With December and the holidays fast approaching, it couldn’t be a better time for a lesbian re-telling of a beloved holiday classic. Today, we interview Andi Marquette, author of the recently released The Bureau of Holiday Affairs, a modern, lesbian fiction take on a classic Dickens story. In this Spotlight interview, Andi talks about she got the idea for her book, what made it hard to write, and where to find the playlist of songs she’s made to go with the story. Her book is now available in the Ylva online shop and on all major online platforms.
- How would you describe The Bureau of Holiday Affairs? What is it about?
It’s a re-telling of Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. Everybody pretty much knows that story, right? A cranky, stingy, mean-spirited guy (Ebenezer Scrooge) gets visited on Christmas Eve by the ghost of his former business partner (Jacob Marley) who tells him he’d better mend his ways or he’ll be burdened with chains of his own for all eternity. Marley tells him he’s going to get three visitors (Christmas Eve) and hopefully, these will help Scrooge change the course of his life. There have been numerous interpretations of that story, including the 1988 movie Scrooged with Bill Murray, which I’ve seen several times. In that telling, Murray plays a TV executive who’s a real jerk—the scrooge, if you will.
So this is my take on Dickens, but through a modern-ish lens, like Scrooged. A corporate executive, lesbian-identified, gets a chance to see the error of her ways and perhaps find a bit of redemption and maybe love…we hope! But where Scrooge and the TV executive have to deal with ghosts, my executive—Robin Preston—has to deal with an intervention scheduled by the Bureau of Holiday Affairs, which assigns specific agents to certain cases.
Robin will go through Christmas past, present, and future scenarios, but where the traditional telling of this story involves a matter of a day or two, Robin’s involves a period of about three weeks, and the agents assigned to her case are a trio of characters who couldn’t be more different from each other or Robin, for that matter. And one definitely has a decided paranormal edge. My take on it includes agent involvement past Christmas. I’m not going to say why, because that might be a spoiler.
- What sparked the idea for this book?
I get ideas all the time, but in this case, I posted a status update on Facebook back in March or April or thereabouts asking people what kinds of holiday/Christmas stories they would like to see in a lesfic anthology and one reader made a comment about a particular Christmas demon who never gets any kind of attention in Christmas stories and she would like to see a lesfic story that somehow incorporated that. And that evening, the idea for Bureau hit me full force, I guess because I was mulling various Christmas stories and classic holiday tales. Is this demon a part of this story? Not telling! Guess you’d better read it!
Regardless, I’ve always liked the idea of redemption, and Dickens’s tale is all about that. Readers may not know this, but in the original novella, Scrooge sees a bit of his past (through the Ghost of Christmas Past) that involved a woman he was deeply in love with; but he kept putting the marriage off until he “had enough money.” Eventually, she found love and happiness with another man, which further embittered Scrooge. So I thought about that and how past loves can create monsters or not, depending on how we process them. That’s why Robin has to deal with parts of her past in Bureau when she’s presented with the opportunity to engage in love, and that’s a strong element in my take on this story.
- Who’s your favorite character in The Bureau of Holiday Affairs?
Oh, geez. I never like this question because I have LUUUUV for all my characters. Every character in Bureau required time and attention to make sure I ensured their individuality (I hope it worked), so I spent a lot of time witheach of them. Having said that, I do have affection for Jill Chen, the artist, who is Chinese American. Her parents tend to be more traditionally Chinese than American, so she’s had a lot to deal with in that regard. I’ve always been fascinated with American diasporas and how different cultures and ethnicities negotiate that, and I think Jill walks a line between who she is as an artist and lesbian who is also American and Chinese, but she’s had to come to a place where she accepts all of that about herself. I got glimpses of Jill’s background while writing her through other characters, and she intrigues me. Heh.
I also like all the agents who are working on Robin Preston’s intervention, though I do have a particular affection for the agent of Christmas Present, because she’s…well, you’ll see. I guess I’d describe her as “elegantly flamboyant.” I also like the head agent—Robin’s case worker—because she’s a woman you’d look at and immediately know that no matter what happens, no matter what kind of crisis hits the fan, she’s on it and will handle it without getting a hair out of place.
As for Robin? I see her as that friend you have who you know has a lot of potential, but she managed to get sidetracked into jerk-ville and if she just accepted that she’s responsible for her own change, she’d be even more awesome to hang out with. I have a lot of affection for her too, because I spent a lot of time in her head, and I think I understand her on several levels.
- What was your favorite part about writing The Bureau of Holiday Affairs?
Hmm. Probably Robin’s visits to her past, present, and future. Those involved some digging into emotional baggage that Robin had, and I wanted to ensure that I got her reactions right. But writing the agents was a blast, so I had a good time in those scenes, even when they were bringing up difficult issues. I also really liked writing the interactions between Robin and her potential love interest, because it helped reveal a lot more about Robin and her past, and I liked making Robin unpack that, too.
- What prompted you to choose this setting as a backdrop?
I chose a lot of different backdrops. There’s the backdrop of Dickens’s tale, which provides all kinds of fodder for possibility, and then there’s the location issue. Like Scrooged, I put Robin in an urban area because she’s a corporate executive, and to get that kind of executive-ness, a major metropolitan area seemed to work best. I don’t harp much on the fact that she’s in New York City, but that is where she is, though it serves as kind of a metaphor for her “keep moving, keep climbing the ladder” corporate lifestyle. I’ve spent a lot of time in New York City, and it’s a fast-paced place, with an ethos that seems to demand that you hurry and get things done. But it’s also the kind of place where all kinds of crazy things can happen, so it fit for Robin to be based there during this story.
- Which scene in The Bureau of Holiday Affairs was the hardest for you to write?
I’m actually laughing, because there were MANY scenes that were hard, whether for mechanical reasons or because I wasn’t quite getting the right elements for character interactions that would tie up subplots. Without giving too much away, this story is essentially a romantic comedy with some dramatic elements, and for me, writing those romantic interactions between characters can be fun but also really challenging. I want to make sure that what the characters say and do when dealing with new layers of intimacy is true to who they are or who they’re becoming, because if what happens isn’t convincing, then the story loses its punch. That said, the scenes between Robin and her brother were also a bit challenging, because again, I wanted to make sure that I was really capturing how their relationship would sound through dialogue in various capacities and what kinds of responses Robin would have as she was not only dealing with him, but also different stages of her intervention. The other scenes that were difficult in this project were the ones in which Robin was slowly confronting her corporate jerk-ness and trying to evolve beyond it. I wanted that to unfold realistically, but also keep a sense of adventure about it because there are elements to Bureau that involve magic and paranormal twists, like in the original A Christmas Carol, and it was a bit of a challenge writing those and incorporating them into Robin’s life as she’s dealing with all this intervention stuff.
- What are you currently reading?
Ermahgerd. A little bit of everything. I’m working my way through the Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood (and yes, I do watch the Australian Public Television versions), which have gotten me totally fascinated with 1920s-era Australia. I’m also reading Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin, which is about New Orleans during the early 1920s and I recently finished historian Jill Lepore’s biography/history of the creator of Wonder Woman. Yes, you read that right. The comic book heroine. Fascinating stuff. I also just finished Nigerian writer Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees, which is fiction set in the late 1960s, when civil war broke out in that country. The main character is a lesbian, and Okparanta explores what that might mean within such a context. And I just downloaded Malinda Lo’s Huntress, which is YA spec fic whose two main characters, young women, fall in love. So I’ll squeeze that in, too. Not enough time in the day, friends!
- Do you write to music?
Why, yes I do. And I create playlists of my novels on Spotify. You can find me there under the rather cryptic “andimarquette.” Each novel has its own “mood,” if you will, so I write in accordance with that. Certain types of music lend themselves to certain genres, so it depends what I’m writing, the music I listen to. I am working on a playlist for Bureau, and I’ve found that Robin’s music was a little gritty in instances, a little blunt and hard-edged in others and in still others, sort of dance-ish. It is not holiday-ish, because the underlying theme of this book was not really the meaning of Christmas or the holidays, but rather being offered a shot at redemption, which is a story that—though it takes place at the time of year we associate with holidays—goes beyond the holidays. I was not feeling holiday music while I was writing this, and I think following that instinct helped me really focus on the deeper issues at play. The holiday season is a vehicle for what the Bureau of Holiday Affairs does, but the interventions it develops are about much more than that. Having said that, I might do a shorter playlist of holiday-ish songs for Bureau, too, though. We’ll see how it all turns out. Stay tuned…
- Are you working on a new novel? What can your readers expect next from you?
I’m always working on something. Readers can expect more sci fi, a bit of urban fantasy (something I’m not known for…YET! MUAH HA HA!), and I’ve got a romance novel that’s mostly finished. I hope to have something figured out with my mystery series, too, within the next year. Also, I’m co-editing another anthology with fellow author R.G. Emanuelle–more romance/erotica food stories! That’ll be out next year with Ylva. It’s called Order Up, sort of a follow-up to our first, All You Can Eat, which was a Lambda finalist.
- How can your readers stay in touch with you?
They can go to my website and hit the “About/Contact” link and fill out the form and that message then gets jetted over to me, easy-peasy. http://www.andimarquette.com
Or at Women and Words, where I co-admin with fellow author Jove Belle: http://www.womenwords.org
Facebook is another place to find me as either Andi Marquette or Andi Marquette, Writer
I also run around Twitter: https://twitter.com/andimarquette (@andimarquette)
Thank you, Andi.
Buy Andi Marquette’s latest novel, The Bureau of Holiday Affairs now in the Ylva online shop and everywhere else.