Thursday, February 6, 2020
The body was a young man, the one with the pretty accent and a stain on the breast of his white shirt. Whether to swoon or get hysterical? Why was she in the garden at all? And why the unexpected cover-up by a long-time friend?
How did Katharine Schellman, who grew up in Arlington, decide on 1815 London for her first book, ”The Body in the Garden”?
She says, “It was an era I am pretty familiar with. I had a decent amount of experience in this time period from a lot of reading.”
And she did a lot of research. “For this book I did research the whole time. I need to check this out. Who would have been working at the magistrate court at that time”? In her book she points out, “Writing historical fiction is a tricky combination of searching out the facts and creating the world that serves the story you‘re telling, no matter what the historical record says. I’ve done my best to balance both sides of the equation.”
Schellman said she started writing this book in 2015. “I don’t write fiction full time so I squeezed it in when I could.” She continues, “I had to learn how to write. I wrote several books and tucked them away as soon as they were done. I thought, that’s good practice but I knew I could rewrite and rewrite but they would never be what I wanted.” She adds, “every writer has a novel in the drawer.”
But when she was writing “The Body in the Garden” she wanted a mystery that hung together. After the first draft it didn’t, “but I knew I wanted to keep working on it.” She says she wrote “The Body in the Garden” “by the seat of my pants.” She said she started with the main characters, Lily and Ofelia. “I knew they were living characters. I thought what would bring them together.”
The first draft took close to two years. I didn’t have a plan or an outline.” She thought she would just write and see what came out “but it is much easier with an outline.” Then there were four other drafts, a couple of rounds with the agent, another with the editor. She did lots of revisions.
She describes the book as a feminist historical story centering on Lily, the main character, whose life turned out differently than she thought would happen. Lily had recently lost her husband, Freddy, who she met in the middle of a cotillion when she was nineteen. Though familiar with the upper crust world in London, life felt empty but she still had to find something to do with it. Schellman says, “it’s a universal feeling. I had a plan. That plan is gone now. What do I do?”
Schellman had her own similar moment when she changed jobs. She had graduated in theatre and history and worked as an actor for 5-½ years in the D.C. area. “There are two parts to a job, the job itself and the life that it creates. I loved the job itself but not the life it created— everything always up in the air— no vacations because you might get called for an audition. Now with writing I love both.”
Schellman has just finished the draft of a second unrelated novel set in New York in the 1920’s. “I wanted to write a book set in the U.S., and this is a fun time period.” She said she started this novel last summer but has gotten more systematic. “This time I have an outline.”
She is also putting together a proposal for a sequel to “The Body in the Garden.” She explains she writes 30-50 pages for the proposal. “I don’t want to write more than that until it sells.”
Schellman says one of the most interesting things so far has been how many people have contacted her when they find out she has written a book. They say, “I have an idea for a book. This annoys a lot of writers but I think it is wonderful. There aren’t enough books. I tell them it is probably more doable than you give yourself credit for.” She points out that if you write one page for a year, you have a book.
But it isn’t easy because there is the rest of the process with the drafts and finding an agent and getting published. She says she once asked her agent for numbers and found that out of 1,500 submissions a year her agent accepts about five or fewer. The best part is that people get so excited for you. “I read your book; is there a sequel”? She says she has a great group of friends and relatives. “It is a new and sometimes stressful world, very competitive.” But it is also “a lot of fun and exciting.” Schellman remembers telling her parents when she was six years old she wanted to write a book. “Of course they said, ‘yes, dear.’ Imagine when I told them I had sold my first book.”
Schellman now lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia where she splits her time between freelance writing for small businesses, raising her three-year-old son and planning and writing her next novel.
“The Body in the Garden” is scheduled to be released on April 7 with a book signing at “One More Page Books” on May 2 at 4 p.m.