I met Michelle Argyle on Facebook, as I was trolling for other authors with whom to compare notes and experiences. At the time, she had just published a short book called Cinders, the rather dark story of what happens to the newly-married princess Cinderella after the “happily ever after” had begun to wear off. The book paints a rather bleak picture of life with the prince (and his parents) in the castle, a perhaps more realistic view of why fairy tale endings are a bad expectation for all of us.
I read Cinders, and as we discussed it online she mentioned she was wrapping up a much larger work of fiction, a novel which became Monarch. She then asked me to be a part of a group of select writers who would give the manuscript one final read-through before she put the finishing touches on it and shipped it off to Rhemalda Publishing. I was honored! Soon the Word doc came across the e-mail and I dove right in.
Let me stop at this point and say I was a bit apprehensive at first about the work, even before I had opened the file and read the first word on page one. I didn’t know much about Michelle, other than that I liked Cinders. I was concerned because this was a totally different type of book — a completely different genre and not one I figured a young woman knew much about writing. Let me pick up where I left off by saying she more than proved me wrong! Yes, my slight male chauvinism had once again been shoved back in my face, where it rightly belonged. By the end of the first page, I was hooked. I had to read the whole thing! I kept waiting to be disappointed, and was in a few brief spots, but the entirety of the book was magnificent. In fact, I read it in less than a week, which is fast for me.
The plot and characters are both rich and believable, with dialogue that sounds like conversations between real people. While there are a few minor bumps along the way (what novel doesn’t have those?), the work is solid and reads like a story from a seasoned author. Very impressive for a first major work.
So when it came time to promote the book, I asked Michelle if I could help. Sure, it meant I got a free copy before the general public, but it also meant I would be helping a fellow fledgling author who had proven herself as a more than competent novelist.
Monarch is a fantastic semi-debut novel from an author who is passionate about writing good fiction. As you’ll see in the interview below, the idea behind the book came from three completely unrelated stories Michelle had written for other purposes. When it came time to write Monarch, she combined them flawlessly into a great romantic thriller, with a touch of beautiful nature thrown in.
Here is my interview with Michelle Argyle:
When did you come up with the idea of Monarch?
I came up with the idea for Monarch over the course of several years. The spark, I think, came in college when I was reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. There was a section in there about monarch butterflies – a beautifully written piece – and I wanted to capture that in novel-form. I then wrote a short story later in college about an inn and a mysterious man, and then a story about a woman with a mysterious man in her life who has to leave her for his job. All of this eventually turned into a book that combined monarch butterflies with a spy.
What compelled you to write a thriller after having written Cinders, a dark continuation of the Cinderella fairy tale? The two genres are literally worlds apart.
Well, I actually wrote Monarch before I wrote Cinders. I just happened to publish Cinders before Monarch was picked up by Rhemalda Publishing. But, to answer your question, I wrote Cinders – a completely different genre – because I was kind of fed up with trying to contort my writing to a more marketable state. I felt like I needed to write something completely for me, and Cinders came about. I got the idea for that book from watching a movie trailer for Cinderella III at the beginning of one of my daughter’s Disney movies. I wanted to write something very literary and more in the feel of my short stories from college.
How long did it take you to write Monarch, from start to finish?
Overall, writing the book with revisions and rewrites took me from November 2008 until September of 2010 with a few breaks in between as I wrote and published Cinders. Then, of course, there were edits with my publisher.
Many authors write more pages than actually appear in the finished product, much like movie directors who cut out entire scenes. How many pages did you actually write before it was whittled down to the final book?
My first draft of Monarch was 102,000 words. Published, it is now around 76,000 – I think. I did rewrite it completely from scratch after the second draft, and that was where I cut out a lot.
Take us through your writing process.
Honestly, my writing process is different for every book. They all seem to require different things. For Monarch, I started out by writing it for National Novel Writing Month. That didn’t work out so great for my creativity and I won’t do it again. Mostly, these days, I write the first few chapters, then do a detailed synopsis/outline then write the book. Lots of stuff changes. I revise. A lot.
What was it like trying to write a major novel and be a mommy and wife at the same time? Did you write it all at home? What was a typical day like?
I don’t have my own car, and my husband is an actor and works full-time and goes to school full-time, and my daughter isn’t in school full-time school yet. So that makes me stuck at home, really. Most of my writing takes place in the wee hours of the morning when I’m not interrupted by anyone, including the Internet.
It’s hard to write and be a mom at the same time, but some writers not only do that, but another separate full-time job as well – with multiple children! I don’t know how they pull it off, honestly. I can hardly handle what I’ve got going!
A typical writing day for me varies from day to day. Mostly it’s just squeezing stuff in every second I can – between trips to the park, lunch, eating, cleaning, etc. It’s really not that exciting.
Last, but not least, is there going to be a sequel?
There is no sequel to Monarch, no. I’m not a big sequel lover. There’s very few I really like, and I’m definitely not interested in writing them. Yet. I might change my tune depending on what projects pop up. Guess we’ll see!