Thursday, August 8, 2013

Interview: Christy English, author of LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT

After writing two well-received historical novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine (THE QUEEN'S PAWN [NAL, 2010] and TO BE QUEEN [NAL, 2011]), author Christy English returns to an early love--Shakespeare's plays. An actress who has performed Shakespeare's works countless times, English is penning a series of romantic retellings of the Bard's plays set in Regency England. LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT (Sourcebooks Casablanca), the second novel of the series, published this week and re-envisions A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. At times sweet, at others saucy, but always equally endearing and entertaining, LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT is sure to please readers hungry for a romantic tale. Christy visits today to explain her move from historical fiction to straight romance and to share her fascination with the Regency period.

Looking at your first novel THE QUEEN'S PAWN and your latest work, LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT, the two are as different as night and day. What made you move from writing Historical Fiction to straight romance?

Even in my historical fiction, romance has always been a river running through all of my books. True love is a compelling theme for me, one that deserves its own story. That's why I got started writing Regency romances: I'm in love with love. And being able to write happy endings doesn't hurt either. Historical fiction rarely ends well.

Your last novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE, re-told Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and LOVE ON A MIDSUMMER NIGHT seems to reflect on A Midsummer Night's Dream. What is it about Shakespeare that keeps drawing you back in?

I have loved Shakespeare since I studied Othello in the 7th grade. When I first started, his language was a locked door, and it took me years to really begin to unpack it and find the story hidden within. Once I did, it was worth it. There are so many layers to Shakespeare's storytelling. The beautiful language is only the first.

What about the Regency period in British history fascinates you the most?

The clothes. The manners. Wait...that's two things. But they reflect each other. The beautiful, buttoned-up clothes that both men and women wear in my books hide a vein of passion, one that romances novels allow me to mine. Love and passion are two of the things that make story-telling exciting. The Regency period lends itself very easily to that. Jane Austen started it all, and now we writers follow in her footsteps. 

What's next for you?

I'm continuing the Shakespeare in Love series with MUCH ADO ABOUT JACK coming out around Valentine's Day. A re-telling Much Ado About Nothing, this third romance was a lot of fun to write. The banter between Beatrice and Benedict in the play really opens the door for a lot of verbal sparring in my book. My characters fall in love in spite of themselves.

You can learn more about Christy English and her books at her website.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Guest Post: "Life and Hope--Why I Write Historical Fiction for Teens" by Katherine Longshore

I met Katherine Longshore last winter at a reading of GILT (Viking Juvenile, 2012), her Young Adult novel about the friendship between Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and Kitty Tilney, the abandoned youngest daughter of minor aristocracy. Since then, Katherine has published TARNISH (Viking Juvenile, 2013), a Young Adult read about Anne Boleyn and the poet Thomas Wyatt. Her forthcoming MANOR OF SECRETS is a "Downtonesque" story of two girls living very different lives in an Edwardian manor house (Scholastic, February 2014). Katherine and I share a love for the sixteenth century, and during the course of our conversation I asked her why she chooses to write for the Young Adult audience and how writing historical YA differs from writing historicals for adults. Here are her well-considered answers.

Life and Hope--
Why I Write Historical Fiction for Teens 
by Katherine Longshore

When I started writing my first published novel, GILT, it never occurred to me to question why I chose to write historical fiction for teens.

I knew—intuitively, viscerally—that I wanted to write for young people.  A librarian friend of mine once said that when people approached her, looking to learn about life, she sent them to the YA section. Everything is there—friendship, betrayal, growth, wisdom, pain, death, destruction, first loves, first kisses, first grief. But because it is all from a teen’s perspective, there is also future, and to me, future means hope. A YA novel looks forward into life, instead of looking back (like adult novels written about youth—Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, Old School by Tobias Wolff, even A Separate Peace, which is taught in high schools, but is really—in my opinion—not YA).  Looking forward is a gift. As the Lumineers say in their song Flowers in Your Hair, “’It takes a boy to live/It takes a man to pretend he was there.” I wanted to write about life. And hope. And finding the path to the person you’re supposed to be.

I stepped into the historical part of my writing after my husband reminded me of the maxim, Write what you know. “You know history. Why not write that?”

I’d been studying Henry VIII and his wives for years, trying to figure out their motivations, their strengths, their psychologies. What drove this man to cling to his tenuous birthright so determinedly?  What drove him to strive so forcefully for a male heir? What made him think he could change the world, bend it to his will? What made him believe so wholeheartedly that he was right?

And what compelled these six women to marry him? Did they leap at the chance? Stumble reluctantly toward their fates? Follow unthinkingly the reasoning of the men in their lives?

Lastly, what if the hypotheses of the historians are just that—conjecture based on limited evidence? Was Anne of Cleves truly ugly, or are those conclusions based on the hearsay of toadying courtiers? Was Jane Seymour truly just a simple, quiet, unassuming woman or was that just a ruse to trap the king? When I came to write GILT, my biggest question was, “What if Catherine Howard wasn’t an ignorant floozy, but a clever—if uneducated—girl in touch with her own sexuality?” I wanted to write for teens, I wanted to write about Henry VIII’s reign—his only teenage queen was Catherine Howard.  It seemed a good character—and a good question—with which to start. My second novel, TARNISH, is about a young Anne Boleyn—before her involvement with the king. My question was, “What if Anne wasn’t a manipulative schemer but began as a girl in search of a dream—a place in a society that forced her to be a second-class citizen?”

Then comes the difficulty. How to write about a queen whose life is ended through execution for treason and write it looking forward into life? More importantly, how do I write about a girl who lived 450 years ago and make her story relevant and relatable to a modern teenager?

I start by looking back at my own teen years. What was important to me? The two things that spring immediately to mind are friendship and dreams (which, I suppose, could also translate into ambition). I wanted to be an actress and I wanted good grades, so that’s what I spend my high school years striving toward. The moments I remember best, however, are with my friends.  Building a cake castle for my fourteenth birthday. Sitting on the balcony outside the stage door of the auditorium, watching the sunset. Hanging out on the beach and building sand sculptures the summer after I graduated.

And crushes. I was too busy—and too shy—in high school to pursue a relationship. But that didn’t stop me from wanting one. I was a bit of a late bloomer, so I look to after high school to remember what love and sex and heartbreak were like for the first time.

With those things in mind, I build a story around the scaffolding of history. The story has to be something to which modern readers can relate. In GILT, it’s a dysfunctional friendship. In TARNISH, it’s first love and pursuit of dreams. In MANOR OF SECRETS, coming out in January, it’s friendship again. And my third Tudor book, due out next summer, is about all of these—friendship, love, betrayal and loss. As devoted as I am to historical accuracy, my books are not “about” the history, but about the story. I’d like to think that if the story were somehow taken out of context and placed into a different setting—a modern high school, a spaceship, a future dystopian world—that the story would hold up (with a few tweaks—obviously the consequence of promiscuity in a modern high school would not be decapitation).

My writing style also lends itself to a more modern-sounding voice, which I hope helps teenagers to connect to the story.  I’ve had some readers write to me to say how refreshing it was to read a historical novel that didn’t use archaic language and sentence structure. (“It doesn’t sound all Shakespearean,” one reader said.) But to others, my voice sounds anachronistic.  And I voluntarily admit to using anachronistic words and phrases (best friend and sex are the two that come immediately to mind, as well as the occasional oath where I choose a more modern vocabulary to carry the impact that damn no longer does). I maintain my voice and choose my words carefully—the way I write is not accidental or through ignorance. Like I said, I want to do everything I can to make my books accessible to my audience.  Occasionally, I get slammed for it. But because I did it purposefully—and because my target audience seems to appreciate it—I take the hit on the chin and just keep writing.

The hardest part about writing historical fiction for teens is finding my audience and reaching out to it. Unfortunately, historical carries the aftertaste of history, which is all too often associated with schoolwork—long dreary days memorizing dates and placenames, and “Shakespearean” language. Reading for fun should take you away from all that, right? Many teens these days turn to futuristic worlds, contemporary worlds with magical elements or contemporary books that reflect their real lives.  Historical fiction is a “genre” still blighted by preconceptions. I just hope that with wildly popular television programs like Downton Abbey and successful historical hybrids like Robin LaFever’s GRAVE MERCY series or Libba Bray’s DIVINERS, that more teens will be turning to historical fiction as just a cracking good read—not something that has to be endured or tried under duress.

We all know how exciting history can be. The one time I met Julianne we must have spent twenty minutes chatting enthusiastically about Henry VIII and Francois I and the Field of Cloth of Gold. It’s great stuff—better than soap opera because it was real. Better than reality TV because it happened without the fabricated set-up.

I write historical fiction for teens because I want them to experience it, too.

You can learn more about Katherine Longshore and her novels at her website.