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My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: Victoria Rebels

I'm often asked where I get my ideas. My answer is usually "from all over," but the truth is that almost every book I've written has sprung from a different source. By the time CLEOPATRA CONFESSES was finished and in production, my editor and I had already begun discussing what my next book would be. Since we couldn't seem to agree on a subject that really excited me (and would also excite readers), I decided to open it up to my fans--that is, all those people who had emailed me over the past couple of years with questions or comments. I sent out 100-plus emails, asking for suggestions and promising to dedicate the finished book to the first three people to suggest the subject I finally chose.

Queen Victoria got the most votes (Joan of Arc was second). VICTORIA REBELS was the result, and the book is dedicated to Leah Norod, Vankelia Tolbert, and Sydney V. Trebour to whom I am deeply grateful (and who each received an autographed copy when the book was published January 1st.

Between that first email and publication day was the usual amount of work. As usual, I started off knowing next to nothing about Victoria except that she reigned for a very long time, always looked grumpy, and gave her name to an era that I thought of as humorless and (to be honest) sexless. About that time I saw the movie, THE YOUNG VICTORIA, and there was the scene with Prince Albert peeling off Victoria's stocking. Hmmm. Unless the filmmaker was inventing that--and movies routinely reinvent history; I could never get away with that in a novel--there was more to Victoria than being prim and proper.

Indeed there was! As usual, I had a lot to learn. I knew a little about Albert (but didn't remember that he was German) but I knew next to nothing of her family history: Victoria's unhappy German mother or the reason Victoria's father had married her; her beautiful half-sister Fidi; her mother's scheming advisor, John Conroy; her devoted governess; the old king who tried to get around her mother and Conroy; the prime minister she clung to; and of course Prince Albert. These other characters offered tempting subplots--one of the challenges was not to get side-tracked by their stories. Someday, I promise you, I will write a novella from sister Fidi's point of view.

There was no problem in finding out what Victoria was doing--she wrote voluminously in a diary every day of her life. The problem was digging through an overload of material to find the essence of Victoria, the passionate, hot-tempered young girl who didn't get along with her mother, had to fend off the ambitious Conroy, and had to learn on the job what it meant to be queen of an enormous empire.

I was fascinated by the story of Victoria's beginnings: her father's hasty trip to Germany to find a wife to produce a child as quickly as possible so as to secure a place in line for the succession. (This reminded me of people who camp out for days in front of the Apple store order to be among the first to get a new iPhone.) But this wasn't really the best place to begin a novel, and so I had to restructure the novel to start with Fidi's wedding and figure out what to do with all that interesting material I had accumulated (it went into the back of the book).

Finding Victoria's voice was a challenge. She had to come across as a proper 19th century British girl but in a way that would connect with 21st century readers. I wanted to keep some of her snarkiness without making her unpleasant. And I wanted to retain her unique writing style, marked with LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS, fierce underlinings, and her frequent comment, "I was VERY MUCH AMUSED."

Deciding where to begin the novel was difficult, but where to end the story was even harder. (It's always hard, unless it's with a beheading!) Victoria lived and ruled for a very long time. But I chose to focus on the challenges of her youth and leave it to other authors to tell the story of her rule.

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