Please welcome C.W. Gortner who graciously agreed to answer a few questions regarding THE QUEEN’S VOW: A Novel of Isabella of Castile, which releases TODAY!!
Category Archives: Author Interviews
Q&A with Geraldine Brooks, author of CALEB’S CROSSING
The publisher has provided permission to The Burton Review to post the following interview with author Geraldine Brooks. Geraldine is the author of several prize winning novels, such as March, and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague.
A richly imagined new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, People of the Book.
Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.
The narrator of Caleb’s Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island’s glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia’s minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe’s shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb’s crossing of cultures.
Like Brooks’s beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha’s Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb’s Crossing further establishes Brooks’s place as one of our most acclaimed novelists.
Stay tuned to The Burton Review for the book review of Caleb’s Crossing!!
Eleanor of Aquitaine has been an intriguing historical figure as she was a Queen of France, and later a Queen of England who was famous for helping to maneuver her sons against her husband King Henry II. One of her famous sons was Richard the Lionheart, who is touted as her favorite. This year has been a fabulous year for novels on Eleanor and her famous family, and today, August 3rd, brings us the newest one titled The Secret Eleanor:
Eleanor of Aquitaine seized hold of life in the 12th century in a way any modern woman would envy!
1151: As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor grew up knowing what it was to be regarded for herself and not for her husband’s title. Now, as wife to Louis VII and Queen of France, she has found herself unsatisfied with reflected glory-and feeling constantly under threat, even though she outranks every woman in Paris.
Then, standing beside her much older husband in the course of a court ceremony, Eleanor locks eyes with a man-hardly more than a boy, really- across the throne room, and knows that her world has changed irrevocably…
He is Henry D’Anjou, eldest son of the Duke of Anjou, and he is in line, somewhat tenuously, for the British throne. She meets him in secret. She has a gift for secrecy, for she is watched like a prisoner by spies even among her own women. She is determined that Louis must set her free. Employing deception and disguise, seduction and manipulation, Eleanor is determined to find her way to power-and make her mark on history.
Q: You have written over twenty historicals based on very intriguing characters. Was there one book that was more difficult to research than others?
The hardest book to research was THE BELT OF GOLD, for which all the primary data was in Greek, and most of the better commentary in German or Russian. It’s not my favorite book. The California books were fabulous to research, everything right here, in English and very close in time. JERUSALEM, which is my favorite book, covers a time period (1180’s in the Holy Land) with lots of available primary material, which I prefer (the sources written closest to the actual event are primary sources), and a lot of controversy; I like to twinge an event, try to see it from a whole different slant than the usual, question the pre-assumptions. These days when so few readers actually have much background in history this has its own issues; it’s hard to play off the note when nobody knows the song.
Q: Your newest novel, The Secret Eleanor, features a time period that has been recently been written of Eleanor’s life. What was the inspiration for you to write about the relationship of Eleanor and Henry?
This nine-ten months’ time, from her first meeting with Henry of Anjou until she married him, is the turning point of Eleanor’s life. What I find missing in most accounts is the awareness that she was the mastermind: it had to be all her decision. Nobody else was in a position to see what she could make of the marriage with Henry, or that she would be able to make the marriage at all. I wanted to develop the idea of this passionate and willful woman seizing control of her life in the face of all the entrenched powers of male privilege and female submission. I don’t think anybody else has done this.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you about Eleanor or Henry that you came across in your research?
Not in the research (contrary to popular belief, the real data–the primary material–on both these major figures is pretty piecemeal, as you would expect, given the 900 years between us and them) but in the writing, when Eleanor became a fully-functioning character in a story that was leaping away out of my hands, she really did and thought and felt things I hadn’t expected. She scared me sometimes.
Q: Eleanor is typically portrayed as a domineering, strong willed woman who was able to defy both the King of France and the King of England. How do you think women thought of Eleanor at that time in history? What do you think was Eleanor’s greatest trait?
The prevailing opinion of Eleanor at the time, and for centuries afterward, was dominated by what Ralph Turner calls her Black Legend, the image of an adulterous headstrong evil queen whose husband was probably right to lock her up to keep her out of trouble. Shakespeare doesn’t help with his portrait of her in KING JOHN. I think a lot of women probably agreed with this assessment at the time–it was in the interests of many women to buy into the male view that women should be firmly subordinated to their husbands. Certainly the Empress Matilde, Henry’s mother, disapproved of Eleanor immensely. (Matilde however was a pretty aggressive woman in her own right .) But I imagine some women saw Eleanor as showing the way to a new respect and power–her daughters were active and independent minded, and the whole popular attribution to Eleanor of the Courts of Love (which seems a later amendment to her story) indicates people at the time saw her as presiding over a kind of revolution in women’s lives. Whether they appreciated this or disapproved depended a lot on their own circumstances.
Q: With three daughters and a menagerie of animals, how do you find the time to write so much? Does writing seem like work to you, or is it still something that you enjoy doing?
I love to write. Writing gets me through the bad times. On the other hand the girls ground me in real life. They’re all grown up now with families of their own but I am deeply grateful to have had them and to have them now. When they were little, finding time to write was hard, and I learned to break the work up into little pieces that I could think about while doing dishes, or hanging up diapers–bits of dialog, starting sentences, the like. I got a major flash on the end of FLOATING WORLDS for instance while I was hanging up diapers–maybe the white sheet before my face worked like blank film, on which I could project something.
Q: Have you been able to travel abroad to conduct your research? If so, what have been some of your favorite historical places to visit?
I’ve gone around a lot, the more now that my children are grown. I like Constantinople. I know it’s called Istanbul now but if you go with some information and maps and look, you can still find bits of what was for close on to 1000 years the greatest city in the Western World. I’m trying to get to North Africa now, and to Central Asia and the Silk Road, but there are political problems.
Q: Do you have any current writing projects that you can tell us about?
I’m finishing a novel about Richard the Lionheart’s Crusade. Richard of course was Eleanor’s son so this continues some of the research and ideas I did for THE SECRET ELEANOR.
I am looking forward to that new work in progress, also! Thanks SO much to the author for visiting The Burton Review and answering my questions!! And another treat for my followers, the publisher is offering one copy of The Secret Eleanor to you!
To enter, please comment on the interview or tell me something about Eleanor that intrigues you. What books have you read regarding Eleanor or her family?
Some sort of response regarding the above is mandatory, and you must leave your email address so I can contact the winner.
For extra entries, leave me a link to your advertisement of this post:
+2 Post this on your blog, Facebook or Tweet this post
Giveaway ends August 14th, open to USA only courtesy of the publisher.
|His Last Letter, available August 3, 2010|
One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.
They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others’ lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her “Sweet Robin” what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.
His Last Letter tells the story of this great love… and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.
Please welcome author Jeane Westin to The Burton Review! Her previous Tudor novel The Virgin’s Daughters came out last year and now I am reading His Last Letter where it portrays an entirely different point of view than I am used to reading regarding Elizabeth I. See below for the giveaway of the above pictured book, His Last Letter, by Jeane Westin.
Your bio states that you have been intrigued by historical fiction since you were a child. What do you think is the key to the continuing fascination that you have for the Tudor period?
Although my mother told me family history stories throughout my childhood, my fascination with historical fiction started when I was six years old and she took me to the library for the first time. Out of all the choices and shelves, I pulled The Little Cave Boy and Girl. The whole idea of it…another time and other people that I would never know must have called to me. I don’t remember now, but I continued to read YA historical fiction until I was old enough to take out books from the adult shelves where I discovered Daphne du Maurier, Jean Plaidy and so many others.
I’ve continued to read and write in the Restoration and Tudor periods because there is so much we know and yet don’t know…gaps that can only be filled by a novelist.
In your research, what are some of the things that you have come across that surprised you about Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley?
For one thing, their staying power. They knew each other for almost five decades and their mutual fascination really never waned, while fighting and loving and suffering the ups and downs of most long relationships. What that must have been like for both Elizabeth and her Robin is the basis for my novel His Last Letter.
What is your personal opinion on the death of Robert Dudley’s first wife, Amy: accidental, suicide, or murder?
It’s very hard for me to have a personal opinion. Although two inquiries exonerated him, many thought and still think Dudley guilty of having engineered Amy’s accident. Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth ‘s councilor certainly did, just as he thought Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers even into 1572. Remembering that Dudley was Elizabeth ‘s favorite and therefore unpopular with others, their suspicions were not surprising.
It is likely that Amy had a breast tumor and modern medicine tells us that a metastasis could weaken bones so that a minor fall might well have broken her neck. She could have commited suicide, which is what I believe Dudley thought, though he protected her to insure her Christian burial.
The possibilities are many and it was so long ago there is no way of putting an end to the speculation.
Surely, Dudley was smart enough to know that if he were suspected, he could never marry Elizabeth , which was what he wanted more than anything.
So like most people, I go back and forth not able to make up my mind. If he were guilty, he paid a great price. He knew she was dying and so did Elizabeth . They were brilliant people. I have to believe they would not have taken such a risk.
But I’ll never know.
One of my favorite Tudor historical figures is Lettice Knollys, and I loved how she was portrayed in Victoria Holt’s My Enemy The Queen. What is your opinion of Lettice? Did you gather any fun details about her while researching for your novels?
In His Last Letter Lettice Knollys is a villainess. I apologize if I have wronged her, but Elizabeth did hate her. She was a Boleyn cousin and prettier than Elizabeth, a rival for Dudley and given to wearing gowns to court much finer than the queen thought suitable. Although Lettice was one of the queen’s early ladies-in-waiting, I think it was an example of keeping your enemies closer than your friends. After Dudley, by then Earl of Leicester, married her, Elizabeth refused ever after to see Lettice or have her back to court. The queen got even (as only queens can) by nearly bankrupting Lettice after the Earl died, by calling in all his debts.
Lettice lived on into her 90’s an almost unheard of age at the time and I suppose that was some revenge.
Why do you think that Elizabeth and Dudley never married?
Elizabeth would never share her rule, nor place herself under the power of a husband which at that time was supreme. She also needed to remain single to use herself as a bargaining chip in the wars for dominance between the continental powers. She brilliantly prolonged marriage negotiations with first one and then another until she had wrung all the benefit she could out of them. Even when suitors withdrew, they were never sure that they couldn’t go back and try again, or that she wouldn’t change her mind.
What has been your biggest challenge with your writing of historical fiction?
With Tudor fiction, Elizabeth herself has presented the biggest challenge. She was powerful, yet needed admiration…strong and active, yet sickly…refusing to marry, yet needing men to adore her. I’ve read an historical psychoanalysis of her behavior. Disturbed, domineering, fearful, brave and needy are only some of her personality traits.
In His Last Letter I’ve tried to show all of these through the prism of Elizabeth ‘s love for Dudley.
Over the past few years do you think that the market has been saturated with Tudor novels? What are the pros and cons to the continued popularity of the Tudor period?
Although popularity runs in cycles, Elizabeth and Henry VIII continue to fascinate and will for some time, Edward and Mary less so. (The English still vote her their favorite ruler.) Movies, theater dramas and books, both fiction and non-fiction appear regularly to feed this fascination without ever seeming to satisfy it completely. In the last three or four years, the internet has become a feeding ground for Tudor information and reviews. Recently I watched a program on the History Channel about Henry’s medical problems, which made me wonder how he could have lived as long as he did, and partially explained why he became such a monster. Now who would think that such a program would interest without proof positive. We continue to speculate about this father and daughter because there are so many gaps in our knowledge and they are so real to us that we want to know more. As a novelist, I’m thankful for that.
What is next for you on the writing front?
I’ve already contracted for my next book, which is tentatively titled The Queen’s Lady Spy. It is a thrilling story of Lady Frances Sidney, the ignored wife of England ‘s favorite love poet and the daughter of Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Brought to court when her husband is sent overseas, Lady Frances is eager to put her brilliant mind to good use. She becomes a secret intelligence and aids in foiling deadly plots against the Queen while working closely with her father’s man Robert Pauley. A forbidden love blossoms between the married noble woman and the commoner all while Lady Frances is being pursued by the queen’s handsome new favorite and notorious pleasure seeker, the Earl of Essex. The earl does not know Lady Frances is a secret intelligencer, but is determined to have her in his bed. But her own servant, Robert Pauley, secretly in love with her is determined that he will not.
Frances is a distant ancestress of mine and her interest in cryptography mirrors my own. I’m very much looking forward to writing this book Thanks for asking me to answer these interesting questions.
Thanks so much to Jeane for visiting The Burton Review and answering my questions. And now for my lucky readers, I have a question for you, and I will choose among one of your answers a winner for the new novel, His Last Letter, by Jeane Westin.
To enter for the giveaway:
Please comment here with your answer to that question, leaving your email address. This is a mandatory entry.
For extra entries:
+2 for a graphic link to this post on your blog (sidebar or post)
+2 to those who Facebook this post
+1 for a Twitter Post
+1 for another Twitter Post on another day.
Please leave links to any of the extra entries posts that you are entering for.
Contest available to USA residents only courtesy of the publisher. Ends August 14, 2010.
As part of the Round Table event this week, Catherine has obliged us and fashioned many many guest posts for us at The Round Table. What a sweetheart she is to take her time and compose all of these original essays, we all very much appreciate the dedication she has to her work. Let it not go to waste, please leave a comment letting her know you were here. Without further ado, here is Catherine and her newest guest post:
Let us begin with Joseph de Limoëlan, the head of the conspiracy to assassinate Napoléon Bonaparte in Paris. He was 34 years of age at the time of the attack, a tall, handsome man with blue eyes and dark hair, gold-rimmed spectacles and an aristocratic air. After years spent as a Chouan, a royalist insurgent, he is the one who planned to detonate the bomb, placed on a horse-drawn cart, in the midst of a busy street. All the busier that evening because people wanted to see Napoléon Bonaparte’s carriage on its way to the Opera. It was also Christmas Eve, the shops and cafés were still open, and many were headed for the houses of friends to celebrate the holiday.
That did not give pause to Limoëlan, though he had to know that the collateral damage would be atrocious. There were dozens of casualties, and so many houses were blown up that the street itself was later condemned and destroyed in its entirety. Limoëlan himself had found a little street vendor, a girl by the name of Marianne Peusol, to hold the bridle of the horse that drew the carriage. He had to know that the child, closest to the bomb, was sure to die.
The man was the coldest of cold-blooded killers. Yet he was engaged to a young lady, a friend of his sisters, and every clue I found pointed to an attachment that was mutual, and very deep. I also found out that his father and several of his relatives, prominent members of the nobility of Brittany, had been guillotined in Paris a few years earlier as royalist conspirators. That is no excuse, of course, but it puts Limoëlan’s hate for the city and its inhabitants in perspective.
Pierre de Saint-Régent, who was Limoëlan’s second in command, was no less interesting. He was also a nobleman from Brittany, though from a minor and impoverished family. His pointed nose gave his face the look of a ferret, and he did not have the elegant manners of his comrade. Hardened by years of combat, first in the Royal Navy before the Revolution, and later in the royalist insurgency, he was the one who actually lit the fuse that detonated the bomb.
Nevertheless, in the days that led to the attack, Saint-Régent took great pains, and great risks, to purchase a pug, and order a sterling silver dog collar to present to his “lady.” Who was she? The real investigation never uncovered her identity, but trust a historical novelist to fill in the blanks… Of course the lady in question is one of the fictional characters of FOR THE KING.
The third assassin, François Carbon, nicknamed Le Petit François, Short Francis, is quite a different sort of character. I discovered someone totally repulsive, physically and morally. Squat, fat, abusive, vulgar, garish in his dress, and yet fancying himself a great favorite with the ladies… Also a Chouan, Carbon accompanied Limoëlan to Paris as his valet and jack-of-all-trades, and he helped the two other men drive the cart on which sat the bomb to Rue Nicaise. Comical as he may seem at times, he too was a killer. I could not find any portrait of him, though he is easy to picture from the descriptions of witnesses.
“How to” manuals purporting to teach the craft of writing warn the would-be novelist to stay clear of characters devoid of any nuance. But in this case I couldn’t help it: the real François Carbon was as I describe him in FOR THE KING. And actually some readers tell me they found him totally compelling, repellent as he is.
Thanks so much to Catherine for writing such a fun historical novel that was steeped in mystery with even a bit of romance! Read my review of the book here, and enter for your chance to win your very own hardcover of FOR THE KING, which is available for purchase July 6, 2010.
For the rest of the Events of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table group, please visit the Calendar of Events page where you will find all the links to other posts. There are many opportunities to win the gorgeous book as well.
In the late 1470s, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand approached Pope Sixtus IV with a request to establish an inquisition in Castille. The purpose of this tribunal would be to root out the “judaizing heresy” among so-called New Christians. Many of these New Christians descended from Jews forced to convert to Christianity two generations earlier.
The pope refused to authorize the establishment of this special inquisition. Isabella and Ferdinand answered by threatening to withdraw their military support for the pope’s crusade against the Ottomans.
This crusade was Sixtus’s most important project. The Islamic Ottoman empire had been slowly expanding since the 13th century. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was felt as an earthquake throughout Christendom. During the following decades, the Ottomans took the Balkans, Greece, much of North Africa, and even parts of present-day Italy. From where the pope sat, it looked like Rome was next. His primary responsibility was to protect Christendom.
Although wealthy New Christians effectively made their case to the pope, all their eloquence and gifts were worth little compared to the possibility of Spain’s withdrawal from the pope’s crusade. Yielding to Isabella and Ferdinand’s pressure, Sixtus IV finally allowed them to establish an inquisition in Castille. In a break with tradition, he even allowed them to appoint the inquisitors themselves.
To understand what Isabella and Ferdinand did with this historically unique opportunity, and why, you have to understand who they were.
In my view, Isabella of Castille was a usurper. She invented the myth that her half-brother Henry IV was “impotent” and/or a “sodomizer” and that Henry’s daughter Joanna, to whom he willed the throne, was illegitimate. She waged war on Henry and Joanna and ultimately prevailed, but only by marrying Ferdinand and adding the power of Aragon’s military to her own.
Isabella and Ferdinand were conquerors. Once they consolidated power in their own lands, they were not inclined to stop. In attempting to retake Granada from the Moors, they appealed to their soldiers’ religious zeal and patriotic fervor. But where had that zeal been when Isabella and Ferdinand had threatened to withdraw from the pope’s crusade? Surely the Ottomans represented a far greater threat to Christendom than the tiny Nasrid emirate in Granada.
|The Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I, of Castile and León|
In order to carry out their plan and achieve the greatness for which they believed they were destined, the monarchs needed capital. The fastest way to acquire this capital was to steal it from New Christians, who as a class had acquired sudden wealth since leaving their ghettos. By weakening the New Christians, Isabella and Ferdinand were able to appease their aristocratic supporters, many of whom felt threatened by the rapid rise of an “upper middle class” of New Christian traders, physicians, legal advisors, and cartographers.
In By Fire, By Water, I hinted at the struggle between the New Christians, the pope, and the monarchs of Spain. In one of the early drafts, I developed this thread further. But I came to feel it distracted from the thrust of my story, which needed to be focused on Luis de Santangel and Judith Migdal even while suggesting the complexity of their world. By Fire, By Water is not a book about the Inquisition per se. It is the story of a man whom the Spanish Inquisition scorched but did not burn.
The publisher is generously offering two copies for a giveaway (US/Canada only). To enter for this random drawing, you must comment with your email address, discussing anything related to the topics above, such as Isabella of Castille or Ferdinand of Aragon, Christopher Columbus/Colon (a character in the novel), or the Spanish Inquisition.
Edited to change the Giveaway date to May 28th. Good Luck!
Let’s tell you what I’ve been reading and where I am online today.. Yes, I’ve been interviewed! The fabulous blogger Maria Grazia interviews bloggers most weeks, and she has selected me to be her Blogger Buddy this week. Visit the interview at her blog and enter to win the Double Book International Giveaway I am offering.
This week I have finished reading Jane Feather’s newest historical romance titled “All The Queen’s Players”. The review also qualifies for the Tudor Mania Reading Challenge, which is my review #2 for the challenge and therefore I am winning so far =)
I am now reading Catherine Delors For The King which is to be released early July 2010 and is another Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table Event. And I am really enjoying this read which is very much written in a mystery format which I do enjoy. The last one I read I had devoured in a day, which was 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan. That was set in New York in 1857, and For The King is set in France after the revolution in 1800. I have seen comments where some readers were not enthralled with Delors previous novel, which was written in a first-person narrative in a memoir style, but this style is entirely different so don’t let the opinion of her first book sway you from reading this one. Of course there were some that loved her Mistress of The Revolution and I have no doubt that many will enjoy For The King as well. It is fast paced and includes the details of the period without reading like a textbook. It is all put together very well.
This week I will host an author guest post from new author Mitchell James Kaplan on May 18 in honor of the release day for By Fire, By Water. This was an inspiring read that dealt with the political and emotional turmoils of the Spanish Inquisition as seen through two very strong characters. Read my review here, and then come back soon to enter for the two book giveaway with the author post.
The giveaway of the autographed copy of the new release for D.L. Bogdan’s Secrets of The Tudor Court goes to the very lucky winner of Jennifer of Rundpinne! Congrats to her.
I hope everyone has a fantastic Sunday and gets prepared mentally for another Monday to come. I am not ready.
|The Darcy Cousins|
THE DARCY COUSINS BY MONICA FAIRVIEW—IN STORES APRIL 2010
One might reasonably expect that a young lady dispatched in disgrace across the Atlantic to England would strive to behave with decorum, but Mr. Darcy’s incorrigible American cousin, Clarissa Darcy, manages to provoke Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr Collins, and the parishioners of Hunsford all in one morning! And there are more surprises in store for that bastion of tradition, Rosings Park, when the family gathers for their annual Easter visit. Georgiana Darcy, generally a shy model of propriety, decides to take a few lessons from her unconventional cousin. And Anne de Bourgh, encouraged to escape her “keeper,” Mrs. Jenkinson, simply… vanishes.
In this tale of friendship, rebellion, and love, two young women entering Society forge a strong connection. A connection that is sorely tested when they both set out to win the heart of a most dashing—and dangerous— gentleman.
|Book One: The Other Mr Darcy (2009)|
“In this highly original Pride and Prejudice sequel by British author Monica Fairview, Caroline Bingley is our heroine. Caroline is sincerely broken-hearted when Mr. Darcy marries Lizzy Bennet— that is, until she meets his charming and sympathetic American cousin…
Mr. Robert Darcy is as charming as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud, and he is stunned to find the beautiful Caroline weeping at his cousin’s wedding. Such depth of love, he thinks, is rare and precious. For him, it’s nearly love at first sight. But these British can be so haughty and off-putting. How can he let the young lady, who was understandably mortified to be discovered in such a vulnerable moment, know how much he feels for and sympathizes with her?”
Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn just came out to rave reviews on April 6, 2010. We have an opportunity for my readers at The Burton Review to score a copy of this book for themselves; details are at the end of the post.
Please welcome author Kate Quinn as I ask her a few questions:
I’ve read that you started to write at an early age. What authors helped to inspire you as a child? Did you grow up wanting to be an accomplished writer?
I read everything I could get my hands on as a child – C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, all the L. Frank Baum Oz books, Edith Hamilton’s Greek mythology, countless others. But what inspired me the most was history itself: I read biographies of Julius Caesar, Elizabeth I, Peter the Great, and it astounded me that such fascinating people really lived. My first straggling hand-written story (at age seven) was all about the assassination of Edward II, full of sex and murder long before I understood what either one was. I can’t say I ever made a decision to become a writer; I just was one. I was writing a novel by the time I was ten and haven’t stopped since. A lot of those early novel projects were absolute disasters, but it was a learning experience.
Tell us about your writing journey and your inspiration behind Mistress of Rome?
Ever since seeing Kirk Douglas in Spartacus when I was about eight, I’d wanted to write a book about a gladiator – I just didn’t get around to it until I was nineteen. I had just gone three thousand miles off to college in Boston, and I knew absolutely nobody. So I percolated a story and escaped into ancient Rome instead. I didn’t have a computer, so I had to pack up my books and notes and head to the university computer lab to work. It wasn’t the most harmonious of settings – a huge underground basement filled with ominous neon lighting and tight-lipped graduate students all trying to finish a thesis and hissing at you if you made a sound. But at least there wasn’t anything to do there but work, so I’d just crank up the Gladiator soundtrack on my headset and hammer away. By the end of the semester I had a book – though getting it published was a different journey. That took a few more years, and a query letter I probably re-wrote twenty different ways.
What books were the most useful while researching for this novel?
Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars was my most valuable primary source. He was an Imperial archivist in early Imperial Rome who wrote a biography of the first twelve Emperors. It’s a terrifically entertaining read, because Suetonius threw scholarly objectivity completely out the window and wrote a rumor-packed, scandal-laden, twelve-part gossip column. He gives details of each Emperor’s appearance, their character, their personal habits, who they slept with, who they worked with, who they had killed. Who knows how much of it is true? All I could do was guess. Nowadays Suetonius would be working for Us Weekly or maybe Gossip Girl.
Most of your characters in your novel are portrayed as cruel and heartless. While writing and being immersed within your storytelling, did this bleed over into your personal life and affect you mentally while writing the story?
Well, I hope not all of them are cruel and heartless, just trapped in bad situations! Fortunately, I can say that no matter how much time I spent with the psychopathic Emperor Domitian or the monumentally self-absorbed Lepida, I never felt any crossover from their lives to mine. (And a good thing too, since I’d be arrested for murder, assassination, conspiracy, incest, rape, and worst of all, cruelty to animals.) Villains are fun to write in fiction – you get to explore what it’s like to be a despot or a man-eater without actually doing wrong yourself.
Are there any surprising revelations that you came across during your research?
What I found most surprising (and gratifying) was the number of personal quirks attributed to Domitian. Many were reported by Suetonius, so it’s doubtful if they’re all factual, but it makes a portrait of a very odd Emperor. According to the rumors of the time Domitian threw all-black dinner parties, speared flies out of the air on the point of his pen, and wrote a manual on hair care. He made his niece into his mistress, but had a popular Roman actor killed on suspicion the man was having an affair with his Empress. He hated children, getting rid of both his own two nephews and an unborn child by his niece, yet was accompanied at the Colosseum by a boy in a red tunic with whom he chatted non-stop about the gladiators in the arena. The more cheerful his jokes got, the more likely it was that people would start dying. He asked his astrologer to predict his death date, and the man got it right down to the hour of day. Who knows if all of this is true, but it was reported as true at the time, and created a splendidly quirky villain for me.
Which of the characters were your personal favorite to create and why?
That’s like trying to pick a favorite child – I love them all for different reasons, even the villains. Probably my favorites are Thea and Arius, my slave heroine and gladiator hero. They are very damaged people in their ways, but they deserve happiness with each other. Thea has endurance and humor even in the worst situations, and Arius has been brutalized all his life but has a huge capacity for love. And I have a special fondness for Marcus, the intelligent Senator who always knows more than he lets on – based, I’ll admit, on Derek Jacobi’s wonderful performance in the mini-series I, Claudius. Jacobi’s Claudius had a lot of bad luck in his life, so I made sure Marcus got a happier ending.
How excited are you that you have now become a published author? What’s been the best part of the journey? Is there a bad part to the journey?
Publication has been the world’s best roller coaster. There is not one day I don’t wake up and think how lucky I am to be in this position. From editing to copy-editing, searching for blurbs to searching for the perfect cover, this has been an education and a blast. The best part of it all has been working with the team of people who really put this book into motion – my agent, my editor, my copy-editor, the Berkley sales team; I was lucky to find such incredible people who adored my book and worked so hard to make it the best they could. There hasn’t been much of a bad side yet, unless it’s reading the inevitable negative reviews. You go into this knowing you won’t please everybody, but it can still be a bit squelching when you find someone online who hated your baby. Still, I have a rule of thumb about negative reviews: if the reviewer is incapable of using “its” vs. “it’s” or the various forms of “there” correctly, I do not have to feel bad that they disliked my book.
What is the topic of the next novel that you are working on?
I’m not done with ancient Rome yet, or maybe it’s not done with me. Currently I’m working on both a sequel and a prequel to Mistress of Rome. It wasn’t intended to be a trilogy, but as I was writing I started to wonder about the lives of some of the smaller characters. The prequel reaches back to the Year of Four Emperors, and features Emperor Domitian’s extremely enigmatic wife as a young woman. The sequel focuses on two characters who are just children in Mistress of Rome: a senator’s daughter who grows up with a yen for adventure, and a gladiator’s son who ends up serving in Emperor Trajan’s wars. The prequel is in the editing stage and the sequel is about half finished, so who knows when they’ll be out.
Thanks for having me!
I loved learning about Kate’s journey with this novel, and I am so glad that it seems to be a big success already! I hope I get to read this soon myself, my fellow historical fiction bloggers have already written of how much they have enjoyed this one.
For my USA followers, I am offering a chance to win one copy of Mistress of Rome directly from the publisher.
Comment with your email address and:
Tell me what your favorite “Roman” themed book or movie has been so far.
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Giveaway ends April 23rd.
>HF Bloggers Round Table: Author Stephanie Cowell: Growing up to write a novel about Claude Monet (Giveaway!)
Growing up to write a novel about Claude Monet
When I look back, I feel I was destined to write a novel about a painter and somehow settled on Claude Monet.
My mother taught at the famous Art Students’ League in New York City and one evening she took me with her. I was less than five years old and, quickly bored with her class on fashion illustration, wandered off down the hall to peek into another classroom. I was amazed at what I saw and rushed back crying, “Mommy, there’s a woman on the model stand and she has no clothes on!”
At age fifteen or so my mother also drew me half nude and hung it in the hallway, to the great amusement of my boyfriends when they came to see me. (Claude Monet did not paint nudes!)
But painting was the center of my life and even now, when I am tired of words as novelists can sometimes be, I wander in the Metropolitan Museum which is near my house and feel so enriched.
I discovered when I was very young, however, that I had no talent to draw or paint. One day my father let me try at his easel. I expected to have his skill but discovered no skill at all. It was rather embarrassing because, as I became a teenager and a young woman, people always asked me, “Do you draw like your mother?”
Thank you so much to Stephanie for sharing with your readers the story behind your inspiration of your latest novel, Claude and Camille, which is available for purchase today!
Please visit the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table main page for the Calendar of Events featuring Stephanie and her novel Claude and Camille!
Here at The Burton Review I will have a review, a post on Camille and a goodie giveaway! (*And it’s not just a book!!)
There are many other fantastic giveaways that will be occurring, which are Monet related.. so be sure to keep up with the fantastic events this week! Today you will have two more chances for a giveaway at Passages to The Past and Historical-fiction.com
If you would like to win your very own copy of this book, then please comment on this post telling us anything you have previously learned about Monet or impressionism or if you have seen any of his paintings at a museum. LEAVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS.
For an extra point, tweet this post or facebook post it, leaving me a link to your status.
Book Giveaway open until April 16th to USA residents only.