Interview and School Project Q&A:
What was your inspiration for STALKING JACK THE RIPPER?
I was really in the mood to read a dark gothic/forensic-focused book and was having trouble finding exactly what I wanted. I had a call with my agent and we were brainstorming when I tossed out the idea of a young woman who was interested in having a career in STEM. I loved Nancy Drew books as a kid, and wanted to have my own smart sleuth. When my agent asked how I could up the stakes, I envisioned my novel with a historical setting. (What would it have been like to be told I couldn’t do something because I identified as a girl?) From there I told her I’d like the main character to be sort of like a female Doctor Watson, and the mystery could unfold from there. She loved it, told me to “go write the book we both want to read” and I immediately got to work.
Why did you choose Jack the Ripper?
At first I chose Audrey Rose’s career. Then to amp up the tension, I decided to make it historical so her job wouldn’t be easy. Once I knew that was the direction for setting, there was only one case that was screaming to be retold; the most infamous of unsolved crimes. A crime that also happened to be one of the first cases where forensics were used with gusto. Growing up I was always intrigued by Jack the Ripper and would watch and read everything I could to see if I could solve the mystery, so it seemed only natural to hand that job over to Audrey Rose.
The feminism in SJTR is very modern, did you always plan on including those more 21st century tones?
The feminism in the book is actually based on historical figures like Abigail Adams. She penned a letter to her husband in 1776 asking him to “remember the ladies” when it came to voting rights. And also, arguably, one of the first books written with the building blocks of modern feminism: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects by Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792. Both occurred one hundred+ years before this novel is set. There was a lot going on in the world with women fighting for the vote and women with “modern” views didn’t simply crop up out of nowhere. I imagined Audrey Rose’s mother being inspired by these women and teaching the more progressive ideas to her daughter.
Audrey Rose is wonderful, but there really weren’t any women doctors in 1888. (Especially since she is 1/4 Indian, right?)
There weren’t many female doctors in 1888, but they did exist. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania was founded in 1850. Also there was a British woman named Elizabeth Blackwell who was the first woman in America to receive a medical degree, and that was in 1849. She studied with 150 other male classmates (who had to vote unanimously for her to be allowed to study with them) at Geneva Medical College.
As to there being women of color in the medical field? Of course! There were amazing women of color performing groundbreaking feats in STEM during that time. A few who Audrey Rose would have greatly admired include:
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895) who published “A Book of Medical Discourses” in 1883.
Mary Elizabeth Mahoney (1845-1926) who was the first certified black nurse in the U.S.
Alice Ball (1892-1916) who created an injectable cure for leprosy.
I suggest looking all of these incredible women up—they paved the way for so many who’ve come after them.
Audrey Rose goes out searching for the Ripper at night, why would she do that???
We have become more suspicious and expect the worst because serial killers are not a new thing for us. (Unfortunately.) Jack the Ripper was the first highly publicized murderer—prior to him, people didn’t ever consider the same person would commit more than one murder. It was mostly unheard of. Audrey Rose—along with the rest of the world—never thought Jack the Ripper would kill again. And again. And again. His crimes stole not only the lives of the victims, but the sense of innocence from people. As the series goes on, Audrey Rose has a much less sheltered view of the world.
Do you plan on releasing more stories from Thomas’s point of view?
Currently the MEETING THOMAS CRESSWELL novella is included in the mass market paperback edition of STALKING JACK THE RIPPER. I can never say anything definitively with Thomas, since he’s always breaking the rules I set for him, but anything is possible. If you like the idea of more Thomas, definitely shout your love of him to my publisher across social media!
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
Definitely no. It would be really awkward to show up at family dinners, or hanging out with friends and have them give me major side eye if they didn’t like how I portrayed them. I steer WAY clear of including anyone I know in any way. Though my dad is still convinced he’s in SJTR, no matter how many times I tell him he’s not.
How did you come up with Thomas Cresswell?
Thomas is one of those characters who started out as a sassy side character and just kept expanding his role every time I sat down to write. To answer the question in a more writerly way, I wanted to have a male character who was as progressive for the timeframe as Audrey Rose was. I wanted him to be wickedly smart and a little socially awkward, with a story of his own to tell. I enjoyed the idea of having this young Sherlock Holmes-type character irk Audrey Rose with his intelligence, and he continued to develop from there.
What made you decide to write Audrey Rose as a forensic student, a stereotypical “man’s job” for that time frame?
My agent and I were talking about what sort of things I enjoyed, and how I could incorporate my passion into a book. I tossed around the idea of a forensic student because I hadn’t really seen many books that featured young women in that role. (Not that they aren’t out there, I just hadn’t come across any.) So the profession came first, and then I started thinking of ways to “up the stakes.” That’s when I imagined how hard it would have been to be a young woman in the Victorian Era. What would it be like to be not only a young woman, but a woman born into privilege? There were so many more restrictions placed on them to act properly, and I knew I wanted it to be historical–I could feel the tension building without writing a word. Then I read about real life women who were in STEM during that time frame, and the forensics used in the Ripper case, and everything took off from there.
Will we get to see Liza again? Will other characters make appearances?
I can never guarantee who will survive from book to book, but I’m sure there are some characters from books past that might pop in from time to time.
Will we ever get a novella or story from Daciana’s point of view?
Daciana’s perspective would be really fun to write from, and I’m sure her and Ileana have many adventures of their own that would be entertaining. Never say never!
What’s your favorite part of writing this series?
Aside from the banter between Audrey Rose and Thomas, I really enjoy creating different settings for each book. From the foggy gaslit streets of Victorian London, to the haunted castle deep in the mountains of Romania, to a luxury ocean liner, to the setting for the still untitled book 4, it’s so fun to watch Audrey Rose and Thomas grow and work their way out of new messes.
How many books are going to be in the series?
The STALKING JACK THE RIPPER series will be a quartet. I’m currently getting ready to draft SJTR 4 and it’s scheduled for a Fall 2019 release. It will be the final installment in this series.
Are you planning on writing any books outside of this universe?
Definitely! I’ve got a side project that I’ve been tinkering on before SJTR sold, and would love to work on that more. I’ve also got a notebook FILLED with ideas that range from dark fantasy to paranormal to more murder mysteries.
What about writing more from the STALKING JACK THE RIPPER universe from a different character’s POV?
I’m never opposed to that idea, it would just depend on who the character was and what story they would tell. It would have to feel organic and necessary, something that would enhance the SJTR universe.
How do you write dialogue?
Writing dialogue can be really tricky and I always, always, ALWAYS go over it roughly a million times during revisions. I listen to how people talk in real life, then I’ll watch either a movie or tv show and see what works, what doesn’t, what sounds stilted or unnatural. I also read my dialogue out loud to myself. That’s been the best way for me to see if it works or if it’s too clunky/unnatural and revise from there.
Do you have any writing advice for someone starting out?
Never give up. Work on your craft, take critiques and use the advice that resonates the most, and be open to revisions. No one–no matter how talented–gets it right on the first or second shot. (Of a draft.) Revising and rewriting are all part of the process and really push your writing to new levels. But yeah, I wrote seven or eight books before SJTR sold and every single one of them was a learning experience. Don’t let rejections get you down, and if they do? It’s okay to take a few days to refill your creative well and dust yourself off and try again.
And be excited for others when you can. This is a small business and people often remember when someone’s been nice or mean to them. The road to publishing is rarely the same for two authors, so try VERY hard to not compare, and celebrate others when possible. Those people will celebrate with you too! Social media is usually just a highlight reel–often things that might appear to be an overnight success have taken years of close calls, failures, and perseverance.
Do you have any similar stories planned for the future?
I enjoy writing dark stories brimming with atmosphere and morally gray characters, so it’s a sure bet that whatever project comes next will feature those elements. Hopefully readers will fall equally in love with the next set of characters.
What’s Stalking Jack the Ripper about?
STALKING JACK THE RIPPER is a YA gothic mystery (with shades of horror) inspired by the Ripper murders. It’s about a Victorian-era lord’s daughter who defies society expectations by secretly apprenticing as a forensics examiner, and soon finds herself embroiled in the investigation of a serial killer who is stalking London’s East End.
Who is your publisher?
James Patterson’s new children’s imprint at Little, Brown, JIMMY Patterson Books, is my publisher. I couldn’t be more excited to be part of this wonderful imprint!
How did you get your novel in front of James Patterson?
My agent included my editor in a tailored list of people she thought would be a good fit for my project when we went out on submission. My editor read it, fell in love, and took it through the regular channels that books take during the acquisition process. (This is when James Patterson read it and gave my editor the green light to make an offer.)
Here is my book deal story told in gifs like the adult I am. BOOK DEAL LINK.
Where can I order Stalking Jack the Ripper?
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Independent Bookstores, and several other online retailers in the US and other countries. It will also be available at your local Target, Costco, and Sam’s Club.
Is it part of a series?
Yes! STALKING JACK THE RIPPER is now a four book series. It’s what I like to call a gothic Nancy Drew–or, a Victorian Era CSI–they are standalone adventures. (Kind of like an adult mystery series where you have the same leads, but different cases to solve.)
HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA will continue through to the next standalone adventure from the point we leave you in SJTR. Each story will have Audrey Rose investigating murders inspired by infamous killers and people from history. The third novel is called ESCAPING FROM HOUDINI and the fourth is slated for release in 2019.
What is HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA about?
The official blurb is:
Is STALKING JACK THE RIPPER going to be a TV series or movie?
If there is any news on this front, I will for sure shout it out from the interwebs rooftops. Thank you all for the many (many, many, many) messages regarding your desire to see these characters on screen.
Okay, but who would you cast as Audrey Rose and Thomas if there was going to be a film or tv series?
Casting is something authors don’t really have a say in, but since we’re talking about dream casts, I’d say someone like Aditi Rao Hydari would be a fabulous Audrey Rose. And Thomas I could see being played by a Harry Lloyd or Douglas Booth-esque actor.
How can I help spread the word about your book?
A new street team has been formed called the Knights of Whitechapel! If you’d like to become part of the team, sign up here. If you’ve got questions regarding how to become a member, please see the Knights of Whitechapel page.
The best, and I mean the VERY best thing you can do? Tell all of your friends. Tell your local librarian and your school librarian. They are amazing advocates for both authors and books! Tweet about it. Post it on Facebook, tumblr, instagram, your blog, and everywhere you can put a review online. (Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indie bookstores, Goodreads, etc.) Request it at your local library, or bookstore.
Word of mouth and pre-orders help authors more than you know. If you see a book you like? Pre-order it immediately! You’ll receive a surprise in the mail come release day, and you’re helping your favorite author out. Win-win.
If you love a book (any book!) shout it out and let the world know. Tell the publishers you love it and the author and librarians and anyone else who will listen. Your enthusiasm is what gets books on shelves, readers. Let your voice be heard.
Is STALKING JACK THE RIPPER on goodreads?
Is HUNTING PRINCE DRACULA on goodreads?
How do you say your name?
My name is pronounced pretty much exactly the way it’s spelled, but if you’d like to hear audio of it, check out this amazing Teaching Books link: Pronouncing “Maniscalco”
How did you get your agent?
I took a Writers Digest webinar that my agent was teaching (after she requested my manuscript via the slush pile), and that really opened up the door for our communication. If you can’t make it to actual conferences, I suggest going the online route!
The full story on how I got my agent can be read HERE.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Writing is something I’ve always done for pleasure, but I started thinking about publishing seriously around 2009/2010. Prior to that I never thought of making it a career, which is crazy to think now 🙂
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
NEVER GIVE UP. EVER. Read as much as you breathe, and write every single day. If your first project doesn’t work out, keep writing. Every book you write will be a learning experience and a stepping stone. I wrote five books before I signed with my agent. Persistence, dashed with a bit of luck, and hard work are the keys to making it in publishing.
What’s your twitter handle?
It’s @KerriManiscalco and if you follow me, I’ll totally hug you through my laptop screen for AT LEAST ten minutes. Maybe more.
Do you have an Instagram?
I do! I am addicted to posting teasers on my IG story feed and can be found Instagram.com/KerriManiscalco.
Are you on GoodReads?
Heck yes! Here’s where you can find me on GoodReads: Clicky click here.
You talk about Absolute Write and Query Tracker, which forums did you use specifically?
Since I write YA those are the forums I frequented the most during my search for representation. There’s not one place I suggest over another. Check those sites out and find what forums work best for you.
I’m a reviewer/book blogger and am interested in requesting an advanced reader copy for review purposes. Who do I ask about ARCs? Can you send me one?
I have a limited amount of ARCs that will be raffled off through giveaways/contests on both my blog and others. I will post about all contests and opportunities to win an ARC on my blog, twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media accounts. I’m so excited for all the early support for my book and wish I could grant all your ARC wishes! Know that I’m hugging you and sending you sparkly hearts. You’re the best!
Any review requests/ARCs can be made by contacting Erinn McGrath at: Erinn[dot]McGrath[at]hbgusa[dot]com
Who do I contact about blurb requests?
First, thank you so much for thinking of me! You may direct all blurb requests to my agent, Barbara Poelle using the following contact:
STALKING JACK THE RIPPER research/author background/info:
Have you had any training, education, or background experiences that have influenced your writing/illustrating?
Honestly? I read. A LOT. I think reading everything you can get your hands on is one of the very best tools for a writer to have. I’ve also taken Creative Writing and Women’s Lit, and countless English classes in college that helped shape my love of creating my own work.
As far as other influences with my writing are concerned, it can be anything from a book, or song, or article, or a tv show/news broadcast (I’m a hardcore junkie when it comes to the Investigation Discovery channel, anything on PBS, and the H2 history Channel), or a even random snippet of conversation I hear out. All I need is a tiny spark of inspiration and then the flames of a plot start blazing in my mind. Once I reach the all-powerful “what if?”, it’s game on with pushing my muse to explore possibilities.
Please write a few paragraphs about yourself and your book — what prompted you to write/illustrate it and what it means to you
I’ve always been interested in the Jack the Ripper case, mostly because there are so many theories and countless potential for who Jack actually was, and always found my mind wandering with possibilities. It’s a mystery that’s haunted us for over a hundred years, and was a blank canvas begging to be explored. Except I wanted to delve more into who the people behind the scenes were. Who were the investigators and medical examiners at that time, fighting to locate this murderer? That’s when the idea for this book really started taking shape.
I’m a science enthusiast. Forensics have always intrigued me — the way people can read clues left behind at scenes and slowly put the pieces together to solve a case. To me that’s like having a superpower. Doing something amazing to help others? Plus getting to use things like determining trajectory based on blood splatter? The science of that has always made the gore less scary to me in a way. The end benefit of solving a case — and possibly preventing another death — is truly admirable work. Then there are the stereotypes out there about women not being good at science. I wanted my main character, Audrey Rose, to go out there with confidence, and show people being an excellent scientist is not something just for boys. A girl can be elbows deep in viscera and not faint. She can be strong and girly and intelligent and wear makeup and enjoy dresses and have a crush on a boy, and still go out there and get the job done. Feminism doesn’t come in one shape or size, and neither does ass-kicking. Sometimes it’s the day-to-day battles, ones like standing up for yourself against the world, that show as much bravery as wielding weapons. One of my favorite lines is from a conversation between Audrey Rose and her cousin:
“No man has invented a corset for our brains. Let them think they rule the world. It’s a queen who sits on that throne. Never forget that. There’s no reason you can’t wear a frock to work, and don the finest gown and dance the night away. But only if it pleases you.”
Growing up, my parents always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. There were no restrictions based on my gender. Science and discovery along with the arts were encouraged. I couldn’t fathom what it would have been like, being told something was impossible simply because I’d been born into a female body. That’s where the idea for Audrey Rose came from. I wanted to create a science-obsessed girl who felt modern, yet was stifled by outward forces like society and gender expectations.
Once I had my badass heroine figured out, there was really only one case — the ultimate forensics case — for her to become embroiled in. Autumn 1888 in London not only offered plenty of opportunity for society tension in this story, but lent itself to a gothic atmosphere I admire, too. Being the kind of bold girl that she is, Audrey Rose was never going to sit at home, quietly stitching linens for her hope chest with her aunt. She was going to actively go out there and do something for these victims, bulky skirts and all.
“Aunt Amelia says my needlework is quite impressive.” Except she didn’t have skin stitching in mind while praising my embroidery, I’m sure.
She was going to sneak out at indecent hours and skulk through foggy East End streets, hunting down clues. Even if that meant her father, Lord Edmund Wadsworth, would disapprove and possibly disown her. Curiosity and a sense of social justice plague her, urging her to dig deeper and try harder, even when that trait plants seeds of doubt in herself.
Perhaps I was the deplorable creature society thought me to be.
Her world becomes more complicated when she dresses as a boy to attend a forensic class and meets an equally intelligent and incredibly vexing classmate, Thomas Cresswell. Like her, Thomas is troublesome in society’s eyes because he doesn’t play by their strict rules. His ability to turn his emotions on and off at will causes plenty of gossip between upperclass households, casting him in a suspicious light. Audrey Rose fights it, but finds herself slowly being cast under his spell. Even though she’d like to stab him with her hat pin from time to time.
“Perhaps you’ll allow me the pleasure of testing out a few of my theories?”
Another crimson wave washed over my cheeks. “Your theories on what, exactly?”
“Your scandalous choice to attend this class, of course.” He grinned. “It isn’t every day you meet such an odd girl.”
Together, along with her uncle—a respected forensic medical examiner—, they investigate the increasing murders, trying to put together clues and solve the mystery before Jack the Ripper strikes again. Soon Audrey Rose wonders if the very killer they’re hunting is much closer than she thinks.
Of Blood and Shadow is an atmospheric historical—complete with archival photographs and illustrations—that reads like a gothic fantasy. It deals not only with science, love, and betrayal, but struggling to be yourself in a world which refuses to approve.
“There’s a man brutalizing women, and my sister cannot bother to remain indoors like a normal, decent girl!”
At first his words stole the breath from me. Why must I either be docile and decent, or curious and wretched? I was a decent girl, even if I spent my spare time reading about science theories and dissecting the dead.
Please describe any special research you did for this book:
I pored over case details for the Ripper murders, learning everything I could about the women prior to their deaths. It was important for me to portray them respectfully, after they’d been so brutally disregarded by Jack the Ripper. My intention was to treat this in a way that didn’t glorify the crimes or murderer, but focused more on the desperate effort of solving this case and the remarkable scientific advancements that were used—some for the first time—in history. I researched actual post-mortem documents for the victims so I could accurately capture what a young forensic student would have witnessed.
London in 1888 was also laid out a bit differently, some streets are not the same as they were during the murders, so I had to pick and choose which details to keep historically accurate, and which to modernize a bit.
But my research wasn’t just isolated to the Ripper case. Since there’s so much science and new medical technology for the day, I wanted to make sure everything that’s said or done in the book was actually something that was possible in 1888. Everything from Petri dishes to carbolic acid, fingerprint collection, photography at murder scenes, Bunsen burners, sterilization, medical tools and post-mortem procedures. What a body smells like after trauma, even if it’s discovered within hours — I’m definitely on some sort of watch list for those searches, and am so thankful for current medical examiners posting this info online. All of the science and technology in the book was available at the time, which I was surprised by.
Also little details like if certain, wealthier households would have a telephone, or gas lamps vs. oil lamps, and electricity. If that changed from the city of London to the outlying towns. What was considered vulgar in polite, upperclass society, and what the rules for society were. For instance, saying “chair legs” would have been frowned upon in the Victorian era because of its reference to a body part. People used “limbs” instead. Afternoon Tea versus Royale Tea and the differences between the two and what the proper attire was for each. Etiquette, gender roles and expectations. Clothing and undergarments for women and what the bustles and corsets both looked and felt like.
Then there were all the little details like “skittles” instead of “bowling.” “looking glass” instead of “mirror” and “biscuits” in place of “cookies.” Plus many more nuances like carbolic soap that are hardly noticeable but (hopefully) help carve out the world/atmosphere in a real and organic way. My goal was to make this book feel as authentically period as possible without having the details beat a reader over the head, or become obvious and detract from the story itself.
Why this book? Why try for a career as an author?
My grandmother loved to read. She took my mom to the library every week when she was little, and my mom did the same thing with my sister and myself when we were growing up. Our family spent Saturdays happily lost in aisles of books, noses pressed into the pages of someone else’s adventure, breathing in that special, used book scent. Shakespeare, classics, fantasy, horror, science fiction, mysteries—I gobbled them all up. Nights found me huddled under covers, reading by flashlight, terrified yet captivated by whichever scary book I was immersed in at the time. (My grandma had a stack of used Nancy Drew books that she bought for my mom one book per paycheck until they had the whole set, and I was OBSESSED with reading those.) I loved that all-consuming feeling of getting lost in the story and needing to flip the pages well into the early morning hours. “One more chapter” is a mantra I still find myself chanting today. I wanted—more than anything—to create something like that for someone else, hoping they’d lose themselves in an adventure of their own.
Growing up my grandmother showed me the wonder in everyday things. A stream wasn’t simply a boring bed of water, it was a babbling brook. And couldn’t I see fairies dancing on the shores if I looked closely enough? That’s what all those wild flowers were, after all. Fairy footprints. Magic wasn’t fantasy—it was real as long as you saw it. She taught me that life is a story we’re crafting everyday, and every day we have the power to create something special. Even if it’s as simple as making someone else smile.
I’ve been a fan of gothic novels and horror movies for as long as I can remember. Edgar Allan Poe has always been a hero—I absolutely love the atmosphere in his stories. His ability to take a simple house and turn it into a sinister character in its own right is so inspiring. I went to art school, but at one point considered drastically changing majors and studying at the University of Tennessee, most specifically, to study at the body farm. I mean, how cool is it that people can determine things like time of death based on insect larvae?! That’s mind-blowingly awesome. In the end, I took a few criminal justice courses, and then decided I could create my own stories and live out my forensic dreams there. Then I could go on to the next adventure with new characters and slay any dragons I wanted. I was the heroine and creator of my own journey, and the only limitations I had were in my mind, just like Grandma taught me.
I wrote this book because of my love of creepy, atmospheric gothic stories and my interest in forensic science. But I also wrote this book for my grandma.
My grandmother passed away almost two years (to the day) before I received my book deal, but I know she’s celebrating with me in heaven. She knew my dream was to one day become a published author, to hold my own novel in my hands and add it to my beloved shelves, and I am so thankful for her love of reading and constant support of my dreams. I always say that my entire world is built on books, and my grandma laid the foundation. To this day my parents buy my sister and I our own special leather-bound editions of classics each Christmas, continuing to build our own personal libraries. It’s one of our most treasured family traditions that I hope to pass along to my own children one day.
This book will always be special to me because Grandma loved a good “whodunit.” I can only hope that she would’ve enjoyed this story—a story which tackles one of the biggest whodunits in history and adds its own gothic twist.