First, here’s a bit about Jodie:
Jodie Lynn Zdrok holds two MAs in European History (Providence College, Brown University) and an MBA (Clark University). In addition to being an author, she’s a marketing professional, a freelancer, and an unapologetic Boston sports fan. She enjoys traveling, being a foodie, doing sprint triathlons, and enabling cats. She is represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
And here’s a bit about Spectacle:
Sixteen-year-old Nathalie Baudin writes the daily morgue column for Le Petit Journal. Her job is to summarize each day’s new arrivals, a task she finds both fascinating and routine.
That is, until the day she has a vision of the newest body, a young woman, being murdered…from the perspective of the murderer himself.
When the body of another woman is retrieved from the Seine hours later, Nathalie realizes there is a killer haunting the streets of Paris—and her strange new ability may make her the only one who can discover his identity. Her search for answers sends her down a long, twisty road involving her mentally ill aunt, a brilliant but deluded scientist, and eventually into the chilling depths of the Parisian Catacombs.
Nathalie must follow the clues in her visions to discover the truth about who is murdering the young women of Paris—before she becomes a target herself.
And now for the interview!
Your debut novel Spectacle is set in 1887 France. What did your research process look like?
So much research in a historical! My academic background is in history, so I had a good foundation of general knowledge about late 19th-century Europe. My research included graduate school materials, books, articles, and newspaper accounts (e.g., the Pranzini element in the book is based on actual events, and I looked up a newspaper article to get a feel for the scene at what ends up being one of the final sequences in the book). Photography wasn’t too big at the time, and some things that I wish I could have had photos of (e.g., the morgue at that time, the Catacombs at that time) either don’t exist or aren’t readily available.
Beyond researching cultural details, both the big picture ones and everyday life ones (how people lived, what a building was called in 1887 Paris, etc.), I spent a lot of time examining the language I used. As much as possible, I tried to use words in both the narrative and in dialogue that existed in 1887 (you’d be surprised how many things we rely on now weren’t in use at that time, even small things like “ok” and “fine”). I checked etymology a lot and mostly avoided the use of idioms. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but over the course of 97K words, being mindful of that adds another layer of complexity.
Spectacle is one of very few books that I’ve read where the main character has a pet (and the pet lives!). Why was it important to you that Nathalie had a cat?
Stanley is near and dear to my heart! Originally, Nathalie did not have a cat. Real life inspired his presence: My beloved white cat, Stasiu Kitty, died while I was doing revisions for my agent. I was heartbroken, as you can imagine. So I decided to give Stasiu Kitty literary life as Stanley (Stasiu is Polish for Stanley). It is a bit unconventional, but Stanley has become quite a character in his own right! Many readers have a soft spot for him, and I think that’s because lots of people know the feeling of having a cat or dog on the bed, following you, gently “interrupting” conversations, all the things that pets do. I also think we get to see a different side of Nathalie’s home life through Stanley. He adds a little something fun and homey to the dynamic with Nathalie and her parents. (Although I probably don’t give enough credit to the amount of shedding a white cat does.)
Spectacle is genre-blended with historical, mystery, and fantasy elements. What was the biggest challenge of writing a story like this?
The challenge with writing a genre-blending (and bending) novel was making it all work seamlessly, so that all three elements integrated organically. When I first conceived of it, Spectacle was a historical mystery. It didn’t have enough bite, somehow, and I felt as if something was missing. Even though it was inspired by the Jack the Ripper case, that style of mystery alone didn’t have the right feel for me. I wrote the first draft with magic in it, but it wasn’t until revising and really digging deep into the “origin story” of the fantasy element that everything clicked.
Another challenge, unrelated to the writing but to the novel itself, is that genre blends aren’t for everyone. People who want a straight-up historical, mystery, or fantasy may not find it to be their cup of tea, precisely because it’s a little of each. So it can be a difficult book to describe. I’ve found, however, that people who truly enjoy it thoroughly embrace the genre-blending.
What has been your favorite types of scenes to write?
Over the course of many drafts, I discovered that I most enjoy writing the “creepy” scenes and the character moment ones. Scenes in Spectacle that were among my favorite to write: the Catacombs scene, the hypnotism scene, a few of the intense conversation scenes, and all the Aunt Brigitte scenes. Those were also the scenes that needed the least revision throughout the process, so I feel like I “got them right” early on, more or less.
I also experienced that affinity for creepy scenes and intense character scenes again while writing the sequel, Sensational. That’s what, in part, informed my direction for my option novel (a boarding school ghost story/mystery set in 1920s Rhode Island). I tapped into the kind of scenes and writing that I found most enjoyable and satisfying (and ideally readers agree!).
What has been the happiest moment of your debut year?
Seeing the pride of my boyfriend, parents and brothers. It’s been wonderful to celebrate with family, friends, readers, social media pals, and fellow writers. My innermost circle, those who’ve known me the longest, witnessed my journey and my life, and understand everything that went into achieving this goal…having them participate so completely and genuinely in my joy has been a highlight of my life. I’m grateful for that.
You have a non-writing day job. How do you make the time to write, and how do you find balance?
I’m not sure that I do find balance, to be honest. It’s very difficult to give up lunch hours, come home from a day in the office and find the drive to be creative, and forego weekend activities in order to write. When I’m on deadline, I do what I need to do, and I’m fortunate to have a lot of discipline and motivation under pressure. When I’m not on deadline, it’s less overwhelming, but it’s still a challenge and there’s some guilt if I go too long without writing.
Burnout is real, no doubt about it, and it’s unavoidable for me at times when everything but work and writing go out the window—thankfully those are relatively short stints over the course of a year. I put a lot of effort into restorative well-being immediately after a deadline or big push, and I always schedule a massage, getaway, dinner out, spa day…something.
On a day-to-day, steady-state level where I simply need to write and chip away, I reset through exercise. That run, bike, swim, or fitness class is my hour to take a breather, think through plots points and what I’ll be writing that day or week, and be offline for a while. And let’s be honest, I have a sweet tooth. So the working out helps offset that, too. 😊
Thank you so much to Jodie for her time!
You can check out the relevant links below!