Get ready to learn more about the book All Things Beautiful in this discussion with sapphic author Alaina Erdell.
Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz Alaina Erdell about All Things Beautiful, writing, reading, and more.
This book is part of the Forbidden Relationship category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.
Why did you write All Things Beautiful?
This book, like my first book, started out in the world of fanfiction. However, it’s so far removed at this point, I’m not sure even I can see the similarities. I’ve always had a love for art, and I wanted to set a story in an atelier. I combined aspects of some of the more prominent ateliers on both US coasts to create Atelier Vaughn.
Like I mentioned, my first book started out as a fanfic. I wrote my second book, Off the Menu, specifically for Bold Strokes because I had an idea for a book I wanted to explore, and I needed to try my hand at writing a story completely from scratch to test myself. However, All Things Beautiful, called Chiaroscuro as a fanfic, kept calling me to clean it up and turn it into a novel. I ended up changing many things because we grow as writers and learn what works and doesn’t. I believe all the changes were for the best and make it a much better, more compelling story.
Who is your favorite character in the book?
Maxine, Leighton’s godmother, is my favorite character. She’s nothing like me, but there’s something about her that really endears her to me. She can be harsh, but it comes from a place of deep love, and her own story is one of my favorite parts of the book. Sorry, but I can’t tell you any more than that!
How did you come up with the title for your book?
The title All Things Beautiful comes from something Leonardo da Vinci wrote on a sketch he drew of an old woman. Because he wrote backwards and the text so old, it was originally misinterpreted. Later, they discovered it was a line from one of Petrarch’s sonnets. It speaks to the endurance of beautiful things. I write more about it in detail in the Acknowledgements section of the book.
How much research did you need to do for All Things Beautiful?
I didn’t have to do much research for this book, at least for the art-related aspects. My grandmother and mother were painters, and I’ve created art as far back as I can remember. In fact, we had a dedicated art room in our home growing up. I realistically paint in oils, though I don’t do it as much now that I’m writing books. I still have a studio and get the itch to create now and then though.
However, I continually research as I write, no matter the subject. For instance, in All Things Beautiful, I researched NY train travel times, laws, medical questions, and I’m sure, hundreds of other things. I always strive to make the details in my books as accurate as possible.
Where do you usually write, and what do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?
I usually write in one of three places. Usually, I do most of my writing in my office on a landing in our home under two skylights. I love the bright, open space. The walls are decorated with ten of Jenifer Prince’s sapphic artworks I can always use for inspiration.
At times, I enjoy writing in coffee shops. While I need quiet at home to write, the hum of a coffeehouse doesn’t seem to bother me. Plus the drinks and snacks are better than those at home.
Lastly, it doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, I need to escape my clutter of cats, so I’ll find a scenic spot and write in my car. I have a surface that attaches to my steering wheel and perfectly fits my laptop. Heated seats or AC, cup holders, and a beautiful view. It works for me for short writing spurts.
How do you celebrate when you finish your book?
I’m a foodie, so I always finishing a book as an excuse to visit a nice restaurant. White tablecloths, candles, and courses. Something that significant usually calls for a bottle of champagne, too.
Do you have a pet who helps/hinders your typing?
I have a four-year-old cat who is very loyal and never leaves my side. She’s my perfect writing companion. I also have five ranging in age from one to three years who like to climb on my desk, chew on books, sit on paper, chase the cursor, scratch their chins on the corners of my monitors, and type nonsense with their cute little paws. One particularly naughty one likes to chew cords. Five out of the six thrive on human interaction and want to be in whatever room I’m in, so I’ve constructed a little barricade around the front of my desk with multiple monitors and a multi-tiered inbox to try and keep them off my keyboard. My only boy cat needs an unbelievable amount of attention and has the most pathetic little cry if he isn’t getting it, so he forces me to take breaks.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing, and by whom?
A writer friend once told me never to interrupt the reader dream. What that means is to refrain from doing anything that might pull the reader out of the story. If that happens, that’s when they’re more likely to set the book down or remember they need to fold the laundry. Keeping the reader entranced means limiting anything that might distract from the plot. Examples could be head hopping, clunky or unnatural dialogue, grammatical or continuity errors, the repetition of words, confusion, etc. If the reader has to thumb back a few pages to determine if the Ivy is the grandmother and Ida is the aunt, they’re no longer in the protagonist’s POV. They’ve stepped out of the story to sort out two three-word names beginning with the same letter.
Of course, there are too many examples to list, but in general, it means striving to make the reader experience as smooth as possible to keep them invested in your book.
What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?
I take time. I think about the story for months before ever writing it. It allows me to learn my characters and anticipate how they’ll act and react. Knowing their goals and fears, motivations and wounds influences how they’ll respond to situations. It’s not uncommon for me to become so trapped in the heads of my current characters that it’s difficult to talk about the characters in my prior books because I’m so enmeshed in the story I’m writing.
What books did you grow up reading?
Strangely, I don’t recall being read to as a child. I do remember my grandmother buying me lots of Little Golden Books on record that I’d listen and read along to over and over.
I grew up reading series like Nancy Drew and books by Madeleine L’Engle. My childhood home had all kinds of books available, and there was never a mention of one possibly being too mature for me or my siblings, so we read everything. Later, I’d devour books by Laurie R. King, Nevada Barr, Sandra Scoppettone, and Karin Kallmaker.
Reading so broadly across genres gave me a good idea of what I like to read and what I like to write. I always hoped for more romance in books, especially in instances where it was only hinted at, or even when it didn’t exist. If I had a nickel for every time I wished Nancy Drew would kiss Bess or George… Not surprising, I had little interest in Ned Nickerson.
I’ve always been a romantic at heart, so it seems destined I’m a romance author.
Describe your favorite reading spot.
I love to read while taking a bath. However, I’m not a fan of getting books wet, so I like to use my iPad (not my Kindle) in a stand on the side of the tub. I have a Bluetooth page clicker that I wear like a ring, so I don’t have to reach or touch the iPad to turn the page. I’m warm, comfortable, and relaxed. Plus, it’s an hour when my cats have no desire to bother me. It’s perfect.