Category Archives: Interviews

Donna Russo Morin

Portrait of ConspiracyDonna Russo Morin is a talented author of historical fiction, and she’s been a friend of The Copperfield Review’s for several years. Here’s my latest interview with Donna where she fills us in about her newest project, the historical novel Portrait of a Conspiracy.

Meredith Allard: I know you’ve been busy writing new historical novels since our last interview. Tell us about your most recently published historical novel.

Donna Russo Morin: PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY (May 2016) is the first book in a trilogy, Da Vinci’s Disciples, about a secret society of women artists, under the tutelage of the great Leonardo da Vinci, who must navigate the treacherous life of 15th century Florence while trying to bring their artistry to the world.

In the first book, two families–the Medicis and the Pazzis–are changed forever when a rivalry becomes a feud, a feud leads to murder, and murder provokes a deadly vendetta. Giuliano de’Medici is murdered by the Pazzi family, and his brother Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Magnifico, launches a path of vengeance through Florence, leaving a trail of death and devastation in his wake. Meanwhile, a secret society of women artists discovers one of their own is missing—and with her, a crucial painting. With the help of Leonardo da Vinci, the women set out on a desperate search for their sister as they begin their own conspiracy, one that could save them, or get them all killed. Battling their own wars—abusive husbands, love affairs, and the pressures and pettiness of rank—the women will ultimately discover there is no greater strength than that of women united.

M.A.: What inspired you to write the novel? What is it about the historical era that caught your fancy?

D.R.M.: It really was a convergence of events and ideas. I was finishing work on my 2012 release, The King’s Agent, which features a true to life Indiana Jones of 15th century Italy that included one of his actual dear friends, Michelangelo. I found myself longing to write more about art and artists. Additionally, in the interim, I found out that my last name (of my birth, Russo) originated in Florence some time in the 10th century.

At the same time, I was going through one of the most personally traumatic periods of my life. If not for a group of truly dedicated, loyal, and supportive women, I’m not sure if I would have had the strength to continue. It gave me a clarity of vision into the power of women united. Female relationships can be so much more intimate than those of men. But they can also be hard on each other. This book, the whole trilogy in truth, is nothing if not an homage to that power and the complexities of female relationships. The two thoughts connected and Da Vinci’s Disciples were born

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know about your newest novel?

D.R.M.: Portrait of a Conspiracy is a study of female relationships and their ambition, the explosive and artistic Renaissance, a mystery, a thriller, and at times, a violent depiction of life in 15th century Florence, but it is also one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written. Ultimately, the trilogy will lead us to one of the earliest, greatest, and acknowledged women artists of the time; it’s where the story was always meant to go. And, I’m so pleased to report, that as of this writing, the book has surpassed the top 50 ranking of Italian Historical Fiction on Amazon.

M.A.: As many of Copperfield’s readers know, writing historical fiction can be more time consuming and sometimes more difficult than writing in other genres. What prompts you to continue writing historical fiction?

D.R.M.: Besides the fact that I am a card-carrying history geek, it really is a combination of my love of conducting research as well as the fact that my ‘voice,’ my writer’s voice, is a bit formal, very suited to historical periods. I’m not sure it would flow as well with something completely modern. Though I am of the ‘never say never’ mindset, so who knows what the future may bring.

M.A.: Where can readers connect with you online?

D.R.M.: Hah! Just about everywhere. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Donna.Russo.Morin and https://www.facebook.com/DaVincisDisciples/. On Twitter: @DonnaRussoMorin. On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2729597.Donna_Russo_Morin. At my blog: donnarussomorin.blogspot.com. And, of course, my website: donnarussomorin.com, where people can read excerpts from all my books.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. Visit her online at www.meredithallard.com.

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Emma Rose Millar

By Meredith Allard

Emma is the author of Five Guns Blazing, the winner of the first place Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Emma Rose Millar: I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. As a child I was painfully shy; back then writing was a means of expressing my feelings, a way to take myself off to an imaginary world. As I grew older though, other things seemed to take over and I found myself writing less and less. When I was in my thirties, I became mixed up in a very bad relationship and it was then that I began writing my first novel. Strains from an Aeolian Harp was a dark tale of opium addiction and domestic violence, set in 1920s England when women weren’t allowed to get divorced on the grounds of cruelty alone. I wrote that novel in secret; I was terrified of my partner finding out, but it was something I felt I needed to do. Thankfully my life is a much happier place now and I think that shows in my writing.

M.A.: What is your latest novel? How would you describe it to potential readers?

E.R.M.: My latest novel, Five Guns Blazing is an historical adventure based on the true story of pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read and John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham:

1710: Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the backstreets of London, through transportation and grueling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates, John Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny. In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust. As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?

M.A.: What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

E.R.M.: Five Guns Blazing is a multi-layered story, not only one of piracy but also a tale of slavery in its various guises. Whilst writing the novel, it quickly became clear to me that I would need the help of a co-writer. I approached Jamaican-born author Kevin Allen and asked him if he’d read my half-finished manuscript. Fortunately for me, he liked the story so much that he agreed to work on it with me. Kevin wrote all the plantation scenes and changed some of the dialect. That was the beginning of our two year transatlantic writing affair. It was a long hard road but together I think we created something I could never have managed alone. The novel recently won first prize in its category in The Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction. It was an incredibly proud moment for both of us.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

E.R.M.: It was such a rollercoaster ride. I wholly believed in the novel and I put it through a professional edit before submitting it anywhere. Quite a few big agents in London asked to see the full manuscript after reading a sample. They all said that they loved the story but didn’t know what the market was for a book like this. It seemed it was always going to be a case of ‘close but no cigar’. For a while I’d been hearing good things about Crooked Cat Publishing in Edinburgh but they were closed to submissions at the time. As soon as they opened their doors again though I sent them Five Guns Blazing and I was thrilled when they accepted it. All of their authors were so welcoming. We work as a team; I’ve made so many lovely new friends.

M.A.: What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

E.R.M.:I love history, especially 18th and 19th century and I couldn’t imagine writing in any other genre. Writing historical fiction takes a tremendous amount research, but I love uncovering all those nuggets of history, stories and characters which I know will make a fantastic novel. While writing Five Guns Blazing I also discovered some fabulous old words: ‘bastardly gullion,’ ‘jerrycummumble,’ and ‘flaybottomist,’to name but a few.

M.A.: What is the research process like for you?

E.R.M.:I absolutely loved doing all the research into eighteenth-century piracy. In Anne Bonny I found the archetypal anti-heroine: treacherous, double-crossing and fiercely independent. Then there was John Rackham, a rake, devilishly handsome, the Casanova of the seas. Some sources suggest Rackham was captain in name only and it was Anne who ran the ship, terrorising all who sailed close to her. Their pirate adventure came to an abrupt end in 1720 when their ship, Revenge was captured and the entire crew sentence to death. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. There is no record of Anne’s execution or of her release or escape from jail. What became of her is still a mystery. The more I read about the villainous pair, the more intrigued I became.

M.A.: Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

E.R.M.: I’d have loved to go to the Caribbean as part of my research for Five Guns Blazing, but I’m a single mum and my son was far too little at the time to take a trip like that. Kevin regularly visits the islands though and he has a wealth of knowledge about their history. A lot of my own research came from the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham. They have an old court room there where they do reenactments of famous cases, an eighteenth century jail, complete with cells, exercise yard and gallows, and a fantastic transportation museum. My visits there were invaluable.

My next novel is set in Vienna and is based on a painting by Gustav Klimt. I’m hoping to go there for a few days in October with my son. He’s six now so I’m sure he’ll enjoy the zoo and the aquarium. Hopefully I’ll find some time to soak up the atmosphere and to see some of Klimt’s work while we’re there.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

E.R.M.: I really admire Sarah Waters, Alice Walker, Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris. Their writing is sublime. I did an Open University degree in English Literature about fifteen years ago though and my bookshelves are still heaving with novels by the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, etc. I do love a good classic!

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

E.R.M.: I think good historical fiction starts with meticulous research and a great story. As with any genre, it takes a massive amount of work for an idea to blossom into published novel. The best thing I did was to find a good editor. He took the manuscript to another level; without him, it may never have been picked up by a publisher. Most of all, don’t give up; nothing worth doing ever comes easily. It’s an amazing feeling once you’ve completed a novel.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

E.R.M.: Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble

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Jennifer Falkner

By Meredith Allard

Jennifer Falkner is the creator and editor of the online literary journal Circa, which is devoted to historical fiction, which happens to be my favorite genre (for those of you who haven’t already guessed that about me). What makes Circa unique is the fact that Jennifer is from Canada, and she loves to publish stories about Canadian history. You can visit Jennifer online at her website.

I had known of Circa since it’s one of the few journals devoted to historical fiction (the other, of course, being some little journal called Copperfield something or other…). Copperfield has published a few pieces of Jennifer’s short historical fiction, so I knew she was a great writer as well as a great lover of historical fiction. Jennifer was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about historical fiction and Circa. Here are her responses. If you write short historical fiction, take note!

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Jennifer Falkner: Writing stories is something I’ve just always done. I remember being nine or ten years old and writing westerns. I was going through a Louis L’Amour phase, I guess. But I only got serious about doing it well and for an audience besides myself after I turned thirty. I don’t always write historical fiction. If anything, I’d say half of what I write is contemporary. But the past has a fascination that I cannot ignore for long.

M.A.: What is your writing process like? When and where do you find time to write?

J.F.: Whenever I can. Sometimes that’s first thing in the morning before the rest of house is awake, sometimes squeezed in over lunch. Most often though I barricade myself in the study for three or four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

M.A.: How would you describe your writing to potential readers?

J.F.: Improving, slowly.

M.A.: How did you come to start Circa, your online literary journal for historical fiction? Why did you choose to focus on historical fiction?

J.F.: There were so few venues dedicated solely to historical short stories when I started Circa a few years ago. There was The Copperfield Review, of course, and Alt HistVintage Script, and Snapshots of History. Now, sadly, the latter two are no longer publishing. And none of them was in Canada. So it was partly out of self-interest; I wanted to read more historical fiction, especially stories to do with the Canadian past. And once I landed on the name, I couldn’t not do it.

M.A.: What would you like to tell those who love historical fiction and readers of Copperfieldabout Circa? How can they submit their historical fiction? How do you decide which pieces you’ll publish?

J.F.: To me, history is never bland. It’s lively, preposterous, funny, sad, bizarre, everything. I want Circa to reflect all of that.

With each issue, I feel Circa is getting stronger and more diverse. Pieces have to be well-written, obviously. The writer has to have done her work, researching, drafting, editing. I try to choose pieces from as many different periods as possible. This can be tricky because I receive a lot of submissions set during either the American Civil War or World War Two. And many submissions are not stories, but vignettes, a day in the life, which can be well done, but often read more like a history lesson. I want to be interested in the characters, I want to see them challenged and changed over the course of the story. And I love to be surprised.

Writers interested in submitting should check out Circa’s Submission page for instructions on how to submit.

M.A.: Which are your favorite historical novels? That’s often a tough call, I know.

J.F.: Oh, too many to list! But I’ll have a go. These are the books I read over and over. Orlandoby Virginia Woolf; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning; Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne; anything by Hilary Mantel, of course, but especially her book The Giant, O’Brien, which will break your heart, it’s written so beautifully; The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. And I’m a sucker for whodunits set in Ancient Rome, especially the Falco series by Lindsay Davis and the Ruso series by Ruth Downie.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

J.F.: Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, George Eliot, Fay Weldon, especially her Letters to Alice On First Reading Jane Austen – a must-read for any aspiring novelist and any Jane Austen fans, Jeanette Winterson, Elizabeth Gaskell. And probably a dozen others.

Hmm, I just noticed how many women are in my list.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

J.F.: Read, read, read. Read in, around, and over the period in which your story is set. Then pick out the one or two details that make the period unique and bring it to life. The reader doesn’t want a history lesson.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

J.F.: The next issue of Circa was released on October 15 and it’s bursting with great stories!

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C.W. Gortner

C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding. Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats. For more information please visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also connect with him on FacebookTwitterGoodreadsPinterest, and YouTube.

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Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

C. W. Gortner: I began writing as a child in southern Spain. My mom remembers that even as a young boy, I was obsessed with books and made up my own stories. It’s a passion inside me; I don’t know where it comes from. I’m a voracious reader and I love to learn; most of what I know, I taught myself through reading. I didn’t dream of being a writer, however, until I was in my late twenties. I wanted to work in fashion and had various jobs in the fashion business for years. I wrote in my spare time, but it was a hobby, a way to express myself. I did not start writing historical fiction; I loved fantasy and actually worked for years on an epic fantasy novel for several years, which I still have. Looking at it now, I realized it’s heavily influenced by history, which I’ve always loved. Then one day, I decided to write an historical novel because I thought it would be fun to try my hand at it. My father read my first manuscript – all 800 pages on Anne Boleyn!—and suggested I try to publish it. I had no idea how to do that, but I studied everything I could about publishing and began sending query letters to agents. That’s how my career as a writer started. Had my father not said he thought my writing was good enough, I might never have tried.

M.A.: I am, I admit, only lately come to the fascination with the Tudor period of history. What prompted your interest in this time period? And why do you think the Tudor period is such an object of fascination among so many?

C.W.G.: I grew up when the BBC series “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” and “Elizabeth R” were being aired; I was still quite young but I was utterly fascinated. The Renaissance era is one of my favorites. When I lived in southern Spain, history was all around me. A ruined castle that had belonged to Isabella of Castile was just a short walk from my house; I also attended both Spanish and English-language schools, and history was by far my favorite subject. I always wanted to know more about the people: how they felt, how their world looked, what challenges they faced. History is often taught to be boring, a recital of uninteresting facts, but I had a particular history teacher who saw how much I loved it. She gave me history books and historical novels. When I read my first historical novel, Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy, it was like a door opened wide. Suddenly, I saw how history can come alive, how emotions can clothe the skeletons of the past in flesh and blood. After that, I read every historical novel I could, as well as history books. History can teach us so much about our present; without knowing where we came from, how can we decide we are headed? To me, history is like a guide to the past and the future. I think the Tudors’ brief reign offers a microcosm for history lovers: there is so much upheaval, passion, intrigue, and drama; the larger-than-life personalities and their oft-tragic fates—we must see something of ourselves in the Tudors, for their fascination on our collective imagination is enduring.

M.A.: How would you describe your novels to potential readers?

C.W.G.: Depends on the novel. My stand-alone novels about famous women, such as Isabella of Castile in The Queen’s Vow or Catherine in The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, are reinterpretations of these maligned characters. I wanted to rip aside the legend and lurid myth, delve into the emotional and physical circumstances they confronted in life. Each of these women made controversial decisions that blackened their reputes: I wanted to explore why. My stand-alone historical novels are in-depth character pieces that seek to not necessarily restore these women to their rightful place in history, but rather illuminate the obstacles and challenges they faced as female rulers in a male-dominated world.

02_The_Tudor_Vendetta-1For the Spymaster novels, of which The Tudor Vendetta is the third and last, I returned to my lifelong love for the Tudors. But as the era has been quite well covered in fiction, I took a different approach. Instead of depicting the lives of the famous, I devised a fictional plotline about a squire, Brendan Prescott, whose secret past leads him to become the intimate spy of Elizabeth Tudor. I also set the novels within crevices of Tudor history, during isolated events that had significant impact at the time, but are often not widely covered. In The Tudor Secret, it’s the plot to seize the throne as Edward VI lies dying; in The Tudor Conspiracy, it’s the Wyatt Revolt and Mary Tudor’s quest to wed Philip of Spain; and in this new one, it’s the first few months of Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, when she faces great uncertainty, and the sudden disappearance of her trusted lady in waiting challenges everything her spy believes in.

M.A.: There are so many novels about the Tudor period. What makes your novels different from others about that era?

C.W.G.: My novels are adventures with a mystery at their heart, presenting fictional characters interacting with historical personages. I also take a different approach to Elizabeth’s hotly-debated relationship with Robert Dudley. We like to see them as besotted lovers who can never be together, and to some extent, that is true. But Dudley was a lifelong, ambitious courtier with a mean streak; he’s not a knight in shining armor, and he made Elizabeth’s life difficult on occasion, despite her adoration. Dudley is Brendan’s antagonist; they were raised together and detest each other. I see Robert Dudley as that proverbial bad boy on the motorcycle whom our mothers warned us about: he’ll bring chaos, but we can’t resist him. He’s magnetic, dark and handsome; the serpent in the garden. I loved turning his liaison with Elizabeth on its head, exploring it from a different angle. She loved him, no doubt, but she knew he could never be her husband. A Dudley as king-consort would have been inconceivable, after the treason his family had indulged. And that enraged him. It took Dudley many years to finally realize he would never wed Elizabeth. As she herself once famously declared, “There will be but one mistress here—and no master.” But she was also vulnerable to him. Brendan’s job is not only to protect her from outside forces, but also the threat that Dudley poses.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

C.W.G.: Very long and arduous. It took thirteen years to get my first offer. I wrote four manuscripts – three of which are now published—and had five agents before I met my champion, Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency—who finally sold my first two books at auction. One of the struggles every writer faces is rejection; it requires perseverance to not let it defeat you. Being rejected is part of the journey, but it can be so disheartening. I had to keep reminding myself that I write because it’s how I interpret life; it didn’t matter if I ever saw one of my books published because writing was my passion. Of course, I did want to be published, and once I started pursuing it, it was impossible not to continue. But I’ve met writers who stopped because they couldn’t handle the rejection. I kept the nearly 300 rejections I received years ago; it reminds me that I accomplished something because I never gave up. But it’s easy to say that now; at the time, I did despair. I ended up self-publishing my first Tudor book, in fact, before the e-revolution. It was marvelous to finally see a book of mine in print, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t a true accomplishment because an editor in New York hadn’t seen my worth and given me an advance. The system for publishing has changed dramatically since then, of course, but I needed the validation from the industry. I suspect some writers feel the same.

M.A.: What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

C.W.G.: The joys for me are the research and the escape. When I write, I travel to another world and forget the realities of the one I live in. Research engrosses me; I can spend hours searching for the right saddle for a character’s horse. For me, writing is much like acting; we must strip away the essence of who we are in order to inhabit our characters, only as writers, we are invisible, so we can become whomever we want. Human emotion is universal; we all feel it. How we express our emotions depends on who we are and our society, era, and culture. However, I do find it challenging at times to write as a 16th century person because so much of what they believed is not me. I have to focus on not being myself to authentically write my characters and understand how they interact with their world, who they are, what they experience and feel. But it’s what keeps me going: challenge is very important to me in my work. I don’t ever want to get stuck in a rut, where I write the same novel over and over. Every book must be a love affair: I have to be so passionate about it, it’s like I’m falling in love again for the first time.

M.A.: What is the research process like for you?

C.W.G.: Demanding but exhilarating. I have a three-fold approach. The first part involves months of reading: biographies and books about the era, how people lived, dressed; transportation, architecture, medicine—everything I need to know to make the setting feel real. A significant amount of what I learn never makes it into the published book, but it’s important to discover as much as I can when I first start. I also draft emotional and psychological profiles of my characters, as people who lived hundreds of years ago experienced the world very differently. Research helps me understand their circumstances, so I can make them relatable to my modern reader. The second part of my research involves documents from the era, such as letters, ambassadorial dispatches, and accounts written by those who saw or recorded the events. This part is very time-consuming because the further back in time, the less likely these types of documents exist or are accessible; I have to write to university archives, museums, and historical centers to get copies, if available, or make appointments to see them. The third part, and most fun for me, is traveling to the places I write about, to see the locales where my characters lived.

M.A.: I just returned from a trip from London for research for a novel I’m writing, and I know it’s fun to travel to where you’re writing about if you’re able. Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your research?

C.W.G.: It’s essential for me. Much has changed; modern landscapes are not the same as they were in the past. Castles fall apart or are extensively renovated; parking lots pave over battle grounds, and malls sit on sites where historic murders occurred, but visiting the actual places where my books take place helps me visualize the settings. The colors of a garden, the echoes in a hall or texture of a painting: these details bring a novel to life in ways that pictures on the internet can’t. I must experience the locations in order to get a sense of the personality I’ll inhabit during the year-long process of writing. It’s part of how I become my character and live their life.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

C.W.G.: Every author who perseveres inspires me, because as I’ve mentioned, it’s tough to keep writing and make a living at it. I’m very inspired by close writer friends, because I know that despite the outward appearance of fame and fortune (and far less of the latter than the former, in most cases) we all also deal with personal issues, like everyone else, as well as the industry itself, which can be quite challenging. Getting published is step one; staying published is step two, and that requires many hours of hard work, with a myriad disappointments along the way. To us, every book is a special child: we nurture it, guide it, labor to deliver it, but then we hand it over to the house. To them, it’s one in a season of titles, but to us, it’s ours and we want it to succeed. Adjusting expectations is vital for our sanity, yet not easy at all to manage.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

C.W.G.: Write what obsesses you. Research can teach us what we need to know, but without passion for our subject—true passion—it becomes a chore. Also, while the genre has enjoyed a surge in popularity, it remains one of the lesser bestselling ones in the overall scheme of publishing. Publishers want subjects that are easily identifiable, set in eras which readers recognize, and that can be problematic when so many characters and eras are already covered. So, it’s important to understand the limitations of the marketplace, unfortunate as this may be.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

C.W.G.: Just to thank you for spending this time with me. I hope you enjoy The Tudor Vendetta. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at www.cwgortner.com.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Aline Soules

By Carol Smallwood

Aline Soules is the author of numerous poems and prose works. Her most recent publication, Meditation on Woman, is a mix of prose poetry and flash fiction. A small selection of pieces appeared in the Kenyon Review under the book’s working title Woman Acts. Her chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, will be published by ADC Press in 2014. Aline earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles in 2003. She also holds master’s degrees in English and library science. She is widowed with a grown son and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Carol Smallwood invited Aline to talk about her passion for writing about women and mothers; how form enhances her themes; and the influence of other writers, the Internet, and writing classes.

Carol Smallwood: Your work focuses on the roles of women and mothers. Why are those themes so central to your writing?

Aline Soules: Women’s roles became a passion when I was a university student in the mid to late 1960s. I learned how vital it was for women to expand their rights and opportunities. I value career, marriage, children, and the independence that has become possible for women over the decades. I worked, cherished my family, and spent years in “the sandwich generation,” caring for both parents and child. Looking back, I note the recurring presence and importance of all women in my work—daughters, mothers, workers, women living daily lives and coming into their own—perhaps because I have experienced those roles.

C.S.: Can you describe how those themes appear in your work and give us examples?

A.S.: In The Size of the World, the title piece dealt with how my mother’s world shrank as she neared the end of her life. In my most recent publication, Meditation on Woman, I created an “über-woman,” who embodied all these elements. In my forthcoming chapbook, Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, I explore a condition that so many women will experience and include my relationship with my son and how that relationship affected decisions at the time. Some of these poems appeared in literary journals such as the Houston Literary Review and Straight Forward, but my chapbook draws them together into a thematic whole.

Motherhood is a key element in all my poems, whether I am writing about my grandmother, my mother, or me. In “Links,” my child is a nursing baby, but in “Jogging,” he is grown and leaving home. I think every mother experiences that full spectrum and all the experiences in between. The universality of motherhood is inescapable. Even when I write surreal work, such as some of the pieces in Meditation on Woman, motherhood creeps in. In “Golden Handcuff,” a woman becomes a man, but the biological imperative is still there and s/he adopts. Being maternal is inescapable, both a passion and an experience.

C.S.: How does form contribute to the expression of your ideas?

A.S.: I have definitely experimented with form to explore my themes. My earlier poetry was more traditional poetry with line breaks and stanzas, and my prose was primarily in the form of short stories. In Meditation on Woman, I mixed prose poetry and flash fiction to create über-woman because I wanted to focus on the confluence of as many factors as I could, even the confluence of forms. I love intersections—where poetry meets prose, where fiction meets nonfiction—anything that blends genres. In Evening Sun: A Widow’s Journey, I sought a reflective, calm environment where the reader can follow a widow’s journey, and I returned to more traditional poetic forms to achieve that.

Now, I’m working on a novel. It’s early yet, but I am exploring story and character first and will develop description and other elements later. It’s part of a “novel in a year” process guided by Ellen Sussman, author of The Paradise Guest House and other novels.

C.S.: What writers have influenced you the most?

A.S.: So many writers, so little time! Among poets, I would choose lyric poets in particular, e.g., Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver, but also Stephen Dunn, Seamus Heaney, and many others. In prose, my influences range from Isaac Babel to P.G. Wodehouse. I name these two to illustrate both the wide range of my influences and the eclectic nature of my reading. Babel is fabulous for description—never a wasted word. His description isn’t just description; it contributes to the story. Wodehouse is an amazing plot master.  Every author gives you something.

I do not choose authors by gender. I deeply admire Doris Lessing’s work, just as I admire the discipline of a writer like Anthony Trollope who rose and wrote every morning before going to his job at the post office. Of course, he was not disciplined while at the post office, being late and insubordinate and disliking the work, but he was certainly disciplined as a writer.

C.S.: Can you share with us your experience with writing classes? Which ones have helped you the most?

A.S.: I have taken writing classes all my life and every one of them has given me something. When I lived in Michigan, I drove to Iowa City every summer for a week and a weekend of classes at the Iowa Writers Summer Festival. Jane Mead and Gordon Mennenga come to mind, particularly Gordon, who showed me so much, including how to conduct a writing workshop and not get hung up on one piece. He kept critiques moving and we covered much more work that way.

In 2000, I began my MFA on a low residency basis at Antioch University Los Angeles. It was fabulous from the design of the program and generosity of its founder and director, Eloise Klein Healy, to my mentors, such as Jim Krusoe and Frank Gaspar.

I once enjoyed a week-long workshop with Mark Doty—amazing. He both guided our work and created a safe and artistic space to foster exploration.

Now, I’m part of the “novel in a year” process guided by Ellen Sussman. It’s been a steep learning curve and I’m far from where I want to be, but the twelve of us met half a dozen times through 2013 and became a community. It’s very interesting to work with such diverse writers. All may be writing the first draft of a novel, but the works are very different. There’s historical fiction, young adult, women’s fiction, literary fiction, and memoir. Conversations draw from all these perspectives and we inform each other’s work in ways that wouldn’t happen if we were all writing in the same genre.

C.S.: How has the Internet influenced you as a writer and how do you use it to help promote your work?

A.S.: The Internet connects me to the world. I have “met” so many authors I would never have known, read so much work that would have passed by unnoticed, and entered a wider writing world.  While there are new challenges for writers—more competition, a more cut-throat business approach, a greater need for self-promotion—there are also new opportunities.

My website combines website and blog and I try to post every couple of weeks. I work full time at California State University, East Bay, as a library faculty member and a teacher, and there are times when I fall behind. I also get busy with editing work on the side and that can derail my posting plans as well, but any post I provide must offer content or perspective. I’m not interested in simply promoting my work. Although I have been published by small presses (most recently by Anaphora Literary Press) and marketing is now every writer’s responsibility, I want to offer something of meaning that stems from my love of the English language and my desire to convey ideas, emotions, or thoughts clearly and effectively.

C.S.: What advice would you give to other writers?

A.S.: Keep writing; keep sharing; keep reading; keep taking classes; keep going to conferences; network, network, network; write, write, write. Never give up. Enjoy the process; otherwise, you’re not in love with writing, you’re in love with “having written” and seeing your name in print. Even if some of your work is never published, if you’ve enjoyed the process, then you’re a winner and a success. And that is what I wish for every writer—success.

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Carol Smallwood’s over four dozen books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers. Carol has founded and supports humane societies.

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Barbara Taylor Bradford

Cavendon HallAs the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review, I’ve been able to interview such literary legends as John Jakes and Jean M. Auel. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview another literary legend, Barbara Taylor Bradford.

Barbara Taylor Bradford has written the notable New York Times Best Sellers A Woman of SubstanceThe Ravenscar Dynasty, and The Women in His Life, among many others. Her newest novel is Cavendon Hall, now available from Amazon and other book retailers.

Meredith Allard: I admit, when I read the synopsis of your newest novel, Cavendon Hall, I jumped at the chance to read it because it reminded me of Downton Abbey, which is one of my all time favorite shows. Was Downton an inspiration for Cavendon Hall? Were there other inspirations for Cavendon Hall as well?

Barbara Taylor Bradford: No, Downton Abbey was not my inspiration for Cavendon Hall. In fact, the outline for this book and the sequel I’m now writing (The Cavendon Women), was created six years ago. I did not present it to my publisher at that time because they were looking for books set in the present from me. I wrote Cavendon Hall in 2013.

FYI, I have been writing family sagas since A Woman of Substance, including six sequels toAWOS, making it a seven book series, set at Pennistone Royal (the stately home in Yorkshire), and at Harte’s Emma’s department store in London.  A Woman of Substance was a six-hour mini-series for television, and was followed by two more series, Hold the Dream, and To Be the Best, made from my books. Stars in these shows were Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Mills, Liam Neeson, James Brolin, Nigel Havers, Deborah Kerr, Jenny Seagrove, Lindsey Wagner, Victoria Tennant, Fiona Fullerton, and many renowned actors.

Altogether, ten of my books have been made for television, nine by my husband, Robert Bradford, who is a movie and television producer, as well as the manager of my career.

I wrote another family saga, The Ravenscar Dynasty, about the Deravenel family, also set in Yorkshire, London and other parts of the world. The UK newspapers say I re-invented the family saga for this generation, and created the first department store dramas with the Emma Harte series, long before all those recent television shows. They call me the “undisputed queen of the family saga” in the UK newspapers and magazines.

The idea for Cavendon Hall and The Cavendon Women came to me when I was thinking about the long friendships I personally have had with my women friends, some over thirty years. I was suddenly taken with the idea of writing about two girls who grow up together and remain lifelong friends. . .Cecily Swann and Delacy Ingham, and I took it from there. It begins in 1913.

M.A.: Tell us about Cavendon Hall. How would you describe it to potential readers? How is it similar/different from what readers have come to love about your novels?

B.T.B.: Cavendon Hall is a family saga about two families, the aristocratic Inghams, and the Swanns, their retainers, who have stood by the family for 160 years. It is not actually an upstairs-downstairs novel, but an upstairs-in-the-middle novel, with the downstairs servants taking a smaller role in the story. As the First World War looms, a devastating event threatens the Inghams, one of which could bring the family down. Certainly it changes the future for them all. It is a blend of history and drama, romance, betrayal and loss. It ends in 1920. The sequel, The Cavendon Women, starts in 1926, and picks up the previous story of the Inghams and the Swanns.

M.A.: Do you enjoy writing historical fiction? What are the particular joys/challenges of writing historical fiction?

B.T.B.: I love writing fiction. It is a great challenge, but also it’s like starting out on an adventure, especially historical fiction. Going back into the past is intriguing and full of possibilities.

M.A.: For me, researching historical fiction is always the most challenging part of writing historical fiction. What is your research process? Do you travel for research? How do you incorporate the facts of the era with your fictional story?

B.T.B.: I do most of my own research because I know exactly what I’m looking for. In this instance, I already knew a lot about the Edwardian era, partially because I researched it for The Ravenscar Dynasty series, and also because being English I am well-versed in the history of England. In fact, it was always my favorite subject at school. When I am researching I prefer to use books by well-known historians, which I trust the most. I sometimes go back to places in England, which I need to refresh myself about. For instance, I went back to Ravenscar in Yorkshire, before I started that entire series. I wanted to get a sense of that place. I hadn’t visited it since I was a teenager. I weave in the true facts of history, and very carefully, because I don’t want the research to jump out at the reader. It is always subtle but correct, and therefore, adds authenticity to the drama unfolding. Research shouldn’t be obvious.

M.A.: You’ve written some of the most beloved novels of all time. I certainly count A Woman of Substance as among my favorite novels. When did you begin writing, and what were your earliest inspirations? Why did you decide to start writing novels?

B.T.B.: I started writing when I was seven years old. My mother had taught me to read at four, and I was addicted to reading. Then I started to tell my own stories in school exercise books. When I was ten my mother sent a story of mine to a children’s magazine. They not only accepted it but paid me ten-shillings-and-sixpence for it. The day I saw my byline my destiny was sealed. I was going to be a writer. Actually I became a journalist. I started on the Yorkshire Evening Post as a reporter, became women’s page editor, and then went on to work in London on various newspapers and magazines. I consider myself to be journalist today and still write for British newspapers and magazines on a regular basis. However, I had always wanted to be a novelist, and I started but did not finish four novels before I had the idea for A Woman of Substance.

M.A.: Your first novel, A Woman of Substance, became a best seller, which is incredible. What was your journey to publication like?

B.T.B.: Having discarded four ideas for novels, at around 100 pages, I asked myself a lot of questions one day: What sort of book did I want to write, where did I want to set and what year would the story start. I came up with these answers: A traditional family saga, set at the turn of the 20th century, and in England, or rather, Yorkshire. I wanted to tell a story about an ordinary woman who becomes a tycoon, a great success…a woman of substance. This thought became the title. I wrote an outline, showed it to a friend in England who was an agent. He told an editor at Doubleday about my outline and gave her my phone number. After reading it overnight, she told me it was the best outline she had ever read, and that it if I wrote it I would have a big bestseller. She was correct. To date the book has sold 35 million copies worldwide, and is now a huge success as an e-book for the first time, published by Rosetta Books.

M.A.: How have you seen the publishing industry change since A Woman of Substance was published?

B.T.B.: Publishing has changed throughout the world. The changes have come about because of the internet and digital publishing. But I always welcome change and my books sell very well as e-books. I have noticed there are “trends” that last for a while, such as the Dracula books, and other. But trends do seem to come and go. One trend that has lasted is the crime novel. It goes on forever.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

B.T.B.: I was always influenced by the classics, which I grew up with. My favorite writers have always been Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, in particular; Thomas Hardy, and Colette, the French writer. I also have drawn inspiration from their work, and learned a lot about life and writing about life’s experiences.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write and publish fiction?

B.T.B.: My advice to those who want to write is to actually sit down and do it. However, I think they come to that chair well prepared. I always think out a story to the very end, and I believe that is the only way to go. Once I have thought out the characters and the plot, I write an outline for myself. It’s my blueprint. Once I’m satisfied I have covered everything, I start telling the story. I always do it very systematically, from page one until the end. I don’t jump around, writing bits and pieces and then fitting them. I divide my books into different parts: Part One, Part Two, and so on. I have always done this, and I find it helped me to organize the characters and their lives.

M.A.: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

B.T.B.: I plan to keep on writing for the rest of my life.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Ruth Hull Chatlien

The Ambitious Madame BonaparteRuth Hull Chatlien is the author of the historical novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. Here’s her take on writing historical fiction.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Ruth Hull Chatlien: I started my first novel when I was ten years old—so long ago that I don’t remember why I did it beyond a love of stories. That first novel was historical fiction about forbidden romance and patriotic spies during the American Revolution. I finally finished the 120-page manuscript when I was in high school. In college, I majored in literature, and influenced by that experience, I spent the next 30 years writing literary fiction. I managed to get a few poems and short stories published. Finally, a few years ago, I decided to go back to my first love: historical fiction.

M.A.: What inspired you to write The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte?

R.H.C.: My husband and I were great fans of the Horatio Hornblower television series in the late 1990s. Then in the 2000s, we discovered an additional four episodes that we had never seen because they were produced much later. The last of those featured Jerome and Betsy Bonaparte. Despite my familiarity with world history, I didn’t know that Napoleon’s brother had married an American. When I looked up the facts on the Internet, I discovered that Betsy’s real life was far more interesting than the snippet shown (and distorted) in the television show.

M.A.: Tell us about The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. How would you describe it to potential readers?

R.H.C.: The book combines romance, action adventure, and a tale of family dysfunction. Betsy Bonaparte was a heroine as beautiful and headstrong as Scarlett O’Hara, but unlike Scarlett, she was a real woman. She led a tumultuous life because of her belief that a woman had as much right to exercise her talents as any man.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like? What can you tell us about the joys and the challenges of being an author?

R.H.C.: Originally, I sought traditional publication for the novel. I spent about six months shopping it around to agents without success. The original version of the book had two problems; it was longer than what publishers wanted to see from a first-time author, and because I had tried to keep it short, it wasn’t descriptive enough. Then in February 2013, through a mutual friend I met the man who had founded Amika Press in Chicago. He was excited about the concept of my book, so after taking some time to consider whether I was ready to give up on New York publication, I submitted the manuscript. The publisher and editor at Amika both read it, liked it, and agreed to take it on. My editor was fantastic and really helped me make it the book I dreamed it would be. To my surprise, he wanted me to make it even longer by adding the descriptive details I had left out. We went through one major revision and one copy edit, and then the novel came out in December 2013.

M.A.: For me, researching historical fiction is always the most challenging part. What is your research process? Do you travel for research? How do you incorporate the facts of the era with your fictional story?

R.H.C.: I researched the novel by reading several biographies of Betsy as well as books about Jerome, Napoleon, Dolley Madison, the War of 1812, Baltimore architecture, period clothing, and an early excursion to Niagara Falls. I also took a research trip to Baltimore to visit historic homes, Fort McHenry, a 19th century warship, and the Maryland Historical Society.

Even after gathering all those facts, I still had to deal with areas where details have been lost to the historical record. One of my favorite analogies for writing historical fiction is “hanging the swags.” I think of the known factual events as brackets extending at irregular intervals along a wall. As a novelist, I had to make up scenes and bits of dialogue to connect those known events—like draping material to connect the brackets.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

R.H.C.: I owe a tremendous debt to Graham Greene for showing me that it’s ok to write about deeply flawed characters. I very much admire historical novelists such as Tracy Chevalier, Hilary Mantel, and Sarah Dunant for the way they have made the past come alive in their work.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write and publish historical fiction?

R.H.C.: Tell a good story, but don’t neglect the history. I recently read a historical novel set in the same period as mine and dealing with some of the same people. The plot was fast-paced, and the characterization of the heroine was well conceived, but the book was riddled with anachronisms and inaccuracies. I had a very hard time remaining in the world of the book because the mistakes kept jarring me out of the story.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

R.H.C.: I love hearing from readers. People can contact me at the following sites:

Blog 

Facebook 

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Lynn Cullen

Mrs. PoeBy Meredith Allard

Lynn Cullen is the author of the new historical novel about Edgar Allan Poe, Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S).

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing? Did you always write historical fiction?

Lynn Cullen: When you’re the sixth of seven kids like I was, you need a niche in which to shine. The title of Smartest, Wittiest, Prettiest, Most Athletic, and Funniest had already been taken so I needed to find another handle. Not long after I had learned to spell, I wrote my first story, a tale of a bear that ate so much honey that he had to roll home in a barrel. The acclaim (mostly self-) from that made me realize who I could be: The Writer. I’ve been happy in the role ever since then.

Gluttonous bear story aside, I have favored historical fiction from the start. My first published novel, for adolescents, was about a girl who found the ghost of a Civil War bugle boy in her backyard. At the time, historical fiction for kids was out of style, so I snuck in my beloved historical content by having my heroine go back in time with the ghost. In a weird twist, the year after The Backyard Ghost (Clarion Books) came out, I actually found cannonballs from the Civil War in our backyard. My story, in a sense, came true. I have since become a believer in the power of coincidences, a philosophy that I worked into Mrs. Poe.

M.A.: What inspired you to write Mrs. Poe?

L.C.: In a word: desperation. Two years ago, a year after my husband had lost his job like so many others had during the Great Recession, my then-publisher turned down the manuscript I’d been working on for a year and a half. They wanted something with a more “feisty” heroine. Feisty heroines, it seems, sold in a market that was very shaky, as was about every kind of market around the world back then. The week I got this devastating news, my husband fell ill with a life-threatening case meningitis (or encephalitis—they never figured out which). When I brought him home from the hospital, I didn’t know how we were going to survive. He had sustained a debilitating brain injury from his illness and I had no book prospect. So there I was, pacing in my office, half delirious from fear and exhaustion, thinking, “Feisty heroine, feisty heroine.” Suddenly into my dazed mind came the word Poe. 

Not having read Poe’s work since high school, I raced to my computer to look him up. I saw that he was an orphan, very poor, and a lonely lost soul:  just my kind of guy to write about. But I wanted to write a novel from a woman’s point of view—and a feisty one, evidently, at that—so I kept looking. Poe’s wife, Virginia, was thirteen when he married her and didn’t seem so very feisty. Then I read about his alleged affair with poet Frances Osgood just after he’d written “The Raven.” I found that Frances had been abandoned by her portrait-painter husband and was trying to support her children with writing. So here was this desperate woman trying to survive by her writing. Oh, I could so relate. And she was plenty feisty, too. As my husband healed, I set about telling the story of Frances and Edgar from her point of view. If Frances’s desperation seems real to you, it’s because her creator was living it. But I’m grateful to have gotten a genuinely emotional book out of that traumatic time, and, happily, my husband has completely recovered.

M.A.: I learned a lot about Edgar Allan Poe from reading your novel. Mainly, what I learned is that a lot of what we think we know about Poe isn’t necessarily true. I had always thought of him as an opium-infused alcoholic who wrote these brilliant pieces and died in poverty and obscurity. What did you learn about Poe from your research for Mrs. Poe, and what surprised you the most?

L.C.: It came as a shock to me that Poe’s image as a drunken madman comes to us courtesy of his rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. They were enemies after Poe had criticized Griswold’s poetry collections and had taken some of Griswold’s literary criticism gigs. Griswold hadn’t been able to harm Poe’s reputation while Poe was alive—everyone knew that Griswold was a hothead and a bully. But once Poe died, Griswold got his revenge. In the most bizarre twist of fate in literary history, Poe’s aunt made Griswold Poe’s literary executor, even after Griswold had written a widely-published malicious obituary about Poe. Once he got his hands on Poe’s papers, he proceeded to doctor them as he saw fit. With Poe’s tampered letters in hand, he began to spread lies about Poe’s behavior and wrote a biography full of inventive slander. This biography stood alone for the next 25 years; subsequent biographers repeated all the falsehoods in it. Our image of Poe as an addicted psychopath, therefore, is the direct result of Griswold’s smear campaign. It doesn’t help Poe’s cause that his stories were so dark, but in real life, he was a very hard worker with little time or money to feed an addiction. The truth is, he wrote his scary stories because they sold. Like so many writers trying to support themselves by their writing in any era, the man was desperate for cash.

Another surprise was that in 1845, the year of “The Raven” and of Mrs. Poe, Poe was considered to be quite appealing and attractive. Reports from those days called him “elegant” and “handsome.” As one man said, “He had gentleman written all over him.”  Poe was not the morose and sketchy-looking specimen of the daguerreotypes which with we’re most familiar. Those photos were taken a few months before he died, when he was not well—not a good time for one’s close-up. Yet these photographs stand since they fit Griswold’s creepy image of the man. A more appropriate portrait has been done by Frances Osgood’s husband, who even though well aware of his wife’s close relationship with Poe, painted this winsome portrait of his wife’s alleged lover.

M.A.: I write historical fiction myself, and my main characters are always fictional while I keep the real-life people as secondary characters. What are the particular challenges of writing an historical novel where your main characters are real people, and not only real people but famous authors? After all, Edgar Allan Poe is a legend in American literature.

L.C.: The challenge of writing about Poe was different than it would be if I’d written about someone who had been at least somewhat fairly assessed throughout history. My challenge—and delight—was to bring to light the man who I think is the real Poe. Even though my Poe is a fictitious character in a novel, he has to be more accurately drawn than the fictitious product of Griswold’s lies. Yet I will be the first to admit that I’m a novelist, not a biographer. My Poe is my own interpretation of the man after I’d done my research. I shaped his character around my story. I saw him as being much like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights—an orphan whose unkind treatment in the hands of his foster family instilled in him debilitating self-loathing. Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff in the BBC Films version of Wuthering Heights provided a handy visual reference—sexy, brooding, and vulnerable beneath cool silence.

M.A.: Mrs. Poe definitely kept me turing pages because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next for Poe. How would you describe Mrs. Poe to potential readers?

L.C.: It’s an interesting challenge to reduce to one sentence a story that is the result of two years of intense work, but here goes: Mrs. Poe traces Poe’s rise to prominence with “The Raven,” to his utter ruin within the space of one year, through the eyes of his alleged lover, poet Frances Osgood.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

L.C.: I started out by trying to write children’s books when my daughters were young. My three girls had been born within a four year span, so while they were growing up, the most I could manage was shorter fiction, especially since I always had to work at least part-time to contribute to the family finances. Later, I trained as a teacher but as soon as I was certified, gave myself a year to get published or throw my lot entirely with teaching. I had no idea how naïve a goal that was but miraculously, I made it. Twelve children’s books were a result of that hectic period.

Once my kids were older and I’d seen my father through his final illness, I was able to devote the longer hours necessary for writing historical fiction.  My young adult novel, I am Rembrandt’s Daughter (Bloomsbury), served as a bridge from children’s books, and then after publishing two more adult books about misunderstood figures in history, Reign of Madness and The Creation of Eve (both Putnam), I arrived at Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S). It has been an interesting trip, the best part of it being the people I’ve met along the way.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

L.C.: Penelope Lively is my go-to author when I’m stuck in my writing and simply to refresh my brain. I must have read her Heat Wave a dozen times. She also inspires me because she went from writing children’s books—all fabulous—to winning the Booker Prize. I am also inspired by Stephanie Cowell. Her Marrying Mozart is astonishing in its exuberance and veracity. As a historical novelist, I really respect what she achieved in that book.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

L.C.: Don’t let all your hard-won research blind you to your main goal: telling a believable story that sheds some light on the human condition. And have fun. Although historical fiction might be the most difficult genre to write, it’s also the most fascinating. Enjoy the people you meet on your trip back into time!

M.A.: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

L.C.: When a door closes, a window opens.  Really—I thought my career was over during those dark days of 2011. Yet from that trauma, the book of my dreams was born. I was given the chance of a lifetime. I am so thankful.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Justin Hoffman, Editor

By Carol Smallwood

Justin Hoffman is the editor of  FreightTrain Magazine.

Carol Smallwood: Please describe your work with FreightTrain Magazine.

Justin Hoffman: My work at FreightTrain Magazine consists of everything that needs to be done, from reading submissions to editing, from the web programming to story posting. It’s a small operation that I do in my spare time right now. The project is done out of love for reading and writing. It’s one way I can do something more for the author community.

C.S.: Tell us how FreightTrain Magazine came about.

J.H.: FreightTrain Magazine was something I wanted to do for a long time, so I took a small press publishing course in college. As you can imagine the point was to create a small press. I choose to create the fiction magazine I had been dreaming about for years. Ever since I have rarely been able to stop working on it.

C.S.: What writers have influenced you the most?

J.H.: Here’s a really short list: Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, George Orwell; I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. The two that probably influenced me the most are Stephen King because he made me believe I could write, and F. Scott Fitzgerald because he’s the one I wish I could write like.

C.S.: What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

J.H.: Punctuation. I see a lot of novice author’s work. They mostly stick to commas and periods, which is a shame. Often a story can be improved with slight changes to the sentence structure, and all it needs are some colons or semicolons. The biggest problem is the comma. Writers tend to either overdo the comma or never use it, and most times, they flip back and forth in style during a story. Usually reading a story out loud will alert the author to the placement of commas. Tense consistency is another common issue. If the story is in past tense, don’t use present and so on. Those are technically mistakes; if I had to come up with a plot problem it would be: your story probably shouldn’t end with the main character dying. That’s the easy way out; a mistake I find myself making on too many short story first drafts. There’s usually a stronger ending.

C.S.: What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

J.H.: I went to college for fiction writing, so I would have to say just about all of them. The key really isn’t what you write or who reads it that will help you the most. It’s simply writing constantly and consistently. The classes also helped in another way: by forcing me to read varied and new-to-me authors. It’s important because you might learn a new way to tackle a problem or find a style you might like to incorporate into your own.

C.S.: What advice would you give other writers?

J.H.: Don’t stop. Writing like anything else, takes a lot of practice. You need to read a lot to learn how to write, and to write a lot to learn how not to write, and to listen to a lot to learn from your mistakes.

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Carol Smallwood’s books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, foreword by Molly Peacock (McFarland, 2012) on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011). Carol supports humane societies.

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M. Louisa Locke

By Meredith Allard

M. Louisa Locke is the author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series and a trusted authority on independent publishing. The first book in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is Maids of Misfortune, and the sequel is Uneasy Spiritsboth bestsellers in the historical mystery category on Kindle. Maids of Misfortune is a 2012 B.R.A.G. MedallionTM Honoree.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

M. Louisa Locke: I knew I wanted to write historical fiction by the time I reached high school. Books had played an enormously important role in my life growing up, and historical fiction was already my favorite. When I attended college in the late 1960s, however, I realized that if I had to have a day job (I assumed that writing wouldn’t support me) I would rather be a professional historian than a professor of English literature. I went ahead and got a doctorate in history, but while doing the research for my dissertation, I found myself daydreaming about writing a series of mysteries that would feature the different jobs women held in the late Victorian era.

In 1989, between teaching jobs, I decided to give writing a chance as a means of support, and I wrote the first draft of what was to become Maids of Misfortune. Annie Fuller, my protagonist, makes money by running a boarding house (a common occupation for widows like Annie), but she also supplements her income giving business advice as a pretend clairvoyant (again, a frequently held female occupation at the time.) In this first book, Annie also goes undercover to work as a domestic servant, the most prevalent job for women in the nineteenth century.

Soon after I completed this first draft, I not only received a series of rejections from publishers but I also got a full-time job as a history professor at San Diego Mesa College. Writing again took a back seat. Twenty years later, when I semi-retired from college teaching, I picked up the manuscript, rewrote it extensively, and published it as both a print and an ebook. The sales on Maids of Misfortune were so strong that I was able to retire completely to become a full-time writer, publishing Uneasy Spirits, the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, in 2011. I plan to publish the third book, Bloody Lessons, in the early Fall, 2013. It may have taken me 50 years, but I finally am realizing my childhood dream of writing historical fiction!

M.A.: On your website you mention that you did your Ph.D. dissertation on the late nineteenth century western working woman. Your historical mystery novels are also set around the same time. What brought about your fascination with the western working woman?

M.L.L.: I think that the late 19th century fascinated me because of the parallels I saw to my own generational experience (I was born in 1950 and grew up squarely in the middle of the sixties social movements.) The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and the demand for political reform that came out of Watergate all had their counterparts in the 19th century. In both eras, there were strong pressures to keep women confined to the role of wife and mother. Yet, in both time periods there were women who challenged those traditional ideals.

In the late 1970s, I was studying to become a history professor when less than 20% of all history professors were women, so I was surprised to learn in my research that women had held a higher proportion of professional jobs a hundred years earlier than they did when I was growing up. I wanted to know about these women and the choices they made, so I did a statistical analysis of women who held income-producing occupations based on the 1880 Federal manuscript census. I chose to study women in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland because I lived on the west coast and most of the research on working women had focused on eastern cities. Naturally, when I started to think about writing fiction, I turned to the women I had been studying. They had become very real to me, and I wanted to make them come alive to others.

M.A.:  I love to read mystery novels, but I have yet to try to write one. What are the particular challenges of writing mystery?

M.L.L.: As with most genre novels, there are certain conventions that you need to keep in mind when writing mysteries. Even if you disobey those conventions (for example, don’t have a body in the first chapter) it needs to be for a good reason. Otherwise, you can lose your reader. People who read mysteries expect that there be some sort of puzzle that is going to be solved. The puzzle can be a death or some other crime, and the person who solves the mystery can be a professional or an amateur. But as a mystery author, you need to know what that crime is (what was done), have developed some red herrings (people who might have done the crime, but didn’t), and eventually provide enough clues so that the reader has a chance to guess who actually committed the crime along side the detective. Then, depending on the sub-genre of mystery, you need to balance those basic mystery plot requirements with effective character development, detailed setting, believable romance, sufficient suspense, etc. I would say that achieving that balance is one of the most difficult tasks any mystery writer faces.

M.A.: You mention in your bio that your first historical mystery novel, Maids of Misfortune, was inspired by a diary entry from a domestic servant, and that you found that diary entry while researching your dissertation. How do you go about researching the history in your stories? Have you traveled for research purposes?

M.L.L.: Since I spent years doing research on San Francisco and the women who worked there in the 19th century, I don’t have to do a lot of new research for my novels. However, the internet has made the supplementary research I do for each story much easier. There are websites that tell you when the sun and moon rose on a given day in 1880, what words were in common usage then, and what a Victorian corset feels like. The main problem is not letting the research suck you in so that you don’t get the words onto the page.

Because the sections of San Francisco that I set my novels in were devastated by the Earthquake and Fire of 1906, I do have to spend a good deal of time looking at old maps and pouring over old photographs to make sure my descriptions are accurate. But I also visit San Francisco frequently, trying to come at the same time of year that the current book is set in to get a feel for the weather, where the sun hits buildings, and so forth. I love walking the streets between the different places in my books, imagining….

M.A.:  How would you describe your novels to potential readers? What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

M.L.L.: Many of the other successful Victorian era mysteries tend to portray the violent and sexually exploitative aspects of 19th century urban culture. They are darker in tone than my books and often have more in common with contemporary thrillers. While my books don’t neglect some of the important issues of the day, for example the extreme anti-Chinese sentiment in the west at this time, my goal from the first was to write historical mysteries that were traditional cozies in style.

Annie’s boarding house reflects the kind of small community you find in a cozy, and there is a strong thread of humor and romance throughout my stories as well. The sex and violence is generally off-stage, and there is even a cute dog. On the other hand, I believe that because my historical mysteries are set in real places, with characters facing real issues of the time period, readers can feel a greater connection to the people in my stories than they may do with the quirky characters found in many contemporary cozies.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like? What can you tell us about the joys and the challenges of being an independent author?

M.L.L.: While I pursued my career as a college professor, I watched as my writer friends were treated in the increasingly hostile environment traditional publishing. As a result, when I decided to give publishing another try in 2009, I was open to considering the opportunities that self-publishing and the ebook revolution were providing. One of the major considerations for my decision to become an indie author was how long it took (and still takes) for a book to make it into print the traditional way. I’d conceived of Maids of Misfortune thirty years earlier, I’d written it twenty years earlier, and I didn’t want to wait another 2 years or more to get it into the hands of readers. If no one liked it, so be it. At least I would have given it a try.

Once this decision was made, it only took a few months for me to master how to design, and format ebooks and print books, and it took only 24 hours to upload the Maids of Misfortune. Within a day I had my first sale and my first positive review!

I also enjoyed learning the technical and marketing aspects of self-publishing. I am a life-long student, as well as a social scientist and a teacher, so learning how to publish independently, experiment with different marketing strategies, and then being able to share what I have learned with other authors, has simply added to my satisfaction with the process.

I can say without reservation that my decision to self-publish was the best decision I ever made. Besides the fact that my books have been a financial success, every positive review, every letter from a fan, every comment on my Facebook page is pure gold.

M.A.: I was looking at the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, and I can’t believe I’m only finding out about it now. It is definitely something readers of Copperfield should know about. How did the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative come about?

M.L.L.: One of the upsides of the ebook/indie author revolution has been that books like Maids of Misfortune that weren’t making it through the gatekeepers/bottlenecks of agents, publishers and booksellers, are getting published and in the hands of readers. However, the question has become: how is a reader going to be able to sift through all those books and find the right one for them, and how is an author going to make sure their books are visible to the right market?

Book review websites like Copperfield Review is one answer and The Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC) is another. HFAC was formed by a group of independent authors who recognized that there was strength in numbers. Behind the scenes we share information on technical issues (like cover design, formatting, getting books into the various ebooks stores like Kindle and Nook), and we help cross-promote each other’s work. All of this helps elevate the quality of our work and its visibility.

But the most important tasks were to recruit great historical fiction authors and design where readers could find our work. The group started less than three years ago with just a handful of authors, but we now grown to 40 members with 140 separate titles in our catalog, which can be found at HFeBooks.com.

M.A.: What can readers who love historical fiction gain from visiting the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative site?

M.L.L.: A fan of historical fiction can discover on our website high quality historical fiction that they wouldn’t find in traditional bookstores. In some cases the books are out-of-print books our authors have republished, in others, they are new independently published work by authors who are still traditionally published, and in most cases these are books by innovative independent authors.

Because membership in HFAC is by invitation only and we thoroughly vet those members and their work before inviting them, a reader can be assured that the books in our catalog are grounded in accurate historical research, are professionally edited, and well-written. We have listed the books by historical eras, as well, since many fans of historical fiction have favorite periods they like to read about. You can also find out about the author, the other books they have written, and you can read interesting articles by them about their historical research on our blog.

Finally, if you subscribe to the website, you will be alerted every week about discounts and free books that are being offered, as well as when a new book by one of our members is published. Other ways you can be alerted to this information is to follow us on twitter or Facebook.

M.A.:  Is there a way historical fiction authors can be considered to be included in the cooperative?

M.L.L.: The vetting process is very slow since at least two members have to read and evaluate an author’s work before extending an invitation. As a result, most of our recruitment comes from recommendations from other members. We also look at those ebooks that are successful in historical fiction categories in ebookstores.

The bottom line is: write high-quality historical fiction, market it well, and, in time, as you gain reader recognition there is a good chance your work will come to our attention.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

M.L.L.: Georgette Heyer was my first inspiration. She was a serious historical scholar, but the light romantic Regency novels she wrote are a continuing delight, and for over fifty years I have turned to her books when I need to escape the painful realities of this world. From Dorothy Sayers, and her Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries, I learned how to combine romance and crime solving. From Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico mysteries, I discovered that the importance of setting, and Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series gave me the idea of combining historical fiction and mysteries. There are many great contemporary writers who have continued on in these traditions, but these were my first inspirations.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction or mysteries?

M.L.L.: This may seem trite, but it is true. Read. Reread your favorite books in the genres you wish to write in, but do so looking at what worked to make them your favorites. Is it the characters, the plot, the pacing, the background material? Read new books, and here you might find yourself analyzing what doesn’t work for you. Why did you get impatient at some point, never really care for the main character, become confused? Do you seem to like books written in the first person? Third person? Shifting points of view?

If you are pursuing historical fiction, skim through general texts about the period, read autobiographies and contemporary fiction of the time. All of this should give you a general feel for the historical setting. But don’t spend too much time in detailed research until you are actually writing the book. Spending days figuring out what to call the kind of carriage your character might own, before knowing if that carriage will even figure in the story, can be a waste of time. This is the stuff you can fill in later as you go along (or after the first draft is written.)

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

M.L.L.: For those who think they might be interested in my work, do check out my website/blog or my Facebook author page.  I also have two short stories that feature minor characters from my full-length novels that you might find amusing. They are Dandy Detects and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Donna Russo Morin

By Meredith Allard

Donna Russo Morin is an award-winning author of historical novels, including The King’s Agent, To Serve a King, and The Secret of the Glass (Kensington Books).

Meredith Allard: On your website, you mention how growing up during the turbulent 60s gave you grist for your writing. When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Donna Russo Morin: My first stories were written as soon as I learned how to write; my mother still has them, the paper yellowing, the creases growing weak with age. I wrote a great deal of poetry during those turbulent days of the 60s while I was living the turbulence of my own puberty. Then the influence of the King took over (Stephen, that is) and I did find my first fiction published in the form of short horror. But all the while I was reading, voraciously, historical fiction, from Gone with the Wind to Leon Uris’s Trinity. When I discovered Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when I heard the perfect merging of fictional characters within a detailed historical construct, I knew I had heard the sound of my own writer’s ‘voice.’

M.A.: How did you decide which era(s) to focus on for your historical novels? Did you have a previous fascination with that time?

D.R.M.: My first book, The Courtier’s Secret, was a self-fulfilled wish…to be a Musketeer, something I wanted to be ever since the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers with Michael York and Rachel Welch. The second book came from a two minute news story on the glassmakers of Murano, about their continuing efforts to keep their process secret, The Secret of the Glass. The third actually came from the glut of Tudor books on the market and the question I asked myself…how awful I felt for all the royals who ruled simultaneously with Henry VIII; they were so very ignored (for the most part). That’s when I found Francois I and the French court. It was a world filled with intrigue with much more powerful women. Where better to put a young female spy who must make a decision…To Serve a King.

My research on Francois I led me to his real life art agent, The King’s Agent, who procured pieces by the great Italian Renaissance masters by any means. Battista della Palla truly was the Indiana Jones of his age; I knew he deserved his own book. That book led to a fascination with the Renaissance, a period I am now fully ensconced in, completely obsessed with, and am writing a trilogy set within the height of the time and in its birthplace, Florence. Having full Italian heritage and in the process of getting my Italian citizenship, I think it has all led me to where I belong, my home…Renaissance Italy!

M.A.: Your novels are so lush with the history you’re writing about. How do you go about researching the history for your novels? Do you travel to the places you write about?

D.R.M.: My research is a combination of the academic to the practical. For most books, I spend eight to ten months in the research phase. That includes reading as many primary source materials (letters, diaries, journals, manifests) as I can get my hands on as well as the books that specialize either in the era or the people who inhabited it. But I also include some form of practical research. For my first book, I learned how to fence. I attempted to blow glass for my second book. For my third I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow (archery has now become a full blown hobby for me and I own my own compound bow). For my latest release, I learned how to dagger fight. Right now I am immersed in the techniques of painting that were used in the Renaissance period with many visits to many museums and many sketches and antique paint mixing techniques attempted.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to travel to the location of my first novel, The Courtier’s Secret, which was set almost entirely at the Chateau Versailles. Spending hours there truly helped me infuse realism into the work. But thanks to the ever evolving internet, there are so many virtual tours available, it is much like traveling there. As I do feel strongly that my work going forward will be anchored in Italy, I do hope to live there a few months out of each year.

M.A.: How would you describe your novels to potential readers? What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

D.R.M.: They are a vibrant and fast-paced merging of the factual and the fictional to take the reader on an adventure impossible in modern day, where I reveal not only what happened in the past, but how it truly felt. I don’t write bio-fic, which is a prevalent form of historical fiction, but I set my characters next to multiple historical people, allowing the reader to meet and interact with many of the great personages of the past through the experiences of my main characters. I also tend to stray from ‘trend’ topics. My Italy books were released long before Showtime’s Borgias. Renaissance Italy was the birth of new thought and innovation, new ways of life—both grand and lascivious. I endeavor to bring the rare gems of history to light.

M.A.: I always thought if I were a little braver I’d have become an actor. Maybe in my next life… What drew you to acting? Do you see any similarities between acting and writing fiction?

D.R.M.: Acting came to me actually. Though I had done a great deal of school acting (a shy extrovert finds a great outlet there), it wasn’t until I was walking through the local Sears store where I was ‘discovered’ and put in my first television commercial. Modeling and acting became a wonderful resource for income, especially while paying my way through college. Though I tried to ‘make it’ as a rather short woman (for modeling at 5’5) I never made it to ‘the big time.’ It has, however, been a lucrative if sporadic part-time profession. The greatest rewards have been working with (with being relative as I was an extra in The Departed and a Showtime series The Brotherhood) the likes of Martin Scorsese, Martin Sheen, and Jason Isaacs (Lucias Malfoy of Harry Potter).

I do think the ability to completely immerse myself into a character, whether it is as an actor or writer, is invaluable. For that is what I do whenever I write…putting myself ‘into’ the character, imagining what they would be feeling and doing in the circumstances my writing has put them in. It is an empathy that comes across on the page I think…I hope.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

D.R.M.: Twisted.

In truth, I had no choice but to become an author, it was imprinted in my DNA. While I started writing as soon as I learned how to hold a pencil, external forces tried pushing me in other directions, then true destiny took over.

I took my first degree in Communications and mapped out a fairly successful freelance writing career while working a ‘day job’ in public relations and advertising. In addition to inclusion in the two anthologies, I was on staff at a local magazine, and my book review career, which began in 1988, hit a pinnacle of sixty published reviews, including publication in The Milwaukee Journal, The Hartford Courant, and Foreword Magazine.

Novel writing was always the ultimate goal. It took me seven years to write my first novel–giving birth to two boys at the same time–a medieval fantasy liberally laced with horror. It sits in my hope chest still, though I still have ‘hope’ for it.

In the summer of 2002, I came down with what I thought was the flu. After two and a half years and more doctors than I care to remember, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Six weeks later, my father passed away from cancer. I retreated from the world and into my books and writing. I re-watched The Three Musketeers and remembered how much I loved it and all the Musketeer stories. I remembered how I wanted to look like Rachel Welch/Constance (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to be Michael York/D’Artagnan. The idea for The Courtier’s Secret, my first book, was born. While being treated for the Lyme, I conducted nine months of research and wrote the first draft in nine weeks.  I found an agent in two months and she got me my first two book contract in four months. The rest, as they say….

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

D.R.M.: Stephen King taught me how to write, though he doesn’t know it. His talent for telling a complex story in a simple manner, as if he sat next to you and told it to you, was my tutorial. Diana Gabaldon’s amazing talent for merging fact and fiction in a dynamic manner became my ideal. J.K. Rowling’s triumph over a broken marriage and harsh financial situations is my own story. But, in truth, any artist—be it writing, painting, music—who is willing to forgo material wealth for the sake of the craft is worthy of emulation. People who want ‘fame and fortune,’ who think ‘I’ll write a book and make a lot of money and become a celebrity’ I find abhorrent. But those that want to create something magnificent for the sake of its creation, whatever the cost, those are the people who inspire me.

M.A.: I was reading about your latest project on your website and it sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it. What can you tell us about it?

D.R.M.: Ah, speaking of destiny. As I said, my third book, To Serve a King, brought me to Francois. Francois was responsible for sowing the seeds of what would become, for us, the Louvre Museum. He was obsessed with art. He had, in Italy, an art agent, The King’s Agent (title of my latest book), who would procure from the Italian Renaissance greats art for Francois’ collection. These two books, and their emphasis on art, led me deeper and deeper into the Renaissance and the evolution of art that took place there. But, as always, I was frustrated by the ‘men’s club’ that is history. So I started researching women artists. That’s when it came to me.

The trilogy depicts the birth of the female Renaissance artist set against the turbulence and brilliance that is Florence in the late 15th century. But it is, as well, an homage to the bonds between women, their steely strengths and their petty weaknesses. It is full of intrigue, murder, revenge, love, sex, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, the great works of the age and how they were created. It is one of the most magnificent moments in history come to life through the experiences of a myriad group of women.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

D.R.M.: Be passionate about the era you write about. Don’t just pick it because it seems to be what’s selling.

Learn ten times more than you need to know or that you’ll include in the book and use only the material that serves the plot of the story. (But save ALL your material…you never know when you may use it elsewhere.)

If you ‘tweak’ history (which you may have to do in order to tell your fictional story) TELL THE READER! That’s what Author’s Notes are for.

Give credit to the hard work of the nonfiction historians from whom we get our glorious material. Include a bibliography even though you write fiction. They deserve it.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

D.R.M.: I include Discussion Questions in the back of every one of my books. Share the stories with friends and family. Sit together and discuss the works, go through the questions, let your minds go where they lead, tell your own stories. If you belong to a book club, contact me and we can have Skype discussions. But most of all, if you learn something of the past from my books, if you feel something you’ve never felt before…I’ve done my work and I thank you for allowing me to do it.

About Donna Russo Morin:

Donna Russo Morin’s passion for the written word began when she was a child, took on a feminist edge as she grew through the sixties, and blossomed into a distinctive style of action-filled historical fiction at a defining moment in her life. With two degrees from the University of Rhode Island, the state in which she was born and raised, Donna’s first book, The Courtier’s Secret (2009) won RWI-RWA’s Best First Book Award and was a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Award. The Secret of the Glass (2010), her second book, received a Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award and was a finalist in the USA Best Books of the Year Contest. Also a recipient of a Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award and a finalist in the USA Best Books of the Year Contest, Donna’s third Book, To Serve a King (2011), was a finalist in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award as well. The King’s Agent (2012), Donna’s latest release, received a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly. Donna is currently at work on a major trilogy about the clandestine birth of the female Renaissance artist set in turbulent Medici ruled Florence. Donna is a proud, single mother of two sons, Devon and Dylan—a future opera singer and a future chef—her greatest works in progress.

Donna’s books on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10/184-1092533-4046236?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=donna+russo+morin&sprefix=donna+russ%2Caps%2C298

Donna’s books on B&N http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/donna-russo-morin?store=allproducts&keyword=donna+russo+morin

donnarussomorin.com 

donnarussomorin.blogspot.com 

Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/DonnaRussoMorin

 

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Valerie Kirwan

By Glenice Whitting

If you want to explore life lived on the edge, then see, read or buy anything written by Valerie Kirwan. This talented author is something of a legend. Skilled in many genres she writes plays, novels and short stories that challenge, fascinate and intrigue. Her following of dedicated readers pack out playhouses and eagerly pounce on every new work.

LOVERS AND LOSERS

It was by chance that I won the La Mama Theatre door prize: Valerie Kirwan’sLovers and Losers of the Last Century. The next day, toast in one hand, book in the other I glanced at the first page. I was instantly hooked and soon totally immersed in an erotic, frightening, but fascinating world of friendship, love and deception. A friend called at noon and found me still in my pyjamas. We had a quick coffee and I was glad when she left. Odie dog whimpered for attention and finally, dinner bowl in mouth, begged. I absentmindedly tossed him a few dog biscuits. Nothing got done until I’d devoured the last word.

EROTIC ESCAPADES AND BLACK HUMOUR

My Internet search for this author revealed an inspiring list of published work. Fourteen plays staged at various venues including La Mama Theatre, Carlton Courthouse, The Botanic Gardens and St Martin’s Theatre etc. Four novels:The Will to Fall. Bizarre adventures and Shale Hemly Whirls. Top best seller list in 1984/85. The Moon is Bloodshot. Erotic escapades and black humour. The Disease of the Silkworm. Betrayal, slavery and sexual politics. The soon to be published Taking a Fool to Paradise , an unsettling but darkly amusing psychological thriller of obsession and potential violence. A collection of short stories: Wandering. Four novellas in Lovers and Losers of the Last Century , nominated for the 2003 Victorian Premier’s Award. Short stories have appeared in IslandMastheadImago, and New England Review . Four stories in the Beyond the Glass Anthology. Three literary awards, including the Jim Hamilton Award from the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

So many accomplishments, but behind the achievements and accolades is the story of a fascinating woman who has overcome many difficulties to be where she is today. Kirwan studied English literature at Melbourne University, taught English and Drama and had several other jobs including working in a local nursing home. In 1974 she began writing, directing and performing in her own plays and was the first Australian woman playwright to be produced at La Mama Theatre. She became the Theatre’s first Playwright–in-residence and during that time, she wrote and directed her play “The Art of Lobster Whistling.” However, Kirwan did not stop at drama. “I always had a strong desire to write fiction, so, in the early eighties I gave up theatre to concentrate on my novels,” she says.

SHALE HEMLY WHIRLS

Novel writing gave Kirwan the opportunity to explore in depth her fascination with the element of chance, e.g., chance happenings, chance discoveries. “I welcome, perhaps even live for, the unpredictable,” she says. Kirwan creates situations where she is exposed to the unexpected and these experiences not only provided new writing material, but immense entertainment for someone who thrives on serendipitous situations. “Last spring a friend and I set up a small table in the center of a large park at midnight, and wearing large hats and gloves we played a game of chess in the wind. Only two youths on bikes passed by, said hello and went on their way, but I found the experience fun and exciting because of the wind and the beautiful night and the feeling that anything could happen,” she says. Kirwan used her many bizarre random games, called Shale Hemly Whirls, which encourage adventure and unpredictability, as the basis of her first novel, The Will to Fall

THE WILL TO FALL

It was also Kirwan’s untamed spirit of adventure and the ability to step out of the norm that resulted in the publication of The Will To Fall . She says, “When I told everyone I was sending the manuscript to Penguin Books, they said, ‘You’re crazy. Penguin will not publish an unknown, especially a first novel written by a Dadaist playwright.’ My husband said, ‘You’re mad, but I’ll drive you there if you want.’ He did and I simply dumped the manuscript on the reception desk without speaking to an editor. One year later Penguin contacted me and told me they were excited about the novel and they would publish it. Not only did they publish The Will To Fall, but the book made the twelve top best selling list in 1984/1985.

FATE INTERVENES

Unfortunately, after this success she became physically ill, unable to walk, lacking in the necessary energy to keep working and to be part of society. After a break of several years Kirwan was dismayed to discover that the art/literary/ theater world was now swamped with political correctness and that her edgy, dark, brave writing was not being published. Rather than tone down her work to fit in with the current market, she continued to write in her own individual style.

BLANDTRASH AND THE HORNET’S NEST

She joined The Hornet’s Nest and found kindred souls in the group of uncompromising writers who refused to be part of the homogenised BLANTRASH (a word invented by the group). The Hornet’s Nest published two of Kirwan’s novels. The success of these novels attracted the interest of Indra Publishing . This well known supportive publisher contacted Valerie Kirwan and a collection of novellas, Lovers and Losers of the Last Century (nominated for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award), was soon on the market.

Valerie’s latest novel, Taking A Fool To Paradise, a fabulous psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing. If you get a chance, join the queue and get a copy of this latest novel recently launched by Indra Publishing and I’m sure you will agree with the write up in the Melbourne Times Newspaper :

“Valerie Kirwan’s stories are strong, warm and direct. They marry a sharp edge of detachment with a sensual depth charge. Her lyrical mind-rambling has wit, elegance and charm. Her’s are certainly the fine and sparkling reflections that should be available to all of us.” (David Edwards)

EMBRACING THE THEATER AGAIN

As her readership expands Valerie Kirwan becomes more and more passionate about communication through the written and spoken word. Recently, her interest in theater was revived when she was contacted by La Trobe University to stage one of her plays. “I’m just thrilled,” she says. “Fiction writing and the theater are opposite extremes. Novels are written in solitude and part of me needs the communication that theatre people bring.”

Unpredicted happenings play a big part in anyone’s life. Just when you have your life planned, an unexpected telephone call, a chance meeting or letter can turn that world upside down and life is never the same. Winning the door prize at La Mama Theatre meant a talented author touched my life and I now embrace life’s challenges with a sense of excitement and wonder. I too will play chess at midnight and experience, as Kirwan says, “The wind, and the beautiful night and the feeling that anything can happen.”

______________________________________________________________

Glenice Whitting started writing in her last year of a B.A. at Monash, which was ostensibly going to take her towards a career in Sociology. Fate however, intervened in the form of a class in fiction writing. Many of her short stories have won competitions and been published in newspapers, magazines, and journals. She is currently contributing editor for Inspiring Women at Suite101 and has an e-book of the same title. Her unpublished novel, Pickle to Pi , was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Her play, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” was produced during the WWIT Fertile Ground New Play Festival.

Home Page: http://www.suite101.com/myhome.cfm/womenfollowingdreams 
E-book: http://www.suite101.com/topic_page.cfm/4651/4661

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Sandra Gulland

By Glenice Whitting

Sandra Gulland’s magnificent obsession? Josephine Bonaparte. Discovering, and writing Josephine’s amazing life story full of love and power, took Sandra from her comfortable Canadian culture headlong into the turmoil of the French revolution.

The sun’s dying rays slowly gilds the log home perched on top of a gentle hill. Sandra’s horse, Finnegan whinnies; birds call and finally roost as dusk falls. In the dark of night, Sandra Gulland dreams about a man and a woman who are going to play the parts of Josephine and Napoleon. When they don their costumes the actors lose their identities and become the characters. Sandra wakes, her heart beating, palms sweaty. She says, “This was a terrifying dream and I leapt trembling from my bed, my hands holding my stomach. I felt there was a glass ball inside me, and inside that ball was a spirit trying to speak. Simultaneously I knew that I would write a novel about Josephine.”

Twenty years later the result is three historical novels The Josephine B Trilogy,consisting of The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B: Tales of Passion and Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth, currently published in eight languages in eight countries. A visit to Sandra’s Stunning Website will give you some idea of the magnitude of her success.

How does a writer living in rural Ontario Canada, who used to hate history, eventually become an expert on a French empress born on a Caribbean island more than 200 years ago? Sandra says, “In 1972, I read a short biography about Josephine Bonaparte. It was an amazing story full of magic, love and power. I was kidnapped by Josephine’s profound humanity, her heart, her intelligence, her grace, her courage. She became for me a guiding spirit. An inspiration.” Josephine became Sandra’s magnificent obsession.

MARIE FROM MARTINIQUE

Bonaparte called his wife, “my Josephine,” but her name was Marie Josephine Rose Tascher Beauharnais Bonaparte. Sandra was determined to find the real person behind the name and began to understand the thoughts and feelings of this fascinating woman who, in a time when love was considered to be found only in romantic affairs, fell hopelessly in love with her husband, the enigmatic Napoleon. This was not the usual marriage of convenience, where the wife is simply an attractive figurehead. Josephine was absolutely devoted to him, and he was madly in love with her.

EMOTIONAL JOURNEY OF THE INTELLECT

Sandra’s research is impeccable and all embracing. She followed traditional channels, but also embraced spiritual channellers, psychics and tarot card readers to supplement her academic research. Sandra became a recognised authority on Josephine and the Napoleonic era. Her thick, meticulouslyfootnoted timeline detailing Josephine’s daily movements, and those of her family and friends: plus social issues, battles and even the flue viruses that plagued the population of Paris at the time, has to be seen to be believed.

However, it is the little personal things that bring Josephine to life. Readers are delighted to discover a woman who used charm and cunning to cope with the in-laws from hell, who tried to hide her bad teeth, who was a sensuous lover, a devoted mother, a warm and loving friend, who loved her pug dogs and whose life was a constant struggle against impossible odds.

IN JOSEPHINE’S FOOTSTEPS

To fully experience Josephine’s world, Sandra learnt to read French, travelled to Paris, walked through the neighbourhoods Josephine lived in, and went to the prison she was locked in. She travelled to Martinique, where Josephine was born and raised, attended mass in her church, went to the health spa she frequented, tried the treatments, visited museum exhibits in New York and Memphis and consulted with period scholars. After years studying historical evidence Sandra says, “ I felt that Josephine had been harshly judged. Few seemed willing to question the assumptions made in the past. Few seemed willing to try and see things from her perspective, to walk in her shoes, to give her the benefit of the doubt. And that, precisely, was one of my intentions when I began my novel; to give Josephine a chance to speak, to give her a voice.”

JOSEPHINE REVEALED

Sandra certainly has done that. She discovered a woman more of our time than her own. The Josephine Sandra has revealed was devoted to her children when it was fashionable to be aloof: intolerant of infidelity when it was fashionable to be unfaithful: negotiated deals with bankers and businessmen when it was unthinkable for a woman to involve herself in money matters, much less profit: had close male friends and was comfortable working with men when a sexual relationship was thought to be the only relationship possible.

THE LAST DANCE

The Last Great Dance on Earth marks the end of a passionate project that has consumed Sandra for more than twenty years to the extent that sometimes she finds herself unconsciously writing cheques and dating them with the year 1800. However, she is not alone in her obsession with Josephine. Readers in Italy, Spain, France, The United States of America, England, Denmark and Catalan line up to buy her books and the German hardcover edition of The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B sold 25,000 copies. All three titles have sold a staggering half a million copies world wide. “This is just astonishing,” says Sandra. “In Canada, sales of 5,000 constitute best selling status. I was also surprised to receive an email from a London friend telling me I was on Britain’s Guardian bestsellers list. However, for me, the highest praise is how well the books are doing in France. I thought that would be the most resistant market of all. It’s exciting and I certainly never in a million years expected it. In fact, when I began, I thought, no one’s going to want to publish this, let alone read it.”

Read it they did and clamour for more. Will they plead in vain? Is Sandra going to rest on her well-deserved laurels, content to doze in front of the fire in the comfortable family home that sits solidly atop a hill, occasionally gazing at the broad rolling spaces of Killaloe, two hours from Ottawa’s bustle, four from Toronto? Of course not. Her next book, which she is currently writing, is also set in France: the same country as her trilogy, but not the same century. This time it is the court of Louise X1V, the Sun King and Sandra is passionately researching and getting to know her new heroine, the fabulous royal mistress Louise de la Valiere, who just happens to also love horses.

Sandra cannot wait to begin learning the secrets of horse whisperers and to master riding sidesaddle. She will take Baroque dance lessons, try on the clothing of the period, including the heavy fashionable corsets of the time,and do anything else that will open a window to the soul of her latest magnificent obsession. ______________________________________________________________

Glenice Whitting started writing in her last year of a B.A. at Monash, which was ostensibly going to take her towards a career in Sociology. Fate however, intervened in the form of a class in fiction writing. Many of her short stories have won competitions and been published in newspapers, magazines and journals. She is currently contributing editor for Inspiring Women at Suite101 and has an e-book of the same title. Her unpublished novel Pickle to Pi was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Her play, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” was produced during the WWIT Fertile Ground New Play Festival.

Home Page: http://www.suite101.com/myhome.cfm/womenfollowingdreams 
E-book: http://www.suite101.com/topic_page.cfm/4651/4661

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Mary Doria Russell

By Zack Ruskin

Author Mary Doria Russell is best known for her novel The Sparrow, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award. This interview focuses on her newest novel, Doc, which explores the relationship between Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

ZACK RUSKIN : What was your approach to researching Doc? Did you binge on episodes of Deadwood, or were you eager to avoid past portrayals of your characters?

MARY DORIA RUSSELL : We don’t get HBO so I’ve never watchedDeadwood, though a lot of people have recommended it. In any case, Doc is set in Dodge City, Kansas. Midwestern towns are not interchangeable!

In general, I’m pretty strict about avoiding fiction that overlaps my own. I might read one or two of the best novels in the genre I’m entering, to get a feel for what top quality is, but after that – it’s all non-fiction for me.

I always ground my novels in fact – even speculative fiction like The Sparrowand Children of God required careful research. Typically, I collect 20-30 linear feet of reference works for each novel. For Doc, the books ranged from economic studies of the Kansas cow towns and the Texas cattle trade to a memoir by a 19th century prostitute to the history of a Jesuit mission school in Wichita.

And of course – dozens of biographies! Adults either build on or react against the first 15 years of their lives. Understanding the childhood of characters – fictional or real – is crucial. What was happening historically when each character was young? What were their parents like? I need a clear idea of what characters were dealing with at 14 in order to imagine a realistic response to their circumstances when they’re 24 or 44 or 64.

ZR: Which probably explains why your portrayal of Doc Holliday is such a surprise to many readers!

MDR: John Henry Holliday had beaten some terrible odds just by surviving infancy – he was born with a cleft palate in 1851, when such children commonly died within weeks of starvation or pneumonia. His uncle was a surgeon who repaired the defect. His mother invented a form of speech therapy to improve his diction. He was enfolded by a vast extended family that sheltered him in childhood and supported him in his youth. He was quiet, bookish. Intensely close to his mother. An accomplished pianist, and a serious student who earned the degree of Doctor or Dental Surgery from the best dental school in the country when he was only 20.

So I didn’t start with “the infamous gambler and gunman Doc Holliday.” I started with Alice Holliday’s fragile infant son, and and worked forward from there. John Henry Holliday did not spring to life in Tombstone, Arizona, spoiling for a fight. His life was more than that.

ZR: So you don’t find the expectation of accuracy confining when you write historical fiction?

MDR: Oh, no! I like the touch stone of reality. But how you handle facts is important.

Doc is set in 1878, so in my novel, the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral is still years in the future for the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. I wanted to strip all the accumulated nonsense and slander away. I wanted to find them before they were anybody – before the lies and legends began to accumulate.

I also felt that no novelist or biographer had really taken the full clinical reality of John Henry Holliday’s tuberculosis into account. So I did a lot of research into the effects of untreated TB and respiratory disease. TB is not just an annoying cough. It’s a vicious, painful, debilitating disease that progressively destroys the lungs until there’s simply not enough oxygen uptake to keep you alive. It’s a slow and terrible form of suffocation, and John Henry had had watched it kill his beloved mother by inches.

So he knew exactly what he was facing when he was diagnosed with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 22. Think about that: he spent his entire adult life dying. He was almost always in significant pain. He was sicker every year until he died at 36.

Now, the usual interpretation of that fact is that Doc was a nihilist or a fatalist, but it’s also a fact that he spent his entire adult life trying to find something that would retard the progress of the illness or mitigate its effects. To the very end, he was searching for a cure. He wanted to live.

Tuberculosis – not the gunfight at the O.K. Corral – was the central reality of Doc Holliday’s life. Absent tuberculosis, he would have lived and died as his cousin Robert did: as a successful Atlanta dentist, respected in his community and his profession, with a wife and children. A forgotten man, but a happier one.

ZR: You’ve crossed a lot of genres throughout your novels. Do you find you have to alter your prose to fit the narratives?

MDR: I alter my prose to fit each book and for each character whose point of view I’m conveying. That’s the fun of it – finding the voice of each character, hearing their dialog. That’s when I know I’ve got a story going – when I can hear the voices.

In writing Doc, the narrator’s voice was an echo of Shelby Foote, the Southern historian who was featured in the Ken Burns film “The Civil War.” The narrator in Doc is similarly relaxed, discursive, informative – a storyteller who speaks now and then, when commentary is called for or when the action needs explanation. He is compassionate, understanding, wry.

The bulk of the story is conveyed through the voices of the characters, however, and their frames of reference differ widely.

John Henry Holliday was an educated man of the 19th century, familiar with Greek and Latin classics, with French literature, and history and mathematics. He studied chemistry, metallurgy, physiology, and anatomy in dental school. He played classical piano and read widely. So he thinks and speaks in paragraph form, in sentences with clauses, quoting Homer or Shakespeare or Flaubert.

By contrast, Wyatt Earp was probably dyslexic and certainly not over-burdened by education. His sentences are short. His grammar’s poor. His thinking is concrete, linked to the world of horses and weather.

So even in narration, their voices are distinctive.

ZR: I’m curious about how you’d categorize your first novel, The Sparrow. I’ve seen it shelved in various sections at bookstores, and in some ways it fits in all the places it’s kept.

MDR: Yes… It’s usually shelved in Science Fiction, and it certainly does fit that category. They don’t give the Arthur C. Clarke Award to mysteries! On the other hand, the commonest thing I hear about that book is, “I hate science fiction but I loved this book.” So it works for people who are sophisticated readers of the genre and also for those who are actively hostile to it.

Personally, I thought of The Sparrow as a historical novel that takes place in the future. As in Doc, there is a strong narrative voice – that of a Jesuit historian, looking back at the events from a distance of a century or more. For the reader, the story is in the future, but for the narrator, it’s all far enough in the past that he has some perspective on the decisions and mistakes of the characters. He unsparingly recognizes damage caused by the characters, but he is compassionate in conveying their story. His first remark about them is, “They meant no harm.”

That’s the perspective I try for when writing historical novels. I have some distance from the events. I can feel some compassion for real people who made real mistakes in the real world, but I also recognize the harm they’ve done, even inadvertently. There are consequences, and there is judgment, but there is also a recognition that they thought the were doing the right thing at the time.

ZRWhy does historical fiction have such an appeal for you?

MDR: I just love research. I love digging into histories and biographies and economics and psychology. If I’m not working on some great big chewy research problem, I get cranky and nervous and start redecorating. My husband always knows when it’s time for me to tackle a new book: he bumps into furniture that didn’t used to be there.

My inclination toward historical fiction also has something to do with the fact that I had severely crossed eyes as a child.

I was born into a time and place when that defect could be surgically repaired. Even as a kid, I was aware of how important that was. Imagine how different my life would have turned out if I’d been born earlier or in a different country! In the 1400s, I might have ended up in a convent – too homely to be considered marriage material. In the 1600s, I might have been shunned as a witch. If I’d been born into my own family two generations earlier, my life might have been like that of Agnes Shanklin in Dreamers of the Day.

A Thread of Grace is a World War II thriller, and in any book about the Holocaust, the underlying questions are, How could this have happened? What would I have done? Each of the characters in Thread is one of my potential answers to that latter question.

The Sparrow and Children of God were set in the future. Nevertheless, the task was to create a believable time and place that were not my own. Within that context, the characters Anne and George Edwards let me think about the kind of wistful freedom that childless couples have: they can pack up and go to Puerto Rico, or Rakhat, without worrying about never seeing their grandchildren! My husband and I became parents at the age of 36, and we were suddenly rooted in a way we hadn’t been before Dan came into our lives. What might we have done and become if we’d remained childless?

Which is not to say that my novels are about me! But a writer’s life is a toolbox, and you use what comes to hand. You bring empathy to bear on the historical research.

ZR: Going back to Doc: one of the most interesting things about Doc Holliday is that he was a dentist–

MDR: Not if you go by the movies!

Most screenwriters have failed to find much drama in dental work. They usually ignore the fact that John Henry Holliday held the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the best school in the country in his day. Or they make him into a physician. Or there’s just a throw-away line, like when he urges someone to “Take care of your teeth.”

ZR: But he really was serious about his profession!

MDR : Absolutely. John Henry Holliday was a dedicated professional and inDoc, I try to make it clear why. When his companion Kate demands to know why he wastes his time trying to be a dentist when he could make so much more money just playing poker, Doc’s answer is stark and stunning: “Because I can relieve sufferin’.”

Remember, until quite recently people lived with the chronic pain of decay and the acute misery of abscesses. Take Lawrence of Arabia, just as an example. He was 32 when he enlisted in the R.A.F. after the Great War. His records show that he was missing 8 teeth and had significant decay in 12 others. And his dental health status was actually considered good! Try to imagine chewing with that mouth! But that was typical for middle class Brits in 1923. Things were even worse on the American frontier in the 1800s.

So dentistry wasn’t just a dull day job that Doc Holliday ditched when he got a chance to go West and gamble! That’s why I didn’t write about Tombstone. I wrote about Dodge City in 1878 is because that was the last time when he was well enough to re-establish a dental practice. He’d have stayed in Dodge if Kansas winter hadn’t turned out to be so hard on him. He lived quietly there – the only time his name was in the papers was when he announced the opening of his dental office.

ZR: How did you learn about dentistry practices in the American Old West?

MDR: From Dental Cosmos, the premier 19th century dentistry journal. I read all the issues between 1870 and 1878 – from when John Henry matriculated at the Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery until he arrived in Dodge City.

ZR: Is it true that you managed to work some horse riding into your research process?

MDR: Yes! As a girl, I’d save up my babysitting money to pay for an hour at a stable on an elderly saddle horse – you’re more a passenger than a rider under those circumstances.

But horses the backbone of the economy in the 19th century and a constant part of everyday life, as cars are today. Wyatt Earp was a serious horseman, and I needed to get a feel for his life.

So I spent time on the KD Guest Ranch in Adamsville, Ohio, where Kari and Dave Burkey taught me to ride with authority. And I had the time of my life!

I also watch RFD-TV, a network that has a lot of shows about riding and horses. And I read books about equine veterinary issues, horse breeding and racing. Not nearly as fun as penning calves at the KD Ranch, but very interesting.

ZR: Did you ever go to Dodge City while you were writing Doc?

MDR: No. The town has changed during the past 133 years! I worked from plat maps and photos from the 1870s. I grew up in Illinois and was familiar with prairie ecology, so I know what the landscape looks like at dawn, for example.

On the other hand, I visited Griffin and Fayetteville, Georgia, where John Henry Holliday spent much of his childhood because that landscape was his frame of reference when he went west. Personally, I find the flat lands subtle and serene and beautiful, but if you grow up with rolling hills and pines forests, the prairie can seem empty and boring, and intimidatingly lonely.

I’m writing about Tombstone next, and I will visit that area. I’ve never lived in or near a desert, so I’ll be spending five days on horseback in the country around Tombstone, and will visit in both spring and fall, to get a feel for seasonal changes.

ZR: Westerns have been out of fashion in Hollywood for some time, but there seems to be a resurgence in them lately.

MDR: Yes! True Grit was a big hit, and there seems to be an appetite for them again.

ZR: Why do you think the time is right for the genre now?

MDR: For adults in the 50s, I think perhaps early TV Westerns were partly nostalgia for the time when they’d had close contact with horses and the land. Back then there were still horse-drawn wagons on the streets of Chicago, where I grew up, but horses and mules were quickly disappearing from people’s daily life, just as television was gaining ground and as suburbia was encroaching on farmland.

For kids like me, they provided settings for imagining freedom that was unmonitored by the parents and neighbors and teachers who controlled so much of our lives.

Then in the 1960s and 70s, the Civil Rights movement and the American Indian Movement made simplistic, racist “Cowboys and Indians” tropes unacceptable. For a while, there was a revisionist reaction: Indians became noble and kind, cowboys became ugly and vicious, but the Western was still about good guys and bad guys.

Finally the genre was replaced by Star Wars and Star Trek, where you could make aliens the bad guys and not worry about being picketed by protesters.

I think we’re beginning to get enough distance from all that to start thinking in terms of real human beings, not categories and groups. Also, Westerns as a written genre tended to be pulp, with a few exceptions like Shane and The Oxbow Incident. Perhaps starting with Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove,there’s been an effort to write to a higher standard, to present realistic characters in historically accurate situations and to think past the easy solutions and handy cliches of the genre’s first century.

I’m not sure I could defend this analysis in an academic debate, but those are my first thoughts about it anyway…

ZR: Back on the subject of historical fiction, can you offer up some books you think readers of your work should be sure to check out?

MDR: I enjoyed Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and Iain Pear’s The Dream of Scipio. And I really admire Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. That’s a brilliant biography, but it’s so wonderfully written, it reads like a good novel.

And it’s unfashionable to say this, but Gone With The Wind is a better book than it’s given credit for, today. Margaret Mitchell and John Henry Holliday were cousins – their family histories overlap, so I reread the book as background for Doc, but came away from it with a lot of respect for the novel and its author.

Mitchell was really brave – it takes real guts to put a ruthlessly, relentlessly self-absorbed character like Scarlett O’Hara in the center of a 1000-page story. And yet, the narrative drive never flags, and Scarlett’s blinkered selfishness is used to make other characters’ nuances stand out in high relief. Not an easy trick to pull off…

ZR: Before I let you get back to writing, would you talk about the role of music in your books?

MDR: You know, I’ve only recently become aware of what a strong element music is in my writing. Not so much in Dreamers of the Day, but in all the other books there are characters who are musicians or who sing, or who are so moved by unearthly music that they are willing to cross the heavens to hear more of it.

Until recently, I had never studied music formally – it was all listening: just emotion and reaction for me. But John Henry Holliday and his mother were accomplished pianists. To write for them, I needed to become familiar with the 19th century piano repertoire by Chopin and Beethoven, and Schumann.

When I started this novel, my tastes ran to 1980s bands like Def Leppard and Van Halen, but I just fell in love with Chopin. I cannot get enough of Chopin! And I ended up structuring the entire novel around Beethoven’s Emperor concerto.

The first thing I did after sending the manuscript for Doc to the publisher was go shopping for a piano. I couldn’t find middle C when I started lessons a year ago, but since then, I’ve mastered Traumerei, with training wheels; a very simplified Chopin prelude, and the grown-up version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C from The Well-Tempered Clavier!

Six-year-olds are usually pushed at lessons; at 60, you’re pulled by the music. I’ll work for months on one piece until there comes a day when that music isliving right there in my own hands. That is pure magic. ________________________________________________________________

Zack Ruskin graduated in 2010 with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes short stories, reports for Patch.com, and works for Book Passage bookstore in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently becoming certified as a copy editor at University of California, Berkeley and interning at McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. He is infatuated with his Norfolk terrier Scout, hiking in the fog and arguing baseball with his friends. All his words can be found at  http://www.zackruskin.com/ .

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Lee Roddy

By RD Larson

I’ve known Lee Roddy for a number of years and love his books. I just finished Days of Deception. It gave me such pleasure to go away in time and have a train adventure. In addition, all of the children in my life have at least one historical novel written by Mr. Roddy. It pleases me to say that each of those children has an abiding interest in history. You can’t go wrong when you read a Lee Roddy book.

Lee Roddy is a best-selling author who has written 50 novels and 15 non-fiction books with sales in the millions of copies. His credits include Grizzly Adams, which became a prime-time television series, The Lincoln Conspiracy, which made the New York Times best-seller list, Jesus, now a film in more than 500 languages, and four series of novels for young adults. Visit his websitewhere you can order his books and read more about him.

Lee Roddy: Hi, RD. I appreciate your doing this interview.

RD Larson: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Readers want to know about your work. How old were you when you started to write?

L.R.: My first short stories were published when I was 14, so I’d been trying for a year or so before then. However, it took many years before I could make a full-time living off of my writing

R.D.L.: Did you always like history? And how did you to start writing historical fiction? Have you always had a great love for history?

L.R.: Some of my adult novels and three of my series for juvenile readers had contemporary settings, but my love of history moved me to write about that for both young readers and grown-ups.

I was very fortunate to have a high school teacher who taught me that history is not dates and events, but people reacting to their times. I really loved history from that time on.

R.D.L.: Where did the inspiration for The Lady Pinkerton Chronicles come from? Was there something specific in the time after the Civil War that you wanted to explore?

L.R.: I always try to write about something not well known in history, so I knew the Civil War has been the subject of more books than for any other period, but there was little on Reconstruction and building of the transcontinental railroad. I wondered what would happen if a female former Union spy and an ex-Confederate cavalryman were involved with railroading leading up to bridging the nation with iron rails. It took three books to tell this romantic suspense story

R.D.L.: Do you have a schedule that you follow when you are writing a novel? Do you work a certain number of hours a day, write a certain number of pages a day, etc.?

L.R.: I arise daily at 5 a.m. and am at the computer by 8 a.m. I work until 5 p.m; five-and-a-half-days a week. I do not try for a certain number of pages each day, but do write each one as best as I can.

R.D.L.: Do you always conceive the novels as part of a series, or did the idea for the series grow out of one book?

L.R.: I usually think of characters or a subject that is too big for one book although I have written several stand-alone novels. I prefer series or trilogies. That’s because they give me the space to explore the period, the characters and stories in greater depth. If readers become intrigued with the characters, it’s natural for them to want to read more about them and their situations.

R.D.L.: What are you working on now? What areas of history would you like to visit in your writing in the future?

L.R.: I have two works-in-progress: one has a different slant about the California Gold Rush of 1849. The other takes a unique angle about the Pony Express. As for the area of history I would like to write about in the future – well, for years, I’ve thought about how I could help people rediscover their true American heritage. I see so much deviation from the historic facts that I’d like to tell stories that recapture what it was really like, and not slanted as much of our heritage is today

R.D.L.: Your wonderful exciting novels come to life through your use of history. How does your research process work? Is it time consuming? Do you have any research tips for writers of historical fiction?

L.R.: I prefer working with original resources when possible, so I’m always looking for old manuscript sources, etc. I work by getting an idea of what I think would be interesting to readers and also keep me enjoying the search. Usually, I read an hour each night on various subjects that interest me. I travel to the historic sites where possible taking my video camera and tape recorder. Yes, it is very time consuming, but it’s a pleasure, not work. My interest stays high because I have a strong desire to pass on what I’ve learned through researching history.

As for tips: You’ve got to love what you do or your manuscript won’t have the spark and glow that should show in the finished story. Of course, all well-told stories have about the same basic structure and contents, so it’s how you tell the story that makes it appeal to readers.

R.D.L.: Some writers believe that every fact must be true, while other writers wish to take some dramatic license with their works of fiction? What do you think? A novel has to be exciting to take the reader into it.

L.R.: I believe a fact is always true, but I also believe it’s okay to “write from the silences,” as an author friend expresses it. That is, I sometimes take historic characters, described as they were and shown in a factual setting, and have them interact with my fictitious character. However, I never go against what is historically known about that character or the locale in which he encounters my made-up person(s). Often I can find what the historic character said or wrote, and use those words in a scene. I never change an historic character for the sake of my story. I want that character to be true to self, just as my imaginary characters are true to themselves as I envision them.

R.D.L: What is your advice to aspiring writers of historical fiction?

L.R.: First, learn the craft of writing a solid story. At the same time, begin or continue the unending search for both the historic facts to be melded with characters that only exist in the mind. The challenge comes in trying to write an exciting, page-turning story set against an historically accurate setting. The goal is to entertain while painlessly feeding in bits of heritage that make the reader understand the times, and glad they read the work so they’re eager to buy your next book.


RD Larson was born on the north coast of California. Two of her childhood stories were published before age twelve; at age fourteen, she wrote and produced a play at the local library for younger children. She attended Humboldt State, majoring in art and art history, and then continued her education at College of the Redwoods and Sacramento State University. Ms. Larson began to write again, attending many writing classes and seminars, each time saying she learned more about herself and her writing. In 1995, she began to enjoy e-writing on the Internet and joined writer groups and exchanged many writing ideas worldwide. In 1999, her anthology of her childhood stories was published by bookmice.com. Mama Stories has been read in New Delhi, Beijing, Sydney, and Ottawa, and many readers all over the U.S. have written to her in response to her work. She was a Pirate’s Alley Faulkner’s semifinalist in 1996, and she was nominated in 1999 for the Frankfurt Award. She lives in the Gold Country of California in the Sierra Foothills and enjoys an avid interest in the rich historical past of the area.

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Anita Diamant

By Faith L. Justice

Faith L. Justice: How did you get started writing?

Anita Diamant: I wrote poetry a long time ago, but you can’t make any money in poetry. I switched to journalism and non-fiction. When I turned 40, I wanted to do something different. Fiction offered a different challenge. It uses a different side of the brain.

F.L.J.: How would you describe your story in The Red Tent?

A.D.: It’s a historical novel set about 1500 BCE with a plot plundered from the Bible and told from the perspective of a woman and her culture. Jacob’s daughter Dinah is a great story. It has sex, violence, plot, drama, suspense, and an unexpected bloody denouement. Dinah’s silence in the Bible is a big opening.

F.L.J.: A few people criticized your feminist version of the story and subsequent characterizations of the patriarchs.

A.D.: This is what happens when you appropriate the Bible – you’re treading on sacred territory. It’s very understandable that people get upset and proprietary about their vision of the sacred and what you should or shouldn’t be able to do with it. With a female first person narrator you see the women’s world. Dinah wouldn’t have known what the men’s world was like. Until very recently men and women inhabited very separate spheres. There was always interconnection, passion, love, and interdependence economically and many other ways. But I think we lived in very different worlds especially where you have traditional extended families. Men and women didn’t hang out at the end of the day and chat about what their day was like at the office. They had very special responsibilities and social sense. Women wouldn’t know a whole lot about the daily details of the men in their lives. They loved them, they were important to them, but they didn’t spend the lion’s share of their hours with one another.

F.L.J.: You’ve sold over 200,000 copies. What’s been the appeal?

A.D.: The story works in different ways for different people. Readers have told me how the mother, daughter, sister relationships resonate for them. They connect with the importance of female relationships. And then there’s the Bible. It’s sort of the other person in the room. There’s this book, the reader, and the Bible. Whatever your relationship is to your sacred tradition in the West you have some relationship to the Bible if only through the names of the characters. We all know a Jake or Becky or we’ve named our children Rachael or Isaac. Biblical names are hot again. These people function in our lives whether or not we’re Bible readers, church or synagogue goers. These stories belong to us from childhood. For some people it’s a way to reconnect personally with the tradition they felt alienated from, there’s some power released. I don’t take credit for it. That’s something way deeper than I intended. I didn’t count on that when I was writing the story.

F.L.J.: How did you go about researching it?

A.D.: As a journalist I’m comfortable doing library research and I did a lot. I had a fellowship at Radcliff for a year which gave me access to the Harvard system. This allowed me to poke around in the divinity school library, the Schlesinger Library and Wagoner Library for facts about daily life – food, clothing, remedies for disease, and what houses in Egypt might have looked like. In particular I researched female medicine – midwifery, birth control, and abortion. I didn’t do Biblical research. The sheer weight of the research nearly overwhelmed me. I had to stop myself a lot and tell myself that I didn’t need to become an expert on this. I just needed the details that served my plot.

F.L.J.: How did you organize it?

A.D.: I didn’t outline. When I started the book, I knew that it would begin with Dinah’s birth or pre-birth, there would be this dramatic climax, and end with her death. That was really all I knew. Getting the fellowship sort of legitimized the process. It made me feel like I really had to write this book. I was also working on other books and articles at the same time. I didn’t have an advance, this was my hobby. I really enjoyed it, even though it was difficult and challenging, because it was really different.

F.L.J.: I read you had trouble getting an agent and getting it published.

A.D.: I initially sent it to agents whom I thought would get it. They didn’t. Then I sent it to some I know. One took it on, but he had to back away because of other commitments. I ended up with a local agent. She found a publisher on the first mailing. She sent the manuscript to five houses and heard back from St. Martins. It was a modest first novel advance. But that wasn’t the end of my difficulties. I lived through a classic publishing story. My editor at St. Martins was fired a month before the book came out. It became an orphan book. The editor who took it over liked the book, but she already had a full plate. It was never advertised and didn’t get reviewed in any major outlets. The hardback had modest sales of a little over 10,000 copies

F.L.J.: The paperback sold over 200,000 copies. What drove those sales?

A.D.: I’ve spent nearly three years promoting the book. When Picador USA decided to bring it out as a trade paperback, St. Martin’s announced it would remainder the hardbacks. I said, ‘Please don’t do that. Let’s use them [the hardbacks] for promotion. Why not send them out to clergy?’ I got the lists for them and the publisher paid the postage, provided the books, and mailed them out. We initially sent the books to the female rabbis in Reform Judaism – about 500 women. The President of the organization was a friend of mine and wrote a cover letter recommending the book. Another friend who was the president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinic Assembly provided a cover letter and we sent copies to all of the Reconstructionist rabbis – both men and women. People preached from it and recommended it to their congregants.

I have a10-year track record of writing for the Jewish community and it embraced this book in a big way. The President of the Reform Movement started a literacy project and said everyone should be reading at least four Jewish books a year. The Reform Judaism Magazine, which goes out to about 400,000 households, named The Red Tent as a significant Jewish book. They featured it with a picture of the cover and an interview with me. That’s a recommendation with a lot of impact. November is Jewish book month, so Jewish Community Centers all around the country have book fairs where they invite authors and sell books in advance of the holidays. I had done that with my other books. I only had a little interest in The Red Tent the second year it was out, but the next year, I had to turn down invitations to speak all over the country.

F.L.J.: So you started with Jewish community – did you expand beyond that base?

A.D.: Picador mailed copies of The Red Tent to female Christian clergy and independent reading group leaders. Reading groups have been real fans ofThe Red Tent. The publisher offered discounts and promotional materials if bookstores bought in quantities of ten or more, making it more appealing as a book group reading selection. They created and printed a reading group guide and made it available through their website. The icing on the cake came when Mickey Perlman, who publishes What to Read: The Essential Guide for Reading Group Members and Other Book Lovers recommended The Red Tentas one of her favorites.

The sales numbers speak of a much broader audience. This is a real word-of-mouth book. If ten women read it, they tell their friends, and those friends recommend it to their friends. The more I do bookstores, the more people come up to me from church groups. I spoke at Pittsburg State College and had 2 or 3 ministers and book groups from a couple of churches.

The independent book sellers have been great. The Red Tent was on theBook Sense bestseller list for months. You don’t realize how much of a difference it makes. The independents just do things differently. Clearly they know their readers and they know what they like and they support those books. It’s just a very different relationship. They have a lot more flexibility in what they can order and what they can display and it makes a difference to people like me. The independents hand-sell. When their customers come in and ask, “What should I read?” they say, “You’re going to like this book.” My local independent bookseller has been incredibly supportive and has sold a ton of my books. Locally, it’s been his best seller for many years. I’ll go to events and sign fifty books. I’d do anything he asks.

The publisher sold the rights to foreign sales. Now The Red Tent is translated into 10 different languages, and sold in 11 countries. The covers are really different but it’s doing very well. It’s just amazing to me. It’s wonderful. I was invited to Holland by the Dutch publisher and did a book tour in Amsterdam which was – WOW.

F.L.J.: You’ve said there is an element of luck in getting published.

A.D.: I’m not a literary writer. I didn’t go to whatever school it is or have the mentor you need to get reviewed in the New York Times. Publishing is a weird business. There are good books that don’t get published and crappy books that get published and promoted up the wazoo. It seems pretty serendipitous and arbitrary to me. I had luck in that I found an agent, a publisher liked the book and published it beautifully. Picador picked it up, and, in spite of modest sales, St. Martins didn’t remainder it right away. The fact that The Red Tent did well has something to do with spiritual seeking, that it’s an intensely woman’s story and had a base in a very literate community that buys books.

F.L.J.: What’s next?

A.D.: A contemporary novel. I’m really looking forward to writing all summer.


Faith L. Justice’s pre-writing life included work as a lifeguard, paralegal, college professor, and business consultant.  She lives with her husband, daughter, and cat in New York City.  Faith’s nonfiction has been published in In These Times, Salon.com, Writer’s Digest and The Writer, among others.  Visit her website.

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Valerie Anand

By Faith L. Justice

Popular historical fiction and mystery writer Valerie Anand brings past times and conundrums to life with fascinating characters, abundant detail and meticulous research. She’s the author of the six-book series Bridges Over Time covering the evolution of one family from before the Conquest to modern times, as well as many others. More recently she’s been known under her pen name Fiona Buckley for her historical mystery series set in the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign. Ms. Anand talked to us about her writing, love of history, feminist leanings, and research methods from her South London home.

Faith L. Justice: Do you have a literary family history ?

Valerie Anand: My father was a good teller of stories to small children and so was his aunt, my great aunt Clara. They both made up tales to amuse me. On the same side of the family, I had a cousin (now dead) who although a scientist, was also keen on books and wrote a couple of science fiction paperback novels.

For me, writing is a natural function, like breathing. No one can do without breathing and I can’t do without writing. I don’t know why. It satisfies a very deep need. At the age of six, just after I had really learned to write, I suddenly announced that I was going to write books when I grew up and I actually started trying, then and there, on a piece of doubled over paper with a red crayon. The best moments come when I am trying to transmit something subtle or very deeply emotional and difficult to express, and feel, after much writing and re-writing that yes, that’s it, I’ve got it right at last, that’s it.

F.L.J.: What drew you to historical fiction?

V.A.: You may be surprised to learn that America—well, Hollywood—had a lot to do with my decision to write historicals. I didn’t like history at school, mainly because it wasn’t well taught. At school, they gave the impression that everyone in history was not only dead but mummified and covered in cobwebs as well. But at the age of fifteen, I went with another girl to see MGM’s film of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe –starring Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Taylor. And suddenly, there were all these medieval people who weren’t in the least mummified or cobwebby. They wore colorful clothes; they fought and feasted, fell in love, kidnapped each other, besieged castles…I walked into that cinema knowing that one day I wanted to write novels and walked out of it knowing exactly what kind of novel I wanted to write. Historical novels set in the middle ages. From then on, I couldn’t read enough medieval history. I didn’t tell my teachers, though. They would have wanted me to pass exams and spoiled all the fun.

F.L.J.: Did you read historicals after Ivanhoe or go straight to the “real” history?

V.A.: I read Ivanhoe then spent nearly every minute of my spare time sitting on the floor of the history section reading my way along the history shelves—the medieval bit. I took some of the books out and kept the whole thing a dead secret from my history teacher. I sank right to the bottom of the class. I didn’t want the teacher to know. It was too exciting and too private. In my talks I always say, “If there are any teachers among you, I’m going to preach sedition. It’s a mistake to hitch all learning to the examination wagon. There are such things as private voyages of the mind.” This was one of them.

F.L.J.: Why did you cross over to historical mysteries?

V.A.: It took a long time to get into print, but I just kept trying—for about 20 years, come to think of it—until I finally succeeded. Historicals, however, have a checkered track record. They keep going out of fashion. Sometimes they slip back in for a while but it doesn’t last.

Historical mysteries, though, seem to have got a grip, especially since Ellis Peters launched that marvelous Cadfael series. I noticed that one of my books,Crown of Roses, which is about the mystery of the princes in the Tower, did better than any other, and concluded that the mystery element might be part of the reason (the other part is that the mystery itself is so famous).

Well, I love reading whodunits anyway, so I decided to try this new field. I’m enjoying it.

F.L.J.: How do you research your books?

V.A.: I regularly do a talk on writing and research and the research bit takes about twenty minutes! To put it briefly: I have, of course, been reading history for interest and pleasure for years and years and have a reasonably sound general background on the parts which interest me most. When planning a specific book, I read works on the period and take notes, and then chase up such details as the layout of particular towns, styles of furniture, fashions of the time, laws in force, technologies which existed then, etc. by reading books on those subjects. I often visit a museum such as the British Museum, to look at artifacts; I sometimes visit places that I want to feature so as to get them right. And I use maps a lot!

My current Ursula Blanchard book is set on the Welsh-English border, partly in a haunted castle. While researching this, I at one point had my sitting room floor completely carpeted with Landranger maps while I tried to work out whether one could or could not ride a horse from one point to another in a single day. Having concluded that it wasn’t possible, I decided to move my haunted castle 17 miles westward. Come to think of it, one of the satisfying things about being an author is the sheer power one has over one’s characters and settings!

I also sometimes interview people and have been known to write to historians to ask specific questions. What usually happens, in the middle of reading up on the period, chasing the facts I need and spreading the maps all over the place, then the urge to get started becomes too strong. Then I get about half-way through and I say “oh, I’ve got to find out about that” and I find out about it and it changes the plot, so I have to go back and all but start again. I just can’t seem to keep this from happening. It doesn’t seem to matter in the end. It just seems the urge to write overtakes the information available.

I always try to be accurate, because there is always someone out there who will write in and point out your mistakes.

F.L.J.: Why did you adopt a nom de plume for the historical mysteries?

V.A.: I didn’t actually want to change my name but Orion, the British publisher who launched the Ursula Blanchard series, wanted me to have a new identity for my new venture, and they insisted. I certainly don’t wish to keep my real name secret! I may write things under the name of Valerie Anand in the future, just as I did in the past, and would hate to lose out on readers who know me as Fiona Buckley and don’t realize that Valerie Anand is the same person! Or vice versa.

F.L.J.: Have you been able to make a living as a fiction writer?

V.A.: A lot of people said you’ll never earn a living as a writer, but I’m laughing last. It was hard in the beginning. I worked a 4-day week at the office and wrote the whole day on the 5th. It was physically very demanding. In 1989 I became redundant just as I received the contract to write the six-book seriesBridges Over Time. I said, “Right, take the golden handshake, buy a word processor, convert the garage, and trust to luck.” I’m very pleased to say I’ve earned a living off my writing for quite a long time.

F.L.J.: Who are your favorite authors?

V.A.: My favorite book of all time is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I belong to the Tolkien Society. Among my other favorite modern authors are Susan Howatch, Dick Francis, Robert Goddard, Terry Pratchett, Arthur C. Clarke, Joanna Trollope, and, of course, Lindsey Davis.

Of classical authors, my favorites are Jane Austen and the Brontes, and in between, as it were, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, John Wyndham. All these have produced books which can be re-read and re-read.

F.L.J.: Have they influenced your own writing?

V.A.: I suppose they have in some ways. I think one does one learn—without without knowing you’re learning—a lot from reading well-written books. You learn how to construct passages, how to create an atmosphere. You don’t know your doing it. You couldn’t describe how its done, but have absorbed a good deal. With Tolkien—which which I’m rereading at the moment—I had to go through my current manuscript and remove all the references to clear water and merry meetings. He’s got such a vocabulary that is finds its way into your own work if you’re not careful. It catches like measles. And another fantastic writer, that’s almost forgotten nowadays, is T.H. White. The language in The Sword in the Stone is catching too.

F.L.J.: How would you characterize the Ursula Blanchard series?

V.A.:. It’s essentially a mixture of mystery and Elizabethan espionage and it is more concerned with detection and mystery-solving than with violent adventure. This is one of the reasons why the main character is a young woman. I decided on that partly because most (though not all) lead characters in this type of novel are male and I wanted to be different. But I also felt that merely because Ursula is a woman, she can’t get out of difficult situations just by knocking her opponents down or felling them with broadswords. She has to use brain instead of brawn, and this is my favorite kind of thriller. I have a weakness for Agatha Christie and this is partly because Hercule Poirot depends on his little gray cells and not on violence, while Miss Marple is even less capable of violence than Poirot and most certainly has to work by thinking. You may be getting the feeling that I don’t like violence. That’s true. I don’t. Of course I accept that to fight in self-defense is legitimate (you can’t have people like Hitler just trampling all over everyone in sight and do nothing about it). But it is intelligence, not muscle, that makes human beings different from the animals.

In Ursula, I have tried to create an intelligent, normally feminine woman who is involved in espionage. She is often handicapped by being female, especially since she lives in the days of Elizabeth I, not Elizabeth II. She has to find ways round that. Her manservant Roger Brockley is there to do the bits which have to involve muscle. I have also tried to keep the tone entertaining. I want people to enjoy my books, to be amused as well as interested. I wish the books to be fun as well as accurate and—I hope—properly properly plotted and tense.

F.L.J.: Why did you choose the Elizabethan era?

V.A.: As far as I could see, most other historical whodunit series were medieval or ancient Egyptian. Elizabeth’s era hadn’t been much used. But it was a splendid era for espionage—there was so much going on and the people involved seemed to get such an extraordinary kick out of it. It was an interesting time, too, in other ways. It was the outcome of the Renaissance. New ideas were burgeoning; art, poetry, drama and music were developing fast throughout the whole Tudor era. It produced Shakespeare and Hans Holbein. Seamen were opening up new trade routes to Russia and beginning to explore America; technology and science were developing. And there was a woman on the throne, which somehow seemed to make Ursula and her unusual calling more believable. The possibilities seemed immense.

F.L.J.: How do Ursula and your other women characters reflect your views on women’s roles in history?

V.A.: Throughout history women have been largely undervalued, but their contribution was undoubtedly there. They don’t get recorded, when they must have had enormous influence behind the scenes. We’re half the human race after all. There must have been an awful lot of women who’s names haven’t echoed down the ages the same way as if they had been men. I think that in creating Ursula, and some of my other heroines, I have been trying to demonstrate what that contribution could be and also how women made it. So often, they had to dissemble so that although they were wielding influence, they weren’t seen to be wielding it.

F.L.J.: You seem to have a strong feminist streak. I believe you call it “feminism of the mind.”

V.A.: That sensibility began in the 1950’s when I was young. 1960’s feminism seemed to be about women being free to go around and have one-night stands and all the rest of it. I never wanted to do that. But I did want was to think for myself and not be confronted with this dreadful business of you must do what men tell you because they are men. Women must not surrender their intellectual integrity. We have exactly the same right to live our lives by the light of our intelligence, to be free to learn all we can, to study if we want to, to develop an intellectual life and not to be told we shouldn’t do this by anybody.

I find that marriage clause “to obey” appalling. A woman should be free to use her intelligence to get out of an abusive relationship or earn a living if necessary. It’s important to develop intellectual resources. If you have intellectual interests and mental resources you’re not so stricken when the beauty goes and you get older. It won’t matter so much then, you’ll have something else to do.

F.L.J.: How has that applied in your own life?

V.A.: Mother believed the life of the mind was only for men and wanted me to be very domesticated. But as a young woman, fired by my father’s accounts of going up in planes during the war, I learned to fly light aircraft. I didn’t go on with it after I’d got my private pilot’s license. It was too expensive! I just wanted to have done it and I did enjoy it. I did my training at Biggin Hill, the famous fighter station.

I took my time getting married. In the fifties, over here, marriage was very repressive. One really was expected to knuckle under and ‘obey’. I had no intention of doing anything of the kind. Also, my background, though very loving was in some ways very narrow. I wanted wider horizons and wasn’t sure how to get them. Then, at the age of 31, after my father had died, I went dancing with some other girls, met Dalip Singh Anand, from northern India and that seemed to be it. The spark leapt the gap of race and culture instantly, and I have never regretted it. We married on 26th March 1970. It widened my horizons most satisfactorily. I now have a whole family in Delhi and Chandigarh and they have made me most welcome.

We have never had children but it hasn’t worried us.

F.L.J.: Has that widened horizon influenced your writing?

V.A.: I’ve written a couple of books about India. One was a little romance _To a Native Shore_. The heroine married an Indian, moved there, and was quite homesick. She had to come back to England for some reason and hesitated about returning to her husband, but it takes time and various things happen. In the end she realizes that although she will never break the links with home, she does want to go back to him. The other one, _West of Sunset_, was a much darker book because it took place in Delhi after the awful riots in 1984 after Mrs. Ghandi was assassinated. It’s about the fortunes of Indian immigrants in England. That incident changed lives and attitudes here.

F.L.J.: A reviewer has described your characters as amusingly modern. Do you agree?

V.A.: Yes, up to a point. I do it because that way, they will be easier for modern readers to identify with. I have read several historical novels in which the author has tried hard to make the characters be completely people of their time, and it never really works. The characters are alienated from the reader.

There’s also the point that when they were alive, people in history thought that they were modern, and after all, basic human nature doesn’t change much. Language changes, fashionable ideas change, the state of knowledge changes, but needs and emotions stay much the same. Take a look round the world now. Round the globe there are many different cultures. The difference between them is quite as great as the difference between the cultures of the 21st century and, say, the 18th. Greater in some cases! But good old human nature is there under the surface layer, just the same. I’ve even lived through quite drastic changes in culture. The world of the 1950s, in which I grew up, was very very different from the world of 2001. Yet quite a lot of the people who occupied those worlds are the same people! The words “amusingly modern” imply an anachronism, but that may be more apparent than real. Sometimes I think that the authors who try to make their characters too true to their era, lose their essential humanity.

F.L.J.: You seem very involved in causes. Is this an “antidote” to the isolation of writing?

V.A.: When I became redundant from my job, I took a deep breath and decided I would become a full-time writer. I found it lonely and restricted in some ways. My principal spare time interest is the Exmoor Society. I was taken on holiday to Exmoor (on the south side of the Bristol Channel) as a child, loved the place and went on loving it. I used to go down there to ride, for there is no better way to explore the moorland and the valleys round it. Eventually I joined the society which is dedicated to its preservation and to encourage people to study it and care about it. There is a London Area Branch, and I am on the committee of this.

I also belong to Altrusa, a US based association mainly of professional women, who raise money to further the health and education of women in developing countries. There are numerous Altrusa groups in England and there is one near where I live. One of our projects is to provide classes in literacy and tailoring for village women in one part of India; another is to back up health and education projects in Ethiopia where girls are often married so young that they are injured by having children too early. The damage can be put right, but there is as yet only about one clinic in the country!

F.L.J.: Any advice for writers trying to sell their first novel?

V.A.: It’s never easy. One obvious thing is to polish the novel as thoroughly as possible, then rest it for a while and think of something else (or start another novel!) and then go back, coming to the work from a more objective distance, and polish it again. Then try your best to get an agent.

I managed it because I had written to an historian (Professor Frank Barlow of Exeter University) about a detail of Anglo-Saxon England and he not only answered me, but put me in touch with Hope Muntz, an expert on the era and the author of a best-selling novel called The Golden Warrior. Hope Muntz gave me much useful information and she also, very kindly, read the manuscript of my first book Gildenford set in pre-Conquest times, and then recommended me to Scribners!

Later on, I acquired my agents, here and in the US, because I already had books in print. Starting out is not easy. Sheer determined obstinacy is a useful trait in a writer.

F.L.J.: Any new projects coming up?

V.A.: A further Ursula is in preparation. I also have ideas for other types of book and will give some thought to that when I have finish the current draft. I would like to tackle a modern mystery series, p erhaps set in the west of England, which I know very well. But all this is still just in my mind.


Faith L. Justice’s pre-writing life included work as a lifeguard, paralegal, college professor, and business consultant. She lives with her husband, daughter, and cat in New York City.  Faith’s nonfiction has been published in In These Times, Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer, among others. Visit her website.

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Brian Wainwright

By Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn:  I read you are, like me, a “notorious Anne Boleyn fan.” Well – I know why I am one of her devotees, but how about you? What attracted you to Queen Anne?

Brian Wainwright:   I think the interest in Anne Boleyn probably started with the famous Keith Michell series back in the 70s. I was still at school and (hard though it is to believe now) it was the subject of a great deal of discussion between classes. The girls tended to like Jane Seymour best of the wives and (typically of me) I liked to be awkward. I suppose all six stories were interesting in their own way, but Anne was simply the one I found most interesting of the lot. Maybe it was partly that she was the first woman of rank to be executed in England since Lord knows when – I suppose it’s a question of whether Maude de Braose counts as being “executed”. Moreover, it seemed to me then, and it does still to this day, that she was executed on no evidence whatever, just because Henry wanted shut of her, and that, I thought, was a shocking injustice. Whatever Anne’s faults (and I should be the last to suppose her a saint) she did not deserve to be murdered. I also liked and admired her spirit and courage – she was an amazing woman in that sense, she was willing to stand up to anyone for what she wanted. She might have been wiser to hold her tongue a bit more, in terms of survival, but then that wouldn’t have been Anne, would it?

(As for Jane Seymour, I used to say that considering she was such a perfect creature it was odd that she was willing to marry a man just a matter of days after he had publicly murdered his previous wife!)

One of my first dates, I took a girl to see Anne of the Thousand Days, which was a new film then, and although it was a different “take” on things, it still intrigued me and made me want to read the factual books about the reign. So I did. You know, if fiction does nothing else it must persuade at least some people to look into serious history.

Henry VIII is my least favourite Henry – I even prefer his father, which from a Ricardian is saying a lot. H8 seems to me to combine all Edward IV’s worst faults with many of Henry 7’s. Edward IV was sometimes a bully – and actually I had a scene in my abortive GYH which made me realise how much of one he was – but at least no one could ever have called him a coward. I remember that bit when Anne was really, really ill, with some sort of fever and Henry didn’t have the courage to visit her because he was afraid of catching it. Some love!

I don’t think I will ever “do” anything about Anne Boleyn, because I am “uncomfortable” in the era – I really should have hated to live in the Tudor period, and especially during the reign of H8. Learning more about the reign I realised that the injustice done to Anne was part of a pattern – it was one long tyranny of injustice, starting with Dudley and Empson and ending with Surrey.

W.J.D.:   Oh yes. You and I are in total agreement about Henry VIII and – of course – Anne Boleyn. I see her death (and that of the five ‘AB party’ men also losing their lives in May, 1536) as plain and simple murder. Eric Ives says Cromwell set the wheels in motion because he feared for own his survival and places very little weight upon her last abortive pregnancy. But it is clear that Henry needed very little convincing to get rid of her. It’s a very tragic story…

I’ve read in a great interview with Wendy Zollo  how much you hated school. You know, I detested school too. That and an unhappy childhood turned me into an escapee – either by reading books or making up imaginary worlds. Also was the reason I became a teacher – thought if I went it to it knowing reasons why it made some children very unhappy, I might make some difference. I hope I did.

You mention The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett as one book you remember as a child. Are there any other authors from your early years you found inspiring?

B.W.: I can’t recall all the authors but I was a very “wide” reader, in fact I would read anything if it was the only book available. Arthur Ransome’s books about children having adventures in the Lake District are one lot I remember. The “William” books of Richmal Crompton (who came from Bury!). The “Bunter” books of Frank Richards. Things like “Black Arrow” and “Treasure Island” by Stevenson. “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell. “Ivanhoe” by Scott. These are a few. I was blessed to be possessed of a reading age far ahead of chronology – while still at primary school I read (for example) George Dow’s massive three-volume history of the Great Central Railway, and Dow was a lover of many big and unusual words. In those days you figured them out or looked them up. There was none of this “accessible” nonsense. I read a lot of adult railway books because that was my absolute passion. “Tales of the Glasgow and South Western Railway” by D L Smith was another, a wonderful set of anecdotes that most people would enjoy if they could get hold of it – it’s a rare book.

I don’t think I got into medieval “adult” fiction till I was about 13, and I have an idea the first one I read was Anya Seton’s Katherine. At about the same time I discovered that you could also read adult factual books on the middle ages. The rest is history…

W.J.D.: Your answer here does lead to another question. When did Constance, your wonderful princess and main character of “Within the Fetterlock” begin to tug at your interest?

B.W.: I was very interested in this era, and one day I was reading a book “The Political History of England” I think, and it mentioned Constance’s escape from Windsor with the boys. It was a very brief reference, but up to that time I had not even known that Edmund of Langley had a daughter. She is often left out of family trees – just check out any books on the wars of the roses!  This escape was such an amazing event that I had to know more and I spent literally years, on and off, trying to discover as much as I could about Constance. There is no one text book about her, and to an extent I had to delve into things like the Calender of Patent Rolls, Complete Peerage and one or two of the various Chronicles. Some information printed on her is quite wrong, it claims she was Edmund Holland’s mistress before she was Thomas Despenser’s wife, which is manifestly absurd in terms of chronology; indeed she was almost certainly married to Thomas before Edmund was even born. “Married” in name, you understand. What emerged from this scratching around was a quite amazing life story and I am a bit surprised that no modern novelist has written about her before me, though she does appear as a bit character in some novels. (Actually there is a Victorian Novel about her, White Rose of Langley by Emily S Holt, but you are very unlikely to be able to get hold of a copy.) The thing is, the more I found out, the more I seemed to be “hooked”.

To be honest I am not quite sure exactly when I started writing about her but it was a long time ago; there were several versions before Fetterlock and very little of the original remains. I don’t want to give you the idea that I did nothing else – I had various other hobbies as well as a full time job, and sometimes literally years went by before I did anything more on Constance. One problem was that I could not keep up with either my own style developments or the new research findings I discovered, so I would typically “complete” it and then start again! I also wrote Alianore Audley, in remarkably quick time by my standards, during a rest break! The research findings continued almost to the end. For example Nigel Saul’s superb book on Richard II was published and demonstrated that Richard had visited the Despensers at Hanley Castle in 1398, something I would not have dared invent:-)

In a way, my approach was “how not to be a professional novelist”! No professional could or would have spent so much time on it, or hared off down so many side alleys, as I did. I shall certainly never do the like again; I haven’t the time in this incarnation. In that sense it is literally the work of a lifetime. It was also a great practical learning experience, though, and in a way I am very glad that the earlier versions did not see the light of day, as I should not have been happy with them. Sometimes I would get five or six pages into a chapter and then realise “that’s not what happened”. It may sound odd, but at times it was as if Constance was helping me to write it! Certainly she became very real to me, and in an odd way I “know” her. Some parts of the book were very harrowing to write – readers will probably be able to guess which ones. Perhaps in a way it was that that made me go on – I felt I could not fail her.

W.J.D.:   You know – my character also became real to me (still is! He’s already preparing to take voice in my trilogy about Katherine of Aragon. But I’m still working on the first draft of book one. Tom’s got a bit of waiting to do for his minor role…)

I also came out of Dear Heart not wanting to fail Tom in finding a publisher. He so wanted his story told, gaining this opportunity to defend Anne Boleyn. I’ve pondered on this lot. Sometimes, it seems to me that writers really tap into something. Whether it because we just tap so well into our imaginary worlds or there is something beyond our understanding happening here. BUT I had so many things fall into place – I felt guided…do you think it’s possible we were? Did any intriguing things happen to you at just right time and place for your Constance novel? You know – what I love so much about writing and the reason I just can’t give it up, is that it is all a magical, spiritual adventure…

B.W.:  This is a really difficult one. As my grandfather used to say, I am sure there’s something there but I have no idea what it is. An additional complication is that writers almost by definition have imagination and imagination takes one to very strange places. Finally, I don’t really feel happy with a character anyway until that character takes on a sort of independent life. It’s hard to describe but it’s the difference between a “cardboard” character and one who lives for the reader. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.

Having said all that, Constance was a remarkably vivid character, and she certainly seemed a very real person to me. Now I have stopped writing about her, I really miss her, it’s like an old, dear friend has emigrated or something. I can say that she (and also Edmund Mortimer) insisted on doing some things in that book that I definitely did not plan out even in my mind – they just seemed to happen as I wrote it. Does that make any kind of sense? Probably not! I would love to know how far the real Constance co-coincided with “my” Constance. To a point I think they did, but there is no way of knowing for sure, not this side of death anyway. Do you know Maria from the lists? Maria who knows so much about Spain produced an historic description of Katherine of Lancaster, Constance’s double cousin, and the physical description of Katherine was remarkably close to my imagination of Constance.

One thing that was odd was that in an early draft I had Edmund Kent left behind in Ireland by Richard II, but then found (from what few references there were) some indications that this was not so. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found a letter from Kent to his uncle, which made it clear that I was right first time! He and his sister in law had been left behind, and were arrested landing in England in early 1400, not (as some historians mistakenly believed) trying to flee!

I think I told you about my visit to Elsing and my subsequent discovery (thanks to Rania) of the marriage between Margaret Hastings of Elsing and John Russell. On my travels I would quite frequently see a signpost and think – ooh, that was one of Constance’s manors! (Sometimes I would divert to see it, but rarely to any great profit except satisfying curiosity.)

I certainly don’t rule out the possibility we are guided in some way. I always think that most people who are interested in history have a particular affinity with certain periods. Why is that?  I must admit I am more “at home” in Constance’s era than in the Yorkist period, and although I am interested in the latter I am ultimately not as life-and-death passionate about it. It’s very odd. Why do we take sides? What made me write about one particular person out of all the interesting characters who thronged Richard II’s court? Don’t know. Just did. She’s not even particularly famous – in fact she’s rather obscure – but I just had to tell the story, and I had to get it right, however long it took. She and her family were so real to me; it was almost like a vision. How do you explain all this? I really don’t know – it just “is.” ________________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novel Dear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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Anne Easter Smith

By Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn: Do you agree, Anne, that Richard III is an overworked subject in historical fiction?

Anne Easter Smith: Judging from the e-mails I have had from people all over the country, sadly Richard is only just getting on their radar screens because of my book. This is not to say there haven’t been plenty of Ricardian novels over the years — some good and some not so — but I think having a major publisher like Simon & Schuster behind mine has given it wider visibility, that’s all. But compared with Tudor fiction in the last few years, Richard can’t hold a candle!! As a member of the RIII Society, I know at least four people writing and more than that who have published Ricardian novels, but I don’t know how big of an audience they have rated. So far my book has sold 23K – which S&S tells me is very good for a first-time novelist in five months. Just wish I could sell it in Oz and NZ — and then perhaps the UK will take note! It will be out in Germany next month (“Ach, du liebe!”) and has just come out in an audio book, which is terribly exciting. I have the same actress who read Bridget Jones’ Diary and sequel. She’s awfully good.

W.J.D.: You say you admire Richard III – can you please tell me why?

A.E.S.: My main reason for admiring Richard is his loyalty: first to his brother, holding the North strong for him without any power moves to challenge Edward for the throne, unlike brother George; to his wife in their marriage, although we know he had two bastards, they were old enough to have been born before that event and there were certainly none later; and to those two children, whom he took into his household and treated like royalty. That is why I chose to give him one mistress–I think he was someone who was fiercely loyal to those he loved. And that is why I do not think he murdered the princes in the Tower— they were his nephews and sons of his beloved brother. Richard was also a just ruler of his subjects–despite the short reign, he improved the judicial system for commoners and other than the odd execution of Hastings, was fair-minded when dealing with people. Even though he knew Elizabeth Woodville had plotted to keep Richard from being Protector of young Edward, he persuaded her to leave sanctuary and come and live at court. Surely she would have refused had she thought he had killed her sons.

W.J.D.: Do you have any firm theories about likely fate of Edward IV’s two sons??

A.E.S.: I think I pretty much laid out my whole theory in Rose for the Crown!

W.J.D.: My next question is related to your current project, expected to be
published next year. I gather this is about Margaret, the sister of Edward
IV and the wife of Charles the Bold? I am a curious soul, and wondered if
you might have found yourself inspired by Ann Wroe’s The Perfect Prince. I
must admit her book got me thinking about Margaret…

A.E.S.: When I gave my editor the proposal for a book about Margaret of York, I
was under the gun to come up with it as I had a two-book deal with Simon
& Schuster and they wanted to seal the deal in 24 hours. As I had written
Rose for the Crown as a labor of love over many years and really hadn’t
expected it to be published, I was floored by the prospect of writing another book. My agent mentioned that I had come away from the research on the first book with an interest in Margaret, so I figured I could probably use all the knowledge I already had on the period to construct a plausible story around her. What I was not reckoning on was becoming so engrossed in this new character that I ended up liking her even more than my Kate Haute! What an intelligent, intriguing woman she was. And yes, indeed, Ann Wroe’s Perkin orThe Perfect Prince was a useful resource. Ann and I had tea in London when I went to England and Belgium to do research on Margaret, and we struck up a nice friendship that has lasted on email. She has been invaluable in helping me write this second book. In fact, Perkin’s story may be part of the next book I am beginning to think about. Daughter of York is supposed to be on on the shelves by next April.

W.J.D.: Can you tell of the day when you realised that S&S was about to take you for the ride of a life time?? How much has it changed your life?

A.E.S.: I had just recently returned from a RIII Society annual conference in Toronto (the first joint Am/Canadian one) and people knew my agent was shopping the book. It had been doing the rounds since August with the first five editors targeted by Kirsten. It was now with the second five and I figured I didn’t have a prayer, although Kirsten told me that many times it takes a dozen or so before you might get a hit. I was alone in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea  when the phone rang. It was Kirsten. “Am I talking to the soon-to-be published author Anne Easter Smith?” I almost fell off the counter, where I was sitting swinging my legs waiting for the kettle to boil. She then proceeded to tell me about this fabulous — for a first-time novelist — deal that Touchstone Fireside (a division of S&S) was offering me. I had no idea whether it was fabulous or not, because I had not a clue how these things worked. I had to take Kirsten’s word for it. “Now part of the deal,” she continued, ” is that she wants a second book from you.” This time I had to sit down on a chair and put my head in my hands. “Another book?” I groaned, “but I’ve never thought about writing another book, and this one has taken me seven years!” Kirsten waited a beat before adding, “and I need a proposal in 24 hours.” Blimey, I thought! Well, I quickly decided that Margaret of York had intrigued me enough during the research of “Rose” that I could probably write a good story around her, and S&S accepted.

It only took me a month of understanding the timeline for the second book (a year after I finished the edits on the first) to make me quit my lovely job as administrative director of a music school so I could write. I immediately made plans to go to Europe on a research mission for three weeks in January 2005 and I really haven’t stopped since. I have to confess I was not prepared for the fantastic response I have had for Rose in the form of sales, complimentary emails and requests to talk at libraries and book clubs. It all seemed as though it was happening to someone else. I certainly have not gained celebrity status 😉 but I still get a thrill when I see someone carrying my book. My husband drags me into bookstores wherever we are traveling and asks the manager if they’d like me to autograph whatever copies they have. I wouldn’t dare to present myself to the manager for fear of being told “Who are you? And how do we know you are who you say you are?” My British “never blow your own trumpet” rise up at these moments! Luckily, I’m married to an American who has no such inhibitions!

The only negative aspect to all of this is that I do not have a regular income anymore. Authoring certainly doesn’t make you rich even if it makes you famous – unless you are a Stephen King or perhaps Philippa Gregory! I have to sell 100,000 of both books before I see any more income after the initial advance. That could take many years, although Rose has hit the 25,000 mark after six months, so hopefully when Daughter of York comes out I can eat more than baked beans again!!

W.J.D.: You’ve covered so much that I think two more questions would be more than enough for this interview. What authors inspired you as a child, teenager, now? Any advice for aspiring writers??

A.E.S.: I began to read historical novels as a pre-teen with books like “The Woods of Windri” by British author Violet Needham. Then I moved on to reading all of Jean Plaidy’s royal series and Georgette Heyer. At age 18, and traveling up and down in the train from home to my job in London every day, I set out to write my own Georgette Heyer once I realized I had read every single one of hers. It still is in my trunk upstairs in the attic today — all six wishy-washy first chapters that got abandoned once I got a flat in London and the social life took over! But the single most important influence in writing The Rose for the Crown (my first finished book) was Anya Seton. I have readKatherineThe Winthrop Woman and Green Darkness several times. For research prowess, I have to hand it to Edward Rutherfurd for Sarum andLondon. He is a goldmine of information about every period. My advice for aspiring writers is, don’t give up. I set out to write Rose without one single writing class to my name in my whole life. I had no clue how to structure a book or how to flesh out a character. I just had fun with it and tried to write a book I would enjoy reading. If anyone else wanted to read it, then that was gravy! I did not set out to write a book that would be published. I just set out to write a book.

__________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is the author of Dear Heart, How Like You This? It was awarded the ABPA 2003 Glyph for Best Adult Fiction and First Runner Up for Commercial fiction in the 2004 Writer’s Notes Book Awards.

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Dr. Gillian Polack

By Wendy J. Dunn

Dr. Gillian Polack has an academic and public service background. She completed her doctoral thesis in French and English Medieval history at the University of Sydney in 1987. She has also studied at the Centre for Medieval Studies in Toronto, Canada, as well as in London and Paris.

Gillian’s main foci are writing and teaching. The writing covers a wide range, from academic to popular, non-fiction to fiction. She has had over twenty short pieces published (including a story for which she won an Australia Day Award), and has completed several major works, including one play and a cookbook.Illuminations is her first novel.

Wendy J. Dunn: I’m interested in hearing about your journey from medieval historian to fantasy author. What comes first for you – writing imaginatively or being a historiographer?

Gillian Polack: That is surprisingly difficult to assess. I have wanted to write fiction since I was eight, but my family heavily dissuaded me, so I wrote for myself until I was nineteen.  By that time I was already studying history and historiography as an undergraduate.

Thinking about it, my interest in history is about as old as my interest in writing fiction, which is why I studied it at university (to more family protests!).  My love of history was more a vocation than a potential career – it still is.  I was the daughter who dragged the whole family into rural museums while we were on holiday and exclaimed over old shoes and pre-electric irons.  I had to investigate roadside markers and the plaques on trees.  I asked older members of the family about their lives and was told a thousand family stories.

How entangled are these two parts of myself?  Inextricably.  I used my Arthurian self as a backdrop to “Illuminations” and am planning books using a fantasy Middle Ages.  I use my historian’s sense of Australia and family in writing my current novel and the last one (still in search of a home)  – it all comes out in my fiction.

W.J.D.: Has writing your novels changed you in ways unexpected?

G.P.: Absolutely. The big thing it has given me is a sense that I am allowed to be myself. The more people tangle my fictional characters with me, and the more fictional characters of mine get seen that way, the more license I seem to have to be the somewhat quirky person I am, and to keep following my dreams.

It was more important for me to do things for other people than to be there for myself, but now I find myself saying, “If I get too sick, I can’t write all the books I have inside me.”  I am a lot more self-centred than I used to be and vastly more self-confident.

W.J.D.: You know, eight seems to be important age when so many of us begin to know the road we want to walk in our lives, What writers influenced you in your early years? And when did the Arthurian legends/genre first draw you in?

G.P.: Oddly that is two questions for me.  Let me answer the second one first. I know that most Arthurianish people are addicted to things Arthurian from their formative years, but I wasn’t.

I loved T.H White and Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart from when I was young, but at the same time I hated Mallory (and still don’t adore him, to the consternation of my students).

Arthuriana became central to my reading during my doctorate, partly because I was able to read the glorious Old French prose tales, and partly because everyone kept bugging me to tell them about these tales. What kept me Arthurian after that was that people wanted to know more and more, so I had to read more and more.  And so I discovered what great fun are modern tellings of Arthur, and now I enjoy them as themselves.

My natural bent when I was young was for pure science fiction and for non-Arthurian fantasy.  When I was eight I loved Sylvia Engdahl and Andre Norton and ‘Doc’ Smith and the early Heinlein.   I read them alongside Elizabeth Beresford and the Abbey books and Edith Nesbit and Anya Seton.

My tastes extended just as far as the libraries I had access to would allow. As fast as four books at a time permitted, I worked my way through every library I had access to and read non-fiction as avidly as fiction.

My parents had the wonderful principle that I was allowed to read anything. This was a very powerful teaching decision on their part:  it helped me grow through my reading. In my early teens I discovered for myself that Dostoyevsky was awesome, that Chekhov was subtle, that Nabokov was ick, and that Dickens was often boring.

For me, the big truth about my early reading was not what influenced me, but the fact that I was given this authority from very young to be critical and to think through what I was reading. Every book I read counted, whether written by a big name or by someone who has already been forgotten by everyone else.

I still keep a lot of my favorites from different points in time, so I can walk through my home library and point to my developmental stages.  I can see the moment I stopped collecting Enid Blyton because I suddenly realised just how much she played on ‘us’ and ‘them’ and how totally ineffectual most adults were in her society.  Or when I started reading Tolkien’s other books, because his societies became more interesting to me than the adventures of a single hobbit.

If any author interested me in history early, it was Hilda Lewis.  After reading her fantasy about a time-travelling ship, I started reading historical fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy.  Rosemary Sutcliffe became as close to me as Andre Norton.

W.J.D.: Another question if you’d care to answer. Tell us about your new novel and the works you have on the boil…

G.P.: Always happy to talk about these things, but I will try not to say too much.
Firstly, The Art of Effective Dreaming .  When people ask, I tell them, “It is about Australian public servants and dead Morris dancers.”  Actually, it is about that moment when you are just about to sleep and all your dreams spring to life in your mind.  And it is about how we use our dreams to create our lives. It just happens to have public servants and dead Morris dancers in it as well. I can’t tell you exactly when it will be out, but keep an eye on Trivium Publishing’s website because that is where the announcement will appear.

The rest of my books are a bit complex. I am revising one and writing another and planning three more, all at once.

The one I am revising is Secret Jewish Women’s Business :  family secrets,anti-Semitism, magic, sisters, and echoes of domestic violence.   It is set mostly in Sydney, but with bits of Canberra and Ballarat.

My work-in-progress is Life through Cellophane which I like to call a domestic drama with slivers of horror.  There are mid-life crises and boyfriends and an evil boss and impossible families and a very, very strange mirror.  There are also ants.  Lots of ants.

The ones I am planning to write after Life through Cellophane take me back to fantasy Middle Ages.  This time it is the twelfth/thirteen century (Not Arthurian Britain).  I want to write three linked books (not a trilogy!). Right now I am still developing background and having a whale of a time.  I am enjoying it so much that I have put hints of what is to come in Life through Cellophane – the Middle Ages sneaks in everywhere.

W.J.D.: Can I toss in one last question? I really want to ask you about your fascination with food in fiction…?

G.P.: My historian side has done some work on culinary history and has taught everything from Ancient Roman to modern Jewish cuisines.

Like everything else in my life, the love of food and food history refuses to stay neatly packaged into its own little space, and crept into my fiction. My historiography and Arthurian studies led to Illuminations and to my particular take on the Arthurian tales. My folk interest gave folksongs and Morris dancers to The Art of Effective Dreaming and my food history has given me a full background of recipes for Secret Jewish Women’s Business . When/if the latter gets published, I promise to web a few recipes.

When I think about it, I suspect it is the fact that I study cultures and the fabric of people’s lives and their writing. This means there are many natural links between my studies and my fiction writing, even though I try to tell people that I keep the historian and writer quite separate. The type of historian I am produces material of vast interest to the type of fiction writer I am, I guess.

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Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novelDear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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