Author Q&A: Yves Fey on Writing Murder Scenes, 19th Century Paris and Floats the Dark Shadow
In addition to this week’s review of Floats the Dark Shadow, the first in Yves Fey’s new Parisian mystery series, I’m thrilled to share a Q&A with the author here on Literary Inklings. Many thanks to Yves Fey for taking the time to contribute her thoughts!
Floats the Dark Shadow delves deeply into some very dark matter – from abuse and murder of children to Satanism and the occult. And yet, the novel is immensely enjoyable, entertaining. What inspirations did you cite to help maintain that balance? Did you ever fear that the story may go too far for readers?
Author Yves Fey
When I began it, I actually thought it might be even darker than it is, given Gilles de Rais’ truly horrific crimes. I did decide to build the murders up slowly, being creepy but not detailed in the first two, but finally culminating in a really gruesome one because I felt it would be dishonest not to show how monstrous he could be. It was a scene I avoided for some time, but then gathered my courage and plunged into the dark. Later, my editor, Elizabeth Shannon, suggested that the whole scene wasn’t needed, that the opening was chilling without the later explicit detail, and that the following scene in the cemetery was quite ghastly enough in its detail. I looked both at the chapters and the overall tone of the book and agreed with her. But I still feel that I had to write it even if I then cut it. For the Black Mass, I wanted a certain menace and weirdness, but I was more worried about the scene being too much like Huysmans’ ritual in Là Bas – it’s hard to do a unique Black Mass what with all the Hammer movies and such. I decided to reference Là Bas in the most blatant parts of the ritual, since Theo and Vipèrine had read the book, and to add the drugged incense to bring different sensory elements into play.
The villain of the novel is believed to be the reincarnation of Gilles de Rais, the knight who rode with Joan of Arc but is most notably remembered as a serial killer of children. What prompted you to use this historic murderer as the object of your villain’s obsession?
Strangely enough, I tried writing a different Belle Époque novel for about a year. I had a heroine I liked and kept telling her she was an artist, because I really really wanted an artist heroine. But this character kept telling me she was a journalist. I had a plot, but it refused to come to life. Writing about that era was what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t working. Thrashing about, I asked myself what else I could do, and I remembered an earlier fascination with Gilles de Rais because of the extremes of his life – the inspiration that Jeanne d’Arc could at least be presumed to have been, followed by the descent into bestial cruelty that was also dressed up in cloth of gold. But I really didn’t want to write about that period. Then the brain went Copy Cat! and everything fell into place like dominoes. The former hero and heroine became secondary characters, then vanished. I needed a cop and still wanted my artist heroine. I’d started a romance that was essentially La Femme Nikita in Elizabethan England. I took those characters but had to find new lives for them because they weren’t in thrall to Walshingham’s spy system. I wanted a conflicted hero who was shut down on some level and realized his history was woven with the Commune. While she’s lived rough and tumble for a while, Theo has a certain inherent innocence and optimism that made a great counterpoint to the fin-de-siècle European sensibilities of the other characters. And as for the villain – Gilles de Rais, though he could be totally crass and brutal, could also be an artist of evil, staging his murders, staging his whole life, which made him the perfect inspiration for my killer.
Read my review here
As well as consulting plenty of books and sources, you researched a portion of the novel in Paris. What was the experience like, to turn such an iconic city into the stage for fiction to play out on?
It was a dream come true. Two of my favorite films growing up were An American in Paris and later Gigi, and Children of Paradise is in my top five movies ever. The art of the fin-de-siècle remains my favorite art, and I love much of the literature as well. If there is reincarnation, I’m convinced I lived in Paris at the 19th Century. I feel completely at home in that world.
Usually I try to find some historical incidence to enrich my fiction. As soon as I read about the Bazar de la Charité I knew it had to be a centerpiece. Then I saw a mention of the midnight concert in the catacombs and added that as a perfect setting for the Revenants to strut about. Rather belatedly, I realized I better read up on the Dreyfus Affair and was relieved to discover that I’d set my story during the few months when the Affair wasn’t the only topic Paris was talking about. It will be part of the plot of book 2. Of course, going to Paris to do research is absolutely essential!
Previously, under the pen names Gayle Feyrer and Taylor Chase, you published historical romances. While Floats the Dark Shadow maintains the sort of dark mystery that has garnered praise for your previous work, Theo and Michel don’t pursue each other romantically. What motivated you to leave that particular genre in the wings?
I do see a relationship developing between them, but I don’t know the exact timing of it yet. While I do see a whole shape for my books before I begin, sometimes important elements change. Originally, I thought that Theo and Michel would fall in love by the end of Floats the Dark Shadow, but then Averill morphed into a love interest for Theo and that changed the dynamic entirely.
In addition to your writing you’re a connoisseur of chocolate, a perfume maker, a world traveler, and a painter. What’s next?
I’d really like to have more time for my art. I have been taking a life drawing class to refresh my skill and plan to do the covers for my reissue of the romances. Painting and drawing (and exercise) are what suffered most from writing professionally. I rely too much on inspiration and feel like I have to glue myself to my computer chair and wait for it to strike. I do like to try different things. I had a ceramics phase where I made porcelain dragons and unicorns and such. I’ve got boxes of beads from an obsession with making necklaces – and I do hope that I’ll also get back to that at least occasionally. I love movies, and have been able to play at that in a small way with my trailer and poem videos.
The book trailer for Floats the Dark Shadow, courtesy of Yves Fey
About Yves Fey
Yves began drawing as soon as she could hold a crayon and writing when she was twelve. She holds a Bachelor’s in Pictorial Arts from UCLA, and a MFA from the University of Oregon in Creative Writing. In her varied career, she has been a tie dye artist, go-go dancer, baker, creator of ceramic beasties, illustrator, fiction teacher, and finally, novelist. A Libra with Scorpio Rising, Yves’ romantic nature takes on a darker edge. She hopes these shadows bring depth. A world traveler, Yves has visited Paris, England, and Italy numerous times. She lived for two years in Jakarta, Indonesia, with many trips around Asia. She currently resides across the bridge from San Francisco, with her husband and their three cats, an Asian Burmese and two rescued sisters, half Siamese and half tabby.
Also by Yves Fey: Under her own name, Gayle Feyrer, she authored two historical romances for Dell. The first takes place in the lush and violent world of Renaissance Italy. The second is set amid the earthy glamour of Robin Hood’s Sherwood. Under the nom de plume Taylor Chase, she wrote two historical romances for Avon. These novels explored the turbulent realm of Elizabethan England, an era of brash and bawdy manners contrasting with elaborate courtly protocol, of vice and venality contending with a questing romantic spirit. These books will all soon be available again.