Forest Hills author discusses new historical thriller
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Mar 22, 2016 | 5697 views | 0 0 comments | 111 111 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Nancy Bilyeau, credit Joshua Kessler.
Nancy Bilyeau, credit Joshua Kessler.
The third installment of the Joanna Stafford historical mystery series, written by author Nancy Bilyeau, was released in paperback on Tuesday.

In Bilyeau's first two novels, “The Crown” and “The Chalice,” the protagonist goes on a series of quests to find ancient relics, as well as fulfill prophecies and preserve the future of Christendom during a dangerous time in England.

The trilogy’s final book, “The Tapestry,” follows Stafford as she attempts to defy the most powerful men of her era, including the minor character of King Henry VIII in England.

Stafford, who was resolved to a quiet life of weaving tapestries, is now embroiled in dangerous court politics comprising of one too many hidden agendas. On top of that, she must stay ahead of an unknown enemy while trying to also save her naive friend, Catherine, from becoming the next mistress and subsequent victim of Henry VIII.

After working in the magazine industry for a while, including as the deputy editor of InStyle Magazine, Bilyeau decided to try something different. She had extensive experience in non-fiction writing but never dabbled in fiction writing until she took a fiction workshop.

Charging up the fifth floor walk-up each time, Bilyeau began learning how to craft historical mysteries. She attended numerous workshops over the years and balanced writing between raising two kids and a full-time job.

“I had never written a novel and I had never even written short stories, but I thought I would pick a period that I know and love to set it in,” Bilyeau said. “I workshopped it to death, but you really have to these days because it gets so competitive."

“The Crown” eventually sold to Touchstone Books, an imprint of publishing giant Simon & Schuster, after an auction between three competing editors. It became a bestseller on Amazon and Bilyeau’s works now have nine foreign publishers.

A Forest Hills resident since 2007, Bilyeau also uses the neighborhood’s architecture as inspiration for her Tudor-era books. Very much like the English garden cities it was modeled after, Forest Hills Gardens is like stepping into another world.

“The buildings don’t date back to 1570, but a lot of them are very beautiful,” Bilyeau said. “I’ll get a cup of coffee and I’ll just walk there behind the train station and I’ll think of ideas."

She admitted that sometimes she even catches herself daydreaming about who lives in the mansions and what they do for a living. She chalks it up to being a “nosey journalist."

“I read somewhere that Brooklyn is the most expensive place to live in the United States,” she said. “Even though it has a reputation of being a literary haven, Queens makes so much more sense and I think more and more people are seeing the light.”

In addition to attending the “Noir at the Bar” hosted by Kew Gardens mystery writer Alex Segura Bilyeau and a few local writers get together each month over dinner.

“We talk about our careers and what we’re having problems with our writing, whether it’s a research question or an issue with point of view,” she said. “We also talk about the future of publishing and share a lot of information on subjects such as investing in publicists.”

Mystery writers have certainly had their share of exposure in the borough over the past year. Bilyeau, Segura and other writers, such as the well-known Megan Abbott, were also featured at Queens’ first ever literary festival last year.

Bilyeau herself has steadily gained traction in the fandom realm. Her books are heavily reviewed on websites such as Amazon and Goodreads. Some fans have also written to her about their own ideas for the series.

Communicating with the people who read your books is important and special in terms of connecting over a shared interest, she said.

“Book publishing is changing,” she added. “A lot of it is online and not a lot of people do big book tours anymore. I wish more writers would embrace it.”

She hopes her readers will enjoy her next project, an experimental standalone book taking place in another time period. It's centered around an independent, feisty woman who has higher stakes than Stafford ever dealt with in the trilogy.

But similarly to “The Tapestry,” the new book will also incorporate art. It’s an element that was inspired by her father, who was a landscape artist.

“Art can be beautiful, mysterious and sexy,” she said. “You can do a lot with art in a thriller."

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