Launch: Amy Marie Turner’s Voyage of the Pleiades
INTERVIEW BY LESLIE S. LOWE
Amy Marie Turner is a Heartland Emmy-nominated writer who lives where the high desert is shadowed by the soaring peaks of the Sawatch Range, also known as Salida, Colorado. Leslie Lowe interviews Amy about her debut novel, Voyage of the Pleiades. She is currently working on the second book in the series, and engaged in other creative projects that explore our sense of place and identity.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
Botanist Linnea Wren journeys across the world to the magical island of Chiloé. Will she realize her dreams of botanical discovery, or will romance and her murder investigation draw her closer to becoming the next victim? Set on the high seas and Chiloé Island, Voyage of the Pleiades follows Linnea as she forges a career path outside the expectations for women in the 19th century, while navigating a relationship with a colleague that is overshadowed by the ever-present threats from a murderer.
What inspired you to start writing and what has been most rewarding about it?
I’ve been writing since childhood and wrote professionally in a business setting before turning to fiction. After several trips to Chile, I knew that I wanted to set the book there and these characters appeared to guide me into the story. It has been rewarding to develop characters and a location that are uncommon in historical fiction.
What attracted you to writing historical fiction?
I’m a voracious reader and historical fiction is a favorite genre. I love the combination of solid research and historical facts interwoven with fictional characters and situations.
What drew you into the setting for the story and made you want to share it?
I traveled to Chile and Chiloé Island several times and fell in love with the landscape and the people. It made me think how few historical fiction novels are set in South America. The entire history of the continent is often only mentioned as a side note to European history. I wanted readers to think about what was happening in those countries, not just as a location for colonialist expansion, but in the context of their own history. In addition, we know that there were women explorers and naturalists, but their stories haven’t been told.
Will you be writing additional books to turn this into a series? What are you working on now? Is it connected to this one in any way?
Yes! The first draft of A Garden of Shadows, the sequel to Voyage of the Pleiades is finished. I’m working on the revisions now. The tentative publication date is June 2024. There will also be a third book in the series.
How do the characters transform within the story over the series? What did that journey mean to you as you wrote it?
My characters face a multitude of issues on their journey. Some are personal, some professional. On top of their individual transformations, they also find themselves involved in a murder investigation. And my characters are burdened by a great responsibility to the victims to solve the murder. I didn’t want to idealize the process of change, it’s messy, it’s difficult, and I didn’t shy away from an exploration of those dark places. Neither do my characters.
How do you think the reader will connect with the characters?
I hope readers identify with their struggles, but also their joys. Linnea and Matias are driven by their innate curiosity. I tried to communicate that curiosity through their interactions with the natural world as well as the people they meet on their journey and on Chiloé.
Why the focus on this topic now? Is there a key historical event you found in researching that inspired you to write this story to portray a key message prevalent now?
There are several modern topics that I’ve addressed in the book. But the predominant one is the story of natural history exploration. It has largely been portrayed as the domain of white men. But the truth is, there were women, indigenous people, and people of color that were “naturalists” long before that phrase was formalized. Linnea recognizes that she is part of a structure that she has mixed feelings about, but to make a difference, she has to earn her colleagues’ respect and follow (some) of the rules.
How did you balance the research with writing the story? Did you get to do any interesting interviews for your research?
My educational background is in biology and ethnobotany, so I naturally lean toward the research. To avoid spending too much time on it, I split my writing days. Research half, writing the other half. Once the writing really begins to flow, I make notes on specific points to return to instead of stopping. I didn’t interview anyone specifically for the book, but I drew upon personal experiences in South America and Chiloê. I also worked on my Spanish so I could read texts that were not translated into English. Most of the anthropological texts on the brujería and history of Chiloé were in Spanish only.
Every author has their own publishing journey. Tell me about yours (process, handling rejection, success). What would you do differently?
I started writing Voyage of the Pleiades in 2018, finished the first draft in May 2020, and began querying in fall 2021. I had several requests for full manuscripts and great feedback from agents, but my book was lost in the sea of post-Covid submissions. I eventually decided to go with publishing through an indie press.
What advice would you give to other aspiring historical writers?
Pick an era and subject that you feel passionate about, that comes through in the writing and helps sustain you during the process.
What is the last great book you read? Why?
I recently finished re-reading Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. I wanted to remind myself how Winspear navigates character progression through a long-running series. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but if I had to, it would be The Mapping of Love and Death.