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Dr. Vanessa Riley shares about her writing process, the inspiration behind her latest book, and the importance of faith in her novels.

Dr. Vanessa Riley is an award-winning author of historical fiction showcasing the hidden histories of women of color and emphasizing strong sisterhoods and dazzling multicultural communities. Her works encompass biographical and historical women's fiction, historical romance, and historical mystery. Her novels engage the soul, pull heartstrings, and create laughs, while sharing insights into the diverse history of the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian eras.

This Southern, Irish, Trini girl holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and an MS in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University. Vanessa also earned a BS and MS in mechanical engineering from Penn State University. Her research skills have helped NASA, GM, Hewlett Packard, and several startups.

Her love of history and lattes overwhelmed her passion for math and led to the publication of over twenty titles. Her works have been reviewed by Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Library Journal, and the New York Times. She's received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Her latest releases are Island Queen (Historical Fiction), An Earl, The Girl, and A Toddler (Historical Romance), and A Duke, The Lady, and A Baby (Historical Romance).

Vanessa is president of Regency Fiction Writers, a member of NINC, the Historical Novel Society, and on the Board of Directors of Christian Book Lovers Retreat. She’s an avid baker who loves creating her Trinidadian grandma’s cake recipes. You can find Vanessa writing on her southern porch with proper amounts of caffeine.

VBD: Tell us about your author life.

VANESSA: I write historical fiction, historical mystery, and historical romance. I am all about our history. I love history and want that to be front and center in my stories. I typically focus on 1750s-1830s when the world was in chaos and everyone wanted freedom—freedom from kings, freedom of religion, freedom from colonization, and freedom from enslavement. Most historians focus more on the suffering, and I chose to bring you the little-known triumphs. I try to bring you stories that show women developing their voices and their agency to do wonderful things for themselves, their sisters, family, or community.

Highlights of my writing career would include being the author of over 21 books, Emma Award Winner, Beacon Award Winner, and Good Morning America Buzz Pick for Island Queen.

VBD: Share about your writing process.

VANESSA: I am a planster. I plot and pants my way through a book. I write in layers, trying to get the plot and goals correct. Then I add layers so that the reader feels transported.

I actually love the revision process. The story is done, and I can focus more on world building and threading themes and word choice. It is a happy place to get to refine the vision of a book during revisions.

VBD: What inspired your latest book, Island Queen?

VANESSA: For Island Queen, I found a cartoon showing Prince William Henry (future King William IV of Britain) lovingly embracing a woman, a black woman. I had to know her story as much as I had to know their story. It took over six years of research to put all the pieces back together and return the life of Dorothy Kirwan Thomas to the world. She was actually famous during her time. She bought her freedom from enslavement and goes on to become one of the richest women in the Caribbean.

VBD: You include faith in your novels. Why is it important to include faith in your books?

VANESSA: Faith is life. Faith is the ingredient that I believed helped folks focus on what was important and to retain their hope in times of trouble.

VBD: What are three major steps to building a successful writing career?

VANESSA: First, commit to writing and completing the book. Many talk about it, but most never do it. Second, take the time to tell your story—this is the most authentic version of the story you can write. Third, write the most dangerous story. Once you know the craft, take risks.

VBD: What is something readers would be surprised to know about you?

VANESSA: I have a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University on top of three other college degrees in engineering. I love math.

VBD: What’s next for you?

VANESSA: Next year, you’ll get the conclusion of the Rogues and Remarkable Women Series: A Duke, The Spy, An Artist, and A Lie (April 2022)

My next Historical Fiction, Sister Mother Warrior is set to be released in Summer 2022. This tells the story of the two women who shaped the Haitian Revolution.

In fall, readers get my first Historical Mystery, Murder in Westminster.

Book Link: Amazon

Photo Credit: Celestial Studios

By Icylin Morgan

Contributing Editor & Curriculum Developer



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