Sophie

My grand passions include history and writing. So I guess it was inevitable that I would write historical fiction. In March 2012 my debut novel, THE SISTER QUEENS, will be released by NAL. Set in 13th century France and England, my book weaves the captivating story of medieval sisters Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence who both became queens -- their lifelong friendship, their rivalry, and their reigns

I am getting all FIRED UP! The “A Day of Fire” cover is here, and my co-authors and I hope you’ll agree that it is hot, hot, HOT!

A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories:

A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.

An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.

An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.

A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.

A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.

A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

Six authors–Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Eliza Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter,and I–bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

For those who don’t already know I wrote “The Heiress” for this fantastic  ”novel in six parts.” In my story, spirited Aemilia is horrified by her betrothal to her father’s friend, Sabinus, a staid man with an obsessive interest in mechanical engineering and geology. Indulging in a clandestine flirtation with a handsome young artist restoring frescoes at her family’s villa, Aemilia pays scant attention to her future husband, or his scientific prognostications of doom for the city of Pompeii. When Vesuvius begins to erupt, however, Aemilia sees Sabinus in a new light—but is it too late?

 “A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii” releases on November 4, 2014.  Can’t wait to have the book in your hot-little-hands? DON’T—make a date with destiny, and make sure you receive your copy immediately by pre-ordering “A Day of Fire.”

Or enter below to WIN a copy of “A Day of Fire”

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I am very pleased to share this exciting news about “what’s next” in my writing career:

SMP Nabs Perinot’s Next Historical

Sophie Perinot sold world English rights to her historical novel Medicis Daughter to St. Martin’s Press editor Toni Kirkpatrick. Agent Jacques de Spoelberch represented the author. The book is set in 16th-century France and follows a beautiful princess who, de Spoelberch explained, “walks the knife edge between the demands of her serpentine mother, Catherine de Medicis, and those of her conscience.” Medicis Daughter is set for a late 2015 release.

(Publishers Weekly, Book Deals: Week of September 1)

That’s right my latest–a novel of a Marguerite de Valois, daughter of a king, sister to three kings and wife to the eventual Henri IV of France–will be released by Thomas Dunne in hardcover. Watch this space for updates and a future cover reveal.

 

A number of you have been asking me “what’s next, Sophie?”  With great pride and pleasure I announce that THIS is next:

A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii 

Prepare to take a leap back in time with me to 79 AD, when Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens escaped the mountain’s wrath, some died as heroes . . . and A Day of Fire will tell their stories. The book is a high-concept piece—a  novel in six parts by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Eliza Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear-Shecter, and yours truly.  We will bring you overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, gladiators and heiresses, villains and heroes who cross and recross paths during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for posterity?

My story—The Heiress’s Tale—will lead the collection.  So mark your calendars!  A Day of Fire releases on November 1, 2014. 

Mar 312014

My good friend and “goddess of historical fiction” Kate Quinn tagged me in this cyclical blog tour (make sure you pop over to Kate’s blog and see her answers then follow the chain back for insight into the minds and work habits of other historical fiction luminaries like Christy English and Stephanie Dray).  Four questions designed to reveal how we do what we do—write books that is.  Answering is harder than you think (as is writing books) because most of us write as we breath—because we are compelled to.  And, unless called to account by questions such as these, we don’t think a lot about it.

1) What am I working on?

I am putting the finishing touches on “Daughter of de Médicis: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois” before handing it over to my agent for his input.  I consider the book a true bildungsroman, focusing on the psychological and moral growth of the enigmatic Marguerite de Valois from the point at which she comes to live with her brother Charles IX’s royal court as a young girl to the moment when she is transformed by a tremendous historical event (the Saint Barthlomew’s Day massacre in Paris) into an independent adult.  I’ve always been fascinated by Marguerite—daughter of a King, sister of three and wife of Henri IV.  Had she lived in England Marguerite would have ruled in her turn, but Salic law in France relegated her to the sidelines.  Her relationship with her powerful mother, Catherine de Medicis, is an important aspect of the novel.  Let’s face it, the mother-daughter relationship is always fraught with peril during the teen years, but imagine if your mother was Catherine de Medicis!

If you are interested in learning more about “Daughter of de Medicis” (including more cool sneak-peek quotes like the one below), it has its own Facebook page.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Every author’s voice is different.  I have mine.  You either like it or, perhaps, you do not.  But it is different from anyone else’s.  Beyond that I cannot opine because I make a conscious effort NOT to compare my work to the work of other historical novelists.  In writing as in life I find such behavior is not particularly productive.  More than that, it can lead to some pretty negative stuff/feelings.  I write for the joy of it.  I don’t view it as a competitive sport and I fear indulging in comparisons can too often lead to that.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write historical fiction because I love to read it.  Also because I am a bona fide history geek (have my BA in history) from a family of history geeks (my only sister is actually a Professor of History). When I was a child, I visited historical sites while other kids were at amusement parks.  I also grew up watching all those Masterpiece Theater costume dramas of classic literature, and ninety-nine percent of my favorite books were (are) set in the past.  So, historical fiction was a natural niche for me.  Since I studied French abroad, and I am a devotee of Alexandre Dumas, peré, both my first novel (“The Sister Queens”) and “Daughter of de Medicis” have French history at their centers.

4) How does your writing process work?

“School is my friend.”  I bet every parent out there who works at home can identify with that.  When my writing is going well, the hours between dropping off and picking up my son from school are devoted 100% to writing.  This can have some unfortunate side-effects—usually in the form of the plaintive cries of family members claiming they are, in fact, wearing their last pair of clean underwear.  To balance my various roles and not feel like a hamster on a wheel, I try to be fully present and in each given moment.  I try not to think “oh my god, you should be writing” when I am not.  That kind of thinking tends to just create a guilt-induced writer’s block when I finally sit down at the keyboard.  Oh and I don’t compare my daily word count to others—ever.  I am a “slow first draft” writer, but the first drafts I eventually produce tend to be close to ready to handover to my critique partners, agent or editor.  Finally my process involves weekly summits with a pair of fellow novelist whose work I adore and opinions I respect.  We work through problems and set goals—basically we keep each other on-track and honest in a profession that can, by virtue of its solitude, allow for a good deal of procrastination.

Well that’s all she wrote—or rather how she writes (with the “she” being “me).  My friend Nancy Bilyeau is up next.  On Monday, April 7th she will offer insight into her own creative process, a process that’s led to her gripping Sister Joanna Stafford series (“The Crown” and “The Chalice” with a third installment on the way).  Check back here next Monday March 31st, and I’ll link to her site so you can see what her answers are.

Jan 292014

On January 30th, from 12pm EST to 10pm EST, an impressive roster of historical fiction authors and bloggers are hosting a Facebook party in honor of historical fiction, the 2,023rd anniversary of the Ara Pacis, and the release of Stephanie Dray’s newest book, Daughters of the Nile: A novel of Cleopatra’s Daughter.

Readers can win free books, lunch at the next Historical Novel Society meeting, swag, gift cards, and other prizes from some of the hottest authors of the genre. Please join us, and RSVP!  I will be on hand at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Standard time to chat with attendees.  Have something you’ve always wanted to ask me about The Sister Queens?  Interested in what I am working on now?  Tomorrow is your chance :)

I’ve been so excited for publication of Kate Quinn’s “The Lion and the Rose,” which tells the story of the infamous Borgia family like you’ve never heard it before!  And yesterday was “L” Day  (that’s Launch Day for the uninitiated) at last.  I am fortunate enough to be part of a launch-day triumvirate with Kate and Stephanie Dray–a troika of  historical fiction writers dedicated to the premise that no author should be permitted to check her Amazon rankings on the day her book comes out and that a sumptuous lunch is the best preventative.  So yesterday I was a lady-who-lunches rather than a lady who writes, abandoning myself to good company and good food and celebrating Kate and this new novel.  So I guess I should show and tell a bit.  Here’s the cover and the scoop:

LR final cover

Synopsis:

From the national bestselling author of The Serpent and the Pearl comes the continuing saga of the ruthless family that holds all of Rome in its grasp, and the three outsiders thrust into their twisted web of blood and deceit . . .

As the cherished concubine of the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, Giulia Farnese has Rome at her feet. But after narrowly escaping a sinister captor, she realizes that the danger she faces is far from over—and now, it threatens from within. The Holy City of Rome is still under Alexander’s thrall, but enemies of the Borgias are starting to circle. In need of trusted allies, Giulia turns to her sharp-tongued bodyguard, Leonello, and her fiery cook and confidante, Carmelina.

Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance’s most notorious family, Giulia, Leonello, and Carmelina must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power. But as the shadows of murder and corruption rise through the Vatican, they must learn who to trust when every face wears a mask . . .

Some Review Quotes to Tempt you Further:

“Quinn creates memorable and authentic characters who embrace the aura of the era, and still speak to the modern reader’s sensibilitity. Beyond these remarkable people there are lush backdrops, fascinating historical details, and everything from espionage to murder, passion and piety. Quinn makes history accessible and unforgettable with her storytelling.” ~RT Book Reviews

“Beautifully written, and a topic that will open some eyes about the Borgias.” ~Romance Reviews Today

AND an Excerpt

“This is all terribly anticlimactic,” I complained to my mistress. “Captured by enemy forces, and where are the dungeons? The torturers? The chains? At the very least, you should have been sold into the harem of a Moorish merchant prince. That would be a story worth telling.” I hurt too badly to laugh at my own joke, so I gave a shallow sigh instead. “There is no literary scope in spending a few nights drinking French wine with French generals, listening to French compliments, then being escorted back to Rome in luxury.”

“I think it was a trifle more harrowing than that.” Giulia Farnese looked across the carriage at the bandages wrapping my chest and shoulder and hip, the splints a French surgeon had strapped to my broken fingers, the black bruises that covered nearly every visible inch of my flesh like splotches of pitch. “How is the pain, Leonello? And don’t just grit your teeth at me stoically, please.”

“Why, it’s a very splendid pain,” I said airily. “We’ve gotten to know each other very well, really—perhaps I shall give it a name and keep it for a pet when this is all over.” I had been beaten to a pulp by French pike-men, for daring to defend my mistress when French scouts descended like wolves on her traveling party as she made her way toward the Holy City. More precisely, I’d been beaten to a pulp because I’d killed three French pike-men and wounded two more before they brought me down, and such men do not like to be humiliated by a man like me.

I am a dwarf, you see. The kind you see in motley at fairs, juggling wooden balls, only I do not juggle and never have. I have the short bowed legs and the oversized head and the broad torso of my kind, but I also have uncommon skill at throwing knives. I can core a man’s throat like an apple at ten paces, and it was for that skill I was hired as bodyguard to Giulia Farnese, the Pope’s golden mistress. If she’d had a strapping youth for a guard, the French would have killed him at once—enemies fasten first on strapping youths when they look for those who might prove a threat. No one bothers to notice the dwarf.

Not until I kill them, and then it’s too late.

So if that has you itching to read more.  Here are a couple of links where you can buy The Lion and the Rose.

Daughters of the Nile slide

My dear friend Stephanie Dray has a new book out today–the third and last in her brilliant trilogy all based on the true story of Cleopatra’s daughter.  I’ve read the first two books and my copy of the third should be arriving momentarily.  Here is a sneak-peek at the story–

After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?

Read the Reviews

“A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray’s crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life.” ~RT Book Reviews

“The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned…” ~Modge Podge Reviews

“If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you.” ~A Bookish Affair

Read an Excerpt

Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I’m paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don’t notice that I’m gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.

And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, “That’s enough. We’ve seen enough of the snake charmer!”

There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, “Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?”

The story the world tells of my mother’s suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.

I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor’s agents or whoever else is responsible for this.

If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. “Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away.”

I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. “Oh, but they’re never far enough away.”

###

Daughters of the Nile cover

 

Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads

Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads


Stephanie Dray Headshot

STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

It is my very great pleasure today to welcome friend and fellow historical fiction writer Susan Spann to the blog. Susan’s debut historical mystery Claws of the Cat released in in July.

First a blurb to tantalize you:

May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution.

The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.

And now some questions to take you behind cover-copy (and it’s no exaggeration to say Susan reveals some thing here she has never told readers before):

1. What inspired you to choose a 16th century ninja master as your main character and detective?

In spring, 2011, while getting ready for work one morning, I actually heard a voice in my head say “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” I knew immediately that this was a character—and a story—I had to write. I’ve loved Japanese culture since my college days, and loved the idea of writing a ninja detective.

2. Do you speak Japanese or have any personal connection to the country, its history and/or culture?

I speak a little Japanese (my Chinese is better) and I studied Japanese language, history, and culture for my undergraduate degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University. I’m also a fan, and lifelong student, of Japanese art and architecture.

3. I am always impressed by authors who can manage to plot out historical mysteries—it seems like laying an extra level of complexity on an already complex genre.  Why a mystery as opposed to a straight historical?

Because I love to murder my imaginary friends.

Also, I find the complexities of a mystery allow me to use the history in unusual and interesting ways. For example, I get to translate modern forensics as seen through the eyes of a 16th century ninja assassin. I need to know what killed the victim, and how, but I also need to see the crime as Hiro would have seen it. The historian in me loves the opportunity to see the world through medieval eyes. The mystery lover in me … well, that gets us back to murdering imaginary friends.

4. Besides Hiro Hattori, who is your favorite character in Claws of the Cat? Who is your least favorite? Why?

This is one of the hardest questions I’ve been asked. I love all of my characters, for different reasons. I think my favorite, other than Hiro, would have to be Father Mateo—though he wasn’t my second-favorite from the start. He earned a place in my heart as I wrote the initial draft, in much the same way he earns a place in Hiro’s.

My least favorite is Mayuri, the teahouse owner. Not because I don’t like her—I do. I call her my least favorite because I found her elusive and difficult to write. Most of my other characters revealed their “inner selves” and motivations to me early on. It took me the entire first draft to figure Mayuri out.

5. Were you able to travel for inspiration and research?  If not, what technics did you use to put yourself “virtually” into the world you would depict in Claws of the Cat?

Unfortunately, family circumstances kept me from taking the intended research trip to Japan while writing this installment of the series. (I have one planned, tentatively, for next summer.) However, during my online research I met a tour guide in Kyoto who helped me with maps and translations for certain details in Claws of the Cat, and also the sequel, Blade of the Samurai.

In addition to online research (Google Earth is great, and so are online document resources) I read and re-read many books from my library on Japanese art, architecture, history and culture.

6. Historical truth is often stranger than fiction. During your research for Claws of the Cat what was the most unusual or unexpected thing you discovered?

That Father Mateo may have really existed.

While writing the first draft of Claws, I intentionally eschewed known Jesuit missionaries working in Kyoto in 1565 and created an entirely fictitious Jesuit sidekick for Hiro. I did so because I wanted to respect the Jesuits’ work in Japan, and didn’t want to make errors or divergences in the activities of a “real” priest for the sake of plotting novels. The easy solution was just to make one up. I also gave Father Mateo a fictitious “mission” separate from the primary Jesuit mission in Kyoto, allegedly because he works with commoners and doesn’t want to offend the samurai elite who frequent the actual Jesuit mission. That’s historically reasonable, because at the time the primary Jesuit work in Kyoto was done among the samurai and a priest who worked with commoners would have needed a separate space.

After finishing the draft, I discovered a line in one of the Jesuit histories which mentions an unnamed Jesuit priest who arrived in Kyoto in 1563 (the same year my fictitious Father Mateo arrived) and “disappeared” to work on his own in Japan. This is exactly the way the Jesuits would have mentioned a priest who went to work among the common people if they wanted to keep the samurai from noticing.

It was very weird, indeed, to think that my fictitious Jesuit might have a historical analogue after all.

7.  Authors of historical novels walk a line between known historical facts and fiction. Where do you draw the line on your personal map between accuracy and imagination?

The lovely thing about using fictitious protagonists in a factual setting is that the line stays relatively clear. All of the plot is mine. All of the history really happened, though where the history intersects with the plot, I try to stick with historically reasonable plotlines. I include some real historical figures, but also to ensure that their involvement doesn’t contradict with any of the known historical facts about their lives.

For example, Claws of the Cat  centers on the murder of retired general Akechi Hideyoshi. The Akechi were a real samurai clan who lived and served the shogun during the time the book takes place. Akechi Hideyoshi is fictitious, but his cousin, Akechi Mitsuhide (whose name appears in the book) is a real person. The parts of the book that deal with Mitsuhide are historically accurate (or at least historically reasonable). Those which deal with Hideyoshi and his murder come from my imagination.

8. Can you share a secret about your book (or the writing of it)–something that readers can’t discover from the text itself?

Yep. I’ll share two.

First: Readers won’t learn the name of Hiro’s kitten until the final page of the book. I didn’t learn it myself until I wrote that final page. Everything else, I knew, but that name eluded me until the very end of the draft. Ironically, the moment I wrote it, I knew I’d found the right one.

Second: I knew the kitten’s name was “correct” because it has relevance to another book (and a major plot point) later in the series. For the rest of that secret, however, you have to wait until Book 5.

And, as promised, that’s something I’ve never told anyone before.

9.  As someone who came to writing as a second career herself I am always interested in how people become writers.  How did it come about for you?

In one sense, I’ve always self-identified as a writer. I remember being six years old and making up stories to entertain myself while I weeded the roses outside my parents’ house (that was one of my chores).

I didn’t really get serious about writing for publication until I attended the Maui Writers’ Conference in 2004. That was when I committed to writing every day, and to writing as many manuscripts as it took to get published.

It took five. The first four were pure historical fiction, told from a female POV. My skills were improving, but something wasn’t right. After the “ninja attack” in 2011, however, I realized that the problem wasn’t me, it was the genre: I shifted to historical mystery, and my first mystery novel landed a three-book deal.

That’s why I encourage other authors to write whatever book comes into their hearts—no matter how bizarre it seems at the time. You never know when a novel will teach you what kind of writer you really are.

10. Which is most likely to spark the idea for a Susan Spann mystery—a time period, a specific event or a character?

Initially, it was the character, Hiro, but now that I’m working with Hiro and Father Mateo in a series format it’s the setting that sparks the plot. Each Shinobi Mystery novel is set in a different part of the medieval Japanese world. Claws of the Cat was set in the “floating world” of geishas and the entertainment culture. Blade of the Samurai moves the action to the shogun’s palace, and Book 3, currently titled Flask of the Drunken Master, will take the reader into the world of brewers and moneylenders. I’m working on additional plots that involve the world of the outcastes, the roadside inns, and even the lair and training grounds of Hiro’s ninja clan.

Oobie, who was the inspiration for Hiro’s cat

11. Do you have a special writing spot—a lair perhaps where you like to do your work? Is there a picture you could share?

I do! I have a home office with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a nice big desk (with a window) and a 60-gallon marine aquarium—my seahorse

Susan's Writing Lair

reef. I write to the burble of filters and the glow of aquarium lighting. I’ve included a couple of photos: one of my desk (with my “amanuensis” Oobie, who was the inspiration for Hiro’s cat), one of the reef, and one of the office as seen from the doorway. It’s messy, but it’s home!

12. If you could read any book again for the first time, what would it be and why?

Jurassic Park. Michael Crichton’s vision of the dinosaur amusement park-gone-wrong kept me up all night. I couldn’t stop turning pages. The novel captured my imagination in a way few stories can. His settings were vivid, his characters entertaining, and the action never stopped. Plus … there’s a T-Rex.

13. Will you be staying in Japan for your next book?  If not where are you headed?

I’m back in Japan for books 2 and 3 of the Shinobi Mystery series. In fact, each of those books also brings back some of my favorite characters from Book 1. Based on the reader responses, they’re some of the readers’ favorites too. After that, we’ll see. I’d love to write even more Shinobi novels, but I’ve got some other ideas too.

Thank you, Sophie, for the interview – this has been great fun! I love reading about what goes on “behind the scenes” with other authors, and it’s fun to have the chance to take other people behind the scenes of my books too!

About Susan:  Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and author of the Shinobi Mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The first book, Claws of the Cat, released in July 2013 from Minotaur Books. Susan has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, horseback riding, and raising seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find Susan online at www.susanspann.com, or on Twitter @SusanSpann.

But not forever!  For a short time the Kindle version of The Sister Queens is bargain priced at $3.99. Now is the time to add the novel to your e-book library or recommend it to an e-book loving friend.

In less than a month I will be off to the 5th North American Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg Florida, where I will be sitting on two panels—“Location, Location, Location” (discussing how setting is the mortar board upon which historical novels are built and tackling topics related to recreating period locations); and “The Feisty Heroine Sold into Marriage Who Hates Bear Baiting: Clichés in HF and How to Avoid Them” (title of this one says it all).  

Those of you who were kicking around this then-new blog 2 years ago know what my conference attendance means. . .lots of juicy post-event blogging on trends in the genre and topics of historical fiction interest.  But why should you wait until after?  How about a conference teaser—an interview reunion with HNS panelist, Nancy Bilyeau.

Nancy is the author of a pair of marvelous historical thrillers following the adventures of novice nun, Joanna Stafford, as she seeks to survive and thrive in Henry VIII’s England while the monasteries are dissolved around her.  Nancy’s first book, The Crown, released in 2012 to immediate critical acclaim.  “O” (The Oprah Magazine) called it, “A juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.”    Nancy’s second book, The Chalice, released this past spring to the eager embrace of existing fans and new ones alike.

Nancy last visited me immediately after the release of her debut novel.  I present for your pleasure an update to that interview.

1)     Since we last sat down together in our virtual chairs your second novel, The Chalice, came out.  Can you tell us a little bit about the new book?

In the second book, it’s 1538, and my main character, Joanna Stafford, is caught in the crosswinds of time. She is a Dominican novice without a nunnery—Henry VIII has broken with Rome, and all the monasteries have been seized. Joanna must decide what path to follow now, and while she seeks a quiet life of tapestry weaving and raising her orphaned relative, Arthur, the kingdom is far from stable. There is a conspiracy against the king, one revolving around prophecy, and Joanna is targeted by those who want Henry VIII off the throne. She learns that the prophecy is about her – and an act she must take in the future, one that could be very dark and dangerous. So the conflict of the book is: If you loved something very much and you had a chance to save it but to do so you must commit an act that is perhaps unforgivable, would you do it? 

2)     inspired you to choose a fictional Dominican nun as the heroine of your series?

I first chose to set a book in the 16th century—simply because it is my favorite century from history. I love mysteries and thrillers, and wanted to attempt to write one with a female protagonist. It took me a long time to figure out who would be the person. I didn’t want a royal or lady in waiting, yet someone living in a Tudor village, I feared it would be too hard to inject that woman into conflict that rises to the level of a thriller. A nun struggling for her future in the middle of the Dissolution of the Monasteries—when the Catholic Church was being violently dismantled—could be quite compelling. Finally, I picked a Dominican because there was only one such order in England, and that made it special.

3)     I found it refreshing that Joanna stayed “in character”—true to the religious sentiments one would expect a 16th century nun to have.  How difficult was it for you to achieve that?  Do you think it was a risky choice given you are writing for a modern—and generally rather skeptical—audience?

One of my pet peeves is characters in historical novels who have modern sensibilities. It’s the easy way out. There is some strange part of my personality that compels me toward the most difficult choices. Sometimes I wish it were otherwise! But as soon as I decided on a nun, I was determined to make her authentic to the spiritual values of the period. I didn’t want to write a book with a reluctant nun who is forced into it by her father or retreats to a priory after rejection by a man. Again, that’s the easy way out. I did worry that readers would be turned off by a spiritual woman but I’ve not seen that reaction. Readers of historical fiction are eager for authentic behavior, I’m more convinced of that than ever. Commit anachronisms at your peril!

The way I tried to achieve it was reading what women in religious orders actually wrote: Catherine of Siena, Hildegarde of Bingen, Teresa of Avila. That helped get me in the proper mood. Also a writing teacher recommended I research the lives of the early female Catholic saints, the ones who were torn to pieces in the Roman Coliseum or who became martyrs in the Dark Ages and medieval period. The thinking of these women is about as far from a 21st century mindset as you can get.  Just fascinating. 

4)     Besides Joanna, who is your favorite character in the series?  Who is your least favorite?  Why?

Brother Edmund is my second favorite—I like to think that he is a pretty original character and for some reason I have tremendous sympathy for him. He’s a mix of strengths and weaknesses. I tried my best to make all the characters nuanced. I don’t like two-dimensional people hurtling through thrillers. Or characters with worn-out identifying descriptions: a natural beauty, a strong-jawed man. Ugh.

My least favorite character? Hmmmm. That’s an interesting question. Did I create a character I personally would dislike? Apart from George Boleyn—and I can’t give away why I wouldn’t want to have encountered him at a tender age, or else that would be a spoiler—it would have to be the young prioress in The Crown. She was inspired by a boss I once had—a very difficult one. In fact, I drew on my personal work history, my years in the magazine business, when depicting life in the priory. I thought about it a lot, and decided that though the stereotype of a nunnery was of graceful, serene ladies floating down the halls in harmony, I imagined that there would be the rivalries and tensions found in any group of people essentially working together, and in this case living together too. I was very happy to receive an email from a Dominican nun and two emails from friars that said I captured correctly the essential feeling of life in an enclosed religious community.

5)     Truth is often stranger than fiction.  In our last talk I asked you about interesting discoveries made while researching The Crown.  When you set out to write its sequel, The Chalice, what was the most unusual or unexpected thing you discovered in that process?

I was stunned by how much belief there was in astrology, alchemy and prophecy, from the highest levels of society to the lowest. The mid-16th century was a very mystical time.

6)     Writing a series presents special challenges to an author.  What, in your opinion, is the most difficult aspect of writing sequential novels?  The most rewarding?

The most rewarding aspect is that I love my characters and I want to write them in new situations, whether it’s political crisis or romantic entanglement. I just enjoy spending my time with these people! As for the hardest, well, I am trying to write these books for someone who has never read the ones that come before and also for the fans of the series. It’s hard to serve both kinds of readers.

7)     I know you are hard at work on the final book in this series.  What will it be called and can you share a bit about it?

I’m excited to share with you that Simon & Schuster has bought the third book. It is called The Covenant. Joanna Stafford finally returns to the court of Henry VIII—and nearly pays for that decision with her life. Someone is trying to kill her and she doesn’t know who. If you’ve read the first two books, you know that there are enough people to form a line. LOL. Also, Joanna will travel outside of England, as she did in The Chalice, but farther this time. And she will make a definitive decision on how she plans to spend the rest of her life, and with whom.

8)     In The Crown  Joanna brushes elbows with a number of famous historical characters like Catherine Howard and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester.  In The Chalice you treated us to a face-to-face encounter between Joanna and Thomas Cromwell.  Who might we meet in book three?

In The Covenant, many things are going to come to a head that I have been writing about in The Crown and The Chalice. Joanna is a weaver of tapestries and Henry VIII is the most avid collector of tapestries in Europe (that’s true!), and so she will be pulled into the court and the inner circle of the king. Catherine Howard will play a larger role in the third book, which shouldn’t surprise those knowledgeable of history, but readers will see a new side to her and also get to know a much different Thomas Culpepper than has been depicted before. Joanna will stand up to Bishop Gardiner and the duke of Norfolk in this book!  And there will be some surprises too. Just as in The Chalice I brought in a character contemporary to this time not usually associated with the Tudors, I have a plan for two other fascinating folks.

9)     Like myself, you will be a panelist at the upcoming Historical Novel Society Conference, what is the topic of your panel and what can attendees look forward to learning if they attend?

The name of the panel is “Making It in the Mainstream and What Comes After.” I am honored to be on the same panel as Patricia Bracewell, Deborah Swift, Jenny Barden and Gillian Bagwell. We’re going to talk about what brought us this far and how we plan to keep going.

 

About Nancy:  Nancy Bilyeau is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, and Ladies’ Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. She was born in Chicago and grew up in Michigan, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. Now she lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Her first novel, The Crown, was nominated for an Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award 2012 by the Crime Writers’ Association, given to Best Historical Crime Novel.