Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Interview and Giveaway: Karen Harper, THE IRISH PRINCESS

Author Karen Harper has just released her new historical novel, THE IRISH PRINCESS. Yesterday, I presented the book; today, Ms. Harper answers some questions about her research, her writing process, and her heroine.

Q: You are known for your Tudor era historicals, and THE IRISH PRINCESS fits that category, but has a different “feel.” Why an Irish heroine during the reigns of Henry VIII through Elizabeth I?

Karen Harper: While I was reading about Queen Elizabeth’s friends and confidants, I found one of them was an Irish woman Elizabeth (nicknamed Gera) Fitzgerald, a woman renowned for her beauty. What gives? I thought. The Tudors had trouble with the Irish, and Elizabeth was often jealous of beautiful women. So I started researching Gera, who I learned, would have been an Irish princess, except for the Tudors’ persecution of her people. Yet despite the ruination of her family, the Fitzgeralds of County Kildare, near Dublin, this Irishwoman remained the queen’s friend for years and married the dashing Lord High Admiral of England. It was a heroine I had to know and a book I had to write.

Q: Was the research of Gera easy to come by or more challenging, since her early years were lived in Ireland?

A: As usual, when researching most Tudor-era noble women, I had to glean information about Gera from the “more important” lives of those she touched. That meant the Tudors, of course, but for her Irish roots, it meant reading books about her father, “the uncrowned king of Ireland,” and her rebel brother who got the family in trouble. Also, the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, wrote a poem of admiration to “The Fair Geraldine.” (The Fitgeralds were descended from the Geraldines, which is where she got her nickname.)

Q: Were you able to travel to the sites used in the book?

A: I’ve been to English Tudor sites many times, so that part of the novel was easy for me to envision. My trip to Ireland was wonderful, and I spent time in Dublin and the Kildare area, but this was before I found Gera and decided to do a novel about her. So, since I could not get back to Ireland then, I was really helped by some on-site Irish researchers. For example, the caretakers of Maynooth Castle where Gera grew up corresponded and sent me their information as well as a list of sources to get through Interlibrary Loan.

Q: As in many of your novels, King Henry VIII comes off as quite a villain.

A: I usually sum up Henry with the quote, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The older he got, the more paranoid he became about ruining any family that could threaten his power. I’ve just completed a book with his parents as the focus, so I see where he got this obsession, but for a supposedly religious leader and protector of his people, his tactics are horrible and inexcusable. THE IRISH PRINCESS begins with Gera’s lines, “I was going to kill the king. He was dying but I was going to kill him anyway.” With all that her family and Ireland went through, I could easily empathize with her desire for revenge. The book, however, is not just a revenge story, for, although she wants to hate all the Tudors, she finds that she has much in common with Elizabeth and even Mary Tudor.

Q: What are your work habits? I know you also write in another genre, contemporary suspense.

A: Yes, for the last ten years, I’ve had a split personality as a writer, doing a historical and then a suspense novel and so, working with two different publishers. I must admit, it has been a challenge. I need to be careful that I take a break between each genre, because I need an entirely different voice for each as well as vocabulary, culture, even sentence structure. However, both “voices” seem to come easily to me, once I immerse myself in the characters and settings. Settings are very important to me. One of my author talks is “Setting As Character." As for my work habits, a lot of my ideas obviously come from my research, whether I’m writing about the Irish or the modern day Amish. (My website, starts out, “from the Amish to the Irish…”). In short, I’m a plan ahead author. I’m an early riser, so I get a lot done in the mornings and fade mid-PM, when it’s time to answer e-mail or just get away from the laptop for a while. At least my days are varied, sometimes 5 – 6 hours of writing, sometimes editing, research, promotion… I write, then revise about 6 -7 times, then print out my chapters, then revise again from there.

Q: Do both of the genres in which you write sell about the same?

A: Alas, no. Any book that has a contemporary setting (and in my books, mystery/suspense) has a broader audience than historicals. Some of my suspense novels have been New York Times and USA TODAY bestsellers, but not the historicals (yet!). The readers of the historicals are actually a niche audience, often well-traveled, well-educated and, in my case, usually afflicted with what I call Tudormania. However, as a former college and high school English teacher, I’ve been really pleased to have quite a few readers say that they used to think history was dry, but after reading a Karen Harper book, now they love it—it has come alive for them.

Q: All of your books seem to have a heroine who rises above terrible circumstances. Is that intentional?

A: Yes, because that’s what not only makes a rousing good story but inspires the reader—at least I hope so. I do look for several things in a historic heroine before I spend months and years researching and writing about her. First of all, her life must impact some well-known figures. Also, I’m looking for a good love story in her life—and Gera Fitzgerald definitely has that. Her love for sailing and her forbidden love for sea captain Edward Clinton give the novel a swashbuckling feeling ala Johnny Depp and Liam Neeson—even Errol Flynn—movies. I also need some sort of resolution or triumph, in short a happy ending. And I do tend to say with English, Irish or Scottish heroines, since those countries and their pasts are my passion.


Thank you, Karen, for this peek into your book and your life as a writer! Give it time -- your historicals are bound to become bestsellers, too.

Karen has offered a complimentary copy of THE IRISH PRINCESS to be given away here at Writing the Renaissance. If you are interested in the book, please leave a comment below with an email contact. Entrants must have domestic US mailing addresses. Contest closes at 10 pm PST Saturday, February 19. Winner's name will be posted Monday, February 21. Good luck to all! Look for THE IRISH PRINCESS online or at your neighborhood bookstore.


Lynn Irwin Stewart said...

This sounds like something I'd really enjoy reading! Thanks for the opportunity!!

Shannon said...

I would love to read The Irish Princess. Thank you for including me.
tiredwkids at live dot com

Linda said...

I've gotten a bit tired of Tudor novels, but this one sounds like a fresh, new approach. Thanks for the giveaway.

Amy said...

What a great giveaway! Thanks so much for the opportunity to win this fabulous book!

tiger_fan_1997 AT yahoo DOT com

Marissa Burt said...

Love the first line. Ha! Great interview and it sounds like a good read!

KimberlySue said...

Definitely looks like a great read!


Delicious Romance From Cerise DeLand said...

I have been reading your novels for years, Karen, and look forward to this new one!

Carol N Wong said...

I wonder why the historicals are as popular. I have always considered them as having more meat on their bones or more research! I would really love to read this book about Gera Fitzgerald.


Daphne said...

I really want to read this one! Thanks for the giveaway.


Debs Desk said...

Please include me in your giveaway.