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My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: Doomed Queen Anne

The Tudors: Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was an ambitious troublemaker. She was determined to marry King Henry VIII and become Queen Anne. But there was a problem: Henry already had a wife, Catherine of Aragon. Catherine had failed to produce the required male heir (MARY, BLOOD MARY was her only child), and Henry, never a faithful husband in the first place, wanted a new wife. Anne Boleyn set her sights on becoming that wife--whatever it took.

Anne was an interesting character to write about, but she was a wily schemer and it was not easy to make her sympathetic to the reader. There was another issue: because the actual year of her birth changed depending on which historian you want to believe, she could have been a sophisticated woman in her twenties who knew exactly what she was doing when she set out to catch Henry--or she could have been a devious teenager who also wanted to one-up her sister, Mary Boleyn, who'd once had a fling with Henry and borne him a son. Or perhaps something else entirely.

I found myself eventually drawn to this complex and deeply flawed young woman, just as I was drawn to Henry himself--a complex and deeply flawed man. In the end I decided that they deserved each other. Read More 
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Behind the Books: Beware, Princess Elizabeth

The Tudors: Princess Elizabeth
Elizabeth is probably England's best-known queen. We call her Elizabeth I, to distinguish her from England's present queen, although of course she didn't think of herself as "the First" because she had no way of knowing if and when there would be another with the same name.

Writing a novel about Elizabeth was a no-brainer for me, once I had written about her half-sister, Mary. Both were the daughters of King Henry VIII, and if ever there was a sibling rivalry, it was this one. When Mary's mother, Catherine of Aragon, failed to produce a male heir, Henry decided he needed a new wife. Anne Boleyn got the job as Wife #2, but she too failed in her royal duty; Elizabeth was her only child.

Mary was seventeen when Elizabeth was born. To say that the two step-sisters were never close is putting it mildly. Each was a threat to the other. The challenge for me as a writer was to switch sides and to take my reader's sympathies with me. In MARY, BLOODY MARY, little Elizabeth is the rival. In BEWARE, PRINCESS ELIZABETH, those roles are reversed. That led quite naturally to that determined seductress, Anne Boleyn, who gets her own story told in the next Young Royal, DOOMED QUEEN ANNE.

The common thread through the four Tudor books is King Henry himself--tall, handsome, athletic (great tennis player), charming, talented (played several instruments well), brilliant, and very very rich (just don't cross him, or you'll find yourself without your head). There was no lack of material available about Henry, no shortage of wonderful places in England to visit to imagine what life in his court must have been like.

And that's always the question I have in mind when I first begin to feel my way into the story: "What must it have been like to be the daughter of such a man?" Then I do my best to give the reader a believable answer to that question. Read More 
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Behind the Books: Mary, Bloody Mary

The Tudors: Mary, Bloody Mary
"I'm sure you get messages like this all the time," Kristen A. writes, "but I just wanted to thank you, with all my heart, for the impact your books (especially your Tudor series) have had on my life. I discovered your work when I was eight years old, and I can honestly say that it changed my life....Now, I'm a European History major in college, and I cannot overstate the amount to which that is due to you...."

Well, I do get messages like this--not all the time, certainly, but often enough to make me grateful and keep me energized. The "Tudor series" began in 1999 with MARY, BLOODY MARY, the story of Mary Tudor, the suggestion of my editor. "I know you're interested in history--why don't you think about doing something on British royalty?"

I protested that I knew next to nothing about British history, and royalty hadn't ever attracted my interest. Then I discovered King Henry VIII, a character you couldn't possibly invent, and I was hooked. All those fascinating women in his life! I decided to start with his daughter Mary. (Mary Tudor is often confused with her cousin, Mary Stuart, better known as Mary, Queen of Scots.)

That was fifteen years ago. The world of Tudor England was new to me, although I'd been to England a few times. Why was she called Bloody Mary? Did it have anything to do with the scary game? (Googling "scary game bloody mary" scares up 1,590,000 results; I'd never heard of it, let alone played it.) But the biggest question was this: What must it have been like to be the daughter of a larger-than-life man like Henry VIII?

I had no idea when I began my research that Mary, Bloody Mary would be the first in a series, called "The Young Royals." Or that fifteen years later, I'd still be looking for the next big idea.

Thank you, Kristen. Read More 
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Behind the Books: Cleopatra Confesses

Writing about Cleopatra was a big leap for me. As a rule of thumb, the more distant the subject lived from the present, the less material is available for research. Queen Victoria, who lived until the beginning of the 20th century, left a lifetime of diaries; Mary, Queen of Scots, who died in 1587, has been the subject of many biographies. But when I considered writing a novel about Cleopatra, I didn't have a lot to go on, aside from the speculation of historians.

The upside was that I was free to speculate, too--especially on her early years, which interested me most. The downside was that I had to invent a story without much to go on. The date of her death is well established, but not the means (the snake story is probably legend). No one knows exactly when she was born (probably 69 BC), or who her mother was. There is some confusion about the names and number of sisters. There are many legends about her life, and there are movies. This is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of "Cleopatra," starring Elizabeth Taylor, with Richard Burton as Marcus Antonius and Rex Harrison as Caesar. (Watch the trailer: But the movie was about Cleopatra as an adult and a queen, not as a young princess. Fun to watch, but not a great research source.

I have always enjoyed travel as a part of the research process, partly because it stimulates my visual imagination, and partly because museums and artifacts supply ideas and details. And so I booked a trip to Egypt, to see what I could learn. I loved the boat trip down the Nile, visiting some of the very sites Cleopatra had once visited. I saw the pyramids, ancient even to Cleopatra's dazzled eyes. The museums were indeed interesting.

But the trip to Alexandria, where Cleopatra grew up and spent most of her life, was disappointing. The library, famous in her time, was destroyed by fire centuries ago and replaced by a beautiful new complex. The lighthouse that served as a beacon to sailors more than two thousand years ago was destroyed by a tsunami, and the royal palaces are all at the bottom of the sea. There are plans to build an underwater museum someday, so that visitors can tour the ruins, and that would certainly be worth another trip!

Discovering Cleopatra's voice as the narrator was even tougher than finding any artifacts associated with her life. Her native language was Greek (her forebears were Greek, and the ruling class in Egypt spoke only Greek), but she learned Egyptian as well as several other languages of the Middle East and was fluent in all of them. So how do I express that in modern English? My editor and I debated at great length whether she would use contractions--isn't, can't, I'll, she's. Not to use them made her narrative voice sound stiff and formal. Using them too freely seemed overly casual. My solution was to use the informal language when she was speaking to her sisters, brothers, servants, and tradespeople, but to be formal when addressing her father and other high-ranking individuals.

Aat the same time, I had to create a believable personality that was both consistent with her age and gained maturity as she grew older. That meant deciding when to begin her story and when to end it. Starting when she was ten seemed too young, but that was at a critical point in her life and an event filled with drama: the return of her father, the pharaoh, from Rome, and I decided to risk that readers would not be turned off by her youth. On the other hand, it seemed better to end the book before the birth of her expected child. This was not to be a book about her adult life, but about her growing up. Her reign and all those hot scenes with Caesar and later with Marcus Antonius, would have to be described in another book. Read More 
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