Imagine doing Past Life Regression (PLR) for the first time and emerging with a crazy book idea! Vera Bell is the author of the time-travel romantic suspense trilogy, Always & Forever, set in sixteenth-century Ireland and present-day United States. Book One, Through the Veneer of Time, is her debut novel, and that was exactly how she came to write it. But while her PLR session was a vivid, impassioned encounter, bursting with colors, sounds, smells, textures, and a bizarrely visceral knowledge, it was incomplete. Yet despite trying to go back, she never could. So she wrote the continuation in her head until it became so extensive and detailed, she had to put it on paper.
Besides being a writer, she is a wife to her high-school sweetheart, a mother to two teenagers and one fur baby, a former commercial artist and boutique owner, and a member of the Historical Novel Society, Women's Fiction Writers Association, and Romance Writers of America. Her favorite place to write is on her porch, overlooking a pond lined with river birches and magnolias. The topics she never tires of are Ireland, past lives, and love that transcends time and space.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Q. When and why did you begin writing?
A. After learning to read at about five, I began to devour everything from fairy tales and Greek mythology to poetry, kids’ nonfiction, and later, teen fantasy, action, and adventure. So as a child, my mind was constantly processing and constructing alternative scenarios, as well as my own plotlines. Starting at seven, I wrote little poems and tiny stories in notebooks I hand-made by stitching through several folded sheets of paper. But my first stab at novel writing took place after I read a beautifully illustrated Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the ripe age of ten. It wasn’t the sanitized Disney version, but a mostly unchanged folk tale with its deadly corset, lethal comb, poisonous apple, and the red-hot iron shoes for the murderous queen. Awed and terrified, I wrote a kind of Snow White fanfiction, which I also illustrated and presented to my mother on her birthday. I haven’t stopped writing since.
Q. Tell us your latest news.
A. Through the Veneer of Time is the first book in a trilogy. I recently finished the first draft of the second book and have started working on the third. Because my characters have several past lives, I’m also working on three standalone prequels. One is a historical enemies-to-lovers romance of a Viking raider and an Irish clanswoman. The other two are retellings of beautiful Celtic myths.
Q. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
A. There is a huge psychological element to writing. I’ve experienced several writing stages but never considered myself good enough. When I was a child, I wrote for my mother. As an adult, I wrote for myself, and due to lack of time, mostly in my head. In college, after choosing three semesters of American literature as my elective, I wondered about pursuing literary arts. But I wasn’t ready then, and at any rate, life had intervened. So, it wasn’t until four years ago, after a career in commercial art and a stint in entrepreneurship, that I finally allowed myself to simply do what I love at full throttle. I’ve never been happier.
Q. Do you have a specific writing style?
A. When I write, I’m constantly immersed in my characters’ lives, almost to the exclusion of everything else. They turn into real people to me, and my mind becomes one with my work as I continually churn their trials in my head, trying to dig deeper into their underlying emotions and motivations. But inspiration is a funny thing. It’s a high that can strike in the oddest of circumstances and at the most inconvenient times: in the car, in the shower, at a party, during a conversation, while falling asleep. I’ve learned to write down important ideas as soon as possible because they do sometimes slip away. As a result, I end up with a multitude of short stories, which all live together within the greater plot. I work on these one by one to turn them into cohesive scenes, then tie it all together with historical details from my research or specifics I glean from interviews.
Q. What is your writing process like?
A. It's similar to stone carving. I start with a rough draft, which is mostly me telling the story to myself, then carve away at imperfections until each sentence is as authentic and honest as can be and flows effortlessly into the next. I work slowly through each scene, returning to it over and over again until it’s as multi-dimensional, nuanced, and complex as can be. In my writing, I strive to reflect life as it really is—messy, illogical, unfair, beautiful. When I work on sensual or emotional scenes, I listen to very angsty, charged music. The right combination of melody and lyrics helps me connect with my characters on a very intimate basis. Some of those songs have become so important, they’re woven into my plot.
Q. How did you come up with the title?
A. I wrote thirty draft titles, then worked through them until finding one that, to my mind, is a perfect embodiment of my story. It was The Veneer of Time, then my editor added the word “Through,” and I loved the play on Lewis Carroll's famous work, as well as the connotations of the familiar, yet unfamiliar.
Q. Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?
A. There are a few. I’ve always wondered about our connection to each other through the lens of a potential past life, the immediate—sometimes quite intense—affinity or animosity for someone we’ve just met. The message is that we’re all connected beyond the superficial whether we realize it or not. In the same vein, I explore our fears, phobias, and limitations through the lens of past trauma. How far would a woman go to put her past to rest, so she can move on? The overriding message is that it’s possible to overcome your past (whether distant or recent) and build yourself up from scratch. Also, I dive deep into the concept of true love, which fascinates me. When tragedy strikes, how far would a man go to save the woman he loves? What is his word of honor, his wedding vow, truly worth when put to the ultimate test—to love in sickness and not just in health? Flowing out of this, I explore the relationship between a man and a woman, how they completement each other in working together to overcome obstacles, both physical and psychological. This message is not new, but it’s one I adore—love conquers all.
Q. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
A. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so my story is a fluid, living thing, frequently informed and shaped by my characters. It’s through this process they become real, complex people, not just book characters. This usually works for me, but at times, it presents a challenge—especially when I have a certain direction in mind, and my character is adamant about doing things her way. This brings to mind a particular scene for which I had done a ton of research only to have my main character defy me in every possible way. It was almost funny, in truth, but after wrestling with her through a dozen of failed rewrites, I simply gave in and let her do what she wanted. Predictably, she knew best. They always do.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
A. My story deals with several dark themes, so there were a few difficult parts. I had to disconnect my brain when researching the underpinnings of a serial killer, the workings of his mind, his urge to annihilate, his psychopathy. It was also very difficult to write about sexual assault and depression and of something beautiful destroyed to almost the point of no return. The wrecking of my own creation went against my every instinct, and the only thing that helped was knowing there was light at the end of the tunnel. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were my best friends during that period. The unconventional—possibly controversial—scene in which my hero must turn into the villain to save the woman he loves took months. It was extremely tricky to get right. I hope I did.
Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A. My childhood home was a two-room flat, and my bedroom doubled as the family library. Every wall, except one with my bed and desk, was outfitted with an extra deep floor-to-ceiling bookcase. Each shelf contained two tightly packed rows of stunning hardcover books, painstakingly curated by my father. So every day, I went to sleep and awakened in the company of thousands of brilliant stories. They endlessly fascinated me—the authors’ voices, their magical ability to create entire worlds, their ingenuity at beguiling the reader to either root for a character or long for their demise, the unexpected twists, the happy endings. I wanted to do that, too.
Q. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
A. My biggest takeaway is that, apparently, I enjoy writing dark, broody stories fraught with all sorts of peril. But it’s precisely the peril, and consequently, the tough choices, that reveal a character’s true personality and result in their growth. Having said this, a happy ending is a must for me, or it’s all for naught.
Q. Do you have any advice for other writers?
A. The common advice is to write what you know, but I disagree because we don’t always enjoy what we know or want to write about it. Instead, turn off the noise and write what you love or truly yearn to know. You’ll never want to stop.
Q. Do you have anything specific you want to say to your readers?
A. Thomas C. Foster, who wrote a wonderful book on symbolism, patterns, and memory in literature, compared reading to a full-contact sport. A writer invents a story and a cast of characters, and readers flesh it all out through the lens of their life experience and intrinsic knowledge. I hope reading my novel results in this level of engagement and captures the readers’ imaginations, stirs their emotions, and maybe even results in learning something new. To me, those are the biggest payoffs of interacting with fiction.
Q. What inspired you to write your debut?
A. It was my first experience with Past Life Regression (PLR). I’ve always had this inexplicable (slightly weird) fascination with Ireland. As long as I remember, I’ve longed for Ireland, even before I knew what that misty emerald place in my dreams was called or why Celtic art and music touched something deep within my soul. Still, as an adult, I approached PLR with an entirely open mind and a sincere intent to meet and experience whatever it would bring. The outcome was startling—a vivid encounter with colors, sounds, smells, textures, even temperature, and my visceral knowledge and feelings that went beyond the immediate. It was a highly charged situation, happening to someone who didn’t look like me, yet was undeniably me, with my entire family present and everything at stake. I tried several times to go back but, sadly, never could. So for several years, I wrote the continuation in my head, until one day, it became so vast and detailed, I could no longer contain it. Chapter Four of my book is an almost precise account of my PLR experience.
Q. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
A. The gist of the main conflict in Through the Veneer of Time, the first book in the trilogy, is the heroine against the villain. I recently finished the first draft of the second book, which explores a very different yet relatable conflict—the heroine against herself. It’s about her deep-seated emotions, knee-jerk reactions, and innate mistakes carried over from her past life. In the present timeline, the story deals with a single encounter that sends her on a downward spiral. As in the past, the unravelling that follows almost destroys her, her husband, and their love. But remember, I’m all about happy endings—even if they’re a bit twisty.
Q. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
A. They’re a combination of my own life, people I’ve met or read about, and my imagination that taps into universal human condition. It’s important to note that while some of my own life events had not been as dramatic as they’re depicted in the book, I have lived through similar underlying emotions and challenges as my heroine. Without getting too deep, there is an emotional threshold that gets crossed following any form of abuse, and it leads to intensely damaging repercussions. While everyone responds in a different way, I believe feelings of depression, powerlessness, blame, anger, need to act and/or undo the damage are similar. On an entirely unrelated note, for the male point of view, I ran the manuscript by my husband for some invaluable pointers. Men and women truly do think very differently, which makes writing from a male point of view for a wonderful challenge. There is quite a bit more of it in the second book.
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