|Image: Devon Ellington/Champagne Books|
Assumption of Right is the first novel to come from romantic suspense author, Annabel Aidan. But this isn’t just any ordinary romantic suspense story in the traditional sense, for Aidan has spiced this genre up by throwing in a healthy dose of witchcraft and politics and mixing it all together. The result: she has created an immediate niche for herself, as well as a book that’s very hard to put down.
Annabel Aidan is one of several pen names for the multi-talented American author, Devon Ellington. For the purposes of this article I’ll stick to using Aidan, but I started off by asking Devon, why so many names?
“Different names for different genres,” she explains, “but it’s loosening up. There are times when people in the business can’t seem to fathom that one can write well in more than one genre. Readers will follow an author from genre to genre, or find an author new-to-them in their favorite genre, but some people in the business just can’t wrap their heads around it. I like to write about whatever captures my interest. Therefore, I do.”
Aidan has spent over twenty years working behind the scenes on Broadway, film and television. As a writer, she has had a series of plays successfully produced around the world (as well as all her other publication successes under other names), and it is this background that served her well in her debut novel.
Witchcraft, politics, and theatre collide as Morag D’Anneville, a witch and theatre professional, collaborates with Secret Service agent, Simon Keane. Their goal is to protect the Vice President of the United States, an ex-amateur actor intent on appearing in his favourite Broadway show.
But there’s more, much more, as the story develops and we realize that perhaps it’s Morag who needs the protection of the Secret Service and not the VP. Cue a novel that builds to a crescendo of excitement as the various threads of the story all come together.
D’Anneville is the perfect protagonist to pitch against the Secret Service: she’s single minded, committed to her cause, and yet holds a flexibility and openness that endears her from the start. When she’s assigned to dress the conservative Vice President for the show, she becomes irritated that she also has to teach Agent Keane the ropes of how a Broadway show must function—never mind the VP of the United States is appearing in it or not!
“He’d nearly crossed a line, and he wanted to. He wanted to touch her and kiss her. Not in an abstract way, as when he observed an attractive woman in passing and spent a moment or two wondering what she was like naked or what she enjoyed in bed. He specifically wanted Morag.
It was entirely inappropriate.”
You can almost feel the electricity that passes between D’Anneville and Keane as they work together, both reluctant to move on their feelings and both trying to remain focused on the very work that defines their personalities.
When Morag is attacked because of her religious beliefs, Simon’s loyalties are torn between the man he would take a bullet to save, and protecting the woman he has grown to love.
It’s clear from the book that Aidan knows a lot about the two worlds that clash in the story, so I began by asking her what made her decide to throw these worlds together in the form of a novel?
“Part of the reason I wanted to write this book was that I wanted to see what would happen. I did not outline. I knew the points I wanted to hit, but I didn’t plan the ending. For all I knew, they wouldn’t have an HEA or even a hope of one. They could have decided to go their separate ways.
“The initial concept had Morag in a romantic triangle and Simon in one, but as the book progressed, they shed those other potential romantic interests much more quickly than I expected. It was a real exercise in trusting my characters. I liked and respected Morag and Simon a lot, so instead of forcing their story, I let them tell it.
“Having worked on shows where the Secret Service was stationed backstage during a performance, I wanted to explore it further in a novel,” she explains. “It seemed interesting and unique to me, and the backstage world is hardly ever portrayed with any accuracy. It’s always about overblown clichés and people hating each other. You can’t spend eight shows a week with people you hate and have it a success.”
“The attacker and Morag continued their jerky dance. If Simon fired, he risked hitting her. He needed to position himself to get a clear shot.
She was trapped between the garbage cans and the iron railing. The attacker charged again and Morag squirmed to one side. His knife scraped the plastic lid. Morag grabbed the lid off another can and threw it at him, left-handed.
It hit him and bounced. He took a step back.
As to how much fiction went into it the politics and how much of it was based on reality, Aidan revealed that she stretched the fictional possibilities somewhat.
“The original draft was written during the Bush years, when the pendulum of intolerance started swinging back to the right, and it’s only gotten worse in the intervening years. Now you have the treasonous Tea Party nut jobs out there, trying to rip democracy out of the United States and turn us into a medieval feudal society. They’re too stupid and ignorant to realize that they’re cannon fodder for well-funded special interests and will be thrown aside as soon as they’ve served their purpose.
“In this day and age, with so much information out there, ignorance is a choice, and to watch a large group of individuals make the choice of ignorance because they can’t recognize the difference between facts and snake oil, are so easily manipulated and exploited through fear and sound bites, and can’t be bothered to do any research on their own to find out is inexcusable. Maybe if they were on less medication, they’d be capable of independent thought.”
Strong stuff indeed, but although Assumption is not a political novel, politics runs strong throughout it, especially through the voice of Agent Simon Keane. “Simon was a lot of fun to write,” confirms Aidan, “because he’s just such a great guy. He’s a really good person, certainly not a ‘hero’ in the traditional sense, or a saint, but he tries to do the right thing. He tries to keep himself out of the politics and just do his job, which is to guard a political figure, but when intolerant factions try to do the wrong thing, he feels he has to speak up and act. None of this hiding behind ‘company policy’ bullshit that so many people in other lines of work do to justify doing something they KNOW is wrong and harmful.”
With politics running as a strong undercurrent throughout the book, but never overtaking the integrity and quality of the story—it’s not a political books, as I said—I pressed Aidan on just how controlled she was politically, and how much she feels the current situation in real-life affected what came through in her art.
“I am politically active, working closely with my Senators and Representatives on various forms of legislation almost daily (although I wasn’t as involved when I wrote the novel). I already knew the world of Wiccan intimately. I wanted to see if and how they could converge, and if individuals could remain true to their beliefs and still stay individuals, instead of bowing to what “the group” – whatever group it was – wanted.
“Pardon my bluntness, but Beers is an idiot. Either the show can run the way it is supposed to and the Vice President can enjoy being a Broadway star like he’s always wanted, or we’re in lockdown. Then the VP might as well go out at intermission with a cane and a top hat to tap dance.”
“You know that’s not how he wants to do it.”
“Then your team is going to have to meet us halfway.”
“Democracy means the individual voice is important, not goose-stepping to a special interest’s Pied Piper-ism and falsely righteous promises. Morag and Simon discovered that they are stronger and better together than they are separately, and neither forces the other to be something other than they are. There’s an enormous acceptance and respect for each other, instead of a demand to sacrifice a part of the self in order to be a couple, and that’s what I liked about their journey.
“I believe that a good relationship means you’re better and stronger together, not that you have to deny or rip out a part of yourself to be with the other person. If that’s the demand, it’s the wrong person. Morag and Simon found the person they could be their best selves with, in unexpected circumstances, which is a rare and a beautiful thing.”
Kudos to that! But how hard was it for Aidan to write this particular male character? “I didn’t find it hard to write from his POV because I liked and respected him, and he wasn’t a cliché. He was an individual. He’s very much his own person, though he embodies the best qualities of the Secret Service agents I actually encountered.”
In D’annville we have a very powerful and strong-willed woman, a fascinating protagonist, and a character that I suspect has much more to say in further books, but was having these two characters in such a potentially explosive situation problematic for Aidan in the writing of the story?
“They’re both at a crossroads in their lives that they don’t even realize they’re approaching. Neither would have made the choices to change their lives, or had the opportunity for the type of personal growth they faced had they not encountered the other at this particular point. They are each other’s cause and effect,” explains Aidan.
“Simon’s job is much more life-and-death than Morag’s—it’s really hard to change the world when you’re flipping people in and out of clothes. But when you’re in the Secret Service, a single mistake could result in the death of someone and that COULD change the world. Each influenced the other—microcosm and macrocosm.”
Aidan recalls keenly the shows she worked where the Secret Service was stationed backstage because a VIP was in the audience. “I found the agents unfailing smart, capable, able to think on their feet and process information much more rapidly than most people can, compassionate, and with great senses of humour. I also read a lot of memoirs by ex-Secret Service personnel, to get a feel for how they do what they do, and how they separate the job from their personal beliefs.”
Simon’s mouth twitched. “At least you think I’m worthy guardian material.”
“You know I do. You save my life and I—I—” She stopped.
“Yes?” Simon stared at her, interested.
“I can’t talk about this right now.” She stepped back.
“You’re not going alone.”
“The man who tried to kill me is dead.”
“That doesn’t mean there won’t be more.”
Morag shivered suddenly. “You’re not just saying that, are you?”
She stared into his eyes and knew he wasn’t trying to scare her.
“Until we know more about him, we won’t know. We won’t know if he’s working with Carl Douglas or if this is connected to the Vice President.”
“Great. Now I have to worry about someone jumping out from
behind every tree, parked car, and garbage can.”
Simon pulled her into his arms. “That’s why you’ve got me.”
Aidan’s novel builds into a crescendo—it turns into a page turner the more you read it, particularly through the creation of the sexual tension between Simon and Morag in parallel with the tensions created by the VP’s visit.
“Well, I had to set up the daily details of what it’s like backstage,” Aidan explains. “So the training is, by its nature, more low-key than the performance. I didn’t want to re-tread every detail during the VP’s performance, so I picked points that would resonate from the previous chapters and raise the stakes. The early draft was what it was, but in the five years of tearing it apart and restructuring it, it become more and more deliberate, although I tried to make it seem organic.”
I asked Aidan if writing the novel was as enjoyable as the vibes that came across while reading it, particularly given her history working on Broadway. “When I wrote the original draft, I was still working on Broadway eight shows a week, so it was kind of a busman’s holiday! As I did the revisions and moved away from the work, especially in the edits I worked on with my editor in the months before the book’s release, it brought back many fond memories of my backstage days.”
Another theme that comes over strong in Assumption, are the various ghost tales, a side of working the theatre that has frequently made them famous over the years—the ghosts and the theatres.
“The stories are based on some of the Broadway tales from various theatres, but I changed them to suit this story,” says Aidan. “There is a Broadway theatre where the impresario lived over the theatre, he had a one-way mirror into the chorus room, and it’s said he still haunts the place. But I rearranged some of the details to support the story I wanted to tell.”
So what’s next for Annabel Aidan? She’s currently working on The Spirit Repository, which features Bonnie, a peripheral character from Assumption, and her interactions with ghosts from the days when New York was New Amsterdam.
Aidan explains that the inspiration for this new novel came from Washington Irving’s diaries, and of her research: “Yes, I did it properly this time, researching before and during the first draft!”
Following on from that, she also fancies giving Amanda her own book. “She has an awful lot to say and my trusted readers loved her. I also started another Annabel Aidan novel, an idea that’s been knocking around for awhile that suddenly came together at the worst possible time in my schedule — isn’t that always the way?
To keep up with Annabel Aidan’s Morag D’Anneville, tune into Devon Ellington’s excellent daily blog, Ink in My Coffee.
Aidan has her own website at: www.devonellingtonwork.com/annabelaidan.html
Quick and easy purchase Assumption of Right can be done today through the lovely people over at Champagne Books: www.champagnebooks.com
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Thanks so much for your insightful questions!