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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