Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College or creating her own fiction. Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, Thomas & Mercer—and, now, Severn House.
Two years ago, Marty had the opportunity to apply for a grant that took her to Geneva and Florence to research a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets: historical fiction. Her new book, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth—the “almost famous” member of the group. The novel spans two eras played out against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Italy and is the first of a trilogy.
Marty lives on an island in Southwest Florida with her husband, former news-anchor, Jim McLaughlin. They are planning a three-week trip to Italy this fall to attend a book festival and research the second book, A Shadowed Fate. Luckily, Jim is fluent in Italian and shares her love of history and literature. Their German shepherd, Mango, has to stay home.
Find out more about CLAIRE'S LAST SECRET on Amazon
Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
It’s a re-telling of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer” of 1816, but from the perspective of Claire Clairmont—Mary Shelley’s stepsister—when she is much older, living in Italy. I liked have the “dual narrators” linking the past and the present, with a bit of a mystery twist, so it’s genre-bending . . . from the voice of the “almost-famous” member of the literary group. I felt like Claire’s story had never really been told. I’ve always been very interested in the Byron/Shelley circle but, for some reason, I never paid much attention to Claire Clairmont. Then I read The Young Romantics, which included a fragment from Claire’s journal where she noted that “summer of love” had not turned out so well for her. I also realized that she lived to the age of 82 in Florence, Italy; it struck me that outliving everyone who had been a part of the greatest years of her life had to be challenging. I started there . . .
Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?
It took me about a year to research, write, and edit the book; then, my agent sold it in about six months. After that, my editor and I did about six months of editing and the book was published about six months after that. It took about two years to go from finished book to published book.
I went with trying to publish the traditional way, but it’s purely a matter of choice for each author. Personally, I think the editorial process at a traditional publisher can’t really be duplicated with an indie press; the levels of editors, proofreaders, line editors, etc., all work together to make the manuscript a finished product. I’ve never had an editor who didn’t improve my book. It takes longer to go with a traditional publisher, but I think it’s worth the time and effort.
How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?
I love the title of my book, Claire’s Last Secret, and I’m delighted that my editor at Severn House also liked it. I originally had the title, Claire’s Summer, but my agent and I felt it didn’t have enough “edge” for this kind of novel. I mulled it over and the new title came to me the next day: the book is really about Claire’s “secret.” Voila. The new title.
Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?
My publisher, Severn House, has in-house cover art designers, but I did have quite a bit of input. I knew that I wanted the cover to reflect some of the important settings in Florence, especially the Boboli Gardens. They did a beautiful job of creating those images in a dreamy landscape. I loved it.
Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?
My cover designer is from Severn House.
How was your experience working with the designer?
I made suggestions to my editor who then worked with the designer to create the cover; I so liked how it reflected the mood and settings in the book.
What has been the readers’ response to your cover?
My book is being released on September 1st, so I haven’t had a great deal of response to the cover yet, but the advance readers have commented on the lovely Italian landscapes and the figure of Claire looking over images that reflected on her past. So far so good!
What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?
I think it’s really important to work closely with your editor as to what you’d like to see in a cover. Also, it’s essential to think about what kind of cover really reflects your book: what would make a reader want to pick it up in a bookstore or order online?
Anything else you’d like to say about your book?
If you are interested in historical fiction and a new narrative about the Byron/Shelley circle, I think you’ll enjoy Claire’s Last Secret. It was a book that I so loved writing!