Victoria Strauss is the author of eight novels for adults and young adults, including the Stone fantasy duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) and Passion Blue, a YA historical. In addition, she has written a handful of short stories, hundreds of book reviews, and a number of articles on writing and publishing that have appeared in Writer’s Digest, among others.
She’s co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
ABOUT PASSION BLUE
This richly imagined novel of a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into the fascinating world of Renaissance Italy where love and faith and art inspire passion – of many different hues.
A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion. - Kirkus (starred review, editor’s pick for Fall 2012)
Vividly set during the 15th-century Italian Renaissance…a strong and thoroughly likable heroine. - School Library Journal
I don’t just like Passion Blue, I love it…I simply galloped through it. - Jane Yolen, author of The Devil’s Arithmetic
An elegant retelling of that old, crucial story of finding one’s place in the world, set against a vivid evocation of the Italian Renaissance. - Robin McKinley, author of The Hero and the CrownORDER PASSION BLUE: Amazon.com
READ AN EXCERPT FROM PASSION BLUE
GET TO KNOW VICTORIA STRAUSS
MAUREEN: What’s the first book you remember reading?
VICTORIA: I don’t remember what it was called, but it was a picture book about a family of teddy bears. I was around 6. It wasn’t the first book I ever experienced—one of my earliest memories is my mom reading aloud to me before bed—but it was the first book I ever read by myself.
I still remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I finished it--and the absolutely amazing realization that reading was something I could do anytime, anywhere, totally on my own. Not to sound clichéd, but it was like a door opening on a vast new world of entertainment and discovery. I can remember thinking “Now I never have to be bored again.”
MAUREEN: Do you believe in ghosts?
VICTORIA: Not with my left brain. My right brain isn’t sure. We recently bought a house, and learned only after we bought it that the previous owner had died there. Part of me keeps waiting for something creepy to happen.
MAUREEN: Do you write while listening to music? If so what kind?
VICTORIA: When I first started writing, I always listened to music—usually something classical and baroque. Now, though, I can’t listen to anything—I think it’s a holdover from years of living on an incredibly noisy street, where if I opened my window it was like people were talking and yelling right next to me.
Natural sounds are OK, but if there’s music playing, or a TV droning, or even someone talking in the next room, I can’t concentrate. I have a pair of rifle-range headphones that I wear when my husband is working at home.
MAUREEN: What was the first story you remember writing?
VICTORIA: It was called “The Adventures of Stripe” and it was about a marmalade cat who had to save her kittens from a flood. It ended badly for the kittens. Even then, I was torturing my characters.
MAUREEN: What’s your favorite hobby?
VICTORIA: Gardening. It’s ironic, because I can remember hating having to help my mom in her vegetable garden when I was a kid.
I got interested in gardening when I was in my early 20s. My first garden was a set of window boxes in my second-floor apartment. I graduated to a small patch of back yard, growing perennials and veggies. Now I have a big perennial garden that’s very labor-intensive--but I absolutely love it, especially the weeks of spring when everything is coming back to life.
Gardening is the one artistic thing I’m able to do: sculpting with living plants, trying to create a landscape that’s harmonious while being always in flux. It’s also a meditation for me, one of the few activities where I can exist purely in the moment, without obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.
Here are some photos of Victoria's beautiful garden. For more photos, check out her blog.
MAUREEN: If you were given a chance to travel to the past where would you go and why?
VICTORIA: I’m a total ballet geek, and have been for as long as I can remember. As I child I wanted more than anything to have ballet lessons, but we didn’t live in an area where that was possible. If I could travel in time, I’d zip back to 1909 to see Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes--especially Nijinsky as the Specter of the Rose.
MAUREEN: What’s the first thing you do when you finish writing a book?
VICTORIA: Collapse! Not really. But I do take some time off from writing to re-charge the batteries—a couple of weeks if the next book is a sequel, longer if I’m going to be starting a new project. Starting something new means leaving behind the characters I’ve been living with every day for months—and that’s always sad, because they become very real to me and I really do miss them.
MAUREEN: Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?
VICTORIA: I do read reviews. Over time, I’ve learned to pay attention to them without obsessing—to value the positives without getting overconfident and to consider the negatives without beating myself up too much. The reviews I value most are the insightful ones that fully engage with the book--even if they aren’t positive, they help me get a sense of how I am or am not getting through to readers. I wouldn’t say they influence my writing, but they are a reality check for me as a writer.
I’ve also learned to consider the source. When a reader gives you a one-star review because they hated the first chapter, or a blah professional review makes it clear that the reviewer didn’t read the book all the way through, or someone whose ideology conflicts with yours decides to pan you, you just have to shake your head and move on. Negative reviews go with the territory—they are an inevitable consequence of putting ourselves out there in the world, and we have to learn to accept them rationally and deal with them gracefully (which means never, ever engaging with whoever wrote the bad review).
MAUREEN: Tea or Coffee? And how do you take it?
VICTORIA: Tea. Hands down. Loose leaf only—no tea bags (I’m a tea snob, I admit it). Super-strong, milk, no sugar.
MAUREEN: Giulia, the heroine in PASSION BLUE, is an artist. Do you have artistic talent? If so, which do you find more satisfying: painting or writing?
VICTORIA: How I wish I could paint! I have zero artistic talent—I can barely draw stick figures. But I do think I have an eye for form and color—all my gardening has helped me develop that—and I also think that the creative impulse is similar, whether you’re writing or painting or composing. I used my own experience of the creative process to get inside Giulia’s head, even though our tools and mediums are different.
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