Today I am interviewing Theodora Goss, author of the new fantasy novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.
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DJ: Hey Theodora! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Theodora Goss: I have red hair, a cat named Cordelia, and a PhD in English literature. I found the cat as a stray kitten, wandering around the streets of Boston. The PhD I actually had to work for, but that’s where the idea for my novel came from. What else? I was born in Budapest, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl writing fantasy stories in a unicorn notebook, and I now teach writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. This is my first novel, but I’ve been publishing short stories, essays, and poems for about ten years.
DJ: What is The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter about?
Theodora: It’s about the adventures of Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein in late 19th- century London. Mary is of course the daughter of the respectable Dr. Jekyll, who had a disreputable assistant, Mr. Hyde. She helps Sherlock Holmes solve a series of gruesome murders, and in the process she finds the other girls, who have all been created by mad scientists in some way—including Diana, who claims to be her sister. As the girls talk, they start to put together their own histories and realize that there is a bigger story for them to uncover . . .
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter?
Theodora: My doctoral dissertation was on late Victorian gothic fiction, so I was researching and writing about texts such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Island of Dr. Moreau. My influences were really those 19th-century gothic texts, as well as the stories of Sherlock Holmes. I love all that material—technically, I’m a Victorianist, which means I’m supposed to be an expert in 19th-century literature, although I find that the more I learn, the more there is to learn. Those stories about monsters and mad scientists were my main influences. I wanted to explore them further, but from the point of view of the female characters who were destroyed or killed in the originals.
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?
Theodora: They definitely have quirks! Diana is the daughter of Mr. Hyde, so she is just as wild and uncontrollable as he was. Beatrice is the daughter of Dr. Rappaccini, who raised her among his poisonous plants—eventually, she herself became poisonous. Catherine was created by Dr. Moreau on his island, out of a puma. She looks like a woman, but there’s a lot of puma still inside her. And Justine was created by Victor Frankenstein to be a mate for his monstrous creation—she is taller and stronger than most men. Mary—well, she assumes she’s ordinary, but she’s the daughter of Dr. Jekyll, and she has some quirks of her own! She’s also a very good shot.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter like?
Theodora: The world is late 19th-century London—not the real one, but the one we know from literature, with gas lamps and horse-drawn cabs, where the houses are wreathed in fog. It’s an imaginary place, but I did based many of the details on real 19th-century London, so I had to do a lot of research! It’s rainy, even in summer, and the technology is in transition—there are still omnibuses drawn by teams of horses, but characters send telegrams and take the train. Queen Victoria is on the throne, and the British Empire is both at its peak and starting to decline.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter?
Theodora: The research! I had to go to London twice to do research for the novel, and that was so much fun. I went to all the places I described, including the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, which contains 19th-century anatomical specimens that were used to teach medical students. It’s a gruesome, fascinating place. I set a scene in the 19th-century version of that collection, which looked a little different than it does now. But you learn so much from going to a place—doing research online or in books is useful, but not the same thing.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Theodora: Probably the characters? That’s what people seem to talk about once they read the book. Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine are very much like ordinary women—but they also have these monstrous qualities and attributes. That makes their lives both difficult and interesting. I hope people relate to them and have fun reading about them.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter? Is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Theodora: My primary goal was to write a book that would be fun and entertaining. But I also wanted to let these characters speak for themselves, to tell their own stories. They all come from stories in which there are few female characters, and the ones there are tend to die. I wanted them to get their own narratives, in which they can become the central figures. I was so committed to hearing their voices that Catherine is the one who actually writes the novel, and some of the other characters interrupt her, to correct or comment on her narrative. It’s a strange, quirky choice, I know—but it seemed right, and it mimicked the way these characters were continually talking to me. I could hear their voices in my head!
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 The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter that you can share with us?
Theodora: How about Mary’s thoughts, the first time she has to disguise herself by wearing men’s clothes?
“It was strange experience, dressing as a man. Everything felt different, everything buttoned a different way. But when she had put on the skirt and trousers, she realized what freedom they would give her. How easily she could move, without petticoats swishing around her legs! No wonder men did not want women to wear bloomers. What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!”
DJ: Now that The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is released, what is next for you?
Theodora: The sequel! I’m currently working on the sequel, which should be coming out next summer from Saga Press. It will take Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I won’t say much about it because no spoilers, but I will say that I got to do research in Vienna and Budapest, which was so much fun!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter that we haven’t talked about yet?
Theodora: I’d like them to know that you don’t need to have read the original stories to understand the novel—my characters didn’t say much in them anyway! But if you have read any of them, you’ll see that my book is having a conversation with them, saying things back. All literature is like that—writers are always talking to each other in print. But I probably do it in a more obvious way than most in this particular novel.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Theodora: I hope people like the book! It’s meant to be a fun, funny read. And I also hope that if they’re curious, they’ll seek out some of these older texts—they’re so much fun, and I recommend them all highly! I wrote this novel out of my love for them—but also out of a sense that they were missing something. Hopefully my characters supply that.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Theodora: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure.
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*** The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is published by Saga Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
Theodora Goss was born in Hungary and spent her childhood in various European countries before her family moved to the United States. Although she grew up on the classics of English literature, her writing has been influenced by an Eastern European literary tradition in which the boundaries between realism and the fantastic are often ambiguous. Her publications include the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a novella in a two-sided accordion format; and the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia (2014). Her work has been translated into nine languages, including French, Japanese, and Turkish. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Locus, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, and on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Her prose-poem “Octavia is Lost in the Hall of Masks” (2003) won the Rhysling Award and her short story “Singing of Mount Abora” (2007) won the World Fantasy Award.