Stephanie Cowell has been an opera singer, balladeer, founder of Strawberry Opera and other arts venues including a Renaissance festival and an outdoor arts series in NYC. She is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart, and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. Her work had been translated into nine languages and adapted into an opera. Stephanie is the recipient of an American Book Award. Her website is www.StephanieCowell.com.
Stephanie’s latest novel is The Boy in the Rain. It is 1903 in the English countryside when Robbie, a shy young art student, meets the twenty-nine-year-old Anton who is running from memories of his brutal childhood and failed marriage. Within months, they begin a love affair that will never let them go. Robbie grows into an accomplished portraitist in the vivid London art world with the help of Anton’s enchanting former wife, while Anton turns from his inherited wealth and connections to improve the conditions of the poor. But it is the Edwardian Era, and the law sentences homosexual men to prison with hard labor, following the tragic experience of Oscar Wilde. As Robbie and Anton’s commitment to each other grows, the world about them turns to a more dangerous place.
Why do you write?
I write historical novels. I never felt I belonged where I was born and in writing, I lived elsewhere. I was alone a great deal until I was nine and created friends for myself.
As a result of publishing your book, what have you learned about yourself and/or the writing process?
I have finally accepted my own writing process. It’s a difficult one. You are a bit like an archeologist digging a city. You may want to write about Monet as I did in an earlier novel, but WHAT exactly? People’s lives don’t come with plots. So, you have to give him a journey from this part of his life to that part. In writing drafts, I’ll start at the middle or the end of a story and likely rewrite each scene fifteen times and then throw it away or move two sentences of it to somewhere else in the novel. Somehow a plot begins to form which can take the reader on a journey. But it’s like digging up Troy, one old city beneath the other. What finally stays on the page is something I could never have anticipated.
Where do your characters come from?
They come from somewhere deep inside me. I have never consciously written of any living person, but I have taken bits from them unknowingly. Only after my novel THE BOY IN THE RAIN was published, did I see the inspiration for parts of it. Then I remembered two boys in love who were my dear friends in high school. I adored them. We were a threesome and I was dedicated to their happily-ever-after love. That played a part in Anton & Robbie’s love in the novel. I also recall many years ago meeting a man whose lover had died of AIDS and whose lover’s family would not let the man come to the funeral. He stood there awash with tears and trembling. To have that kind of passion for someone and then to be kept from them!
What’s the hardest part of writing or publishing?
A lot of it is hard. It may take you two years or twenty to write a book and unless you are one of the very top lists of writers, you often have to do it in addition to a day job and kids. The commitment is extraordinary. And so many books are being written, it’s sometimes hard to find a publisher. Then after it is published, it’s difficult to make it known in a very crowded field. It takes hundreds of hours of work…that is my experience, anyway. But it is so magical to have someone write you a letter after they have read your novel and say how much they loved it. They paid to buy it; they read your private dream. That is astonishing.
Who is your favorite character from your book(s)?
In THE BOY IN THE RAIN I think it’s Anton, the older of the two young men. He had to struggle with pleasing his difficult father by becoming the ideal image of a professional man successful in everything he touched. He had to ask eventually (when he could go no further) who he really was. In his struggle to become that ideal handed to him, he hurt many people, even being indirectly the cause of a death. He also crushed his true self and crashed badly. Allowing himself to love another man and to face his path as a socialist saves him.
When did you first write a story? A poem? What was it about?
I wrote from about the age of seven, trying to create another life because I was not comfortable in my own. At age eleven I wrote a sequel to PETER PAN and the sixth graders presented it to the whole school and then to other schools who came to see it. Everyone fussed a lot about it, which was good because I had always been unknown by my classmates. I was shy and had to keep changing schools. My teacher Miss Kelly was very nurturing.
Who has supported you along the way?
Just about everyone I know in one way or another. My family and friends are amazing. They may not relate to every book I write but they know that my writing IS me. My younger son has run a TikTok campaign for me. My older son set up a desk and computer in my bedroom in his 1721 farmhouse.
How long did it take you to write your book?
39 years. I am not joking. The two main characters began to haunt me in 1984 when I was a professional singer. They would not let me go. I had never written a novel and tried it on a bet from a few friends. It was a very scrappy beginning. I had this conception of what I wanted the relationship between the two characters to be and then how it would change, but it was never good enough. I left singing, took a day job and began to write before going to work. I wrote maybe 10 other novels, published 5 of them with pretty big publishers, but editors were wary of a love story between two guys set a hundred years ago. They felt it wouldn’t sell. I kept improving it and did a final version in the year 2020 when we were in lockdown. That sold first submission. It really took me that long to write the book the way I wanted to write it. I had to learn a lot. I always wish I could revise it in places, but I am very proud of it.