The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
Published by Saga Press on June 20th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Retelling, Mystery
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Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
How did you come up with the idea behind The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter?
I’ve always loved Victorian gothic fiction, by which I mean books like Dracula, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Dr.Moreau. I first came up with the idea for this novel while trying to finish a PhD in English literature, writing a doctoral dissertation that asked why there were so many stories about monsters published in 1870-1910, a period we call the fin-de-siecle. This is the period that gave us Count Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, the Beast Men of Dr. Moreau, the vampire Carmilla, and the Martians that invade in War of the Worlds. As I was studying these sorts of narratives, I noticed something strange: in many of them, a mad scientist tries to create a female monster. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he fails, but in the end the female monster almost always dies. And in most of these stories, she never even gets to speak before her inevitable demise. I started wondering why, and more importantly, I started feeling as though it just wasn’t fair. How come the Puma Woman in Island of Dr. Moreau never gets to say anything before she escapes, kills Moreau, and is herself killed? I mean, I want to hear from her . . . And that’s where the novel came from, that desire to hear what the female monsters have to say. Some of my characters also come from classic monster narratives published earlier in the century, but they are all the female monsters who didn’t get to tell their own stories–until now.
Were there other literary classics that you considered using? If so, why did you choose the ones you did?
Yes, there were, and some of those will appear in the sequel! I chose which ones to include in the first novel because of the characters. For example, I’ve always been intrigued by Beatrice in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” in which Dr. Rappaccini raises his daughter in a poisonous garden so she becomes imbued with poison herself. I mean, wouldn’t you want to hear from her? And in the novel Frankenstein, Victor starts to create a female monster, but disassembles her and throws her body parts into the sea because he doesn’t want her mating with his male monster. It’s a powerful image: there he is, literally taking her apart, limb by limb. What I remember thinking, when I read that, is This is so unfair! Maybe she wouldn’t even have liked the male monster? Maybe she would have wanted something entirely different for herself? He never created her, so she could never tell us. I chose the characters I wanted to write about, the ones whose stories I wanted to tell. But some other classic monster narratives will appear in the second book.
Do you want to write more in this world?
Yes, absolutely! Writing about this world (imaginary late nineteenth-century London) was a real challenge, because I had to do a lot of research–I went to London twice, over two summers, and did a lot of reading as well as online research. There were days when I crawled around on the floor, with two maps spread out, of both modern and Victorian London, trying to figure out the different locations where events would take place and how long it would take my characters to get between them. But it was so much fun! At the moment I’m revising the second novel, which takes my characters to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so I had to do a lot of research on nineteenth-century continental travel. I had to learn about passport requirements and the exchange rates between English pounds, French francs, and Austrian krone. Also, I had to go to Vienna and eat cake. For research, of course . . .
What’s a typical writing day like for you?
I actually don’t have a typical writing day! I also teach academic writing at Boston University, as well as creative writing in the Stonecoast MFA program, so every day is a juggling act. I have classes to prepare and teach, papers to grade, students to meet with. I guess my typical writing day consists of a bunch of teaching tasks, and then fitting in writing everywhere I can, into every spare corner! Sometimes I write early in the mornings, sometimes late at night (or late into the morning!), sometimes on planes going to conferences, sometimes sitting up in bed and falling asleep on my notebook . . . The good thing about this is, I’ve learned to write anywhere, anywhen. The bad thing is, I’m tired a lot!
What was your favorite piece of research while writing The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter?
I think it was going to the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons, near Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It houses a collection of anatomical specimens–basically, body parts in jars. In the Victorian era, they were used to educate medical students, but also displayed as objects of curiosity–Victorians were fascinated by the grotesque (as, admit it, are we!). Honestly, it’s a bit gruesome walking among shelves filled with tumors in jars, or examples of embryonic development gone wrong, because of course a collection for medical students will focus on diseases and abnormalities. But it’s also a fascinating glimpse into who we are as human beings, at how complicated our bodies and their processes actually are. And of course it gave me a great setting for an important scene in the novel.
What is your go to writing drink and snack?
I have to be very strict with myself, because it’s so easy to snack while writing. You’re expending a lot of energy thinking, and yet you’re not exercising at all, except for your fingers. So my writing drink is water. If I must have a snack, I usually choose something like graham crackers and dark chocolate broken into small squares, because if you have to eat multiple pieces, you can fool yourself into thinking that you’ve eaten a lot before you’ve eaten too much. I love writing, but I have to be honest about the fact that it’s not a very healthy activity. I do physical therapy to deal with repetitive motion problems, and I’m careful about snacking. This is not the glamorous side of the writing life! When you see a ballet, you don’t think about the ballerina’s feet–similarly, when you read a novel, you don’t think about the writer sitting in front of the computer, late at night, in pajamas, trying to eat graham crackers without getting crumbs on the keyboard. And you shouldn’t–we’re in the business of creating wonderful illusions. But that’s a glimpse of what it looks like behind the scenes!
About the Author
Theodora Goss’s publications include the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006); Interfictions (2007), a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland (2008), a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; and The Thorn and the Blossom (2012), a two-sided novella in an accordion format. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, Locus, and Mythopoeic Awards, and on the Tiptree Award Honor List. She has won the World Fantasy and Rhysling Awards.
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