Please welcome Dennis Mahoney to the blog! His new book, Bell Weather, just came out and he was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about it, and more!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us more about Bell Weather and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks! Bell Weather is a mystery adventure about a young woman named Molly, who’s trying to survive in a dangerous, fantasy version of the 18th Century. It’s a big, old-fashioned story with vivid characters and fun melodrama. My goal was entertainment, for myself and for readers.
Worldbuilding is an important part of a book like Bell Weather. Will you tell us more about the “world” of Bell Weather?
Both the gritty and romanticized versions of colonial America excite me: the myths, the Enlightenment, the clothes and tools and music. The era felt like fertile ground, especially if I made it my own with fantasy elements. I wanted a sense of magic without there being Magic, so the natural world is supernatural, rather than the characters. I also wanted the freedom to invent history and geography as I went, so the entire world became an alternate realm.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Lots of reading about the 18th Century and a few day trips to historical sites, but that was primarily to get a feel for that world. Once I had a sense of life in early America, I was able to warp it and let my imagination take over. Richard Price recently said something similar about research for his crime novels: he learns just enough to believably fake the rest.
Is starting a new book difficult for you, or are you usually able to ease into it fairly easily? What is your writing process like?
The process has been different every time. Bell Weather was large and complex, with non-chronological storylines and mystery elements, so I needed to fully plot it before I began writing. My “plot notes” were a couple hundred typed pages: essentially a thin first draft. I’ve done with the same with a sequel that’s in the works, but I’m also writing something entirely new and making it up as I go. Whatever works.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I didn’t consider writing until late high school, but I’ve always had a creative bent. I fancied myself quite the Literary Lion in my late teens, but I didn’t work hard in my twenties. That was a squandered decade. When I became a father at 30, I started treating writing like a disciplined craft. Daily word counts, writing when I didn’t feel like it. That approach changed everything. I finished drafts. I got better. If you juggle every day, eventually you can keep a lot of colorful balls in the air.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
I’m all over the place, to the point where I can’t name many specific influences. Everything has the potential to influence my writing. Country songs, literary novels, superhero movies, obscure concertos, TV. Something will light me up like crazy if I’m writing a particular story or scene, and I’ll take that inspiration or energy to my work.
But that influence won’t work for the next story or scene.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Great question. Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. That series is already terrific as a reread, though.
What are you currently reading? Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to this year?
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler, which is wonderful. I’m looking forward to anything related to the Twin Peaks revival.
What’s next for you?
I’m deep into a Bell Weather sequel but have taken a break to try something else for the summer. It’s too fresh to talk about, I’m afraid, but I’ll say that it’s set in a realistic modern world, and it’s a form of writing I’ve never tried before (and thought I never would).
About Bell Weather:
A thrilling adventure set in a peculiar world, a fantastical 18th century, where a young woman must uncover the secrets of her past while confronting the present dangers of a magical wilderness
When Tom Orange rescues a mysterious young woman from a flooded river, he senses that their fates will deeply intertwine.
At first, she claims to remember nothing, and rumor animates Root-an isolated settlement deep in a strange wilderness. Benjamin Knox, the town doctor, attends to her recovery and learns her name is Molly. As the town inspects its young visitor, she encounters a world teeming with wonders and oddities. She also hears of the Maimers, masked thieves who terrorize the surrounding woods.
As dark forces encircle the town, the truth of Molly’s past spills into the present. A desperate voyage. A genius brother. A tragedy she hasn’t fully escaped. Molly and Tom must then decide between surviving apart or risking everything together. Dennis Mahoney’s Bell Weather is an otherworldly and kinetic story that blends history, fantasy, mystery, and adventure, to mesmerizing effect.