Today we sit down with for an interview with author Jeffrey Hunter McQuain who writes both mystery/thriller and sci-fi/fantasy. His latest release is The Shakespeare Conspiracy, a modern day thriller based on the Bard’s racial background. Learn more about Jeffrey and his books at his website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
As a teen, I first read Shirley Jackson’s novels. I wanted to learn how to write as well as she did. (I still can’t figure out her secrets.)
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I started as a writer of nonfiction, and my first book took almost four years. I had 30 rejections or so before a small press published it.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
I’m a hybrid, I suppose. I have had many major publishers for my nonfiction, but this novel is indie published, because the traditional publishers deemed it “too controversial.”
Where do you write?
I write wherever I am. Most of The Shakespeare Conspiracy was composed in Barnes and Noble cafes across the country.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
Silence may be golden, but it’s also unrealistic. I love all kinds of music, but I have to write during instrumental pieces, or else I stop too often to listen to the poetry in the lyrics. (Jimmy Buffett’s music, by the way, plays a part in The Shakespeare Conspiracy during the scenes in Paris.)
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
My plots and characters are largely disguised when I borrow from real life. My own life, I’ve found, has been preparing me to write this novel for years, mostly in terms of locations. From Washington’s Folger Library and Kennedy Center to the Globe Theatre in London and Holy Trinity Church in Stratford, my characters travel to places I’ve enjoyed visiting.
Describe your process for naming your character?
If I do use people I’ve known, I think of their names and immediately change them. After I come up with a name, though, I try it out in imaginary conversations to make sure the name fits the person. (Also, it’s not exactly a spoiler alert, but a few names were deliberately invented to be clues in the novel.)
Real settings or fictional towns?
Both real and fictional towns are used, but I much prefer the real settings. Somehow a threat to a real place seems much more palpable, as you’ll see when my next novel covers a serial killer in Williamsburg, Virginia.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
My lead character is Professor Christopher Klewe, who teaches at William and Mary in Virginia, and his major quirk is what I find most endearing about him. He sees the modern world mostly through his Shakespeare filter. For instance, when he hears “Greensleeves,” his first thought is that the Bard mentioned the tune.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
It’s not exactly a quirk of mine but a quirk of nature that I’m mistaken internationally for Steve Wozniak, the computer genius who cofounded Apple and then appeared on “Dancing With the Stars.” (No, I can’t dance or build computers.)
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I would like to have written any mystery by Martha Grimes, but if I must choose one, The Dirty Duck is her Shakespeare story. Her characters are always compelling and intricately drawn, and there’s nobody better at creating melancholy moods.
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I gave up on tap class when I was four years old and never looked back which
has kept me from being the next Steve Wozniak on the dance floor.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I hate misspellings, probably from my years proofreading the language column of The New York Times. Some, however, can be very entertaining, such as the student who hoped to gain “self of steam.”
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must haves?
Only three? First would be writing material, then a box of Krispy Kremes, and finally a whiskbroom to keep the sand from the first two.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
My first work after college was as a composition aide at a Maryland high school. I spent each day reading and marking hundreds of student essays. The knife fights in the hallways, though, always had me worrying about more than split infinitives.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
I love The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, my favorite modern writer. Even Stephen King has praised the book’s power as a ghost story. (Please don’t read it when you’re alone, though. It’s that scary.)
Ocean or mountains?
These days I’d choose the ocean, but I grew up in Maryland and spent my weekends in the mountains of West Virginia.
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
Again I’m a hybrid, but I’m equally klutzy in either location I already explained I can’t dance, and I tend to fall over fences when I’m climbing them.
What’s on the horizon for you?
For my next novel in the Christopher Klewe series, I’m working on a prequel titled The Shakespeare Trap. It tells how Klewe started solving mysteries about the Bard when a serial killer in Williamsburg leaves behind clues from the tragedies. Also, I’m completing a stage version of Ebony Swan, my nonfiction book that’s the story behind The Shakespeare Conspiracy, to be staged next year.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
I’m excited about The Shakespeare Conspiracy, which offers a whole new way to see the Bard, and I’m enjoying myself writing fiction more than I ever did with nonfiction. Also, the teacher in me wants you to “brush up your Shakespeare,” but also have fun reading him. There’s always something new to appreciate, and 2016 is the 400-year anniversary of his death, with celebrations of the Bard around the world.
The Shakespeare Conspiracy
What makes a secret worth dying for? That's what Christopher Klewe, a brash young professor from Virginia, finds out in Jeffrey Hunter McQuain's new thriller The Shakespeare Conspiracy when he stumbles upon the most shocking cover-up in literary history.
On a rainy Halloween at Washington's Kennedy Center, a masked killer brutally stabs Klewe's best friend. Before dying, the victim deliberately drops his raincoat across a puddle and scrawls the letters "SoN" in his own blood.
Investigating the murder scene, Klewe is joined by Zelda Hart, a married reporter for The New York Times. They learn the victim's ear was severed and find evidence of a 400-year-old secret society. When questioned by police, Klewe reveals the surprising question he's been researching: was Shakespeare black?
Outside Kennedy Center, they meet a drunken security guard who saw the murder and swears that "Shakespeare did it." Klewe and Zelda grow less skeptical when a figure wearing a Shakespeare mask and wielding an Elizabethan dagger chases them into the Metro subway system toward Maryland.
After being cornered in a remote Maryland cabin by the killer, the two escape to look for answers at Shakespeare and Company, a famous Paris bookstore, as well as in London's Globe Theater. As they solve each step of the mystery, though, they face new obstacles to overcome and more clues to unravel in their search for the truth.
Pursued across two continents by murderers, the desperate Klewe and Zelda have only three days to solve the strangest mystery of Renaissance history. The evidence mounts up, drawn from actual anagrams hidden in Shakespeare's own words as well as historically accurate descriptions of Elizabethan paintings and observations made by the playwright's contemporaries.
Their dangerous journey takes them ultimately to Stratford and the Bard's final resting place. There the words of the playwright's epitaph help thwart the deadly conspiracy.
Once hailed as "a jaw-dropping premise" by the late columnist William Safire, The Shakespeare Conspiracy is the first novel by a published Shakespeare expert. It offers readers the twists of a thrill ride reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code as well as that novel's excitement of wondering whether its central secret just might be true. If so, this new thriller has the potential to expose the biggest literary conspiracy of all time, offering a whole new way of looking at the world's greatest writer, William Shakespeare.