I’ve been a fan of Stacey Lee ever since I featured her here. I’m even more excited about her newest book, THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL. It’s a historical novel about a servant who moonlights as an advice columnist, and it’s gotten tons of great reviews. Have a look:
By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.
While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.
In our last interview, you said, “My favorite thing about writing is that it gives me a chance to make people feel something.” Is this still true, and are there other favorite things you’ve discovered?
It is still my favorite thing. In terms of the actual writing, I love
writing dialogue and I love creating unique scenes. One of my favorite
parts of writing THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL are the porch scenes between Jo
and Nathan, the love interest, when she’s trying to stay in character
as Miss Sweetie. The best scenes have things going on ‘behind the
They definitely do. And the original title for THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL was “Dear Miss Sweetie,” wasn’t it? In what ways do you feel the finalized title best captures Jo Kuan and her story?
I think it brings in the concept of being hidden away as well as the
idea that there are levels in society with the serving class
downstairs, and the the served class upstairs. (No, I haven’t seen
Downton Abbey yet but I believe this shares a similar concept!)
It does–but I also think that your story adds an extra layer of intrigue. It was also really helpful to hear you talk about THE DOWNSTAIRS GIRL and how the story developed in ways you didn’t expect. What would you tell writers who are currently grappling with a manuscript and they’re not exactly sure where the real story is?
Take some time away from it; share your problem with critique
partners, and get their feedback. Also, I think that the struggle
helps you build a better story. I wouldn’t have figured out the true
story unless I had gone in several wrong directions, felt them out,
realized why they were wrong, and then from there, figured out the
right path. Failure isn’t the opposite of success but a part of it.
Keep struggling, and you’ll get there.
Great advice. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
To live life to its fullest; it sounds so cliche, but those life
experiences will actually help you tell a richer story. You can’t
quite describe a heartbreak until you’ve gone through one.
This post can also be viewed here.