to submit to an editor and actually have your work read without an agent.  I was with my first agent for 15 years until she retired, and now I’ve been with my new agent for three years.  They are both amazing people who know the business of publishing so well; they are professional and just pleasant colleagues/friends.  I connected with my agents at writers’ conferences, which is a great place to connect with industry experts!

Who is your favorite author?

I’ve had so many fiction authors whom I’ve loved over the years but the work that really has inspired this part of my career is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  It’s both a historical fiction narrative and a revisionist take on Bronte’s Jane Eyre (told from the perspective of Mr. Rochester’s first wife).  Rhys is a “writer’s writer”—lushly descriptive and innovative on every level.  I re-read her books every year and always find something new to intrigue me.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

I think a writer’s life is like no other’s . . . it can be an amazing journey but, along the way, you need to be professional and keep writing no matter what.  I would also add that you need to write the kind of book that no one has written before—in a crowded market, originality really elevates your work above the fray!

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