Interview With an Author: Margarita Montimore

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Margarita Montimore and her latest book, Acts of Violet
Author Margarita Montimore and her latest book, Acts of Violet

Margarita Montimore is the author of Asleep From Day, and Oona Out of Order, a USA Today bestseller and Good Morning America Book Club pick. After receiving a BFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, she worked for over a decade in publishing and social media before deciding to focus on the writing dream full-time. Born in Soviet Ukraine and raised in Brooklyn, she currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and dog. Her new novel is Acts of Violet and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Acts of Violet?

This book evolved from a combination of several personal interests, including unsolved missing person cases, synchronicity, and stories about the dark side of showbiz. Additionally, I'm an only child, so I've always been curious about sister relationships. I was also listening to a lot of podcasts at the time and wanted to incorporate that media element into my story. On top of which, when developing the story, we were in the frightening early days of a pandemic, and I felt like we could all use a bit of escapism and magic. Running with that notion in a very literal sense, once I decided to center the book on a professional stage magician, the rest of the story came together naturally.

Are Violet, Sasha, Gabriel, Quinn, Cameron, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

There's one character that was inspired by the fascinating work and bold personalities of several real-life private investigators, but any time I base characters on real people, I make sure they're an amalgam and contain their own distinct traits. Though in many cases, it's less about crafting the characters and more about having them reveal themselves to me.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Acts of Violet has a lot of different media components—podcast transcripts, news stories, letters/emails—so at times it felt like writing different puzzle pieces and then figuring out their arrangement as the larger story came together. I did make some cuts to streamline the story, including a scene that felt weirder than the more subtle offbeat/surreal aspects of the book, but I think it all worked to make for a stronger novel. Usually, you make some concessions and compromises during the editorial process, but I didn't feel that way with Violet. I was fortunate to have an exceptional editor, Caroline Bleeke, who understood my intentions with the story from the start and guided me in all the right directions. The final version of the novel is 100% true to my creative vision.

How familiar were you with stage magic and magicians prior to writing Acts of Violet? Did you have to do a bit of research? If so, how long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write the novel?

I was mostly familiar with stage magic from a spectator perspective. Okay, and there was a brief time in elementary school when I dabbled with magic as a hobby and quickly realized I didn't have the dexterity or patience for it. I did do a lot of research for Acts of Violet. I read books about the subject, watched performances and behind the scenes videos, listened to podcasts discussing the craft in great depth—I was even fortunate enough to interview a professional stage magician, Kayla Drescher, whose podcast Shezam, about women in magic, was a tremendous resource for me. I probably spent about a year researching, including the time I took to write the novel itself, initially writing around my magic knowledge gaps and filling them in later.

What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned during your research?

That men make up approximately 95% of professional stage magicians. I can't think of any other creative field that skews toward a single gender that much. When I first started looking into the subject, I kept asking myself, "where are all the women?" It's not like they aren't out there, but I wish there were more of them. Learning about their experiences made me want to celebrate and pay tribute to women in magic, as well as imbue my fictional magician, Violet Volk, with as much authenticity to the craft as possible.

Do you have a favorite stage magician?

Adelaide Herrmann. She was a contemporary of Harry Houdini and deserved to be remembered with just as much fervor. Her life story is a master class in survival and adaptation. She is a true inspiration and should be considered one of the most legendary magicians of all time (especially if reports of her doing a bullet catch with a firing squad of five are true—even David Blaine did that illusion with a single bullet!).

Do you have a favorite novel, graphic novel, television, or motion picture about magic and magicians?

I really enjoyed The Prestige, both the book and its film adaptation.

A key part of the novel involves a spontaneous trip. If you had the chance to drop everything and make reservations to travel somewhere tomorrow, where would you go, and what would you do/see?

I was just recently having this conversation with my husband, and we agreed Japan is our dream destination. I'd want to experience as much as I could: the rich culture, the colorful city life, the serene shrines and gardens, the phenomenal food, all of it.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall (his first novel, The Raw Shark Texts, is one I frequently recommend) and I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

It wasn’t the last thing I’ve seen, but it was by far the best: Everything, Everywhere All At Once. It was a perfect movie from start to finish, and it filled my heart to bursting with a kaleidoscope of emotions.

What are you working on now?

What I hope will be my next novel. I don't want to say too much about it because the last time I went into vague detail on a project I was working on, I ended up setting that aside to tinker with this one. Granted, the starts and stops are part of my process, but I'm hoping this new one will stick. There's nothing like the feeling of becoming immersed in creating a new book. I'm ready to immerse myself again.

Book cover for Acts of Violet
Acts of Violet
Montimore, Margarita

In Acts of Violet, Margarita Montimore, author of the marvelous Oona Out of Order, explores fame, fortune, and family dynamics. Montimore creates a larger than life character in Violet Volk, a striking stage presence from a young age who becomes a world-wide sensation and then mysteriously vanishes, leaving behind a rabid fan-base who refer to themselves as the Wolf Pack, (a reference to Volk’s last name being the Russian word for wolf) and a large portion of the general population all clamoring for answers. Montimore uses newspaper clippings, tabloid articles, email exchanges and podcasts to explore Volk’s tempestuous career and reserves traditional prose for relaying her sister Sasha’s experiences as someone who has lived for years under the microscope created by interest in Violet and her career. The result is a mostly unflattering look at the lengths and depths to which those spurred by personal interest will go to find answers to which they may feel entitled, but actually have no right. She illustrates the capriciousness of fame and how everything in entertainment is driven by the money. Sasha also shows the downsides of fame, or being fame adjacent, through years of people parsing every word she says and attributing unintended meanings, providing the same unwanted opinions when she says nothing, and how, often times, there is simply no way to win when someone who has never sought the spotlight suddenly finds themselves under its glare.

Montimore also cautions how childhood slights and misunderstandings can grow, and sometimes fester, into nearly unbridgeable gulfs.

All of this infused with a nearly tangible sense of wonder and magic. Montimore has herself pulled off the nearly impossible, a sophomore novel that is every bit as good, if not better, to her debut!