Interview with Nancy Campbell Allen

headshot of Nancy Campbell AllenNancy Campbell Allen is the author of fifteen published novels and numerous novellas, which span genres from contemporary romantic suspense to historical fiction.  In 2005, her work won the Utah Best of State award, and she received a Whitney Award for My Fair Gentleman.  She has presented at numerous writing conferences and events since her first book was released in 1999.  Nancy received a BS in Elementary Education from Weber State University.  She loves to read, write, travel, and research and enjoys spending time laughing with family and friends.  She is married and the mother of three children. You can find her on Twitter @necallen.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired your steampunk Proper Romance series?

Nancy Campbell Allen: My steampunk series came about as a result of a conversation with a former editor. I had just finished my Isabelle Webb series and was looking to start something fresh. My editor asked if I’d read steampunk, which I had, and suggested I try my hand at it. I decided to combine my love of fairy tales, specifically Beauty and the Beast, with my love of gothic/suspense stories like Jane Eyre. I read a how-to-write-a-steampunk book that said I needed to combine lots of supernatural elements (werewolves, vampires) along with the fun gadgetry, so I followed along and threw in everything I could think of. It became a huge mash-up of lots of things, but because I was writing it without a specific audience in mind, it flowed so well. My agent shopped it around, and it landed at Shadow Mountain, which has been such a great home for it.

Once I finished Clockwork Beast, into which I’d built some fun secondary characters, I wanted to write their stories, too, and look for ways to incorporate nods to some more of my favorite fairy tales.   

How fun! So what can you tell me about the newest book in the series, Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts?

The newest book is my salute to Cinderella, and while my books aren’t actual retellings of the fairy tales, they contain elements that are familiar to readers or fans of the originals. Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts is about Emmeline O’Shea, who is an activist for marginalized populations (shapeshifters, specifically), and has worked her adult life to make the world a fair place for everyone. Oliver Reed is a police detective who tries to maintain order while her activities sometimes get a little chaotic. When her life is threatened just as she’s about to attend a conference where she can make a real difference, Oliver is assigned to be her body guard. Sparks fly, and romance and intrigue ensue.

Emmeline O’Shea sounds so interesting. Where did you get the idea for her?

My idea for Emmeline came at the end of Beauty and the Clockwork Beast, although she’s not named until the second book, The Kiss of the Spindle. Emme is the “do-gooder” Oliver has to deal with at the end of Beast, and at that point all I knew was I wanted a woman activist who was enthusiastic and a perfect foil for a man whose only aim in life is to keep things under control. She evolved with the series, becoming Dr. Isla Cooper’s cousin. We don’t see Emme “on screen” until book three, The Lady in the Coppergate Tower.

You mentioned in a FB Live chat that you like to plan your books out ahead of time. Has the series taken you in any unexpected directions as you’ve been writing it despite your planning?

My series tend to remain basically intact from planning stages to the final product. I usually know approximately how many books will be in the series, which books will be about which characters, and a rough idea of how the stories will go. When I began Beast, I didn’t know where I was going with that series, but by the time Shadow Mountain picked it up, I knew what I was hoping to see with it. Once I begin an actual book, I plot religiously, and again, it usually goes the way I think it will. Sometimes things change, and I have to decide if I want to take it in that new direction, and more often than not, I do, and then adjust my outline and plotting.

While your steampunk Proper Romance books are all standalone books that can be read in any order, you’ve also written connected series (both Faith of our Fathers and Isabelle Webb). Is your process different when working on one or the other?

The process is definitely different when writing stand-alones (even if they’re connected in a series) than writing books that have to be read sequentially. With Faith of our Fathers, the structure was the American Civil War itself, and the characters progressed through the war over a four year period. Isabelle Webb is a spinoff of the Civil War series, because I wanted to write something a little lighter and a female spy/Indiana Jones type seemed fun. Those three books are generally stand-alone-ish but really are better understood in order. The story arc is bigger with sequential books, whereas with stand-alones, my characters may know each other, but each book is its own story.

You’ve also written historical fiction without any fantastic elements. Does your writing process change when you’re working in that genre?

I’ve written two Regency era novels for the Proper Romance line, along with the others I’ve mentioned, and the process is a bit different than the steampunk books. I have more leeway in steampunk than with straight historicals, which I try to write as true to history as I can while still being palatable to a modern reader. The steampunks, though, are set in the Victorian era, and I try to stick to most of those conventions as well. I can make up more things in the fantasy-genre novels because it’s my world, but with the real thing, I do try to be authentic, which requires more research and digging for small details. When I wrote the Civil War series, especially, I was glued to my research books as I wrote. I didn’t want to get the details wrong.

In that same Facebook Live chat I brought up earlier, you mentioned that you really like stationery. Do you write your brainstorms and first drafts with different stationery, or do you keep everything on your computer?

I do plotting in notebooks, with pens and pencils, and post-it notes and index cards. Everything pre-write is usually done long hand, which lets me indulge that love of all things paper and writing instruments. The actual drafting, though, happens on my laptop. Except for my very first book ever, which was published twenty years ago and is no longer in print (which is good, because yikes), and that one I wrote in notebooks while my kids slept. (All of my backlist is actually available electronically, and I do look on those first books with a degree fondness. It’s a learning process, and we all get better with time and practice, right?)

Definitely! So what are you working on now?

I just finished the first book in a new series of Victorian romantic suspense. Same fun era, but no steampunkery in this one. I’ll work on edits for that, soon, and I’m outlining the second book in that series as we speak.

Let’s finish up with a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

There were so many books I loved as a kid, but I have to say Nancy Drew books and Trixie Belden were my favorites, and I devoured them. My parents made reading stories before bed a treat when I was little, so I always knew books were special, and then when I discovered them for myself, I was hooked.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I do think everyone would benefit from reading, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Sometimes people are intimidated by “classics” and worry they’ll be too heavy or daunting. This book is so incredibly readable, and moving, and real. When I was researching for the Civil War series years ago, that book impacted my thinking profoundly. I still reread, and flip through to look for things I underlined. It is fascinating and heartbreaking and a triumph. It’s a book about humans, and it’s for everyone. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And what are you currently reading?

I am currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. She’s the only one of the Bronte sisters I haven’t read yet, and I’m sure I’m way overdue. Also on my nightstand, I have The Bromance Bookclub, by Lyssa Kay Adams, and Roommaid, by Sariah Wilson. Looking forward to those!

cover of Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts

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