Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I Learned about Writing in 2009

As 2009 winds to a close, I spent some time considering the things I've learned about writing over the course of the past year, with one book on submission and a second in the works:

1. Books don't write themselves. The screen will be just as empty of words tomorrow as it was yesterday if I don't put any there today.

2. It's easy to consider myself a writer without actually writing anything.

3. Ideas need time to percolate. The subconscious mind continues to work and create between writing sessions. If I make use of odd free moments just to picture a scene and the characters in it, things go much more smoothly the next time I sit down to write.

4. The internet is the greatest threat to my productivity, even more distracting than frantic college freshmen and whiny four year-olds. I can tame it, however -- at least temporarily -- with a timer and a smidgeon of self-discipline.

5. The oft-repeated strategy of tricking myself to write by telling myself I'm only going to write for fifteen minutes or a half hour really does work. Starting is the hardest part; once I get going, time flies by and I find myself reluctant to stop.

6. I can't write out of sequence, no matter how stuck I am. I can, however, start a new chapter without knowing exactly what will happen in it.

7. Scrivener is the most amazing writing software EVER.

8. Readers of historical fiction don't care how many obscure historical facts I know if these details bog down the story or deaden my characters. Conflicts and crises keep readers reading, not descriptions of banquets or slashed sleeves. Detail enhances the flavor of the story, but can never compensate for a lackluster plot.

9. Celebrating other writers' successes and publicizing their books makes the wait for my own sale easier to bear. My turn will come -- and if it doesn't, I've spent my time in a positive way and nurtured new friendships in the process.

10. I might have picked the absolute worst moment in the history of publishing to try to sell a debut novel, but I'm incredibly lucky to have the time, resources and support to pursue my dream.

11. I can do it again! I do have a second novel inside me, and a third and and maybe even a fourth...

12. It doesn't matter how many people believe in me if I don't believe in myself.

Writers, what have you learned about writing this year? Please share! And here's to 2010 -- may it be a year of personal growth and dreams fulfilled for all of us!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Wishes


"Le grand petit enfant de Bethlehem soit a jamais les delices et les amours de nostre cœur!"

"May the great though tiny Child of Bethlehem ever be the delight and the love of our heart!"

François de Sales (1567-1622), bishop and saint
Letter CXVI to Saint Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal
on the Feast of the Birth of Our Lord

Painted enamel plaque attributed to Jean II Pénicaud
(active 1531-1549)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"On the following day he [King François] sent for me at his dinner-hour. The Cardinal of Ferrara was there at meat with him. When I arrived, the King had reached his second course; he began at once to speak to me, saying, with a pleasant cheer, that having now so fine a basin and jug of my workmanship, he wanted an equally handsome salt-cellar to match them; and begged me to make a design, and to lose no time about it. I replied: 'Your Majesty shall see a model of the sort even sooner than you have commanded; for while I was making the basin, I thought there ought to be a saltcellar to match it; therefore I have already designed one, and if it is your pleasure, I will at once exhibit my conception.' [...] When I appeared again before the King and uncovered my piece, he cried out in astonishment: 'This is a hundred times more divine a thing that I had ever dreamed of. What a miracle of a man! He ought never to stop working.' Then he turned to me with a beaming countenance, and told me that he greatly liked the piece, and wished me to execute it in gold.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), Florentine sculptor and goldsmith
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Ch. XVI
Translated by John Addington Symonds

Photo credit: Jerzy Strzelecki (1994)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Golden Life

Interesting article in the news today...

Last year, French experts exhumed the body of Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), the mistress of King Henri II. They tested her body and found high levels of gold in her hair. Since Diane was not queen and did not wear a crown, the only explanation for such contamination points to the ingestion of drinkable, or "potable," gold.

Diane was famous for the flawless skin and stunning beauty she preserved well into her fifties. She became Henri's mistress when she was in her thirties and he only in his teens. Despite being twenty years older than the king, she remained his favorite for over two decades and was banished from court only upon Henri's death in 1559.

Diane attributed her flawless complexion to daily bathing and swimming in frigid river water (her château, Chenonceau, spanned the river Cher, and she used to swim from the river's banks). Although these practices undoubtably helped, it appears she may have resorted to other, more expensive, measures.

Considered an elixir of life, gold posed a challenge to alchemists, who strove to render the element into an ingestible form. Paracelsus (1493-1539) and Birringuccio (1480-1539) each developed recipes for dissolving gold in nitric acid, which could then be drunk. Potable gold was prescribed for a wide variety of illnesses throughout the Renaissance. It was thought to have a particularly beneficial effect on the central nervous system and was often used to treat melancholy, epilepsy, and hysteria. An Italian monk used it to treat psoriasis and ulcers. In our day, gold salts are being investigated to treat autoimmune disorders such as lupus and psoriatic arthritis. ("A Brief History of Potable Gold" by Stata Norton, Ph.D.) In addition to its therapeutic powers, potable gold was reputed to be a strong aphrodisiac--something of considerable value to a royal mistress, one would imagine.

Anecdotal accounts claim that Diane drank a homemade broth every morning after bathing. Did this "broth" contain potable gold? Whether Diane drank gold to ward off illness, preserve her beauty, or increase her ardor, it appears to have worked--despite an occasional fling, King Henri never lost his fascination with her. The memoirist Brantôme, who visited her right before her death at the age of 66, claimed she was as beautiful and seductive as ever. Even allowing for some gallant hyperbole on Brantôme's part, Diane seems to have given new meaning to the term "golden years."

{Go here for an additional article on the discovery.}

Friday, December 11, 2009


Elena Maria Vidal's new novel, The Night's Dark Shade: A Novel of the Cathars (Mayapple Press, 2009) dramatizes the conflict between the Good Christians (otherwise known as the Albigensians or Cathars) and the Roman Catholic Church that roiled southern France throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Raphaëlle de Miramande, a young heiress whose father and fiancé both die in the crusade against the Cathars, travels to the château de Mirambel to wed her cousin, Raymond de Tourmalet. Raphaëlle discovers only after she arrives that her intended and his family are themselves Good Christians--in fact, Raymond's mother, Esclarmonde, is a Perfecta, an ascetic spiritual leader who instructs the faithful and leads the sect's rituals. In accordance with Cathar beliefs (which considered material reality evil and procreation undesirable because it trapped spirits in physical bodies), the situation at Mirambel is irregular, to say the least. Esclarmonde, given over to fasts and conquering her body, shuns her husband, who lives in an open physical relationship with a serving woman; Esclarmonde's son, Raymond, is a sexual deviant given to violent outbursts and bullying; tenants cohabitate without the blessing of marriage and rid themselves of unwanted children both before and after birth. Horrified by what she witnesses and unwilling to repudiate her Catholic faith, Raphaëlle refuses to marry Raymond, forcing her uncle, who desires to gain control of her lands, to imprison her until she agrees to wed his son.

Romantic feelings for Martin de Revel-Seissec, a knight of St. John pledged to celibacy but renowned for breaking hearts, complicate Raphaëlle's plight. Rescued for a time from her uncle's castle, Raphaëlle weds a different man, but her penchant for Martin prevents her from making a sincere effort to fulfill her marriage vows. Raphaëlle struggles with reconciling the notion of romantic love, promoted by the troubadours, with the self-giving and faithfulness that undergird a sacramental marriage. Like the Cathars, whose efforts to transcend the body reduced sexual relations to physical functions devoid of unifying sacredness, Raphaëlle's obsession with the unattainable Martin endangers her emotional connection with her husband and threatens to destroy the marriage she has vowed to uphold.

Ms. Vidal creates a cast of vivid characters caught in a quick-moving, well-constructed plot. Her novel paints an intriguing picture of Cathar beliefs and practices set in direct contrast to Catholic theology. As the perspective belongs solely to young Raphaëlle, a devout Catholic, value judgments are hardly equivocal. Yet even Raphaëlle recognizes how Cathar beliefs sprang from distorted Christian teaching. The novel illustrates how easily and insidiously the abhorrent becomes desirable, the selfish honorable when individuals seek nothing beyond the fulfillment of their own desires, a message perhaps even more relevant today than it was centuries ago.

Ms. Vidal has a master's degree in European History and is a specialist on Marie Antoinette. To order The Night's Dark Shade or learn about the author's other novels, Trianon (1997) and Madame Royale (2000), please visit her blog, Tea at Trianon. An interview with the author may be found here.

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Au dict an, samedy huictiesme mars, fut pendu et estranglé, devant le pillory, à Paris, un jeune garçon qui n'avoit pas seize ans, serviteur de Jean Crevecoeur, joyaullier et orfèvre de Paris, à cause qu'il luy avoit desrobbé environ pour huict ou dix mille livres de bagues et joyaux et de pierreries. Et, pour ce faire, il estoit monté, de nuict, pardessus les maisons, en son grenier, où il y couchea de nuict, et le lendemain dimanche, fit le larcin, pendant que ceux de la maison estoient au seremon."

"In the said year [1516], on Saturday, March 8, a young boy who wasn't yet sixteen, a servant of Jean Crevecoeur, jeweller and goldsmith of Paris, was hanged and strangled in front of the pillory in Paris, for having robbed the jeweller of about eight to ten thousand livres' worth of rings and jewels and precious stones. To accomplish this, he climbed during the night across rooftops and into his [Crevecoeur's] attic, where he spent the night, and the next day, a Sunday, committed the theft while the members of the household were at church."

Anonymous, Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris (1515-1536)
Translation mine

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Treasure Trove of Photos

I was contacted last week by a reader of the blog who shares my interest in "Francis and his posse." Stephen Bove, a screenwriter and accomplished photographer, has visited many of François's favorite châteaux and photographed the sites in marvelous detail. He has posted the photos in the following threads on Flickr:

Clos Lucé (the house near Amboise where Leonardo da Vinci died)
Eglise de St. Denis (tombs of François and other French kings)

I can't thank Mr. Bove enough for sharing these breathtaking glimpses of the beauty François created for himself and his court.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"This court is like no other. Here we are completely cut off from business, and if by chance there is any, no hour, day or month is set aside for certain to deal with it. Here one thinks of nothing but hunting, women, banquets and moving house."

The Bishop of Saluzzo, complaining about the French court
in a letter to Cosimo de' Medici

Quoted in C. Terasse, François Ier: le roi et le règne
(Paris 1945-70), vol. 3, p. 23.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Robin Maxwell's O, JULIET

Robin Maxwell, the author of seven historical novels (including SIGNORA DA VINCI, which I reviewed here), has a new book coming out in February: O, JULIET, a historical retelling of Shakespeare's tragic tale.

Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father's business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inspired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage into the Medici dynasty, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that takes flight in the privacy of her bedchamber and on her garden balcony.

Her life and destiny are forever changed when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars.

You can read a sneak peek of O, JULIET at Ms. Maxwell's website and participate in the Love Games she has created to celebrate the publication of the book. I'll be posting a review of the book sometime in January.

The tag line on the book's front cover reads: "Their love was the stuff of legend. But the legend is only half the story." Come February 2, 2010, we'll know the rest!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Wherefore are you, good men of letters, so little susceptible of shame, as always to be fostering and inflaming the feelings of jealousy and hatred in the hearts of Princes? Wait at least till we are dead, and then write whatever you please; for avarice, party feeling, and other passions will no longer draw a veil over your eyes; and it is only when purified of these, that history will be real history, and fit to live for posterity."

Emperor Charles V
to Christian Nasseus of Cambray,
who in a 1540 historical account represented
King Francis I in the harshest of colors

[Quoted in Correspondence of the Emperor Charles V,
ed. Wm. Bradford (1850)]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

May you all enjoy dear friends, good food, and true gratefulness of heart today.

Thank you so much for your interest and support.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"For the first voice the infant hears is its mother's, and attempts to form its first babbling to her speech; for at that age it can do nothing but imitate, and takes its first sense experiences, the first furnishings of mind from what it hears its mother say or sees her do; therefore, it is more in the mother's power to shape her child's character
than anyone thinks."

Juan Luis Vives (1453-1540), Spanish humanist
De institutione feminae christianae
(The Education of the Christian Woman), 1524

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Plague Battle Continues

[This post is a continuation of the documented description of the plague epidemic in Chalons-sur-Saône in 1578-79. The first installment can be read here.]

The town of Chalons-sur-Saône made an admirable civic effort to curb the spread of the plague and to care for the afflicted during the 1578-79 outbreak, but this effort took its toll on the town finances and social fabric. The cost of feeding and housing the ill, paying the wages of doctors, barber-surgeons, maulgognets, and saccards, and disinfecting houses increased to such a degree that the town had to take out two substantial loans. Yet even that was not enough. In October, the council decided to levy a tax of 2000 livres on the privileged and the clergy. The former paid; the latter resisted. The clery did contribute to the program, and generously, but they refused to be forced to do so by the municipality. The city took them to court, although the case was not resolved until after the plague had passed. The verdict found the clergy guilty, and from then on, in times of plague, religious orders were obliged to turn their alms over to the magistrates.

Healthy inhabitants, fearful of succumbing to the illness, fled to their holdings outside of town. Court cases were suspended; the collège closed down. The only people left were the sick and those devoted to helping them. The number of able-bodied inhabitants dwindled to such an extent that it compromised the town's security. With the Wars of Religion in full swing, townspeople were required to participate in the watch and guard. Anyone leaving to attend fairs or to travel had to supply a healthy man to watch in his place. Eventually, even the clergy were forced to take watch duty. The countryside was at the mercy of rampaging Huguenots and Catholics who ignored Burgundy's declared neutrality. Concerned, the Governor of Burgundy ordered the raising of a small army in September, but Chalons was unable to supply troops for the force. Fortunately, the plague proved to be a stronger deterrent than any army could have been, and the threats to the city never materialized.

Meanwhile, as winter approached and it became too cold to continue housing the sick in the poorly constructed cadolles, the municipality took the extreme measure of moving the stricken back into their own homes. Behind padlocked doors and windows, the ill and suspected ill were secluded for six weeks or until death, whichever came first. A precise neighborhood tally of the victims was submitted each day to the mayor.

The epidemic abated near the end of November, only to reappear, stronger than before, in the spring. In February 1579, the mayor again sounded the alarm. Due to the season, no thought was given to constructing new cadolles; instead, the hospital was evacuated of its non-contagious patients so that the plague-stricken could be housed there. The progress of the epidemic was rapid. In March, an entire faubourg outside the town walls was declared infected. Healthy residents moved inside the walls and the gates to the faubourg closed, effectively sequestering it.

Although most medical professionals battled the epidemic with devotion and compassion, on occasion their courage ran out. A barber-surgeon who had served in the earlier outbreak refused to assume his duties in this new one. He was thrown into prison and only agreed to practice when threatened with the loss of his goods and license. However, in May, when the hospital's barber-surgeon lay dying, he refused to go bleed him. The threats of the magistrate did not move the barber; he disappeared from town. The authorities quickly waived the exam and swore in a new barber-surgeon, who demanded that his fees be paid in advance and that he receive a complete new wardrobe when his service had ended.

Things continued to worsen over the summer. Hospital space proved insufficient, so the sick were housed in the barn of the Carmelite monastery. Preventitive measures, such as the burning of upholstered furniture and the closing of inns, were enforced. Though the illness once again abated in the fall, it continued to crop up again and again in Chalons and the surrounding area during the last decade of the sixteenth century. During a particularly bad outbreak in 1596, when the town's misery was compounded by famine, paupers were expelled from the gates with a crust of bread and two pennies. The watch would not allow entry to any travelers who could not produce a certificate from a non-infected area.

Marcel Canat de Chizy's 1879 monograph concludes with two interesting anecdotes. The first recounts the presence of a woman among the barber-surgeons who served in 1578. The widow of the sieur Monnot took part in the municipal deliberations as a chirugien. The historian claims there can be no doubt that Madame Monnot had been received as a master barber-surgeon, for she had two apprentices studying under her, both of whom advanced sans examen in order to battle the plague.

The second anecdote relates how in November 1578, the two daughters of one Joachim Robert were stricken. To avoid the danger of infection inherent in living with the girls, Robert petitioned the mayor to allow him and his wife to move into a room at the hospital. Remember, the hospital was reserved for the non-contagious sick; Robert evidently felt it was the safest place to avoid contagion. The town council did not appreciate his logic -- they told him to go occupy one of the several houses he owned in the countryside. So much for paternal love in time of duress!

[Canat de Chizy's monograph can be read in French at GoogleBooks.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Fool," said my Muse to me,
"look in thy heart,
and write."

Sir Philip Sydney (1554-1586), British poet and courtier
Astrophel and Stella (1581), Sonnet 1

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sixteenth Century Records in St. Augustine, Florida

Twenty-six years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Gabriel Hernandez, a Spanish soldier, married Catalina de Valdez in St. Augustine, Florida. The record of their marriage, handwritten by Father Diego Escobar de Sambrana and dated 1594, is one of the earliest known European documents in the United States. It is one of thousands of church records that chronicle the births, marriages and deaths of the Spanish settlers--missionaries, soldiers, and merchants--who lived in St. Augustine from 1594-1763. Scattered throughout this country and others through the centuries, these documents have recently been gathered and returned to the Diocese of St. Augustine, which is working on digitizing them. You can read the full article about this fascinating project here.

Of course, my novelist's mind immediately starts wondering about Gabriel and Catalina. How did they meet? Was their marriage a happy one? Did they return to Spain or spend their lives in the Florida colony? Imagine if someone had told them that 415 years later, their marriage would be front-page news...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"[C]ar combien que par la volonté de Dieu, telle maladie soit envoyée aux hommes, si est ce que par sa saincte volonté les moyens et secours nous sont donnés pareillement de luy, pour en user comme d'instrumens à sa gloire."

"For in as much as through God's will such an illness is visited upon men, so it is that through His holy will He equally gives us methods and remedies, to be used as instruments for His glory."

Ambroise Paré, surgeon and scholar
De la peste [About the plague], 1568

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Plague upon Your Town

Although the incidence of bubonic plague, the infamous "Black Death" of the fourteenth century, slowly decreased over the course of the Renaissance era, plague was still very much part of sixteenth century life. Outbreaks of plague occurred sporadically throughout Europe, following the movement of goods from port to port and of soldiers returning home from war. Edinburgh suffered a bout of plague in 1529, as did London in 1537-39 and 1547-48; Paris, where outbreaks were frequent, suffered a particularly virulent one around 1564. In 1570, 200,000 people lost their lives to plague in the vicinity of Moscow; Lyon lost 50,000 individuals in 1572; in 1576, 70,000 inhabitants of Venice succumbed. Plague during the sixteenth century was largely confined to cities and towns. Outbreaks usually occurred during the summer months, when rat fleas are most active. Death came quickly to victims: 80% of those infected died within five days.

In the course of my research on plague in the sixteenth century, I came across a small book entitled Deux ans de peste à Chalon-sur-Saone, 1578-79 [Two Years of Plague in Chalon-sur Saone, 1578-79], published in 1879 by Marcel Canat de Chizy, the town archivist. The book provides a fascinating account, culled from the town's historical record, of how the municipality dealt with a particular outbreak of the disease. Interesting to me was how the care of the sick became a community effort, motivated both by Christian charity and the more self-interested desire to limit the extent of the contagion.

In July of 1578, the mayor of Chalon announced to the nervous inhabitants gathered outside the town hall that two cases of plague had surfaced. He exhorted the townspeople to contribute to the effort to provide medical aid, lodging and sustenance to the afflicted.

First, medical assistance was organized. The town benefited from the activity of three types of medical professionals: doctors, apothecaries, and barber-surgeons. The barber-surgeons were under the municipality's direct control and governed by a set of statutes. In order to be licensed as a maistre, or master, a barber-surgeon had to pass an exam in the presence of the magistrates and the doctors. The statutes required surgeons to provide aid to the plague-stricken; since this was a risky endeavor, apprentice surgeons who accepted the task were granted the privileges of a master without having to take the exam. Two apprentice surgeons took the oath to serve the afflicted; they were granted the status of master and a salary of 6 écus per month, plus food for themselves and their families and exemption from militia duty during the term of their service.

The town engaged the services of two lower levels of caretaker during the outbreak: maulgognets and saccards. Maulgognets cared for the living: they were what we might call nurse's aids, men and women who provided basic services for the incapacitated. Saccards took care of the dead: they collected and buried the bodies. In addition to their wages, saccards were granted the clothing of the deceased (cruel recompense, indeed!). If they survived until the end of outbreak, they were housed in seclusion outside the town for two weeks in order to "air out."

The town hospital could only accept non-contagious patients; what to do, then, with the rapidly increasing number of infected, who needed to be separated from the healthy? Flimsy wooden shelters covered with straw, called cadolles, were constructed outside of town to house them. The victims were crowded into these shelters as soon as their infection became evident. Often those only suspected of being infected were forced to move into the cadolles with the ill, a guaranteed death-sentence. The sergents-de-ville escorted the pestiférés to the cadolles at specific times of the day along a prescribed path, so that the healthy might avoid them.

The town provisioned the sick for free. The mayor appointed a directeur de vivres who organized the collection and preparation of food, which was delivered daily to the town hall and transported to the cadolles by the sergents. These exposed and overworked sergents received ten extra sols pay per day and a pair of shoes for their services.

Christian charity, at least in the early stages of the outbreak, proved admirable: donations of food for the sick overwhelmed the town hall and distributions were made without fraud. The mayor and city officials performed their extra duties with zeal. However, as the number of sick rapidly increased and weeks stretched into months, the situation began to deteriorate. The healthy began to desert the town for the countryside, leaving the sick without aid and the city unprotected during a time of war.

[Sources: You can read Canat de Chizy's monograph in French at GoogleBooks. Other sources include Encylopedia Britannica (1911 edition) and Mark Harrison's Disease and the Modern World: 1500 to the Present (2004).]

Next post: Panic sets in.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Car c'est au Roy, & qui l'en gardera?
D'eslever ceulx que bon luy semblera."

"For it's the King's right (and who will keep him from it?)
To raise up those it pleases him to raise."

Claude Chappuys, poet and royal librarian
Le Discours de la Court (1543)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Poll: Sixteenth Century Household Names?

I often wonder how familiar the people I write about are to historical fiction readers. I've lived and breathed with these people for so long, I can't remember not knowing about them, but I'm sure that's not the case with many of you. To help me out, take the new poll in the sidebar. Check off the names of those individuals you knew nothing about before you began to follow this blog. Were many of them previously unknown to you? What about the people you already recognized--did you know much about their lives or personalities? Does your familiarity with historical characters make you more or less interested in reading about them?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Soccer, Anyone?

Jackie at Weave a Garland has an interesting post about soccer (football) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Henry VIII even had a special pair of soccer shoes made for himself!

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Mieux est de ris que de larmes ecripre,
Pour ce que rire est le propre de l'homme."

"It's better to write about laughter than tears,
Because laughter is particular to man."

François Rabelais (c. 1494-1553), French humanist
La Vie très horrifique du grand Gargantua (1534), Notice to the Reader

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Galleries, Redux

Interesting, what I just read in a biography of Marguerite de Navarre. Marguerite had joined her daughter Jeanne, who was recovering from a "strong and furious flux" at Blois. However, at Blois "il n'y avoit pas assez de galleries...pour la faire promener à couvert" (there weren't enough galleries to take Jeanne walking under cover), so she moved her daughter to La Bourdaisière, where, presumably, there were more.

Illustrates yet again the important function galleries played in the lives of Renaissance nobles.

[Source: Pierre Jourda, Marguerite d'Angoulême (Geneva, 1978), I:225]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Chenonceau Videos

For those interested in Renaissance history and architecture, I would like to bring to your attention a series of eighteen videos on the château of Chenonceau. The videos discuss the cultural context of the château and present biographical vignettes of individuals who owned and altered it (François, Henri II, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici). The later installments follow the history of Chenonceau on up through the twentieth century. Each video runs about 9 minutes in length. Worth watching if you have time to spare!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Winner of SUNFLOWERS Drawing

The winner of the drawing for a copy of Sheramy Bundrick's SUNFLOWERS is...Teabird! Congratulations, Teabird! I'm sure you'll enjoy the novel. If you email me your mailing address, I'll forward it to Sheramy, who will send the book off to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and to Sheramy who provided the book for the contest. You can find SUNFLOWERS at all major book outlets. In the meantime, here are a few more inteviews and guest posts to check out:

Interview by author Catherine Delors at Versailles and More;
"Why I Love Vincent van Gogh" at Historical Tapestry;
"Following van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise" at

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hilary Mantel on History in Fiction

Excellent, excellent article in The Guardian by Hilary Mantel on "dealing with history in fiction." Practically every sentence is worth quoting. Here are some of my favorites:

"A relation of past events brings you up against events and mentalities that, should you choose to describe them, would bring you to the borders of what your readers could bear. The danger you have to negotiate is not the dimpled coyness of the past – it is its obscenity."

"To try to engage with the present without engaging with the past is to live like a dog or cat rather than a human being; it is to bob along on the waters of egotism, solipsism and ignorance."

"History is always changing behind us, and the past changes a little every time we retell it."

"A novel arrives whether you want it or not. After months or years of silent travel by night, it squats like an illegal immigrant at Calais, glowering and plotting, thinking of a thousand ways to gain a foothold. It's useless to try to keep it out. It's smarter than you are. It's upon you before you've seen its face, and has set up in business and bought a house."

I so need to read WOLF HALL. Now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"[M]en should devote themselves to practicing no other kind of music than that of living in harmony with us women. For their current state of disharmony with women produces such an awful sound: all one hears all day is carping, scorn, abuse, and a thousand other ills, as we are forced to curse, insult, and dishonor them, quite against our natural inclination, habits, and will (because, by nature, we would be inclined to put up with anything and suffer our mishaps in silence, but men are so pestilential and importunate that eventually they wear down even our patience)."

Moderata Fonte (Modesta Pozzo) (1555-1592), Italian writer and poet
The Worth of Women: Wherein is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men (1600)
Edited and translated by Virginia Cox (U Chicago Press 1997)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review of Sheramy Bundrick's SUNFLOWERS

In yesterday's interview, author Sheramy Bundrick revealed that her goal in writing SUNFLOWERS, her new novel about Vincent van Gogh, was to dispel the myth of van Gogh as "a mad genius slapping paint on a canvas." Determined to show that "there is much more to van Gogh than the 'ear incident,'" Bundrick draws a sensitive and nuanced portrait of the man who gave us not only one of art history's most gruesome anecdotes, but some of the most stunning paintings of all time.

The reader comes to know this other Vincent through the eyes of Rachel, the Arlesian prostitute who narrates the tale. A schoolteacher's daughter who turns to prostitution in order to survive after the deaths of her parents, Rachel first encounters "the foreigner with the funny name who wander[s] the countryside painting pictures" in a public garden when he draws her as she sleeps. As the relationship between the two blossoms, Vincent slowly reveals his hidden side: his complex relationship with his art-dealer brother Theo, who supports him monetarily and emotionally, yet whose happy and seemingly unattainable family life torments the artist; the guilt Vincent carries over abandoning a woman he lived with for years; his frustration at being ignored and misunderstood by the art establishment of his day. His biggest secret, the one that results in the "ear incident" itself, is the mental crises that plague him, the fits (epilepsy? lead poisoning? syphilis? Bundrick opts for bipolar disorder) that send him to hospital and asylum and ultimately compel him to take his own life. Rachel, with dogged devotion and deep love for this man who sees past her tawdry circumstances to a soul that, like his, has suffered greatly, never deserts him. If he teaches her anything at all, it is to follow the sun--to seek light and beauty despite the darkness that threatens to overwhelm her.

Rachel's tale is an engaging one; I was swept up in the narrative and read the book over the course of only a few days. Although at times I felt the depiction of her life as a prostitute was a bit romanticized (I expected sheltered Rachel to be more traumatized by her parents' deaths and her nightly encounters with strange men), her spunkiness and determination to create a new life for herself and Vincent provide a plausible thematic counterpoint -- instead of wallowing in pity and fear, she seeks to create something beautiful out of her brokenness and shame. As with most well-written historical fiction, it was fascinating to find the facts and commonplaces of a historical person's existence fleshed out in ways I hadn't expected -- Gauguin's jealous vindictiveness, for example, or Vincent's fascination with the sea. Bundrick's descriptions of Provence capture with great accuracy and vividness the sights and sounds and colors of the region, as well as the customs and character of its inhabitants. The book's final chapter is sublime, the crowning moment of an obvious work of love on the author's part. I was sad to finish reading and can only hope to enjoy another fine historical novel from Sheramy Bundrick before too long a wait. Congratulations to the author on a remarkable and most promising debut.

Remember, to enter the drawing for a signed copy of SUNFLOWERS, leave a comment here or after the previous post, revealing your favorite van Gogh painting. [Readers from the US and Canada only, please.] Otherwise, you can find SUNFLOWERS at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Interview with author Sheramy Bundrick

Most of us who know anything at all about Vincent van Gogh have heard the story of how he cut off his ear and presented it as a gift to a prostitute. But how many of us have delved beneath the surface of the anecdote to imagine the relationship that existed between Vincent and the girl, identified only as "Rachel" in the article about the incident in the local paper? Sheramy Bundrick, and art historian at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, has turned her musings about the couple into a novel that Publishers Weekly calls "a knockout impressive volume of suspense, delight and heartbreak." SUNFLOWERS, published by Avon A as a paperback original, goes on sale tomorrow, October 13.

Sheramy first contacted me through this blog as she searched for an agent. It has been great fun to follow her through each successive step on her path to publication. Passionate about her story and the people who inhabit it, she offered to share some of the research that went into the writing of the novel. In this short interview, her love for Vincent van Gogh, the man and the work, comes through with the verve and vigor of one of Vincent's own paintings.


1. How did you become interested in van Gogh? What prompted you to write a novel about him, rather than an academic work?

Like many people, I’ve been a fan of van Gogh’s paintings for a long time. But I’ve been especially interested in him the past eight or nine years, beginning with a research fellowship I had at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was there to write a scholarly book about ancient Greek art (and I did), but I kept returning to the gallery with the van Gogh paintings as a place to sit and think. When I became a fulltime professor, I started teaching van Gogh as part of the art history survey, and that became a great excuse to read more about him. As for why a novel — I didn’t exactly plan for it to happen. At first I was writing a little short story as something fun to do during the summer, after an inspirational trip to Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise. Then it kept growing and growing...!

2. Which scene in the book is your favorite? Which scene was the most difficult to write, and why?

Rachel’s first trip to the yellow house makes me smile, but there are other scenes I like for their bittersweet nature. I love the last chapter. The hardest chapter to write was Chapter 34, “Seventy Days in Auvers.” A specific event had to take place that first of all I didn’t want to happen, and secondly, I had to decide how to convey that event to the reader. I ended up crafting the chapter as a series of letters between characters, but it didn’t start out that way.

3. Could you tell us a little about the history of van Gogh's sunflower paintings? What happened to them after his death and where are they now? Do the paintings function symbolically in your novel?

Great question and a long story! There are actually eleven van Gogh canvases of sunflowers, done between August 1887 and January 1889: four painted while living in Paris, seven in Arles. Let’s focus on the five most famous Arles pictures. In the novel, Rachel sees in Vincent’s studio Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers, which has a yellow background and was painted in August 1888. Around the same time, Vincent painted Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, which has a turquoise background. Both of these were later sent to Theo and remained in the van Gogh family for some time after Vincent and Theo’s deaths: Theo’s wife Johanna sold the yellow-background version to the National Gallery in London in 1924, and the turquoise-background version made its way to a museum in Munich around 1905 or so. Vincent made two copies of the yellow-background picture: one in probably December 1888 during Gauguin’s visit (this one I don’t mention in the novel because it was getting complicated!), which again the family had for a time — after a series of owners, it was bought at auction by the Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company (based in Tokyo) in 1987. The second copy, which I do mention in the novel, was done in late January 1889. This one never left the van Gogh family and today is in the Van Gogh Museum. Also in January 1889, Vincent made a copy of the turquoise-background version, which after changing hands a few times, today is in Philadelphia.

The Sunflowers paintings absolutely function symbolically in the novel. Vincent himself used the paintings to express ideas about the life cycle, and long before his time, the sunflower’s legendary quality of following the sun — even when it’s cloudy — granted it a spiritual meaning for many artists and writers. I’ll let readers interpret from there!

4. How important do you feel it is for historical novelists to travel to the places they write about? What locations did you visit in order to write SUNFLOWERS? How did your visits contribute to your descriptions?

I think when it’s financially possible, authors should visit their locales. When I traveled to Arles and Saint-Rémy in summer 2007, I already had a draft of the manuscript, I had a mental map of both places, photographs I had found, but making the trip added many dimensions that I could not have gotten otherwise. The church of Saint-Trophime in Arles is one example: in the earlier draft, Rachel does not walk inside the church, but the trip inspired me to add that scene and description. I returned to Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise, both of which I had visited before, and I traveled to Amsterdam and Otterlo in the Netherlands to see the two largest museum collections of van Gogh’s work. I made two trips to New York during the writing process to see van Gogh paintings and exhibitions. I would have traveled more if I could!

5. At what point did you insert the quotations from Vincent's correspondence at the head each chapter? Did the quotations direct your writing of the chapters or sum up what you'd accomplished therein?

Fairly late in the process. I mainly intended the quotes for readers, so they could see snippets from original archival material. Each quote does “comment” on what’s happening in the story in some way.

6. What do you want readers to take away from their reading of SUNFLOWERS?

Hopefully, a new perception of van Gogh and a desire to learn more. “Famous” as Vincent is, he’s incredibly misunderstood. The cliché of the mad genius slapping paint on canvas is very much alive, even though the primary sources and the scholarship reveal it as a myth. He knew exactly what he was doing in his art; he was methodical, disciplined, and highly knowledgable about art history and the contemporary market. Popular culture focuses on his mental illness — often in ways that are very disrespectful — but there is much more to Vincent van Gogh than “the ear incident.” In the novel, I tried to contextualize his illness and show that it was only part of his story.

7. Do you think your future novels will deal with artists or the world of art? What are you working on now?

I’ve got some scholarly projects in the hopper at the moment — about ancient Greek art, not van Gogh. A second novel is percolating that yes, deals with artists and is set in nineteenth-century Paris. Finding time to work on it, though, is hard since I teach fulltime at the university and want to keep up my scholarship. I’m not in a hurry; I believe things happen in their own good time!


Sheramy has an autographed copy of SUNFLOWERS to send to one lucky winner. Please leave a comment with an answer to the question: "My favorite van Gogh painting is ...." by eleven pm PST Sunday evening, October 18. The winning entry will be drawn at random and posted Monday morning, October 19. Contest open only to readers in the United States and Canada. Good luck!

You can learn more about Sheramy and her work at or visit her blog, Van Gogh's Chair.

Many thanks to Sheramy for the interview and giveaway, and heartfelt congratulations on publication day!

Tomorrow: my review of SUNFLOWERS.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Next Week: SUNFLOWERS by Sheramy Bundrick

On Tuesday, October 13, my writing friend Sheramy Bundrick's new novel about Vincent Van Gogh, SUNFLOWERS (Avon A), hits the shelves. I'll have an interview with Sheramy posted on Monday and a review of the novel on Tuesday. Sheramy is providing a signed copy for one lucky winner, so be sure to check in on Monday to enter the drawing. SUNFLOWERS received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. It's one book you won't want to miss!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Vivez, si m'en croyez,
n'attendez à demain:
Cueillez dés aujourdhuy
les roses de la vie."

"Live now, believe me,
don't wait until tomorrow:
Gather the roses of life today."

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), French poet
Le Second livre des Sonets pour Hélène, XXIV

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Our bodily eye findeth never an end, but is vanquished by
the immensity of space."

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Italian philosopher,
mathematician and astronomer
On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1584), Fifth Dialogue

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Royal Habitrail®

Where did a Renaissance king go to escape from it all? He'd take a hike--or rather a stroll. But not through the wilds of nature--the woods, after all, were for hunting. He'd walk in his own private gallery, one of the few places in the palace where he could dodge the crowds and think.

Galleries, in Renaissance châteaux, were long, hall-like structures attached to the monarch's private suite. While later in the century and beyond galleries were used as public waiting rooms or the setting for lavish receptions (think Hall of Mirrors--Galerie des Glaces--at Versailles), in the first half of the century they were intended for the king's private use and accessible only from his most secluded chamber.

Fontainebleau provides a prime example of this arrangement. The grande galerie, as it came to be known, jutted out at a perpendicular angle to the château proper. Before the renovations that began in 1528, the gallery served as a passage between the royal apartments and the neighboring abbey. When François I decided to build a bathing suite on the ground floor beneath the gallery, he moved the doorway to the upper passageway so that it communicated directly with his chamber. Since the staircase stood at the far end of the passageway, he had to traverse the gallery whenever he wished to access the baths or the garden below. He kept the gallery locked and the key on his person. Only those he expressly invited to accompany him ever saw the gallery's lavish frescoes and stucco work, executed by the Italian artist Rosso Fiorentino. An exterior terrace ran alongside the second-story gallery to facilitate the courtiers' passage from one area of the château to the other (the abbey was eventually replaced by new wings).

Other châteaux which featured private galleries included Bury, Écouen, Villers-Cotterêts, and the Louvre.

The purpose of these galleries was primarily exercise, as numerous contemporary references demonstrate. An architectural treatise dating from 1620 defined the gallery as the place where the lord could walk and converse with the visitors who came to discuss business with him. Henri IV was said to have constructed the grande galerie at the Louvre so that he could "stroll and watch what was going on on the Seine." La Grande Mademoiselle, his granddaughter, wrote that she walked by torchlight in her gallery at Saint-Fargeau for a half hour in the evening, and then again after supper with friends. Montaigne, the essayist, claimed that if it weren't for the cost, he would build galleries off each side of his library, each one hundred paces long by twelve wide, so that he could walk and think, for it was only while moving his legs that his thoughts took flight.

For a social class accustomed to the hard physical exertions of hunting and warfare, indoor galleries permitted uninterrupted exercise during times of darkness and inclement weather. Attached as they were to the private apartments, galleries provided members of the royal family a place where they could, quite literally, walk off the stress of being constantly in the public eye.

[Source: Jean Guillaume, "La galerie dans le chateau français: place et fonction," Revue de l'Art 1993, 102(1): 32-42. Photograph of Francis I Gallery, Fontainebleau, courtesy of Wikimedia.]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fall Book Sale Bonanza

Just got back from the Fall Book Sale at our local library and have to share my haul:

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
Mary, Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
The Treasure of Montségur by Sophy Burnham
Forever by Pete Hamill (I've already read this one, but it's one of my favorites and I didn't have my own copy)
Mozart's Sister by Rita Charbonnier
Lady MacBeth by Susan Fraser King
The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
North River by Pete Hamill

Plus a 125th anniversary edition of Barlett's Quotations and a Digimon VHS tape, all for a whopping grand total of $11 (and seven of the nine novels are hardbacks). I do feel guilty cheating authors out of their royalties, but I can't pass up such bargains. All but Chabon and Hamill are new authors to me, so buying these used editions might inspire me to splurge full price on some their newer works.

Now, if only I could find time to read. I still have huge piles of unread purchases from the last few sales! Any recommendations on what should be at the top of the list?

(On a side note, I was flabbergasted, as always, by the number of John Grisham hardbacks on the sale tables. It's amazing how many people buy his novels new in hardback.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Encores ay-je une opinion, dist Parlamente, que jamais homme n'aymera parfaictement Dieu, qu'il n'ait parfaictement aymé quelque creature en ce monde."

"Moreover, I am of the opinion," said Parlamente, "that never will a man love God perfectly unless he has perfectly loved some
creature in this world."

--Marguerite de Navarre, L'Heptaméron (1558), 19th Tale

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Qui ne se donne loisir d'avoir soif, ne saurait prendre plaisir à boire."

"He who does not permit himself to become thirsty will never be able to take pleasure in drinking."

--Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), Essais.
Vol. I, Ch. XLII: "De l'inégalité qui est entre nous."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Best Blogs for Book Reviews" Honor

On-Line College, "dedicated to bringing you the best online educational tools and resources," has included Writing the Renaissance in their 100 Best Blogs for Book Reviews in the Historical Fiction category! I'm grateful for the recognition and happy to find WTR listed among so many worthy blogs.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Princes in the Tower, French Version

Those familiar with English history know the story of the Princes in the Tower--Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the young sons of King Edward IV, who, after the death of their father in 1483, were imprisoned in the Tower of London and never seen again. The same history buffs might not, however, realize that France had its own version of imprisoned princes--François and Henri, the two young sons of François I, who were handed over to Charles V as ransom for their father and spent four years in miserable captivity in Spain.

The Treaty of Madrid, which François signed in 1526 to secure his release after the disastrous Battle of Pavie, contained many concessions to Charles V--the most notable being the transfer of Burgundy to the emperor and the renunciation of French claims to Flanders, Naples, and Milan. When François tried to convince Charles that he needed to return home to effect the transfer, Charles demanded that he hand over two of his three sons as hostages until the terms of the treaty had been fulfilled. François, who had spent the past year as Charles's prisoner, seems not to have balked at resigning his young sons, aged only seven and eight, to a similar fate. Perhaps he expected their absence to be a short one; perhaps he placed the well-being of his kingdom, struggling under the regency of his mother, over that of his own flesh and blood. Perhaps he was simply eager to make any deal necessary to gain his freedom. In any case, he agreed to the exchange, which was arranged to take place on March 17, 1526, at the border town of Bayonne.

The trade occurred in the middle of the Bidassoa River, which separates France from Castile. Two boats, one carrying the French king, the other his sons, met in the middle of the river at a raft that had been moored into place. The king hugged his sons and blessed them, telling them he would send for them soon. The two parties switched boats; the princes were rowed back to the Spanish bank while the king proceded to the French. As soon as he landed, François leapt onto his horse, shouted, "Now I am king; I am king once again!" and galloped off to meet his court at Bayonne. There is no record in the extensive descriptions of the exchange that he even looked back at the young sons he had just abandoned.

At first, the princes and their entourage of seventy persons were treated cordially; Eléonore, Charles's sister and François's new wife by proxy, treated the boys as sons. But as the weeks passed and it became obvious that François had no intention of surrendering Burgundy, the treatment of the princes grew harsher. They were taken away from Eleanor and moved to a castle farther south. After a foiled rescue attempt in February 1527, Charles took them further into Spain and dismissed nearly all their attendants. François, hoping to pressure Charles into releasing the boys, entered into league with England and the papacy. When that failed, he declared war on Charles in late 1527.

Of course, this declaration worsened the boys' situation. They were moved to the fortress of Pedraza in the high mountains north of Madrid, where they lived a spartan existence amidst Spanish soldiers. A French spy saw them twice in July 1529; townspeople told him the younger boy, Henry, hurled constant verbal abuse at the Spanish when the princes were permitted to attend Mass. Tired of Charles and François's posturing, Louise de Savoye, the king's mother, and Marguerite d'Autriche, the emperor's aunt and regent of the Netherlands, began negotiations to end the war. In August of 1529, the Treaty of Cambrai, or la paix des dames as it came to be known, was hammered out. Instead of ceding Burgundy, François agreed to pay 2 million écus for the ransom of his sons.

The princes remained in Spain while the king worked to raise the huge sum. Louise sent a man to Pedraza to check on the condition of the princes and to let them know they would soon return home. The man, Baudin, found the boys living in "a dark, disordered chamber with no adornments except straw mattresses." The window, high up the wall, was covered with bars. The boys had received no lessons since their tutor had been released months earlier; their French was rusty, since they only could speak it between themselves. They did have two small dogs to play with, but spent only minutes a day outside playing under the watch of fifty soldiers. Now aged eleven and twelve, they had been in captivity for four years.

François finally managed to collect the ransom by June of 1530, an incredibly difficult feat that nearly bankrupted the kingdom. A train of thirty-two gold-laden mules left Bayonne for the same spot on the Bidassoa River where the first exchange had taken place. The boys were reunited with their father and the court at Bayonne on July 3. On July 7, François married Eléonore, who had accompanied the princes from Spain. He thus fulfilled one of the stipulations of the original Treaty of Madrid.

How did four years of captivity affect these young boys and their relationship with their father? That is a subject for a future post. One can only imagine the sense of abandonment these young children felt, as well as anger towards a father who so blithely surrendered them so he could once again "be king."

(Source: Henry II, King of France 1547-1559 by Frederic J. Baumgartner. Duke UP, 1988. Photo of Pedraza Castle courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

David Liss on "Historical Subjectivity"

I'd like to direct your attention to an interview with one of my favorite historical novelists, David Liss (THE COFFEE TRADER, THE WHISKEY REBELS) at the literary blog Three Guys One Book. I especially appreciate Liss's comments about historical fiction being an attempt to recreate a "historical subjectivity," to "get inside the heads of people from very different times." He also answers at length a question about contemporary writers engaging with writers of the past. Poke around the rest of Three Guys One Book while you're there--lots of interesting articles to read!

Winners of Michelle Moran Giveaway

Congratulations to Jessica and Lynn Irwin Stewart, winners in our Michelle Moran giveaway! Jessica has won an autographed copy of Michelle's new novel, CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER, which will be released tomorrow. Lynn will receive an autographed copy of the new paperback edition of THE HERETIC QUEEN. Once the winners contact me at juliannedouglas05 [at] sbcglobal [dot] net with their snail-mail addresses, the books will be on their way.

Thanks to all who entered for their intriguing questions! It was fun to read Michelle's timely answers and gain an insider's view into the writing of the books.

Many thanks to Michelle for offering the books and for keeping up with the questions. Let's all celebrate the publication of CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER by visiting our local bookstores tomorrow and picking up a copy. Enjoy your special day, Michelle!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

I've decided on a new feature for Fridays--the Sixteenth Century Quote of the Day. Each Friday, I will post a quotation from a sixteenth century writer--poet, essayist, teller of tales--or celebrity--king, queen, politician, ambassador, artist, bishop, or commentator. My hope is that these snippets will shed some light on what people thought and talked about during the Renaissance.

Today's quotation is from the Lyonnaise poet Louise Labé (c 1520-1566), the first middle-class woman to publish under her own name in French (and, coincidentally, the model for the main character of my first novel). I've used this quotation as the opening epitaph for The Measure of Silence:

Le plus grand plaisir qui soit après amour,
c’est d’en parler.”

“The greatest pleasure there is after love
is talking about it.”

—Louise Labé
Débat de Folie et d’Amour (1555)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Q and A with Michelle Moran

Be sure to check in periodically and read the comment trail on the previous post, where Michelle Moran is answering questions posed by our contest entrants. You'll learn many interesting things about Michelle's books and research.

And please don't feel as though you need enter the drawing in order to ask a question--I'm sure Michelle wouldn't mind fielding questions from anyone, even (especially?) if you've already read her books!

Thanks, Michelle, for checking in so often.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New Releases from Michelle Moran (GIVEAWAYS!)

To celebrate today's paperback release of bestselling historical fiction author Michelle Moran's second Egyptian novel, THE HERETIC QUEEN, Michelle has written a guest post to share with you. In it, she reveals how she became entranced by the daughter of Cleopatra--the subject of her third book, on sale September 15.

Why Cleopatra’s daughter? by Michelle Moran

It began with a dive. Not the kind of dive that people take into swimming pools, but the kind where you squeeze yourself into a wetsuit and wonder just how tasty your rump must appear to passing sharks now that it looks exactly like an elephant seal. My husband and I had taken a trip to Egypt, and at the suggestion of a friend, we decided to go to Alexandria and do a dive to see the remains of Cleopatra’s underwater city. Let it be known that I had never done an underwater dive before, so after four days with an instructor (and countless questions like, Will there be sharks? How about jellyfish? If there is an earthquake, what happens underwater?) we were ready for the real thing.

We drove to the Eastern Harbor in Alexandria. Dozens of other divers were already there, waiting to see what sort of magic lay beneath the waves. I wondered if the real thing could possibly live up to all of the guides and brochures selling this underwater city, lost for thousands of years until now. Then we did the dive, and it was every bit as magical as everyone had promised. You can see the rocks which once formed Marc Antony’s summer palace, come face to face with Cleopatra’s towering sphinx, and take your time floating above ten thousand ancient artifacts, including obelisks, statues, and countless amphorae. By the time we had surfaced, I was Cleopatra-obsessed. I wanted to know what had happened to her city once she and Marc Antony had committed suicide. Where did all of its people go? Were they allowed to remain or were they killed by the Romans? What about her four children?

It was this last question which surprised me the most. I had always believed that all of Cleopatra’s children had been murdered. But the Roman conqueror Octavian had actually spared the three she bore to Marc Antony: her six-year-old son, Ptolemy, and her ten-year-old twins, Alexander and Selene. As soon as I learned that Octavian had taken the three of them for his Triumph in Rome, I knew at once I had my next book. This is how all of my novels seem to begin – with a journey, then an adventure, and finally, enormous amounts of research for what I hope is an exciting story.
The death of Cleopatra was only the beginning...

Check out Michelle's blog at


Like its best-selling predecessors NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN, CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER is bound to be an enthralling read. The Library Journal, in a starred review, proclaimed: "Dramatic, engrossing, and beautifully written, this is essential reading, and Moran is definitely an author to watch."

Michelle has generously offered to provide books to two lucky winners: the first winner will receive a signed copy of the paperback edition of THE HERETIC QUEEN, the second a signed copy of the hardback release of CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER.

To enter the contest, leave a question for Michelle in the comments section. You could ask about any of her books, her extensive travels, her writing habits, or her insights on historical fiction or publishing in general. Only those entries that contain a question will be considered for the drawing. Please include with your question an indication of which of the two books you would like to receive. Entries must be posted by 11 pm PST on Sunday, September 13. The winner of each book will be chosen at random and names posted on Monday morning, September 14.

In the meantime, Michelle, who loves to interact with her readers, will stop by each day to answer your questions. (Please note: Michelle's responses and the drawing for the books are completely independent events.) It's an opportunity for Michelle to address what's on your mind and for you to pose those questions you've been dying to ask.

Many thanks to Michelle for her presence here and best wishes for a successful launch!