Today I am interviewing Stephanie Burgis, author of the new historical fantasy novel, Congress of Secrets.
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DJ: Hey Stephanie! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Stephanie Burgis: Sure! I’m a fantasy writer and a history geek. I grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, spent a few years living in Vienna, and now live in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. (My favorite combination!) I write fun, funny MG fantasy novels and wildly romantic historical fantasy novels for adults.
DJ: What is Congress of Secrets about?
Stephanie: In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, charming conman Michael Steinhüller plans his riskiest scheme yet…and hidden among the celebrating aristocrats and royals of the continent is a woman with a dark, alchemical secret. The sinister forces that shattered Karolina Vogl’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?
DJ: What were some of your influences for Congress of Secrets?
Stephanie: In terms of literary influences, I’m definitely writing in the footsteps of Judith Tarr, Ellen Kushner, Guy Gavriel Kay, Patricia McKillip, Delia Sherman and Nalo Hopkinson. (And I devour every new story they write!)
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Stephanie: One of my first inspirations for this book was that I wanted to take the kind of powerful, manipulative woman who’s often written as a villainess and make her the heroine of the story! Caroline is ruthless, determined and incredibly strong (my editor described her as having “a spine of steel!”) and I absolutely loved writing her.
To add to the challenge, my hero is a conman who’s been cheerfully amoral for much of his life…but if I wrote them well, then by the end of the book, you’ll genuinely be rooting for them both!
They’re working at cross-purposes when they first meet in this novel, but they’ve both come to Vienna in disguise, wearing new identities as masks…and if anyone figures out who they really are, both of them will lose everything.
DJ: What is the world for Congress of Secrets like?
Stephanie: Congress of Secrets is set in Vienna in 1814. It was (and is!) a gorgeous city famous for its music and culture (Beethoven and Schubert were both living and working there at that point, among many, many others!), but it was also a city notorious for its secret police, who spied on the Viennese populace under the direction of the deeply paranoid Emperor Francis II. Freedom of the press had been clamped down on back at the end of the eighteenth century, and by 1814, people were afraid to even discuss politics in public for fear of being turned in to the secret police by one of their many informants.
DJ: Why was it that you chose the Napoleonic time-period for this story?
Stephanie: It’s an utterly fascinating historical moment, as so many diplomats, aristocrats, royals and more all gathered in one place to celebrate in style AND re-divide the continent (behind the scenes) after 20+ years of war.
DJ: There is also some alchemy is Congress of Secrets as well. Could you tell us about your magic system?
Stephanie: It’s very loosely based on Isaac Newton’s 18th-century theories about the aether (and the elementals who might exist on the other side of the aetheric veil). The alchemists in my book have figured out how to draw power from beyond that veil…but they pay a terrible price each time they use it.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Congress of Secrets?
Stephanie: I loved immersing myself in such a rich and fascinating historical period – and in my two main characters, too. They’re both sizzlingly smart survivors, and their plots and battles were so much fun to write!
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Stephanie: I hope they love the characters and the Viennese setting as much as I do!
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Congress of Secrets? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across to readers when they finish it?
Stephanie: This is a story about survival and redemption. There’s a lot of real darkness in this book, but there’s also hope and fun, banter and intrigue and even an unexpected romance. If there’s a message that runs throughout, it’s that there is always hope, eventually, if you can just hang on long enough. Don’t give up!
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Congress of Secrets that you can share with us?
Stephanie: I actually have a whole collection of fun teaser-quotes from the book on my website: http://www.stephanieburgis.com/books/congress-of-secrets/teaser-quotes/ (They’re a side-effect of the Twitter-game I’m part of, Book Quote Wednesday – #bookqw – where a whole bunch of authors post new quotes every week, always including one particular word that’s selected by the moderator, Mindy Klasky.)
DJ: Now that Congress of Secrets is released, what is next for you?
Stephanie: I have a new MG fantasy series coming from Bloomsbury in the UK and US starting in 2017 with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. I’m also working on an adult fantasy novella called Snowspelled, which should come out sometime in the next year. (There’s no official pub date yet, but I’ll definitely be posting updates on my blog and newsletter!)
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Burgis/e/B002L0C4HY/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
Author Newsletter: http://www.stephanieburgis.com/newsletter
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Congress of Secrets that we haven’t talked about yet?
Stephanie: I’ve seen a few people referring to it as a sequel to my earlier adult book Masks and Shadows, so I’d love to take this opportunity to clarify that in fact, it’s a completely standalone novel, not a sequel. There’s certainly no need to read Masks and Shadows first – the two books don’t share any characters or plotlines. (Although of course I want everybody to read ALL my books, so I hope you will read Masks and Shadows at some point, too! 😉 )
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Stephanie: Thanks for having me here! 🙂
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*** Congress of Secrets is published by Pyr and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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In 1814, the Congress of Vienna has just begun. Diplomats battle over a new map of Europe, actors vie for a chance at glory, and aristocrats and royals from across the continent come together to celebrate the downfall of Napoleon…among them Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow. But Caroline has a secret: she was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. When her father was arrested by the secret police, Caroline’s childhood was stolen from her by dark alchemy.
Under a new name and nationality, she returns to Vienna determined to save her father even if she has to resort to the same alchemy that nearly broke her before. But she isn’t expecting to meet her father’s old apprentice, Michael Steinhüller, now a charming con man in the middle of his riskiest scheme ever.
The sinister forces that shattered Caroline’s childhood still rule Vienna behind a glittering façade of balls and salons, Michael’s plan is fraught with danger, and both of their disguises are more fragile than they realize. What price will they pay to the darkness if either of them is to survive?
Stephanie Burgis grew up in America but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops, with her husband (fellow writer Patrick Samphire), their two young sons, and their sweet old border collie mix. In between those two points, she spent time playing in orchestras, studying music history in Vienna, and editing the website of an opera company in northern England.
Her KAT, INCORRIGIBLE trilogy of Regency fantasy adventures for kids (which includes a followup YA novella, “Courting Magic”) has been followed by MASKS AND SHADOWS, her first historical fantasy novel for adults, which draws on her background in opera and music history. It will soon be followed by CONGRESS OF SECRETS in November, and then by a new MG fantasy series from Bloomsbury Books, beginning with THE DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART in 2017. She has also published nearly thirty short stories for adults in various magazines and anthologies. You can find out more at her website: www.stephanieburgis.com