Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Musical Frescos" at Fontainebleau

The Château of Fontainebleau is presenting a series of concerts dedicated to illuminating the history of the château and reviving the memory of the great kings who counted it among their favorite residences. The "Musical Fresco" scheduled for August 29 centers on François I and includes four separate concerts commemorating different aspects of the king's persona:

Le roi galant et le roi mécène -- Rêver d’amour et d’Italie
Le roi conquérant -- François Ier et Charles Quint
Le roi chrétien -- La Réforme musicale
Le roi chevalier - -François Ier et les guerres d’Italie, de la victoire de Marignan à la défaite de Pavie

Gallant King and Patron King -- Dreaming of love and of Italy
Conquering King -- François I and Charles V
Christian King -- Musical reform
Warrior king -- François I and the Italian Wars, from the victory of Marignan to the defeat at Pavie

Each of the concerts will feature Renaissance music performed by noted Baroque ensembles on period instruments.

The Château's official Facebook page provided this historical vignette as context for the "Conquering King" concert [translation mine]:


"François I received his rival Charles V in all magnificence at Fontainebleau from December 24-30, 1539. In order to dazzle the emperor, the king organized fantastical skirmishes and tournaments at the palace gates and erected a temporary triumphal arch. François concluded the palace visit in his private gallery (he alone kept the keys, of which he was so proud), decorated by Rosso. In this picture, the two protagonists arrive in Paris after their stay at Fontainebleau. The Christmas celebrations of 1539, with the meeting between the two most powerful sovereigns of Europe, certainly count among the most brilliant of the sixteenth century at Fontainebleau."

An unforgettable moment in the château's history---and a perfect backdrop for a historical novel, wouldn't you say? ;)


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Video: Château d'Écouen and the Musée national de la Renaissance


The Musée national de la Renaissance, located in the beautiful château d'Écouen north of Paris, is a must-see destination for anyone interested in sixteenth-century French history and culture. The Musée recently released an introductory video that provides tantalizing glimpses of the site and the treasures it houses:

Film de présentation du musée national

Here is my translation of the film's French text:

"Home to lords and kings, one of the most beautiful jewels of Renaissance architecture, built by Anne de Montmorency, minister to François I and Henri II, the château houses, in its original décor, the National Museum of the Renaissance. Within the château's rich interiors, the Museum displays one of the most prestigious collections of the decorative arts of the period, including the tapestry of David and Bathsheba, a masterpiece of the sixteenth century. A fascinating place of art and history, right on the outskirts of Paris."

I visited years ago, and would love to go again--especially since the château was built by one of the main characters of my novel. Items on display include everything from majolica platters to jewelry to silver cups to tapestries to armor and weapons. The château and museum are open every day but Tuesday and easily accessible by suburban train from Paris.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Guest Post: "Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?" by LJ Cohen; ITHAKA RISING Book Giveaway

For the last four years, I have been privileged to participate in an online critique group with nine fantastic writers. Not only do we live from one end of the country to the other, but we write in several different genres. Science fiction is the specialty of LJ Cohen. LJ has just published ITHAKA RISING, the second volume of her Halcyone Space series, a YA Space Opera:


A derelict ship and a splintered crew are not the rewards Ro had hoped for when she helped disrupt her father's plans to start a war with smuggled weapons. But with the responsibilities of full citizenship and limited resources, she's forced to take her father's place working as an engineer on Daedalus station while she and Barre try to repair their damaged freighter, Halcyone. Barre's brother, Jem, is struggling with the disabling effects of his head injury, unable to read or code. His only hope is to obtain a neural implant, but the specialists determine he's too young and his brain damage too extensive.

When Jem disappears, Barre and Ro race to find him before he sells his future and risks his mind for a black market neural implant. But locating The Underworld along with its rogue planet Ithaka has political consequences far beyond what Halcyone's crew imagine, pitting Jem's life against deadly secrets from a war that should have ended forty years ago.

As LJ is also an accomplished poet, I asked her how writing poetry and writing science fiction might be related.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

LJ Cohen
www.ljcohen.net

. . . or how is writing poetry related to writing science fiction?

According to Lewis Carroll, there actually isn't a true answer to his nonsensical riddle from Alice in Wonderland, but I do have an answer to my question.

Having been a poet for a far longer time than I have been a writer of fiction, I maintain that poetry - or at least the tools of poetry - underlies all effective writing. Not only that, but in writing speculative fiction, those tools can enhance world building and reader immersion in fundamental and crucial ways.

The poetic tools I'm going to focus on are specificity, musicality, and comparisons. All three can heighten the reading experience of your novel, especially novels of speculative fiction.

Specificity:

Not only do I read and write poetry, I also teach poetry writing with school aged children and the first thing I tell them is that poetry is like orange juice concentrate: it's all the 'pow' of language without any of the water.

Which is a more vivid way of saying that in poetry every single word counts and needs to more than carry its own weight. This is where specificity becomes crucial.

This is the opening sentence from ITHAKA RISING:

Barre turned up the music, and it transformed his mind into a concert hall with perfect acoustics, transporting him more than a dozen wormhole jumps and a few centuries away from the ruined bridge of the broken ship.

It would be hard to read this as anything other than science fiction. Why? Because of the specificity of the language: transformed, transporting, wormhole jumps, centuries, bridge, ship. Any one of these words could be used in many contexts, but putting them all together, and the ship is a space ship.

A few lines further down is this:

The ancient symphony soothed him, and as his hands did the grunt work of stripping wires and creating splices, his mind composed a more modern counterpoint, weaving synthesized computer tones though the main theme.

Again, the key words are ancient, modern, synthesized, and computer. Along with the specificity that clues the reader in on setting are descriptive words of the character's physical actions. Barre isn't just working, he's 'stripping wires and creating splices.'

The English language is rich with synonyms. The one you choose to convey an action or a description will carry with it layers of meaning and resonance. Sure, your character can walk, but she can also skip (is she a child?), saunter (is she running a scam?), limp (is she injured or disabled?), lurch (is she drunk?), or stumble (is she clumsy?).  Drill down until you find the right word for the specific situation/character/action that will convey the most information in the least space. That's a key essence of poetry and it works well in fiction, too.

Musicality

You might have guessed from the two sentences above that one of my characters in ITHAKA RISING is a musician. Barre is a composer, and used a neural implant device to create and play back music. He also uses it to communicate with the ship's artificial intelligence.

Yes, that's Science Fiction, but we also use musical language to communicate. The rhythm, tone, and feel of language helps convey added meaning. Many English words come from two distinct linguistic heritages: Latin and German. Latinate words tend to be long, smooth words. They can slow the pace of a piece of writing, or create a sense of ease in the text. Germanic words are short and sharp. They can speed up the pace and enhance tension.

Some examples: Relinquish is Latinate. Leave is Germanic. Commence (Latinate) vs. start (Germanic). Purchase (Latinate) vs buy (Germanic). Prohibit (Latinate) vs ban (Germanic.) I think you get the idea.

Here we see a series of short, sharp words used to create a sense of urgency and change from the prior, more languid sentences:

An alarm tore through the music. As Barre jerked up, his head clipped the bottom lip of the console.

tore/jerked/head/clipped/lip are all words that add a staccato rhythm to the sentence. These changes in rhythm work on a very primal part of our brains to signal us to pay a different kind of attention to the language. Again, a poetic tool enhances the reader experience.

Comparisons - simile and metaphor

This may be the most powerful weapon in a writer's arsenal. (And yes, that is an example of a comparison: a metaphor.)  A simile is a comparison that uses 'like' or 'as'. A metaphor compares two things by superimposing them without using like or as.

Comparisons are so common in our everyday language, we often don't even notice them. Cool as a cucumber, white as a ghost, poor as dirt are some examples of similes. Metaphors are even more pervasive: have you ever been dog tired? Spent time? Has a remark ever been out of bounds? Those
are all comparisons we use all the time. We rarely even stop and think about where they arise from, but they are often culturally relevant.

It is that cultural relevance that makes comparisons such a powerful tool in speculative fiction.

In this segment, Jem Durbin is sneaking out of his family's quarters at night, and is concerned that his parents will find out.

Jem let the tablet dissolve on his tongue, hoping it would at least take the edge off. He ran his hand along the wall of his room toward the door. Pausing, he listened. It was well into third shift and his parents would be long asleep, unless one of them was on call and there were emergencies. Well, if
he didn’t take the jump, he’d never make it out of local space.

That final sentence is a metaphor that is completely in line with Jem's life and his experience as a child of the space-faring diaspora.

And in these two sentences, Ro Maldonado is struggling to deal with her anger and frustration. Here you see another space-related image:

Instead, she compacted the anger into a tiny black hole and added it to all the rest. Someday, it would eat its way through her, leaving emptiness behind.

Even in the dialogue, I chose to create expressions that are similar enough to current usage that they would be familiar, but also would comfortably fit in the universe of Halcyone Space. For example, the characters might say 'Holy mother of the cosmos' as an exclamation. Or 'seismic' for cool.

Each of these individual choices help to build a believable world for the reader and create an atmosphere where the story becomes real.

And that is the power of poetry.

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LJ has generously offered two copies of ITHAKA RISING, one trade paperback, one ebook, for a random drawing for US readers. Leave a comment below with your name, email address and format preference by 11 pm PST on July 11, 2015. Winners' names will be drawn at random and posted by Monday morning, July 13. Good luck!

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You can learn more about LJ Cohen and her work at her website. She also blogs regularly at Once in a Blue Muse.

ITHAKA RISING is available as a trade paperback and in all ebook formats  from Amazon, BN, Kobo, iBooks,  and Google Play. It is the companion novel to DERELICT, which New York Times bestselling author Lynn Viehl praised as "an edgy, nonstop flight into an audacious SF future." Publisher's Weekly says, "Cohen has real talent with character development and interaction, and prickly, defensive Ro is a sympathetic and interesting heroine."


Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: THE LOVER'S PATH by Kris Waldherr



In the intricate, exuberant manner of the Renaissance art to which it pays homage, Kris Waldherr's lavishly illustrated novella THE LOVER'S PATH tempts and tantalizes the reader into a unique reading experience. Originally released as a print book in 2005, Waldherr has recast her tale of forbidden love as an interactive iPad e-book. Convincing in itself, the fictional confession of a female musician's journey on the path of true love gains a patina of authenticity from the nest of maps, scholarly articles, museum brochures and other ephemera which encompasses it. The result is an intriguing artifact that blurs the boundaries between word and image, fact and fiction, myth and lived experience and haunts the reader's thoughts long after the screen goes dark.

The kernel of Walderr's book is Filamena Ziani's personal narrative, purportedly published in 1543 and dedicated to the musician's patroness on the occasion of her wedding. Wishing to demonstrate that, in order to truly love another, it it necessary to follow the lover's path wherever it might take one, Filamena reveals her own story. Orphaned in infancy, she is raised by her older sister Tullia, a famed Venetian courtesan. Tullia's assiduity in securing generous patrons allows the sisters to live in luxury, yet Tullia yearns to provide Filamena a future independent of the favor of men. Accordingly, she confines her sister to the house and limits her interaction with guests. Chafing at these restrictions, Filamena schemes to use her voice to win the patronage of a visiting cardinal. Her plan founders when Angelo, the cardinal's illegitimate son, falls in love with her after hearing her sing at Tullia's feast. Filamena surrenders her heart to this youth who sends her a book of maps and myths to guide her along the path of love. Fueled by startling revelations and mistaken identities, events mount  to a bittersweet conclusion, one that ultimately teaches Filamena that, though the world be "a place of wondrous complexities, of unreasonable sorrows and unimaginable triumphs," it can never part her from the love she finds along the path.


Waldherr takes pains to create an aura of authenticity around Filamena's confession. She models Filamena's voice on letters and dialogues penned by Renaissance women writers. Weaving archetypal stories throughout Filamena's tale, she provides the allegorical commentary typical of sixteenth century narrative. Her stunning visual design evokes an unmistakable Renaissance aesthetic in its scrollwork borders, illustrated capitals, and fanciful section markers, elements that counterbalance the more modern sensibility of the book's lavish illustrations.


Waldherr's efforts to further an illusion of authenticity do not end with the material of the narrative itself. In a daring creative ploy, the author creates an elaborate extra-textual scaffolding to validate Filamena's sixteenth century world. The book opens with a letter from the supposed curator of the Museo di Palazzo Filomela that discusses Filomena's life in its historical context and celebrates the present book as the first English translation of her original Italian work. Following the story, the interactive article "About the Museo" outlines the museum's history as Filamena's former residence and provides a map that ingeniously displays the book's archetypal illustrations as frescoes on its gallery walls. By clicking on various rooms, the reader may examine artifacts from Filamena's life "currently on display," such as her travel journal and a decorated violin. The assurance that additional artifacts and documents will join the current exhibits as soon as they are uncovered contributes to the unsettling feeling that this museum, and the life it chronicles, might just perhaps be real.


So convincingly does Waldherr present her material, I must admit I did a little Googling to make sure  the book, the museum, and Filamena herself were but the products of the author's fecund imagination. My admiration for Waldherr's impressive talents quickly overcame my disappointment at never being able to visit the Museo di Palazzo Filomela in person. Yet I can, and will, return to Filamena's imagined world again and again. Obtain a copy and travel THE LOVER'S PATH for yourself. This marvelous e-book is as seductive and satisfying as the love it purports to relate.

[Please note: Only the iPad edition of THE LOVER'S PATH is interactive. The other e-book formats contain identical content, but without the interactive features. ]

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You can learn more about THE LOVER'S PATH and how to order at loverspathbook.com. For a deeper look at Kris Waldherr's books, art, and apps, visit her website.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ann Weisgarber's THE PROMISE, Now in Trade Paperback. Review.

A year ago, I published this review of Ann Weisgarber's luminous novel, THE PROMISE, released today in trade paperback from Skyhorse Publishing. Every word of this short novel rings true and resonates deeply. Ann's insightful and compassionate take on human weakness and courage inspired me as a reader; her masterful use of language and fictional technique has become the bar I strive to approach as a writer (and a high one it is!). I'm so happy that THE PROMISE has now come out in softcover so more people can read and appreciate it. Don't miss this wonderful book. I'm convinced it will make your list of favorite novels, too.

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Ann Weisgarber's THE PROMISE (Skyhorse Publishing, April 2014) is the story of two women's love for the same man, set against the backdrop of the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900. Yet this wise and beautifully executed book is so much more than this description might suggest. With great insight and deep compassion, THE PROMISE explores the redemptive power of forgiveness--forgiveness of self, of others, and of fate. This spare, moving narrative resonates long after the treacherous storm winds it depicts die down.

Oscar Williams, a former coal delivery boy from Dayton, Ohio, has built a thriving dairy business on the gulf-exposed island of Galveston, Texas. Hardworking, generous, and self-effacing, Oscar has lost his young wife Bernadette to malaria and faces the prospect of raising his four-year-old son Andre on his own. Catherine Wainwright, Oscar's former classmate and unattainable first love who went on to become an accomplished pianist, revives the lapsed correspondence the two had once shared. Finding herself shunned by polite society for an extramarital affair with her cousin's husband and desperate to escape her difficulties, Catherine seeks out Oscar, hoping he will propose marriage. Without divulging her shame, she accepts his offer and abandons her cultured city life for a rough and arduous existence on the flat, sea-swept Texas island. Not only must she survive suffocating heat, snake-infested outhouses, the mistrust of a grieving child and her own guilty conscience, she must endure the disapproving animosity of Nan Ogden, the plain-spoken and devoted friend of Oscar's late wife, who has become his housekeeper and Andre's surrogate mother.

The two women could not be more different, and tale is narrated from their alternating viewpoints. Pride blinds each of them as they try to make sense of the other and of their feelings for Oscar. Although Nan won't admit it, she is more than a little in love with Oscar and jealous of the beautiful, incompetent woman he has chosen over her. Catherine, wounded from her failed affair, fights her growing attraction to Oscar and resists the refuge his kind gentleness and accepting reticence offer. As time goes on and Catherine begins to warm to Oscar's devotion, the situation becomes more than Nan can bear. But before she can make good on her decision to leave, a devastating hurricane hits the island, with tragic consequences. Tried by fear and danger, the women dig deep into themselves to protect Andre's fragile security and very life.

It is impossible not to view Oscar as a Christ-like figure, in love with Catherine despite her faults, eager to forget despite her unwillingness to seek forgiveness, patient, hopeful, kind and passionate. Recurrent appearances of pelicans, birds native to coastal waters but also traditional symbols of both Christian charity and the Redeemer himself, support this reading. Oscar admits a fascination with the birds, who manifest themselves at important moments in the book. His influence, compounded by the goodness and generosity of the simple island people she originally scorns, lead Catherine to a clarity about herself and her actions, revealing truths that she has long ignored. The question of whether Catherine has time to act upon this knowledge, however, keeps the reader turning pages as the storm bears down upon the island and threatens to snatch away the promise of a happiness that she does not deserve.

Ann Weisgarber is a masterful writer who plumbs the truths of the human condition while enthralling readers with tension-filled tales of characters caught in circumstances beyond their control. Her books offer a hope-filled vision of humanity that is missing from so many modern works. I was fortunate to read THE PROMISE last year when it appeared in a British edition and named it one of my "Best Reads of 2013." I appreciated it even more now upon a second read, and am thrilled that American readers now have the opportunity to enjoy it. I loved Weisgarber's first novel, THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF RACHEL DUPREE (Viking 2010), longlisted for the Orange Prize, but THE PROMISE simply blew me away. If you read one book this year, make it this one.

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Ann Weisgarber is the author of THE PROMISE and THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF RACHEL DUPREE. She was nominated for England's 2009 Orange Prize and for the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. In the United States, she won the Stephen Turner Award for New Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. She was shortlisted for the Ohioana Book Award and was a Barnes and NobleDiscover New Writer.

THE PROMISE was inspired by a dilapidated house and by an interview Ann conducted when she was writing articles for a Galveston magazine. She wrote much of the novel in Galveston where pelicans glide along the surf and cows graze in pastures. Her debut novel, THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF RACHEL DUPREE, was inspired by a photograph of an unknown woman sitting in front of a sod dugout. It was published in England and France before being published in the United States.

Ann, who splits her time between Galveston and Sugar Land, Texas, is currently working on her next novel that takes place in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, during the winter of 1888.

You can learn more about Ann at her website, which includes many historical photographs of Galveston the hurricane's aftermath.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fontainebleau Video

Follow the link for a lovely two-minute video of the château of Fontainebleau!


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review and Giveaway: MADEMOISELLE CHANEL by C. W. Gortner


MADEMOISELLE CHANEL by C. W. Gortner
William Morrow/HarperCollins, March 2015
384 pages
ISBN: 978-0062356406

What happens when an author known for his convincing, dramatically compelling depictions of the sixteenth century tries his hand at the twentieth? He does a superb job! C. W. Gortner, who has penned vivid fictional portraits of Juana la Loca, Catherine de Medici, Isabella of Castile, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I, reconstructs the life and ambition of early twentieth century icon Coco Chanel in his latest novel, MADEMOISELLE CHANEL. With the attention to detail and vigorous narrative drive readers of his early modern fiction have come to expect, Gortner recreates the unsettled glamor of wartime Europe and the woman who constructed both a self and a fashion empire amid grueling uncertainty and near constant upheaval.

Gortner’s novel attempts to answer the question Coco herself poses in the short prologue: “Who is Coco Chanel?” An enigmatic and intensely private woman, the historical Coco presented a carefully cultivated public persona that promoted the allure of her “look.” Yet was she as aloof and self-interested as she appeared? In his chronological exploration of her life, Gortner uncovers the psychological wounds that may have prompted Coco to withdraw behind protective defenses.

The opening chapters of the novel depict Coco's childhood as one of poverty and loss. Abandoned by her father after the death of her mother and raised in a convent orphanage, young Gabrielle has nothing but her skill with a needle, her fashion sense, and her determination with which to forge a better life. Though she dreams of opening a hat shop, with no ready capital she must supplement her meager sweatshop salary by singing in local cabarets under the sobriquet “Coco.” There, she attracts the attention of the Étienne Balsan, heir to one of the largest fortunes in France. Although she does not love him, Coco becomes his mistress. Balsan introduces her to a life of luxury, but one of industry, too. He indulges her “hat hobby” and Coco soon gains a large clientele among the socialites of Balsan’s circle. Through him she meets rich industrialist Arthur Capel, who becomes the love of her life. Capel finances her first shop in Paris (she eventually repays every penny, with interest) and slowly her business grows. By 1912 she is designing clothes as well as hats and opening far-flung boutiques. But unlike other women of her age, Coco has no desire for marriage or children. She is wedded to her work, to her success, and to her aesthetic.

As Coco's astounding career unfolds through two world wars, the reader cannot help but attribute her prickly self-reliance to an underlying fear of being abandoned yet again, of slipping back into the poverty and obscurity she only just managed to escape. This dread remains ever with her, defining her relationships with colleagues and employees, tainting her friendships, determining whom and when she will love. In probing Coco’s inner life, Gortner stirs the reader’s compassion for this controversial figure. His admiring yet candid assessment inspires respect for a complicated, resolute woman who was not above conspiring with Nazis if it might win her imprisoned nephew his freedom and her enterprise a measure of protection from the vicissitudes of war.

In his effort to understand and unveil his elusive subject, Gortner follows Chanel from backwater cabaret to busy atelier, from Parisian townhouse to elegant yacht, from occupied hotel dining room to German prison, never shirking the difficult or less than complimentary moments of her life. Who, ultimately, is Coco Chanel in Gortner’s eyes? A pragmatist. A visionary. A survivor. And like his indomitable heroine, C.W. Gortner displays, in this breakout book, an ability to rise to new challenges and succeed with admirable finesse--and good measure of panache.

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C.W. Gortner is the international bestselling author of six historical novels, translated in over twenty-five languages to date. His new novel, MADEMOISELLE CHANEL, traces the tumultuous rise to fame of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel. In 2016, Random House will publish his eighth novel, VATICAN PRINCESS, about Lucrezia Borgia. Raised in Spain and a long-time resident of the Bay Area, C.W. is dedicated to companion animal rescue from overcrowded shelters. Visit his website. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to his newsletter. Buy the book: HarperCollins, IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

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You can enter the giveaway here or on the book blogs participating in this tour. Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook; they are listed in the entry form below. Visit each blogger on the tour: tweeting about the giveaway every day of the tour will give you 5 extra entries each time! Just follow the directions on the entry form. Six winners: five printed copies + one beautiful, handcrafted beaded bracelet inspired by Coco's black and white signature colors and camellia design. Open to US readers only.


Mademoiselle Chanel bracelet

Click on the banner to read other reviews, excerpts, guest posts and interviews

Mademoiselle Chanel banner

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interview with Nancy Bilyeau, Author of THE TAPESTRY


THE CROWN (2011) and THE CHALICE (2013) introduced readers to Joanna Stafford, a young novice forced out of her convent during the Dissolution and into dangerous plots threatening the reign of King Henry VIII. In the third book of the series, THE TAPESTRY, on sale March 24, Joanna must finally choose her fate: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Author Nancy Bilyeau discusses her research into this fascinating era.


In THE TAPESTRY, Joanna becomes Henry VIII’s Mistress of Tapestries, charged with purchasing, inventorying and caring for the king’s extensive tapestry collection. How did you research the Renaissance tapestry industry? Have you had the opportunity to view some of Henry’s tapestries in person?

There are several fantastic nonfiction books about Renaissance tapestries. The expert in this field is Thomas P. Campbell, now the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He wrote Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence and Henry VIII and The Art of Majesty: Tapestries in the Tudor Court. I don’t know if many people realize what an incredible industry it was and how luxurious and intricate many of the tapestries could be, woven with gold and silver threads. Production of a set of six five-by-eight-yard tapestries would have required thirty weavers to work nonstop for over a year.

Many of Henry VIII’s tapestries are lost, but you can see some beautiful ones that have been preserved at Hampton Court. Since I live in New York City, I can’t run over to Hampton Court any time I like (unfortunately) but I can jump on a subway to the Cloisters Museum. The museum’s prize possession is seven individual hangings known as “the Unicorn Tapestries,” dated in the late 15th century. No one is sure who wove them or what they mean, but it’s wonderful fun to speculate.


Joanna is commissioned to weave the face of a certain character into a tapestry for the king. I was intrigued to read that such personalization was done after the entire tapestry had been woven. Can you explain how this was done? Was such personalization a common occurrence for commissioned tapestries?

It wasn’t common. Most tapestries were based, from beginning to end, on a detailed colored pattern known as the cartoon. That’s where the word originated from. They traced the pattern from the cartoon onto the loom. But in some cases the tapestries show recognizable faces of people who lived—patrons of the workshop or royals that they wanted to please. A tapestry was sold at Sotheby’s recently that depicted the meeting of Henry VIII and King Francis I in 1520, the Field of Cloth of Gold. You can see a real resemblance to Francis in the tapestry—yes, it’s his nose! We know that finer threads were often used in the weaves of the faces of people in these tapestries and that they were done at the end. Occasionally, there was some cheating, and someone would try to paint a face instead of weave it. In Brussels, the center of the tapestry industry, if someone was caught painting, the penalty was severe.


How did you strive to distinguish your characterization of Henry VIII from standard conceptions?

I’ve been reading about Henry VIII for many years, and what I tried to do was banish from my thoughts the depictions of the king from historical novels and movies and miniseries, and focus on the historical record. From that, I concluded he was intelligent, manipulative, talented, acquisitive, impatient, ruthless, self-indulgent, arrogant and yet charming with a dry wit. I based his appearance on descriptions in the contemporary documents. He looked nothing like Jonathan Rhys Meyers, that’s for sure!


Throughout your three novels, Joanna’s heart has been tugged between two men, Geoffrey Scovill and Edmund Sommerville. Avoiding spoilers, did you know from the beginning which of the two she would choose in the end? Could she have been happy with either man—or neither of them?

I knew from the beginning of writing THE TAPESTRY who Joanna would choose at the end. It wasn’t easy to make this decision, since I am very fond of both my “guys.” But in deciding, I thought long and hard about what Joanna’s feelings were and what Geoffrey’s and Edmund’s true feelings were too. I think both of the men have appealing and admirable qualities—along with some flaws. But in my heart, I think that Joanna also could have had a fulfilled life as a sister of the Dominican Order. I did not write her as a woman who wanted to be a nun by default—that she could not cope with being married. She had the piety, devotion, compassion and cerebral nature that would have made for an excellent nun.

Photo credit: Library of Congress Digital Collections
Did the fourth book on occult philosophy by the German theologian and alchemist Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, for which Joanna and Edmund search in order to put an end to a curse, actually exist? Are copies extant? How did you become interested in Agrippa?

If you spend any time at all reading about beliefs in mysticism and magic in the 16th century, Agrippa will pop up pretty quickly. He is the rock star of the Renaissance-era occult. LOL. The fourth book of Agrippa is controversial. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa was a scholar, a theologian and an astrologer—these three things often went together!—and in the early 1530s he published De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres, which is “Three Books of Occult Philosophy.” Then there is the infamous “fourth book,” which is better described as a grimoire, a book of magic spells. It puts into practice the philosophies and ideas of the first three volumes with invocations of good and evil spirits. Researchers today use the word “spurious” when Agrippa is listed as the author of the fourth book. It first surfaced in 1559, years after Agrippa’s death, but that alone does not rule out his authorship. As you can imagine, publishing books of occult instruction was not easy during this time, with the Inquisition in full force. It could have been held back.

The fourth book is still in circulation today. I first came upon it when browsing through a bookstore in downtown Toronto. The color of its cover is a strange dark red. Looking at it gave me a chill, to be honest with you. I later ordered one for my research—from Amazon.

I love that you broaden the confines of your Tudor setting to include Charles V’s empire and the Germanic states. What particular research challenges did this pose? How did knowing your book was destined for an American audience that might not be familiar with continental events of the era affect how you presented your material?

There were significant research challenges. Apart from the life of Martin Luther, there are not that many nonfiction books written in English that cover the history of Germany in the late medieval period. I had to dig and dig just to find a few! To me this is incredible, because what happened in the German states in the 16th century had a profound effect on the modern age, and not only by introducing religious reform. The Peasants War was very significant—Karl Marx and Frederick Engels certainly thought so and wrote about it three centuries later. Also, the tensions between the Holy Roman Emperors and the states and the deepening crises that spread across Germany led to the Thirty Years War, one of the most destructive conflicts in Western history. And it’s not just dry statistics and facts that are compelling here—daily life in Germany was so interesting in this time!

I didn’t worry about Americans’ lack of familiarity with what was going on in continental Europe. That is part of my personal “mission,” which is to open up the Tudor novel. My main character is fictional, and I set her in a real world of famous Tudor figures like Henry VIII and in actual settings, like the Palace of Whitehall and the town of Dartford. So it’s not a “marquee” historical novel that revolves solely around the royals. I invent “normal” people—I can’t call them “ordinary” because in my heart there is nothing ordinary about Sister Joanna Stafford, Geoffrey Scovill and Edmund Sommerville. I don’t take the standard point of view on the Reformation, which is that the Catholic Church was corrupt and faltering and would have died out even if Henry VIII hadn’t broken from Rome. The reason for it is not that I am a religious propagandist, but because after deciding to write the story of a Catholic novice I did years of research into late medieval spirituality and monastic life and Tudor politics. I came to my own conclusions about the English Reformation, and about the motives of Henry VIII in demolishing the abbeys. What’s exciting is that I am not alone—several authors and historians are questioning the conventional wisdom. It’s a time of true revisionism.

And then, yes, I take the action of the second and third novels out of England for a period. I haven’t had any negative feedback from readers—they are, as far as I can tell, happy to travel to new places. I mean, part of this is I am not just a historical novelist, I am a thriller writer. These are historical thrillers, and thrillers need to move. A great many historical novels contain chapters of people talking in rooms, which is fine, but in my work, I send my characters hurtling in many directions, whether it’s Joanna and Brother Edmund riding to Malmesbury Abbey in THE CROWN, Joanna in disguise making her way to Antwerp and beyond in THE CHALICE, or Joanna struggling to survive a very difficult journey through the German states in THE TAPESTRY.


Do you have a favorite scene from THE TAPESTRY? Which scene had you tearing at your hair?

I have several favorites. I loved writing the passage of Joanna arriving at Whitehall and the mounting suspense, beginning with her awe mixed with uneasiness when looking at the ornate Holbein’s Gate at the palace entrance. Her supper that evening with the Howards was fun to write, as was Joanna’s eventful meal with the king and queen. I was excited to write the Germany section. One of my readers said that part of the book read like a powerful and Impressionistic dream.

Hair tearing, there was plenty. I had a very hard time writing the pivotal Westminster Hall encounter with several main characters, including Henry VIII. It’s always challenging to write something where there are a lot of key characters to account for. I went through many drafts in a particular Joanna and Geoffrey scene, because there were so many emotional shifts.

What aspect of writing a trilogy proved most difficult? Knowing now what you didn’t know when you began, would you write a multi-book series again?

This may sound strange, but I found writing a series a natural thing to do. I came up with my ideas for the books at the beginning. If you have a strong main character, it makes it much easier, I think. But that’s the creative side. The business of writing a series is hard. In today’s publishing world, there is a lot of “wait and see” on the books. They don’t want to commit to a succeeding novel until it’s clear whether the first one did well, for example. But if an author did that, waited for the sales reports to come out before beginning the next one, the books would be spaced several years apart. Readers want the books in a series to come quickly, at least one book a year. You can’t do that with “wait and see.” Also, it’s hard to secure reviews for the books in a series after the first one, yet we need reviews to appear so people know the next book is out in the world. Despite all of this, I would absolutely write another series.

Can you give us a hint about what you are working on now? 

My agent has ordered me to keep my lips sealed! But I will tell you it is a historical novel, though not set in the 16th century.

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Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information or to sign up for Nancy’s Newsletter please visit her official website.
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For a list of Nancy's other stops on this blog tour, please visit the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour website.
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To enter to win one of three signed hardcover copies of THE TAPESTRY, please complete the giveaway form at https://gleam.io/iyF4a/the-tapestry

RULES


Giveaway starts on March 16th at 12:01am EST and ends at 11:59pm EST on April 3rd.
Giveaway is open to residents in North American and the UK.
You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winners will be chosen via GLEAM on April 4th and notified via email.
Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Please email Amy @ hfvirtualbooktours@gmail.com with any questions.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: THE TAPESTRY by Nancy Bilyeau



Ever since her Dominican priory was closed by order of Henry VIII, Joanna Stafford has tried to live a quiet life weaving tapestries in the small town of Dartford. Yet fate refuses to allow her respite. In Nancy Bilyeau’s THE TAPESTRY (Touchstone, 2015), the third and final installment of a three-book series that includes THE CROWN (2012) and THE CHALICE (2013), King Henry summons Joanna to court to discuss a tapestry commission. Reluctant to serve a king she has twice tried to dethrone, yet desperate for an income that will allow her to raise her young nephew, Joanna obeys. Minutes after her arrival at Whitehall, a mysterious man attempts to murder her. Thrust into a web of international intrigue that pits her against an array of new and former nemeses, Joanna must rely on wits, courage and integrity to her protect herself and her friend Catherine Howard, the king’s latest favorite, from forces determined to alter England’s unprecedented course.


THE TAPESTRY vividly captures the unsettled, suspicious atmosphere of mid-sixteenth century England. The country is in a state of constant turmoil as it struggles to embrace the changes wrought by King Henry’s whims. In this new world where a common upstart like Thomas Cromwell can gain an earldom—and the king’s confidence—noblemen fret over the security of their positions; courtiers jockey for favor; ambitious wives and wards seek to catch the king’s roving eye. As defrocked priests and nuns struggle to support themselves outside the dismantled walls of their monasteries, the clerical hierarchy barter their souls for benefices. Rich and poor alike guard their tongues as opportunists seek to profit through denunciation. Against this backdrop of festering mistrust, putrid as King Henry’s infected leg, Bilyeau weaves an intricate plot that meshes the international the national, the personal with the political, the secular with the religious. As much as Joanna longs to escape the court and its machinations, her protective concern for Catherine’s fate compels her to stay. She soon uncovers a mysterious “covenant” dedicated to toppling Cromwell so as to restore the Catholic faith in England. The occult nature of this covenant and its effects reinforces the authenticity of the setting, for sixteenth-century culture professed a deep and abiding interest in the dark arts. Joanna’s unquestioning acceptance of the power of the covenant and her quest to locate an arcane text that might undo its effects prove her to be a true daughter of her time.

Rare is the Tudor novel that ventures beyond the confines of England; THE TAPESTRY opens vistas well beyond the usual realm of Tudor fiction. Imperial agents who, in THE CHALICE, coerce Joanna to cooperate in an attempt to assassinate the king, continue to dog her steps at the English court, complicating lives and politics. German artist Hans Holbein offers a continental perspective on events and becomes Joanna’s trusted friend and adviser. In a surprising development, Joanna exploits her appointment as Tapestry Mistress to quit England in search of her former fiancé, Edmund Sommerville. After brief stays in Paris and Flanders, she journeys deep into Germany, a dangerous region suffering from famine and revolt. The adventures that befall her there introduce the reader to aspects of Renaissance history not normally explored in historical fiction (the Diet of Regensburg, anyone?) and add an intriguing flavor to an already singular story.

But it is Joanna herself, more than the story’s rich setting or deft plot, who entrances the reader. Beset by troubles and surrounded by unscrupulous schemers, Joanna never compromises her integrity. Though she  mourns her lost life as a nun and resents her uncertain future, she refuses to despair. Loyal and courageous, she fights to protect Catherine from exploitation; generous and determined, she prays with the condemned as they lay their heads on the block. Though clever enough to outwit spies and assassins, Joanna cannot understand her own heart. Torn between her love for the absent Edmund, whom she almost married, and an undeniable attraction to constable Geoffrey Scoville, her constant shadow, she reveals a touching vulnerability and a confusion that only slowly, painfully, clears. It is Joanna’s admirable humanness that has turned so many of the trilogy’s readers into devoted fans.

In THE TAPESTRY, Nancy Bilyeau brings the adventures of her spirited heroine to a triumphant close. Mystery and romance, research and imagination, realism and magic combine in perfect proportion, immersing the reader in the past, enthralling her in the present, and leaving her in hope that Bilyeau will resurrect her intrepid ex-nun in the not-too-distant future.

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Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information or to sign up for Nancy’s Newsletter please visit her official website.
**********
For a list of Nancy's other stops on this blog tour, please visit the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour website.
**********
To enter to win one of three signed hardcover copies of THE TAPESTRY, please complete the giveaway form at https://gleam.io/iyF4a/the-tapestry

RULES
Giveaway starts on March 16th at 12:01am EST and ends at 11:59pm EST on April 3rd.
Giveaway is open to residents in North American and the UK.
You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winners will be chosen via GLEAM on April 4th and notified via email.
Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Please email Amy @ hfvirtualbooktours@gmail.com with any questions.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Review: REBEL QUEEN by Michelle Moran

Fictional accounts of India published in English usually take the perspective of a British transplant encountering a foreign culture for the first time: think E.M. Forster’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA or M. M. Kaye’s THE FAR PAVILIONS. Michelle Moran’s REBEL QUEEN, just released from Touchstone, switches things up to marvelous effect. With the skill of an accomplished storyteller and the confidence of someone intimately familiar with Indian history and culture, Moran weaves a fascinating account of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 from the perspective of a vanquished people struggling to regain their sovereignty.

Though the title belongs to Rani Lakshmi, queen of the kingdom of Jhansi, it is Sita Bhopal, her most trusted confidante, who narrates the tale. Too poor to marry, Sita faces life as a temple prostitute unless she earns a spot in the Durga Dal, the queen’s elite group of female guards. Owing allegiance to no one but the rani and trained, like her, to ride horseback and wield sword, pistol, and bow, the ten Durgavasi live in the queen’s palace and provide her constant protection. Against all odds, Sita, instructed by a former soldier in the arts of war and fluent in English thanks to her father’s love of Shakespeare, fills the open spot in the corps. She leaves her poor village for the palace, dedicating her wages to building her younger sister’s dowry. At court, Sita must not only earn the trust of the queen, but navigate the ambition and envy of the other female guards. Secluded village life has little prepared her for the wiles of courtiers and the demands of international politics—or the attentions of the handsome head of the queen’s male guards, Arjun. Petty jealousies bloom into full-scale treachery as the British endeavor to wrest the kingdom from the widowed queen. Rebellion ensues as Lakshmi, with the help of Sita and other loyal guards, attempts to protect her country and her people.

The structure of the story seeks to bridge the cultural gap between Moran’s Indian characters and her American readers. Sixty years after the unfolding of the events, aged Sita writes a memoir based on diaries she has kept her entire life. The purpose of the memoir being to convince British occupiers of the importance of Indian traditions and to rehabilitate the Rani’s reputation in their eyes, Sita is able to—and frequently does—pause in her narrative to explain Hindu customs and contrast the changes that have marked India since the beginning of British rule. The conversational tone and direct address of the reader as “you” makes the insertion of such material expected and easy to digest. The memoir framework provides a view from within that acknowledges the intended audience’s “otherness” and unveils and animates Indian culture in ways that a straight narrative from an Indian perspective might not. Sita’s purpose and efforts mirror Moran’s; together, the two authors succeed in drawing the reader fully into an unfamiliar world and clarifying misconceptions about it.

The narrative itself builds slowly yet competently. The first half of the book focuses on Sita’s family conflicts and personal quest; once Sita moves to the palace and grows in her devotion to the queen, broader political events come to the forefront. Sita’s own insecurities and an overabundance of caution enable a palace treachery that precipitates the British offensive against Jhansi. Sita certainly pays for her hesitancy; the last quarter of the book recounts a spate of personal and national tragedies that left this reader breathless. Breathless, yes, yet pensive, too, and glad that Sita, like the Rani herself, does not shirk the task before her. With freedom yet to be won, Sita takes up of her pen and fires yet another salvo in the effort to liberate her people. With sensitivity to both her subject and the needs of the narrative, Michelle Moran demonstrates the power of story to touch minds and hearts as it exposes injustice and intolerance in the world.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"La force et violence sont plus de la beste que de l'homme. Le droit vient de la plus divine partie qui soit en nous, qui est la raison."

"Force and violence pertain more to animals than to man. Justice comes from the most divine part of ourselves, which is reason."

Michel de l'Hospital (1506-1573) 
Parlementarian, Superintendent of Finances, Chancellor of France
Traité de la Réformation de la Justice, seconde partie

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Poet and the Priory

The Prieré Saint-Cosme. Photo credit: sybarite48
As announced on the website My-Loire-Valley.com, the Prieuré Saint-Cosme, home of the poet Pierre de Ronsard from 1565 to 1585, has reopened after several months of renovations and archeological work. Located near Tours, Saint-Cosme was founded in the eleventh century to receive pilgims en route to Saint James of Compostella in Spain. Suppressed in 1742, the priory's buildings were either partially dismantled or used for secular purposes. Aerial bombardments during World War II spared only the prior's residence, bits of the chapel, and the monks' refectory. The site came under government protection in 1951 and after renovation, reopened to the public. In the 1980's, over 200 species of roses were planted in nine gardens spread over more than five acres of the grounds, a special tribute to Ronsard and his famous poem to Cassandre:

Mignonne allons voir si la rose,
Qui ce matin avoit desclose
Sa robe de pourpre au Soleil,
A point perdu ceste vestrée
Les plis de sa robe pourprée,
Et sa teint au vostre pareil.

Pierre de Ronsard. Photo credit: Carcharoth
Premier poet of the French Renaissance, Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) joined the court of François I as a page at the age of twelve and spent the rest of his life in service to king and court. He received the tonsure of a cleric in 1543, which permitted him to benefit from prebends bestowed by his royal patrons. As a founding member of the group of poets known as the Pléïade, Ronsard worked to raise the esteem of the French language and its poetry to levels enjoyed by classical poets. His many works, among them the Odes (1550), Amours (1552), Hymnes (1555), and Elégies (1565), solidified the elegance of the vernacular tongue and established him as France's leading poet by midcentury. He was a particular favorite of King Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Médicis, who granted him the benefice of the Prieuré Saint-Cosme in 1565. Ronsard spent much time at Saint-Cosme during the last two decades of his life and died there on December 27, 1585, after penning his Derniers vers. He is buried in the church.

The prior's house, in which Ronsard lived during his sojourns at Saint-Cosme, now houses a museum dedicated to the poet's life and works. The Prieuré Saint-Cosme and its gardens would a lovely and significant stop on any tour of the Loire Valley.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Winner of THE PRICE OF BLOOD: Amended

Linda, the original winner of THE PRICE OF BLOOD, has already won the book through another contest. She generously offered to allow me to select a different winner for this copy. This time around, the random number generator chose Alison Alexander. Congratulations!

Winners of THE PRICE OF BLOOD Giveaway

The winners of the random drawing for Patricia Bracewell's books have been chosen.


Linda has won a copy of THE PRICE OF BLOOD.


Marsha Lambert has won SHADOW ON THE CROWN.

I will contact the winners by email to obtain mailing addresses for the publisher.

My apologies for the delay in announcing the winners. Thanks to Viking Books for sponsoring the contest and to all who entered. I hope you all find the opportunity to enjoy Patricia Bracewell's marvelous books.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with Patricia Bracewell, Author of THE PRICE OF BLOOD

Today the second installment of Patricia Bracewell's Emma of Normandy Trilogy, THE PRICE OF BLOOD, publishes from Viking Books. A gripping, richly textured continuation of the story that began with SHADOW ON THE CROWN (Viking, 2013), THE PRICE OF BLOOD dramatizes Queen Emma's efforts to protect England from the Viking armies ravaging the kingdom. Patricia has graciously offered to answer some questions about eleventh century history and the crafting of her novel.
1.  An excerpt from a twelfth-century historian, William of Malmesbury, opens the book, describing how King Æthelred was “hounded by the shade of his brother, demanding terribly the price of blood.” Had you located this quotation before you began writing the novel, or was it a later, fortuitous find? From what you can tell, was William of Malmesbury, who wrote 100 years after Æthelred’s death, the first to draw a link between Æthelred’s disastrous reign and his guilt over his brother’s murder, or was this curse, so to speak, acknowledged by Aethelred’s own contemporaries?

I found the Malmesbury quote early on in my research. It was what gave me the idea for a ghost that haunts the king. As to whether William of Malmesbury was the first person to equate Edward’s murder with the disastrous events in Æthelred’s reign, it’s difficult to say. Certainly the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Wulfstan, claimed in a sermon that “laws of the people have deteriorated entirely too greatly, since Edgar (Æthelred’s father) died… Edward was betrayed, and then killed, and after that burned…things have not prospered now for a long time…and the English have been entirely defeated…through the anger of God.” So there was definitely a connection drawn between great sin in the land and God’s punishing hand via the Viking raids, and certainly the unpunished murder of a king was one of those sins.

2. You structure THE PRICE OF BLOOD, as you did the first novel of the trilogy, by year, prefacing each section with a corresponding snippet taken from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. How did you go about fleshing out this rather sketchy record of battles and troop movements? Did the spareness of the account help or hinder your imagination?

The spareness of the account was sometimes frustrating, and I often wished for a lot more information. The Chronicle frequently tells us rather vaguely WHAT happened, but it rarely gives us adequate background. It never says HOW or WHY something occurred. My story, though, is not history; it’s fiction. It’s about people and their relationships with each other, what drives each of them, what they love and what they hate. It’s about jealousy, passion, tenderness, sorrow, regret – human emotions and human endeavors. That doesn’t exist anywhere in the chronicles, so filling in the blanks was really a matter of creating characters that I found believable based on what I knew of the history, putting them in conflict with each other, and taking that emotional journey with them.

3. What aspect of eleventh-century life has proven most difficult to research and how have you compensated for the lack of information?

Trying to discover what an average day in the life of an eleventh-century royal was like was not easy. How large was a royal household? Would the queen know everyone in it? What did she do in the course of a day? The thing is, an average day in anyone’s life is not all that compelling to read about. So a good story has to be about the days that are different, when people are sick, or someone has died, or word comes that a Viking army has invaded Canterbury. So I would highlight little things – women stitching an embroidery, a man stirring honey for mead, the king out hawking – but almost as soon as I described such an activity, I disrupted it with a disaster of some kind. The setting is important. The story is even more important.

4. This novel continues to pit two strong female characters, Queen Emma and Elgiva, daughter of a powerful northern nobleman, against each other, although this time from a distance. How did you strive to meet the challenge of nuancing Emma and Elgiva to prevent them from becoming simple “good girl/bad girl” foils? Was it difficult to keep Elgiva and her antics from overshadowing Emma, who finds herself sorely constrained by the king’s determination to sideline her?

Yes, it was difficult to keep Elgiva from taking over the book! Her scenes are all quite dramatic. One reason for that is because we know nothing about her in those years, so I had a much freer hand in inventing her story than I did with Emma. I also kind of like to torture Elgiva. But she’s tough! She can take it. The nuancing – and I’m thrilled by your description of that – comes from the fact that I’ve given both women back-stories and interior lives. At least, that’s what I’ve tried to do. And neither one of them is all good or all bad. Emma’s motives are purer than Elgiva’s, but she’s not perfect. She keeps secrets from the king, for example; she is at a loss as to how to control her step-daughters; and she sometimes puts her own needs before those of her children. Elgiva is more self-centered, but she’s adept at managing her property and her people, and she’s like a tigress when she wants something. She’s not shy about going after it. Emma is all about duty; Elgiva refuses to behave. They’re both strong women, but they react to adversity in different ways.

King Athelstan of England.
Earliest surviving portrait of an English king.
5. The rift between Æthelred and his son Athelstan continues to grow, especially as Athelstan finds himself supplanted by the king’s advisor Eadric. What aspect of Athelstan’s character intrigues you most? What would you consider to be his greatest flaw?

I suppose the thing that intrigues me the most about Athelstan is his unwillingness to seize his father’s throne. Historically, he did not rebel, although he clearly had strong ties to the northern lords who were dissatisfied with Æthelred’s rule. As a result, I had to come up with reasons why he didn’t make that move, and I explore those in the novel. As for Athelstan’s greatest flaw, I suppose it’s his habit of backing off when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. He doesn’t push his father hard enough or enlist the support necessary to sway the king around to his way of thinking. It sounds strange to say that this is a fault, but Athelstan is not devious enough. He’s too honest in a world where strategy, intrigue and ruthlessness are the keys to success.

6. Oftentimes an author will find herself writing a scene she never set out to write, a scene that flows almost effortlessly and winds up playing a key role in the development of the plot. Did you have such an experience while writing THE PRICE OF BLOOD? Which scene in the book was the most satisfying to write? Which one had you tearing out your hair in frustration?

Honestly, I don’t think I had any scene that flowed even close to effortlessly! One scene that comes to mind as one I didn’t set out to write occurs early on, when Elgiva and Alric are in a wattle and daub hut together. I had no idea what was going to happen there, or where they would go afterwards. They sort of worked it out between them, and I wrote it down. The scene that was the most satisfying to write was the scene in the hunting lodge at Corfe where there is a lot of interaction between the sons of the king. I especially enjoyed writing about Athelstan’s perceptions of his brothers and Edwig’s drunken, smart-ass comments. As for scenes that had me tearing my hair out, there were lots of those, but especially the scenes with the ghost. I wanted each spectral appearance to be similar to the others, yet unique in some way. It was a real challenge.

7. Can you believe you will soon be deep into the third book of the trilogy? What has meant the most to you on this journey?

What has moved me the most has been the response of my family – husband, sons, siblings – who have all loved the book and have been so proud of me. The reactions of readers have meant a lot, too. Many of them have become great fans of Emma of Normandy, and because my goal in writing this trilogy has been to resurrect Queen Emma’s name from the footnotes of history, the many readers who have “discovered” Emma have made me believe that I’m accomplishing what I set out to do.

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Thank you, Patricia, for answering my questions, and congratulations on this exciting day! Readers might like to read my review of THE PRICE OF BLOOD. The drawing for a free copy of THE PRICE OF BLOOD or SHADOW ON THE CROWN will be open until February 12, 2015. Enter in the comment stream following the review.

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Patricia Bracewell grew up in California where she taught literature and composition before embarking upon her writing career. She has always been fascinated by English history, which led to her studying Anglo-Saxon history at Downing College, Cambridge University. She has two grown sons and lives with her husband in Oakland, California.

If you would like to learn more about Patricia and her books and view the list of her upcoming author appearances, please visit her website and her blog.