Mobile author Angela Quarles has combined all her loves and legacies into a singular pursuit. The result has been success.
“I come from several generations of newspaper people going and my great-great grandfather was one of the owners of the Mobile Register,” Quarles said. “I know my great grandmother wrote stories that never got published and my grandmother had a popular bookstore in town.”
That same ancestor wrote poetry, short stories and children’s stories that remained unpublished. That’s the outlier, though.
“My first cousin was published about 10, 15 years ago,” Quarles said. “My first cousin and my aunt are also romance writers who have published a couple of books.”
Now Quarles has followed in their path. She’s also done it in a medium that sounds unique for this area: romance with various elements of paranormal and science fiction genres.
“What interests me is getting to play with things, you know, like parallel aspects, scientific aspects, stuff like that,” Quarles said.
Though a 2012 novelette used publisher Secret Cravings — “It was a contemporary geek romance with some paranormal elements, more of a romantic comedy” — a pair of more successful recent works have been self-published. The numbers are impressive.
“Must Love Breeches,” released in 2014 is a time travel romance that journeys back to England on the cusp of the Victorian Era. The work was a Grand Prize winner of Windy City’s Four Seasons contest in 2012, received positive feedback in the New York Times and USA Today and has sold over 1,800 copies in seven months.
A bachelor’s in anthropology from Emory and her master’s from Georgia State University, along with Quarles’ time in Finland and Vienna was invaluable. It gave her the immersion in foreign environments that served the novel’s perspective.
“Steam Me Up, Rawley,” released in 2015, is a steampunk romance set in 1890s Mobile, but in a slightly altered universe. The wit in its tagline — “Jack the Ripper might be in town; but is marriage more terrifying?” — shows why it’s sold 580 copies in just three months.
Her heroine is, what else but a writer. Society reporter Adele de la Pointe fights family pressure to become a pampered wife. The clan attempts to hitch her to a new doctor, a man who arrived in America via hot air balloon from across the Atlantic yet the young woman is more interested in tracking down Mobile’s emergent serial killer.
Quarles finds Mobile perfect for the genre. Aside from geography, the town’s social particulars fit.
“It’s just like London, with the whole port and river culture where it can be kind of seedy,” Qualres said. “This city used to be kind of rough back in the Victorian era. You had whole sections that were redlight districts, rough sailors and things like that. The quirkiness of Mobile lends itself, too.”
A self-described “history geek,” she tweaked Mobile’s past a bit for the novel. In the novel’s universe, Abraham Lincoln picked various Southern towns as centers of industry to further post-Civil War renewal.
“For Mobile, since we made the Hunley here, we became the center for building submarines,” Quarles said. “So I basically transplanted the 1940s era for Mobile and the WWII shipbuilding and instead I had that heyday as building submersibles in the 1890s, gearing up for the Spanish-American War.”
Classic science fiction served well. She admitted forays into Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” aided inspiration.
Her inventiveness is rampant. A Mobile’s surgeon’s fame in fashioning mechanical prosthetics for war veterans passes from necessity to status symbol.
“It becomes frivolous so that they have society chicks walking around with a mechanical parasol implanted in their back that will move to block the sun,” Quarles said. “They also have mechanized bustles to make their butts sway better.”
Other fabrications rule the scene. Mechanical oystermen sell seafood on the waterfront. Letters and packages are delivered through a Pelican Express service that employs the hallmark sea birds. An armored pet monkey serves as an errand boy.
“I was trying to think of what was particularly Southern and what we would need down here,” Quarles said. She also morphed some standards of the genre. “There’s not a lot of fog but more dripping moss kind of stuff.”
The life of a romance writer isn’t all joy. Quarles confessed to the ardor of perusing possible male models for her bare-chested cover art, an exercise that begged the timeless question, “Man-nipples or no man-nipples?”
You can find the answer on the covers. Copies are available at Urban Emporium and Bienville Books.