First off, congratulations to Kirsten, who won a hardcover edition of Nancy Bilyeau‘s exciting Tudor-set novel THE CHALICE. Kirsten wrote that her favorite Henry VIII queen was:
Anne Boleyn because I believe there was true love and chemistry between her and Henry VIII. They had one of the most volatile and exciting love affairs in history, and, for a time, he was willing to “move mountains” to protect it.
An e-mail has been sent to Kirsten with information on how to claim her prize. You can learn more about THE CHALICE here.
So, remember a few weeks back when I mentioned major behind-the-scenes stuff going on? Stuff too tenderly nascent to mention on a publicly consumed blog? Well, it happened.
After over a year of renting this glorious Victorian house (aka Blue House, after William Morris’s Red House, though our house is considerably less grand), I’m pleased to announce we officially own it.
Here are some glimpses inside Blue House.
Parlor. We intend to get an upright piano for it.
Entryway (aka “mud room”). The photo is a bit dark so you can see the magnificent stained glass window. We plan to paint it soon; hence, the color swatches.
More stained glass.
So that’s our news!
Now that we know we’re staying at Blue House, I’m excited to begin decorating it in earnest: painting, wallpaper, and such. To start off, I’ve been perusing wallpaper sites for inspiration, collecting paint swatches, and visiting sites such as Domythic Bliss. My dear friend Lucy Raubertas, perfume blogger and decorative painter extraordinaire, has come by to offer advice on repainting some of the rooms. For example, the previous owner painted the living room tangerine orange; Lucy has suggested we glaze the color into a warm Italian ombre.
So let the creative work begin.
To commemorate the release of Nancy Bilyeau’s THE CHALICE, I’m reposting an interview with author Nancy Bilyeau that was conducted for her previous novel, THE CROWN. O, The Oprah Magazine wrote about THE CROWN, “Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful move is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy, and betrayal.” It was also short-listed for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Ellis Peters Award for Best Historical Crime Fiction in 2012—quite the coup for a first novel! I have no doubt THE CHALICE will receive similar accolades.
While THE CHALICE is a stand-alone novel, it continues the story of ex-Dominican novice Joanna Stafford, the protagonist of THE CROWN. In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford risks imprisonment when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last. Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies.
This interview offers the backstory for THE CROWN, THE CHALICE’s predecessor. In addition, Nancy spills the skinny on the Tudors versus the Cambridges, how she stumbled into writing a novel, and why lightning needs to strike twice for a book.
Good news: Simon & Schuster is generously offering a copy of THE CHALICE to one commentor on this blog. Information on how to enter the giveaway is at the end of this post.
Kris Waldherr: What inspired you to write The Crown? Was there a defining moment you can describe?
Nancy Bilyeau: It is my first novel and I came up with the idea in a writer’s workshop. What happened was the workshop, which met every Monday night, was led by a novelist/teacher and needed four people minimum. One dropped out and I was recruited to be the fourth so the group could continue. At the time I was a magazine editor who hadn’t written fiction since high school, although I wrote two screenplays. But I wanted to try. So I walked into the room, but without an idea—all I had was a century to set my story in, the 16th. Because I have been obsessed with the Tudors since I was very young. I didn’t know if I wanted to write a mystery or a historical novel—I adore both genres. I decided to do both. I struggled with my novel until I decided to write it in the first person. No one suggested that—most thrillers are written in the third person. But that was my moment. I connected to the writing in a real way when I went inside my protagonist’s head. I thought: “Maybe this will work.”
KW: Books, movies, and more featuring the Tudors are ubiquitous these days—from Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl to HBO’s The Tudors. However, you’ve found a fresh spin on the proceedings by making Joanna Stafford, the protagonist of The Crown, an aristocratic nun. What led you to this unusual approach?
NB: When I decided to make the story a mystery/thriller, I wanted to write a woman as the protagonist. I didn’t want to even consider making a real queen or a princess the character trying to solve the mystery. Instead, I created the main character from my imagination, although I placed her in a real family: the Staffords. A couple of the secondary characters are from history and some of the minor ones too. That was fun!
But back to Sister Joanna. I had never met a nun in my life, and I was not raised Catholic. But I was baptized in the Catholic Church and I suppose I’ve always felt intrigued by it. I thought that to write the story of a nun in the midst of the Dissolution of the Monasteries would be interesting. There would be inherent conflict. I felt a great deal of sympathy for Sister Joanna and the other sisters in my novel, who wanted to follow a spiritual way of life that the king—the government—sought to deny them. At the same time that I wrote The Crown, our country, and my city of New York, was going through a serious recession. It was frightening. I think I put some of my fears into the novel. A friend of mine said, “You’re dealing with disintegration by writing about dissolution.”
KW: You’ve written and edited for many magazines, including InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone. How would you compare celebrity culture now to celebrity culture in Henry VIII’s time? Would the average citizen then be aware of the comings and goings of the Tudors as we are now with the Cambridges and the Windsors?
NB: It is absolutely astounding how much the ordinary people knew of the Tudors’ lives. There was no news media, yet it seemed that everyone heard that King Henry VIII wanted to annul his marriage to his queen of 18 years, Catherine of Aragon, and marry young Anne Boleyn. And they weren’t following it passively. Anne Boleyn was unpopular and people spoke out. Ordinary Londoners called out “We don’t want Anne Boleyn!” and some even called her a “goggle-eyed whore.” One time a crowd of over 1,000 Londoners, most of them women, heard that Anne Boleyn was in the area and they formed a mob and tried to chase her down. She fled onto the Thames in a barge. Later there was a spontaneous women’s march in support of Catherine’s beleaguered daughter, the Princess Mary. Henry VIII threw some of the marchers into prison.
KW: The process of writing historical fiction is as much research as it is literary. What was your process like? What was the most fascinating detail you unearthed during your research which made it into The Crown?
NB: Some authors research first, then write. I already had a base of knowledge of Tudor England, so I plotted the book and as I wrote I would stop and dig into an area as needed, and then start up again. Questions would jump into my head—“How long would it take someone to get from London to Malmesbury?”—and I’d figure that out through reading books. There were many details that made me shake my head and wonder about what it was really like to live back then. For example, the daily life of a nun in a priory in the 16th century. Obviously there was no central heating. But they didn’t have fireplaces in the priory, either, certainly not in the rooms they slept in at night. There could be a calefactory, one room with a fire, where nuns could gather to warm up. But at the same time, there was usually a cloister garden in the center of the priory with passageways around it in a square. Outdoors passageways leading into other parts of the priory. So here you are, in winter, walking outside in your nun’s habit, and then down passageways that are unheated. All the time. In my magazine job, if the temperature drops a couple of degrees, we’re all on the phone or sending emails to the office manager: “We’re cold!”
KW: The Crown is your first published novel. Was it your first foray into writing fiction? What is the best advice you wish someone had given you when you began to write The Crown?
NB: I’d written screenplays so I had some experience with story telling, but the only fiction I’d written since high school were two short stories, neither of them any good. What is the best piece of advice I wish I’d heard? To feel good about ignoring a lot of advice. Like “Write what you know.” I’m not a 16th century half-English, half-Spanish nun.
KW: The external world of publishing is extremely different than the internal world of writing a book—apples and oranges. As a first-time published author, what surprised you about the experience of getting published? What would you tell a writer seeking to break into publishing?
NB: Many things surprised me and continue to surprise me. I am familiar with the magazine publishing business and how it works. I love everything about the book world but it’s hard for me to figure out some days. In books, when it comes to acquiring fiction, the editors want to fall in love with the book. You hear that with agents, too. A book is of course longer than a magazine piece and the process of traditional publishing is meticulous and intense and also magical.
So how this relates to an aspiring author is, first you have to find an agent who falls in love with your manuscript and then your agent has to find an editor to fall in love with it. Lightning has to strike twice. Oh and also the independent booksellers talk about falling in love with a book. It all sounds romantic. Yet this is a business and authors can be quite challenged by the financial shifts and demands. You’re dancing with this romantic and handsome partner—you’re partnered by Mr. Darcy—and then suddenly you’re in the arms of Gordon Gekko. I mean, I’m joking but at the same time, as much as possible, I would urge writers to not take the business of being published personally and to try to be patient and flexible. You will need a sense of humor. And a well-stocked bar. [KW's note: I agree!]
KW: Finally, I’m excited that The Chalice, a sequel to The Crown, will be published soon. Can you tell us more about it?
NB: It’s the same main characters, but I’ve added new ones too. I’d say it’s darker. The stakes are higher. Everything is more: more action, more executions, and more romance too.
KW: You’re on Twitter as @TudorScribe. Does this mean you have other books in store set in this era? Do you ever envision writing about other historical periods? Or a contemporary novel even?
NB: Oh sure, I have several adventures in mind for Sister Joanna. And yes I would love to write about other historical periods, from ancient Rome to 10th century England to the time of the American Civil War. I’d like to write an epic historical novel, like a Gone With the Wind or Forever Amber. Also, a taut, terrifying ghost story.
Nancy’s publisher Simon & Schuster is giving away one copy of THE CHALICE. To enter the raffle, leave a comment on this post by midnight, March 14, 2013. Only one comment per person. Winner will be chosen at random and announced here on Friday, March 15, 2013. The small print: U.S. or Canada mailing addresses only, please. For an extra entry, tell me which one of Henry VIII’s six wives is your favorite and why.
To leave a comment, click here and scroll to bottom of the page. Good luck to all!
Before I get to today’s Publishing Monday post, I’d like to extend an early and hearty congratulations to my author friend Nancy Bilyeau! Tomorrow is the publication day for THE CHALICE, her new historical thriller set in the dark times between Henry VIII’s Queens #3 and #4. I was fortunate to have received an advance reading copy of THE CHALICE way back in 2012. Here’s what I had to say about it:
“Superbly set in the political and religious turmoil between Henry VIII’s queens Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves, The Chalice is a dark, twisty thriller that I couldn’t put down. Nancy Bilyeau’s extensive historical research makes the sense of dread, danger, and mysticism permeating this era tangible. Ex-Dominican novice Joanna Stafford is an especially compelling and sympathetic heroine—I adored her!”
Yes, THE CHALICE is that good. And I’ve good news: to commemorate Nancy’s publication day, her publisher Simon and Schuster is offering a hardcover copy of THE CHALICE to a reader of my blog. I’ll be posting this giveaway tomorrow, along with an interview with Nancy. So please check back!
Finally, if you’re in the New York City area, Nancy will be hosting a book launch for THE CHALICE on March 6, 2013 at 7pm at the renowned Mysterious Bookshop in Tribecca. See you there?
So, back to Publishing Monday’s subject du jour: first chapters. Now that I’ve started writing the Next Novel, I’ve been struggling with mine, though I also know enough not to get too invested in anything I write at this stage. After my experience writing THE LILY MAID, I’m convinced first drafts are for discovering the world of your novel: your characters, the setting they inhabit, and the conflicts to plague them. Even so, it’s important to consider the content of your first chapter. First chapters are a lot of work primarily because their function involves setting forth the promise of your novel:
1. What can the reader expect from your novel? Is it a literary novel? Genre? Or something in between?
2. Who is the protagonist? Antagonist?
3. What are the main themes to be expressed throughout?
4. What and when is the setting? The social milieu?
5. Is it clear what the call to action is for your protagonist? What will be the fuel that fires your story?
6. What does your protagonist desire? Fear?
Sometimes it takes a while to figure the answers to these questions out—and that’s what first drafts are for.
While I’ve been mulling these issues over, author Anne Allen posted a list of thirteen questions for writers to ask themselves about first chapters. My favorite question:
Does your MC have strong emotions we can identify with in the opening scene? We don’t have to identify with the situation, but with the emotion: If the character is furious because his roommate keeps playing to As Long As You Love Me over and over—even if you’ve never heard of Justin Beiber you’ll identify with the anger, because everybody’s been angry.
Go forth and read the rest here.
And the winner is….
Congratulations to Kimberly Eve!
An e-mail has been sent to you with information for claiming your prize. I know you’re going to enjoy Mary Sharratt’s ILLUMINATIONS: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen greatly!
You can read my review of ILLUMINATIONS here. Many thanks to Mary’s publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing us with the review copy and giveaway.