Character on the Couch: Anne Renwick’s Lady Olivia

Occasionally I’ll read a book and think, “I have to get that character on my couch!” Such was the case with Anne Renwick’s Olivia. I originally didn’t like the character in the first book of her Elemental Web series, The Golden Spider, but one of the things that make Anne a genius author is how none of her characters are as they seem. Olivia’s distaste for her sister’s medical curiosity comes from two places. The first would be a major spoiler, so I won’t tell you. The second is a classic blood-injection-injury phobia.

If you’re not familiar with the disorder, people with this type of phobia faint at the sight of blood. Typically the fear response makes blood vessels contract, not dilate, but for some reason, it’s the opposite for these patients. So, the person sees blood, needles, or other things that trigger the phobia, they have what’s called a vasovagal response – the blood vessels relaxing – and they become dizzy and lightheaded and sometimes faint. I’ve had the privilege of treating this type of phobia in my career as a psychologist, the first time with an undergraduate who wanted to go to nursing school. It worked, and that person emailed me during their first year to thank me again and tell me they were doing well.

You can see why I invited Anne to bring Lady Olivia to my couch. Here’s her interview:

An illegal border crossing. A fake marriage. A mad German count determined to create an army of unbreakable soldiers.

Lady Olivia is not all she seems.
Trained for marriage to an assigned political target, her skills lie in programming household steambots to serve tea, dress her hair… and sound the alarm while she picks locks and listens at doors. Humiliated by a failed assignment, she decides to redeem herself by tailing a suspected double agent.

Lord Rathsburn must flirt with treason.
Struggles to cure a horrible disease have met with unexpected complications. The cells he engineered can make a man’s bones unbreakable, but the side effects are fatal. He believed the research terminated… until his sister was kidnapped by a German count. Her ransom? A cure.

Piloting a stolen dirigible, he uncovers an unlikely stowaway, Lady Olivia.
Arriving together at a crumbling castle, an impossible task is set before them: cure the count’s guardsmen. Amidst their fake marriage, a very real growing attraction, dying guardsmen and escalating hostilities, Lady Olivia and Lord Rathsburn are thrust deep into the world of international medical espionage from which there may be no return.

If your character were to go to a psychologist – willingly or unwillingly – what would bring them in? Yes, a court order is a valid answer.

Lady Olivia would certainly go unwillingly. She is trained in espionage and would be wary about revealing any information away that could be used against her. But… she might be persuaded, perhaps, if she were convinced the psychologist could cure her of her phobias (blood, needles and heights).

Is the presenting problem one of the main internal or external conflicts in your book? If so, how does it present itself?

Most definitely. Both internal and external. Almost immediately, Olivia’s career aspirations conflict with her desire to both keep her feet on solid ground and avoid all things medical. No sooner has she met the hero, a research physician, then the next scene drops her onto a dirigible. Needles soon follow.

It’s always interesting to see how people act when they first enter my office. Do they immediately go for my chair, hesitate before sitting anywhere, flop on the couch, etc.? What would your character do?

You’d best serve tea. If there are cream cakes, Olivia will settle onto the edge of a chair and attempt to engage you in a lot of inane chatter. She’s been raised to act the part of a lady, to win a man to her side. Confronted with a female psychologist, she might struggle with her approach but, ultimately, she’s all for women having equal career opportunities.

Does your character talk to the therapist? How open/revealing will your character be? What will he or she say first?

First you’re going to have to share that wonderful recipe for the cream cakes. She’s already contemplating how to improve her steambot’s baking skills. If she’s been forced to visit, you might already know about her phobias. Convincing her to speak about them will be difficult, tied up as they are in her brother’s unfortunate accident. Possibly she will begin by telling you about her sister, Amanda, who is pursuing a medical degree. You’ll hear about what a trial it is to live with a would-be physician who delights in torturing her with such topics. Eventually, you’ll grow impatient and mention blood. Or needles. Then she’s going to sway. You do have smelling salts handy, right?

Your character walks into the bar down the street after his/her first therapy session. What does he/she order? What happens next?

Olivia is a lady. She should walk right past. But… there’s a small chance curiosity will get the better of her, and she’ll slide inside. If she can work up the nerve, she’s going to order a man’s drink. “I’ll have what he’s having.”

When you’re building characters, do you have any tricks you use to really get into their psyches, like a character interview or personality system (e.g., Myers-Briggs types)?

I don’t have any exact tricks, though I spend quite a bit of time thinking about and developing backstory. I try to determine what ‘wound’ they carry around with them that will influence their decisions. There are a few questions I try to keep in mind. For example: What do they really want? What do they cling to that keeps them from getting what they want? What will finally make them step outside their comfort zone and reach for it?

Thank you so much for sending Olivia over! It was a delight to meet her, and of course I’ll share my cream cake recipe. 

You can find The Silver Skull on:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA

Amazon AU

Check out sample chapters on Bookfunnel and Instafreebie.

This month Anne is doing a giveaway on her blog for a set of silver skull tea candles and a signed paperback copy of The Silver Skull. Click here for a chance to win!

Though Anne Renwick holds a Ph.D. in biology and greatly enjoyed tormenting the overburdened undergraduates who were her students, fiction has always been her first love. Today, she writes steampunk romance, placing a new kind of biotech in the hands of mad scientists, proper young ladies and determined villains. Anne is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She lives in Maryland with her family.

Anne brings an unusual perspective to steampunk. A number of years spent locked inside the bowels of a biological research facility left her permanently altered. In her steampunk world, the Victorian fascination with all things anatomical led to a number of alarming biotechnological advances. Ones that the enemies of Britain would dearly love to possess.

You can find her on her website.


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