Monday, July 21, 2008

Ask Sharon Kay Penman a Questions

Don't adjust your computer screens, you've read right. I have just finished chatting with Sharon Kay Penman who has agreed to do a second exclusive interview for Loaded Questions. I know a number of you are really looking forward to the release of her latest book, The Devil's Brood, to be released in early October and have been Sharon Kay Penman fans for a number of years and so I decided that perhaps I would turn the tables this time and let the devoted readers of Loaded Questions submit questions they would like to have me ask Sharon. That means that YOU get to ask the questions this time around!

Simply click reply and submit the question you have been dying to know about one of the most successful and revered historical fiction writers alive. Here is a link to my first interview with Sharon, maybe it will get the ideas swirling.

I want to have the questions submitted soon before Sharon heads out on tour so don't hesitate and send your questions now.

Loaded Question Author Interview: CW Gortner Author of The Last Queen

Kelly Hewitt: This book, The Last Queen, had been on my Amazon wish list for quite some time, what can you tell us about the process, or perhaps ordeal is a better word, to get this book published?

C.W. Gortner: I wrote The Last Queen over ten years ago; it was conceived in response to the rejections my first novel about Anne Boleyn had received during submissions in New York. I’d had a very close call with that first novel; a wonderful editor at St Martin’s Press loved the book and wanted to acquire it, but historical fiction was going through what my agent at the time referred to as a “drought” and the editor ended up unable to offer on the book. In his letter to me, he mentioned Anne was a very well known character, and while there hadn’t been any recent fiction published about her he had heard of a novel that had been recently acquired. This turned out to be The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell. My agent and I felt it would now be quite difficult, if not impossible, to sell my novel, so I decided to write about a character who was less known. I’d always been fascinated by Juana la Loca since childhood and planned to write about her at some point, so I started my research.

Fast forward two years and I’d just finished my first draft of the manuscript. My agent and I had parted ways by mutual agreement, so I started querying. Any writer who’s queried agents knows how time consuming it can be but I was quickly picked up by an agency in Chicago, where an enterprising junior agent loved the book. She requested changes to enhance the romantic elements of the story. I was reluctant but she reassured me these changes would help its appeal with editors. She started some submissions, and then, as luck would have it, one day out of the blue called to tell me she was leaving the agency. The primary agent there wasn’t interested in historical fiction, so I lost representation.

In frustration, I put the manuscript aside, returned to college to obtain my MFA and started working on a new novel. I also honed my research of agents and located an agency that specialized in historical fiction. I queried them and an agent there expressed keen interest, though she warned me upfront that the market remained dire for debut fiction, particularly historical. She had me send her everything I’d written. She adored THE LAST QUEEN and asked me to reverse the changes the previous agent had done, saying she felt the book was strong enough without the overt romantic tone. Once again it went out for submission. While editors were generous with their praise, no one wanted to take a chance on a story about a relatively obscure Spanish queen. Finally, my agent and I decided to set it aside and try other work. I wrote THE SECRET LION during the four years I was with this agent, and she rallied beyond the call of duty to sell my work, but we didn’t succeed. Eventually she moved on to another agency and it became clear our association had reached an impasse, so we separated.

By this time, I was depressed with publishing and incredibly frustrated. I started looking into self-publishing. I felt I had nothing to lose. I ended up publishing THE SECRET LION through a small start-up press in San Francisco that used a combination of limited print runs and print-on-demand. There was no advance or marketing money. I learned everything I could about publicity and marketing books, and THE SECRET LION started to attract critical praise and word-of-mouth among readers. Within two years, it had sold several thousand copies, mostly online, as we had no bookstore distribution to speak of. Then, the press went belly-up and folded; to keep my book in print, I joined with two colleagues to start our own press, Two Bridges. THE SECRET LION was re-issued with a reading group guide and continued to sell extraordinarily well for a book without a major NY house behind it. The experience was so positive I decided to publish THE LAST QUEEN. Within a month it sold one thousand copies. Then one day my phone rang. It was my now-current agent, Jennifer Weltz, who worked at the last agency where I’d been represented and was familiar with my work. She wanted to know if I had an agent, which I didn’t. The market for historical fiction was excellent, she told me, and once she heard of my recent endeavors she wanted to submit THE LAST QUEEN in New York.

I liked Jennifer instantly; she’s witty, enthusiastic, and no-nonsense. I felt a kinship with her and thought, why not? I was content with my current arrangement, so I didn’t expect anything. As it turned out, for months we got rejections. Then two publishers expressed interest and within days THE LAST QUEEN went into auction. Jennifer was tireless on my behalf. She restored my faith in agents and I could hardly believe that after nearly thirteen years, I was looking at a major sale. My editor Susanna Porter won the auction for the Ballantine Books imprint of Random House in a 2-book deal. She did a thorough revision of the book, and I got the opportunity to explore Juana again under the auspices of a talented editor, which has been a terrific experience. She and my associate editor, Jillian Quint, have helped me shape my work in ways I’d never thought of.

That’s how THE LAST QUEEN got published. Yes, at times it was an ordeal but I learned so much about the business of publishing and my own craft, in a way it’s exactly how it was meant to come about. I feel quite blessed.

Kelly: I recently visited your website and read about your personal history. It almost seems as if you were destined to write a novel about Juana. Not did you grow up in Spain, but you lived near a castle that belonged to Isabella and Ferdinand, visited Juana's grave in Granada where the novel first begins, perhaps most interestingly, your grandmother, a well-known theatre actress named Pilar Gomez del Real, played Juana on stage! I was astounded at all of these connections. I have a bunch of questions about all of this.

First of all, how old were you when you first resolved to write a novel about Juana?

CW: I was in my mid-thirties, as I explained above— but I’ve known about Juana since childhood and it was always in the back of mind that one day I wanted to write about her. As a boy, I took a trip to Granada and visited the Alhambra and the cathedral where Juana and Philip are interred. I remember looking at her stone effigy and wondering if the lurid legend was true. Did she really go mad over love? Was she really so unstable she could never have ruled Spain? It became a secret obsession of mine: I always imagined her as this tragic, enigmatic figure no one understood. As it turned out, my research uncovered much more: I discovered an extraordinary woman of passion, conviction and courage, whose voice had been silenced by men determined to see her forgotten.

Kelly: Do you know that name of the Spanish play in which your grandmother portrayed Juana?

CW: It was called “Loca de Amor”: Mad over Love. A famous film with the same title was made in Spain the 1940s, based, I think, on the play. The film proved immensely popular and swept the Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Academy Awards. It essentially follows Juana’s legend—the myth, if you will. My grandmother got excellent reviews: Juana is an actress’s dream role!

Kelly: And lastly, when are you planning on taking me on a guided trip of Spain? Oh, my dear, anytime you’d like! I always like going to Spain. My partner and I hope one day to live six months out of the year there.

Kelly: Speaking of your website, it is beautiful. There is a feature on the main page titled Juana's World which features excerpts from the book as well as wonderful pictures and descriptions of each of the characters in the book, period paintings of the castles and cities where the novel takes place as well as information and portraits of all of Juana's children and photos of Juana's tomb. I could go on and on! Anyone interested in the royal history of Spain will marvel at the information and art work you have put together.

Readers of the book will find it immensely rewarding to actually see the characters and places depicted in the novel. As a reader and fan of historical fiction I have to thank you for this feature. How and why did it come about? Did you put it together yourself?

CW: The idea was suggested to me by my lovely and dedicated publicist, Lisa Barnes. I went to New York after the book sold to meet Jennifer in person and the Ballantine team who would be working with me. They took me out to a wonderful New York lunch, where their passion for books was truly heartwarming, especially for me. I had demonized the industry somewhat because of my past experiences and I now saw that people who work in publishing are by and large ardent bibliophiles like me. Lisa and I were talking about publicity for THE LAST QUEEN and she mentioned how much she liked my website and that she’d love to see pictures of Spain on it, as she’d never been there and I bring the country to life in my book. I went home and thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to combine pictures of Spain with Juana’s story, so readers can get a visual sense of the locales and characters. So, I gathered images and designed the pages that comprise Juana’s World. I built my website on my own, using PhotoShop and a web-building program. I learned to do a lot of things on my own when I was publishing independently, because I couldn’t afford it otherwise. I like working on my website, too: it’s relaxing and creative. I used to paint with oils in my spare time and I’ve discovered a similar affinity for Photoshop.

Kelly: Juana's husband was often referred to as Philip the Fair or Philip the Handsome. In your novel Juana seems to think that Philip lived up to his title. But I want to know what you think, is he all that?

CW: That’s funny! No, by our standards he looks quite petulant, doesn’t he? But the truth is that’s hard to get an accurate sense of how people looked based on these portraits. They were made to depict an ideal rather than reality; in some cases what we see are later copies of originals, which were either lost or altered beyond recognition. We don’t get truly realistic portraits until later in the Renaissance, when Holbein and others of his ilk come to the fore. In Italy, masters like Leonardo da Vinci were already at work, but in early sixteenth century northern Europe and Spain we mostly have stiff idealizations that don’t conform to our modern notions of beauty. Still, all the ambassadorial accounts and letters of the period that I read during my research describe him as a superlative example of masculine beauty, so maybe in real life he was gorgeous. He certainly was athletic and well-built, something the portraits don’t show. We also have to take into account that indefinable quality that is sex appeal, which is usually present only when we see someone in the flesh.

Kelly: This is a bit personal but what does the CW stand for in bestselling author CW Gortner?

CW: They’re my first and second name initials, for Christopher Willis. I didn’t deliberately choose C.W. as an authorial affectation. It came about because when the cover for THE SECRET LION was being designed, the designer couldn’t fit Christopher W. Gortner on it without intruding on the wonderful original illustration of the hand holding the scroll. After several attempts, I suggested we try my initials instead and it worked. So, I became C.W. I prefer being called Christopher by my friends, though J

Kelly: Let’s pretend for a moment that you are alive during the period in which Queen Juana lived. Fill in the blank there's Philip the Handsome, Juana the Mad, Ferdinand the Catholic and you would CW the …

CW: C.W. the Curious. Because I always think there’s more to a story and I always want to know more.

Kelly: While looking at the pictures of children, her two sons Charles and Fernando who grew to become King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor, daughter Eleanor who became Queen of France, Mary who ended up Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, Catherine the Queen of Portugal, and finally eldest daughter Isabella who was Queen of Denmark, Sweden and Norway to name a few of her titles. I can't help to think of her as a precursor to Queen Victoria of England, the first grandmother of Europe.

I promise there's a question lurking in my zealous history geekiness.

The birth and subsequent royal marriages and power of her children aside, what do you think Juana's biggest contributions to history is?

CW: Juana precedes the reigns of such sovereign queens as Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. Like her mother before her, she inherited Castile as sole heir. She could have ruled independent of any spouse had she been given the chance. It is fascinating to conjecture what her reign might have been like, had she ruled as queen. As for her biggest contribution I think that sadly it is the legend she left behind, the personification of Iberian tragedy. She is mythical in Spain, famous for her wild passion. But I would like to think that eventually her contribution will be that she stood alone for Spain in a time when everyone around her save for a precious few were willing to sell the country wholesale to the Hapsburgs.

Kelly: Your first novel The Secret Lion, which follows the secret machinations of Brendan Prescott, was also well received. Some of the fans of that book and your central character have called for more novels based around Prescott. One cannot help but notice the subtitle, The Spymaster Chronicles, Book I, when can your readers expect another Spymaster Chronicle book and will Prescott still be the central character?

CW: Oh, I do hope soon! I actually get quite a bit of reader mail asking this question and I wish I could be more specific. I conceived the Spymaster Chronicles as a series: the idea was to explore the rise of a fictional spy in Elizabeth I’s service and entwine his personal life and trials with his attempts to keep Elizabeth safe. I see Brendan traveling throughout Europe at Master Walsingham’s behest, caught up in much derring-do. When I first published the book, I immediately started working on the second one, which takes place during Mary Tudor’s reign. I wrote the first few chapters and had the entire book outlined when my deal with Ballantine happened – not that I’m complaining! Between edits to THE LAST QUEEN and finishing my next novel for them, I simply haven’t had the time to return to the second Spymaster installment. I still hold a full-time job; I’m wary of being a full time writer until I know how I’ll do in the bigger commercial arena, so I write at night and on weekends. There’s also the added factor that my agent has expressed the possibility of submitting the series to a larger publisher, which would be terrific if it happened, because then I’d have the financial support I need to actually write full time. But there’s no time table for the moment, and so I’m hoping to find some time this coming winter to return to the Spymaster book. I have so many ideas for the series and I don’t want to disappoint my readers! I’m so appreciative and honored by the incredible reception THE SECRET LION has received and promise that I’m doing my utmost to get another book out as soon as I possibly can.

Kelly: I think I remember reading once that you already have some completed novels waiting to be published. Am I correct in remember that or have I simply done too many author interviews?

CW: You’re correct. I have one other completed novel, the one I wrote on Anne Boleyn. When I first wrote it, like I said, there was nothing recent about her and now of course she’s the poster girl for historical fiction. Still, I think I bring something unique to my interpretation and perhaps I’ll get it published some day. I also have several chapters of a projected novel set in 15th century Spain and a novel in the Italy of the Borgias, which I hope to focus on after my upcoming book on Catherine de Medici.

Kelly: Speaking of author interviews, you do quite a few of your own on your blog, Historical Boys which features interviews with historical fiction authors, now with both boys and girls. What author interview has been your favorite so far?

I honestly can’t say. I’ve enjoyed them all for different reasons. I must admit, it was thrilling to meet Robin Maxwell. We had this six degrees of separation thing with Anne Boleyn and I’d read and liked all her books. When I finally spoke with her via e-mail, I was delighted to discover that she’s so friendly and open. I also adore Judith Merkle Riley, whom I met at the first annual Historical Novel Society’s US conference, and have become friends with; I also like talking to new writers in the genre, like the very talented Sarah Bryant, the sublime Sarah Bower, and charismatic Russell Whitfield. And interviewing Steven Saylor was a true honor: he’s a marvelous writer and has been an idol of mine for years.

Kelly: If you could interview one living author who would it be?

CW: That’s easy: Sharon Kay Penman. I’m a devoted fan and very excited to read Devil’s Brood!

Thank you for taking this time with me, Kelly, and thank you for everything you do to help writers promote their work! I hope your readers enjoy THE LAST QUEEN as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I welcome visitors at and answer all e-mails sent to me.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Loaded Questions Author Interview: Hillary Jordan, Author of Mudbound

Kelly Hewitt: Part of what makes your debut novel Mudbound such a great literary work is the fact that you use the voices of many of your characters via narratives which tell the story from their point of view. I have really come to love the multiple viewpoints this affords both the author and the reader. You used the narratives of Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, but were there any other characters that you wrote narratives for but didn't use?

Hillary Jordan: Yes, actually Pappy used to narrate his own funeral (the two scenes at the beginning and end of the book). And people — namely, my editor and Barbara Kingsolver, who read several drafts of Mudbound and gave me invaluable criticism — just hated hearing from him first, or in fact, at all. Eventually I was persuaded to silence him. The more I thought about those two passages, the more fitting it seemed that Jamie should narrate them.

Kelly: Which of those character point of views came to you first? Or was there even a "first"?

Hillary: Yes, Laura was the first, and only, voice for some while. Mudbound started as a short writing exercise in grad school. The assignment was to write 3 pages in the voice of a family member, so I decided to write about my grandparents’ farm — a sort of mythic place I’d grown up hearing about, which actually was called Mudbound — from my grandmother’s point of view. My teacher liked what I wrote and encouraged me to continue, and I tried to write a short story. Nana became Laura, a fictional character who is much more fiery and rebellious than my grandmother ever was, and the story got longer and longer. At 50 pages I realized I was writing a novel, and that’s when I decided to introduce the other voices. Jamie came next, then Henry, then Florence, then Hap. Ronsel wasn’t even a character until I had about 150 pages! And of course, when he entered the story, he changed its course dramatically.

Kelly: I read in another interview that the idea for the book was inspired by stories from your mother, who spent a year on a farm with no running water or electricity, and that many of these stories were funny. Where was the family farm?

Hillary: Outside of Lake Village, Arkansas, just across the Mississippi River from Greenville. But I decided to set my story in the Mississippi Delta instead because it really is, as James Cobb says in the title of his excellent book about the Delta, “the most Southern place on earth.”

Kelly: In researching the novel did you spend time at any farms to get a better idea for life there?

Hillary: Nope. But I spent a couple of eons in libraries, reading about farming. I did go to Mississippi for a week early on to get a feel for the place and its people. That was the first time I’d ever been there.

Kelly: In another interview you said, "I know more than should be legally allowable about mules, boll weevils, fertilizer, and the like!" What was the most interesting or practical piece of WWII era farming that you learned while researching?

Hillary: That owning your own mule meant the difference between share tenancy, in which you got to keep half your crop, and sharecropping, in which you got to keep only a quarter. A quarter of a cotton crop wasn’t nearly enough for a family to live on, so people went further and further into debt with their landlords. The perniciousness of the sharecropping system, and the vulnerability (to misfortune, to illness, to bad weather conditions) of the people who labored under it, were just astounding to me. Being a sharecropper was not far removed from being a slave.

Kelly: Everyone who has read this book has loved it and many credit it to the way in which you detail life on the farm and the social/political struggles of the time period. What books would you recommend to those who have read Mudbound and want to know even more about the period?

Hillary: All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw, by Theodore Rosengarten. This is a true first-person account of a black Alabama cotton farmer who started out as a sharecropper and ended up owning his own land, with many adventures along the way. Nate was an indelible character, smart (though illiterate) and funny and perceptive about people. He was eighty years old when he told his life story to Theodore Rosengarten, a journalist from New York. And what a fascinating life it was. Some of the more colorful phrases in the book come from Nate Shaw.

James Cobb’s The Most Southern Place on Earth.

Pete Daniel’s excellent books Breaking the Land and Deep’N As It Come: The 1927 Mississippi River Flood and Standing at the Crossroads: Southern Life in the Twentieth Century

A PBS series of documentaries about black history called "The American Experience".

Clifton Talbert’s Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored.

And of course, the works of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright, among others.

Kelly: Author Barbara Kingsolver has said, "I love that you understand everybody, even though everyone isn't right, and in the long run some people are very wrong, but you begin by feeling their own perspective, and you have some sympathy for every character." There most certainly is a level of sympathy even for the most despicable of characters in the book. Was that sympathy and relation towards each of the characters something that you consciously worked towards?

Hillary: I think you have to have sympathy for a character in order to really get inside his or her head. I’ve gotten some criticism about Pappy — that he is a two-dimensional villain — but even he has a soft point, which is his love for Jamie.

Kelly: Having read some of the reviews written by your readers it is clear that the mean and sour character Pappy, Henry's father who comes to live with the family on the farm, has really struck a chord. Why do you think that is?

Hillary: Yes, people really do seem to hate him! Which is as it should be — he’s pretty detestable. He embodies not just the ugliness of the Jim Crow era, but the absolute worst possibilities in ourselves.

Kelly: It’s time for a theoretical question. Let’s set aside time, place, and fiction and say that you're having Pappy over for dinner. What do you serve? And let me say that this is a question so ridiculous that we may cut it from the end interview!

Hillary: Fried chicken and biscuits, of course, with green beans cooked in onion and bacon fat, and a little arsenic tossed in for good measure.

Kelly: Publisher's Weekly has compared your debut novel to Faulkner's As I Lay Dying with its narrative, burial scene, and flood. First of all, how does that feel to be compared like that?

Hillary: Astonishing and incredibly flattering, but on a different level, also somewhat puzzling. The comparison is probably inevitable given the Mississippi setting and the multiple voices, but I don’t think I write anything like Faulkner.

Kelly: Second of all, your novel and characters must get compared to all sorts of things. I read a review in which the book was compared to Othello and one of your characters (which I won't give away) likened to Iago. What is the strangest comparison you've heard yet?

Hillary: I think that’s probably it. I saw that review too and went, huh?

Kelly: Have you headed out on a book tour yet? How has that experience been?

Hillary: I spent March and most of April on book tour. As I say in my blog on my website, the experience was exhilarating, exhausting, fun, tedious, gratifying, occasionally humiliating, and totally consuming.

Kelly: Time for the inevitable question. What can we expect next? Have you begun working on another novel?

Hillary: Yes, and it’s absolutely nothing like Mudbound! After seven years of working on it, I was extremely ready to leave the Deep South, the past, and the first person. My second novel, Red, is set in a dystopian America roughly thirty years in the future. It begins in Dallas, Texas and ends — well, who knows?

Win A Copy of The Last Queen by CW Gortner!

Welcome to another Loaded Questions giveaway. This time we are giving away four copies of the brand new novel by CW Gortner, The Last Queen.

From the author's website: Juana of Castile, the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit her country’s throne, is an enigmatic figure, shrouded in lurid myth. Was she the bereft widow of legend who was driven mad by her loss, or has history misjudged a woman who was ahead of her time? In his stunning new novel, C.W. Gortner challenges centuries of myths about Queen Juana, unraveling the mystery surrounding her to reveal a brave, determined woman we can only now begin to fully understand.

This is a book that I have been looking forward to for a long time. As the blurb above states, history has often overlooked Juana of Castile, the woman who became the heir to the Spanish throne, a woman who legend suggests went mad because of love. Having already read the book I can tell you that CW has a beautiful command of the English language, a very vivid vocabulary and as you'll learn in our interview that will be coming out on Monday, a great knowledge of Spanish History and the life of Juana the Mad as a child growing up in Spain.

Contest Details: All entries must be received by midnight on July 29th. Getting yourself entered in the giveaway is easy! There are two ways:

Option 1. See the box in the left margin of the blog? It says "Subscribe to Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt". This is a great way to receive email updates whenever new posts are made to Loaded Questions. Enter your email address in order to sign yourself up for the service. You will receive an email verifying you request to be signed up. It's as easy as that. Once you have signed up, your email address will automatically entered in the contest! Already signed up this way for a previous contest? Read Option #2.


Option 2. Reply to this thread. This is an easy option, click the reply button and write a little something -- introduce yourself, share your favorite author or book with the rest of us, anything will do. Once you have written a reply and provided your email you are entered in the contest! This is also the best option to enter in the contest for those of you who have already signed up for the email list in the past.

Note: Those who are frequent readers are encouraged to continue to sign up for Loaded Questions giveaways! If you have entered one of our giveaways before you must do one of the above listed in order to be re-entered for the CW Gortner's The Last Queen Giveaway.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bestselling Books Headed To Television Series

I often feature books that have been turned into movies but Terry Goodkin's eleven-volume Sword of Truth series is about to go even further when Sam Rami, producer of both Xena and Hercules and Spider-Man 3, debuts the new live action weekly syndicated television series based on Goodkin's series. The series is to be titled Wizard's First Rule. The date has finally been set, a two-hour season premiere will debut the weekend on November 1st. The fact the series is in syndication means that it is a bit harder to find, however, Disney-ABC has confirmed that it will air in 95% of the country.

In a recent press release Sam Rami was quoted as saying that "adapting Terry Goodkind's brilliant work for television is a thrilling opportunity. The amazing characters and heartfelt story, combined with the captivating backdrop of New Zealand, will have viewers on the edge of their seats." Another producer, Rob Tapert, said "everyone on the production team is committed to making a mini-feature film each and every week. The combination of a talented cast, incredible special effects and stunning locations has given us all the tools we need to create a truly memorable television series."

Sounds like they have the It will be interesting to see how this series plays out.

Goodkin may have company soon as Variety reported over a year ago that HBO bought the rights to the amazingly written and entertaining (can you tell my bias?) A Song of Fire and Ice series. Producers reported that the series might also be shot in New Zealand, soon to be known as science fiction fantasy land what with Lord of the Rings, Wizard's First Rule and the possibility of A Song of Fire and Ice. Don't glue yourself to HBO waiting for the series to appear as not a word has been mentioned about the series in the year and a half since Variety wrote the article. If the television series progresses anything like George R.R. Martin's writing it may very well be a decade or two. Don't get me wrong, I would love to watch the show.

I started wondering - what other books or series of books would make a good television series?

Do hit reply and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hot August Book Releases: Part One

Here are four hot upcoming releases that we will be featuring in the months to come both with reviews and interviews with the authors.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Release: August 5, 2008
Random House

Buy at

In his latest novel Ebershoff tells his story through the narrative of Ann Eliza Young, the real-life 19th "rebel" wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young while exploring the dark side of polygamy occurring deep withing an unrecognized part of the Mormon church. Another important narrative is that of twenty year old Jordan, a contemporary member of the church whose mother finds herself charged with the murder of her polygamist practicing husband. Ebershoff goes behind the sensational headlines of the past few years to present the reader with an emotional, intense novel with rich characters.

Ebershoff is the author of previous novels Danish Girl and Pasadena.

I am happy to announce that I will be doing an interview with Ebershoff in conjunction with the release of the book. Stay tuned for more details!

What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn
Release: August 12, 2008
Simon and Schuster

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Irina's debut novel takes place in 21st New York City among a Russian Jewish population. Reyn's debut beautifully adapts Anna Karenina's social melodrama for a decidedly different set of Russians. Anna, 30-something with a string of bad relationships behind her and a restless, literarily inclined soul, is wooed into marriage by the financial stability and social appropriateness of Alex K., an older businessman with roots in her Rego Park, Queens, community. Anna, however, is unhappy in her unromantic relationship and soon stumbles across a way to escape.

As stated, this is Irina Reyn's debut novel and one that I am very excited to read.

I am also happy to announce that I will also be doing an interview with Irina for the release of her upcoming novel. Stay tuned for more details.

The White Mary by Kira Salak
Release: August 5, 2008
Henry Holt and Co.
368 pp

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The central character of The White Mary is Marika Vecera a dangerous and adventurous war reporter who battles dense jungle as well as emotional loss and trauma. Marika, devastated by the apparent suicide of good friend and Pulitzer-winning war correspondent Robert Lewis, our heroine receives a mysterious letter that leads her to Papua New Guinea to see if Robert Lewis is really dead after all. The author Salak is not all that unlike her heroine, a National Geographic reporter and was was the first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea.

While The White Mary is Kira Salak's first novel she is an accomplished travel author having written Four Corners: A Journey Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea and The Cruelest Jungle, a story of journey to Timbuktu.

One More Year: Stories by Sana Krasikov
August 12, 2008
Spiegel & Grau
208 pp

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This is one of the books that I am most excited about! Sana Krasikov has been hailed as an author much wiser than her years, garnering the sort of praise and acclimation that many authors strive to receive their entire careers. One More Year is a collection of short stories that both with agonizing despair and salvation at the same time. Most of the characters are of Russian or Georgian decent who have settled on the east coast. Krasikov tackles relationships of varying degrees from the subtleties of marriage to the bonds between a mother and her child.

I am looking forward to this and you should too! Sana and I will also be doing an interview in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Good Reads: Interview with Bestselling Author, Marina Lewycka

Loaded Questions is introducing a series of features on the best books to read this summer. Great Summer Reads will consist of recommendations from best selling authors, accomplished publishers, members of the blogosphere, and even me every now and then.

I thought I would kick off the recommendations by suggesting a title that I first discovered two summers ago. The book is a mouthful, The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and is written by the very humble and pleasant Marina Lewycka. Not long after finishing the book I wrote her to tell her how much I had enjoyed it. The story is of Nadezhada, the daughter of a Ukrainian immigrant who must face the woes of her elderly father which consist of mail order brides and a host of other troubles that come with advancing age. While there are very interesting characters in Nadezhada's father, her sister Vera and the sickly devious but slightly sympathetic Valentina, the purchased bride, the best part of the story is Nadezhada herself and the running dialog that she maintains with the reader. That the main character tells her story to the reader does not come across as a performance or a practiced monologue but feels true and sincere.

I interviewed Marina Lewycka a few years ago at the heighth of The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian's popularity and was very happy to have the chance to chat with her. We emailed a year or two later when her new novel Strawberry Fields (Caravan or Two Caravans in the UK and abroad) and expressed a worry that Americans would not reach for the book. In Strawberry fields Lewycka writes about the strawberry fields found of Kent, England that find themselves populated by migrant workers from Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia in the summers. Whether the newest book did as well as her first does not matter, in her latest novel Lewycka once again presents the voice of immigrants with a stark and yet satirical style.

If you find yourself with time this summer and are looking for a good read I heartily recommend Marina Lewycka's The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. Fans of the first book should seriously consider picking up Strawberry Fields for another dose of a unique and exciting new author.

I have posted the interview with Marina Lewycka below which which initially appeared on a different site.

Stay tuned for more summer reading suggestions from a host of guests!

Loaded Questions Interview: Author Marina Lewycka

Kelly Hewitt: The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is your first published novel. How long was that process? Was it the first novel that you've completed?

Marina Lewycka: I have two complete unpublished novels in my drawer, along with a pile of rejection slips, and a number of false starts, so it feels as though I’ve been at it forever. In fact I’ve been writing poems, plays and stories for as long as I can remember – my first poem was written when I was four – so you could say I’m a very late developer. I started writing the Tractors book about ten years ago, just doing a bit now and then in the evening after work. It was the decision to go on an MA Creative Writing Course that galvanised me to finish. After that, I had it ready in about eighteen months.

Kelly: Valentina, the Ukrainian immigrant in "The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian", used any means, including marrying a much older man, in order to remain in England. She is a character that one dislikes but can't help but feel sorry for. Where did you get the inspiration for Valentina? When the novel was all said and done what were your feelings towards her?

Marina: All the main characters in the book are Ukrainian immigrants, but Valentina presents the later post-Soviet generation. There is certainly a huge flood of women wanting to use marriage as a means of leaving a poor country to immigrate to a rich one – it isn’t just Ukraine and Eastern Europe, women also come from the Indian subcontinent, the Phillipines, the Far East, Africa. You only have to look on the internet. My email inbox is full of messages everyday from young Eastern European women offering to marry me. And of course young women marrying older men for money and security is also a story as old as history. At first I thought it was rather funny and a bit immoral, but when you see the sheer volume, you realise that it’s really quite tragic – countries whose main export is their beautiful young women. It seems a desperate choice for a woman to have to make. As I was writing about Valentina, I started to see this tragic side of it, and at the same time, like the old man in the book, I started to fall in love with her myself, her sheer voluptuous energy. Like all of us, Valentina is both good and bad, funny and tragic.

Kelly: One of the most interesting relationships in your novel takes place between Nadezhada and Vera, two sisters who struggle to put aside their differences in order to try and save their father. Do you have sisters? Did that relationship evolve the way you had imagined it would?
Marina: I do have an older sister, and we do have very different outlooks on the world, so I thought it would be fun to use those differences as a basis for the terrible arguments between the characters Vera and Nadezhda. But it was also a way of telling the story from different points of view., and showing that we can never be certain about the past, because it is always filtered through our own perceptions and prejudices. I think in fiction, you can tidy tings up and round them off in a way which is more difficult in real life.

Kelly: How much of the material for "The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" was aided by your family? Is your family Ukrainian?

Marina: My family is Ukrainian, and before my mother died, I spent some time talking to her about her life and her childhood, and I taped those conversations, thinking that one day I would like to write her story. Of course when I came to start writing there is much that I didn’t know, so the historical elements are a blend of what my mother told me and what I imagined might have happened.

Kelly: You also write texts that offer instructions on how to care for older relatives and those with diseases or disabilities. Is it coincidental that the main plot of "The Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian" is about children trying to save their elderly father?

Marina: Yes, I have written a number of short books for Age Concern, about caring for an elderly relative, and I have listened to many stories of well-meaning middle-aged ‘children’ tearing their hair out at the behaviour of their dotty senile parents trying to recapture their youth and adolescence. This reversal of roles in families is something that happens to all of us, and it surprised me that no one has written about it before.

Kelly: Do you have plans for writing another novel in the near future?

Marina: I would have been happy to write a sequel to the Tractors book, but everyone advised me against it, saying that sequels inevitably compare badly with the original. They said I should write something completely different but exactly the same – all tall order, but I hope I’ve pulled it off. My next novel is called Two Caravans, and it will be published in March 2007. It is also a tragi-comic story about immigration, falling in love, and bad behaviour, but in all other respects it is completely different. I don’t want to say any more, because I don’t want to give away the surprise.

Kelly: What is the one thing that your readers can expect to find at home on your shelves?

Marina: I really need some new bookshelves. At present, my shelves are double stacked with books piled up horizontally. The front row is almost all modern fiction, but the back row are the books I read when I studied English at university – mainly poetry from the fifteenth through to the nineteenth centuries. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Keats – they’re all there, and when I need a bit of comfort or inspiration I still reach for them. In fact I’ve been re-reading Chaucer a lot recently in connection with my new novel – as you’ll see.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Interview with Sharon Kay Penman

With the pending release of Sharon Kay Penmen's Devil's Brood, the third book in her trilogy (after When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time & Chance) about Henry II of England and his family, I thought that it would be interesting to share an interview that I did with Sharon Kay Penmen for another website two years ago.

I have been a fan of Penmen's, having originally discovered her trilogy of thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales that included Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning which I finished the day before visiting the Tower of London which made the reading all that more enjoyable. "A Welsh prince died while trying to escape from that window in 1244!" I said to my unenthusiastic friend.

Stay tuned for the latest news about Penman's new book! And just as a note, the book covers featured here are part of a new release of Sharon's previous books with matching covers due this August.

Kelly Hewitt: You appear to have a very loyal fan base. A quick search of your name brings up numerous praises from your readers -- calling you a legend, a master storyteller, and mesmerizing. Was there are particular point when you realized that you had really struck a cord with those who read your books? Is there a particular aspect of your writing that you think encourages this support

Sharon Kay Penman: From the publication of my first book, I received the most amazing letters from readers, and in fact, I've formed several very close friendships with readers over the years. I honestly don't know why we seem to have established such a rapport, can only be grateful for it. My readers have been so supportive over the years, patiently waiting as Devil's Brood was delayed again and again by illness, my own and my dad's. I've made no secret of the fact that I've suffered from chronic mono for the past seven years, and readers have written to commiserate, sharing stories of their own health problems. I feel blessed in so many ways, but above all, in my readers!

KH: I read somewhere that your first book, which was about Richard III and later became The Sunne in Splendour, was stolen from your car in a parking lot. Did the manuscript ever reappear? And if not, do you ever check E-bay to see if it's being offered as some sort of ultimate Sharon Kay Penman collectors item?

SKP: No, the manuscript was never found, and its loss was so traumatic that I was unable to write again for almost six years. For six months after the theft, I would periodically ransack my apartment, unable to believe it wasn't there somewhere, tucked away in a forgotten corner or closet. This was in the days before computers,
much less E-Bay.

KH: Here Be Dragons and the two novels that follow are rich in their detail about the Welsh countryside. Did you spend time there in order to gain such an expansive knowledge of Wales? If so, what one place did you find the most inspiring?

SKP: I lived in North Wales for several months in order to research Here Be Dragons, and thus began my lifelong love affair with Wales, the most beautiful country this side of Eden. I subsequently spent part of each year in Wales, always leaving with great regret. My favorite place is Dolwyddelan Castle, the birthplace of Llewelyn Fawr. When I first visited it, I had to borrow the key from the farm house, then dodge the sheep as I made my way up the hill to the keep. Gradually changes began to occur, evidence that more and more tourists were finding it. In a few years, the farmer had put up an entrance booth. In time, a large parking lot--or car park, as they would say--was built below the castle, and now there is a cafe, as well. Dolwyddelan may have lost some of its solitary grandeur, but I find it heartening that so many more people are now able to visit it and look out over the river valley as Llewelyn and Joanna once did.

KH: Your books are centered on royal historical figures. How old were you when you first found that you were interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard III, and all of the other interesting people from the past you've written about? What do you think sparked that interest?

SKP: I cannot remember a time when I wasn't interested in Eleanor of Aquitaine. My interest in Richard III dates back to my sophomore year of college, when I stumbled upon a "revisionist" history of the Wars of the Roses. It stirred my curiosity and the more I discovered about Richard, the more I realized his was a story I wanted to write. I have always loved history, am sorry that some people have never fallen under its spell.

KH: What books, movies, or music might one find on the shelf of Sharon Kay Penman?

SKP: I have thousands of books on medieval history--quite literally. I also have a good selection of history books about the Revolutionary War and some on Ancient Rome. I read mysteries for pleasure, am a fan of Margaret Frazer, Sharan Newman, Priscilla Royal, Janet Evanovich, James Lee Burke, Stephen Saylor, John Maddox Roberts, Sue Henry, Dana Stabenow, Elizabeth Peters, and so many others. The last book that made a great impression upon me was the brillilant, haunting "The Kite Runner." As for DVDs, I have virtually every film ever made by Johnny Depp; same for George Clooney. My all-time favorite films are The Lion in Winter--no surprise, that--and All That Jazz.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Interview with Jess Winfield, Author of "My Name is Will" a novel of Shakespeare

Jess Winfield's My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare is a tale of two men one is the tale of graduate student Willie Shakespeare Greenberg who, with superpsychedelic mushroom and a pound of marijuana in his possession, attempts to finish his thesis and prove his theory about Shakespeare's secret Catholicism. The other character is Will Shakespeare himself who, in the months leading up to his wedding, encounters his own psychedelic substances, attractive women amidst a secret attempt to deliver a mysterious package to a Catholic dissident.

Winfield's narrative is lively, his tale of Willie Greenberg and William Shakespeare provides a very different and entirely exciting view of Shakespeare and his work.

Kelly Hewitt: So, the moment I ready your biography I knew that the first question had to be about your stint as a writer of Saturday morning cartoons. Which ones did your write for and what was that like?

Jess Winfield: I worked on a dozen or more series, everything from hard-edged action series like Incredible Hulk and Iron Man for Marvel (boring) to Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse cartoons at Disney (fun) to the Emmy-award winning comedy Disney's Teacher's Pet (rewarding!). By the end of my 10-year stint in animation, I was producing as well as writing. Wrangling a couple hundred half hour episodes from conception to broadcast, I learned a lot about story structure... but also about the importance of revising, revising, revising until the last moment the product goes out the door. I learned not to become attached to every word I write, and the importance of workshopping material thoroughly (this also a holdover from my days in the theater). Producing also gave me a taste of marketing, promotion, art direction, design, new media, product tie-ins (I actually got to give creative notes on Lilo and Stitch Happy Meal toys... and, absurdly, pasta shapes! "I think the Stitch macaroni won't hold cheese very well...") These are all things that have been helpful in preparing and selling my novel.

Kelly: As a former actor myself and fan of theatre I was infinitely impressed to find out that you and your good friend Daniel Singer's The Reduced Shakespeare Company wrote The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). I have seen the play, which is a fantastic whirlwind of Shakespeare's plays performed by three actors, and was really inspired by the format. You debuted the play in 1981, how has public appetite for Shakespeare and history changed over that time period?

Jess: Well, thanks! Daniel and I recently worked on a revised, 20th-anniversary version of The Complete Works, and directed it at the Arts Theater in London's West End last summer. I don't think the public's appetite or lack thereof for Shakespeare and historical works in general has changed significantly since then -- although I'm thrilled that there's an uptick in interest in Tudor history thanks to mass media successes like HBO's The Tudors, the recent film The Other Boleyn Girl, and the two Elizabeth films with Cate Blanchett. But humor and the culture of comedy have certainly changed since 1981! Back then, the Reduced Shakespeare schtick was well ahead of the coming wave of post-modern mash-up humor. Doing a rap version of Othello or the Histories as a football game or interrupting Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy with a discussion of the week's events on General Hospital seemed pretty clever then; now it's pretty standard YouTube fare. And we used to have big arguments about language in our show; I was always in favor of a well placed "shit," maybe even a "fuck"... the other two boys always overruled me. But now we live in a post-South Park world -- and we're better for it, I say! Our revision of the show reflects that; it's a lot spicier than the old script. It also patches a lot of holes that we were too lazy or too young to deal with when we first wrote it.

Kelly: When is the last time that you performed The Complete Works (Abridged)?

The last time I performed the entire show for a paying audience was June 30, 1992. I've done bits of it here and there since, and Daniel and I did a staged reading of what we call The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised) last summer. We recorded it, so who knows, maybe it'll show up on YouTube someday. Funny, I really didn't expect that last performance in '92 would be "the last..." but I'm still in pretty good shape, so ya never know.

Kelly: I have also read that your father worked as a writer and producer for Walt Disney Studios and that too found your way to Disney as a writer and producer. Was there a lot of nostalgia attached to following in your father's footsteps? Perhaps more importantly, was there any nostalgia to be had?

Jess: Great question! To be sure, the Disney of my era was very different from that of my father's. He worked with Walt directly, for one thing (I met him when I was six). My father wrote all of Walt's folksy, sitting-on-the-desk introductions to The Wonderful World of Disney tv program; and if anyone remembers a film called "Charlie, The Lonesome Cougar," that was dad's. In fact, the lead character's name is Jess. My father used to tell me that he was never, once, asked to rewrite a single word of a script. Needless to say, the corporate culture at Disney is no longer quite so respectful of the Author's Intent. But during my years working on the Studio lot in Burbank, it was pretty cool to walk the same walkways, and eat lunch in the same cafeteria, and be able to point out to my friends and colleagues where my dad's office -- a few doors down from Walt's -- was.

Kelly: Secondly, did working for Disney as an adult do anything to change your childhood perception of Disney as the child of one of it's employees?

Jess: There comes a time in every Disney employee's life when, as they say, the pixie dust wears off. For me it was the moment when one of the many internal censors at Disney (there were more censors than writers on the show, if that tells you anything) informed me that if I wanted to make a cartoon where Donald was taking Daisy out on a lake in a canoe, they would both have to wear life jackets.

They're @#%$# DUCKS!!!

Kelly: We've seen quite a few books about William Shakespeare and his life over the last few years. What is it that your bring to your telling of his life that is unique?

In a word: fun. Most of the recent books about Shakespeare I'm aware of -- the brilliant Will in the World for example -- are attempts at biography. Because of the necessary limitations of biography -- facts and educated guesses only, please -- they are by nature conservative. Although I tried to be diligent about dates and locations, keeping the historical portions of my book at least plausible, I didn't even have to keep my portrayal of Shakespeare likely. I doubt, for example, that he was ever racked by Sir Thomas Lucy (though he was, apparently, whipped). Did he ever visit a witch to obtain an abortifacient potion and end up receiving a psilocybin-based hallucinogen, applied rectally with her broomstick? Probably not; but there's nothing in the historical record that says he didn't.

Kelly: I love the storyline involving Willie Shakespeare Greenberg and the writing of his master's thesis and Renaissance Fair drug dealings. How much of his character is based directly off of your own experiences from Renaissance Fair hopping?

Jess: I'm sure I will be asked often whether Willie is autobiographical. We certainly share some events and experiences, but there are more differences than similarities. Although I went to UC Santa Cruz for a year as an undergrad and I spent a lot of time on that library jitney to Berkeley, I never (sadly!) had sex on the bus. I never pursued a Master's degree. Willie was raised in Berkeley, a professor's son; I'm a Southern California kid, raised by a single mom, and my parents were both writers. The character of Mizti, Willie's stepmom, is entirely fictional; (if anything she was inspired by Bill S. Preston's stepmom in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.) As for drugs... I was never a dealer, that's for sure, but the giant psilocybin mushroom Willie delivers is based on one I saw in the dorms at UCSC. I spent a lot of time at the Renaissance Faires in California -- that's where the Reduced Shakespeare Company was born -- so all those sights, sounds, and yes, smells are based on memories. The characters there are mostly amalgamations of different people I remember from that time. But Willie comes to the faire as an outsider, which I never was. I appear as "myself" only in a cameo: one of the members of Short Sharp Shakespeare, portraying the "balcony," with my head under Juliet's dress.

Kelly: The reviews of the book have been very positive. Christopher Buckley, author of Thank You For Smoking, wrote that your newest book is "utterly delicious, original, witty, hilarious and brilliant" and finishes by writing that Shakespeare has never been so fun. Do you think that Buckley is getting at your legacy? The man who made Shakespeare fun, spirited, and perhaps infused with magical mushrooms?

That's certainly a legacy I'd welcome. (But, um, kids, don't do drugs. Drugs are bad, mm-kay?) But I also don't want to be pigeonholed as "the Shakespeare guy." In fact, that's one of the main reasons I balanced the historical half of MNIW with a more contemporary story. The fiction I'm currently working on is Bard-free. And although telling an entertaining story was my primary goal, I also hope that readers will appreciate the political elements of the story. I believe that all literature is by definition political, and in this election year I wanted the tale of William Shakespeare's pursuit by religious extremists, and Willie's pursuit by the heavy-handed and reactionary Reagan administration, to make a strong statement about tolerance, diversity, personal liberty, and the dangers of mingling politics and religion.

Kelly: I have heard mention of a blog that you've been writing for awhile, L.A. Food Crazy. What can you tell us about what fans of yours can find there?

Jess: 've always been a big fan of the ethnic food scene in L.A. We have such an amazing variety of cuisines from all over the world, and the Pacific Rim and Latin America especially. I always had friends asking me for recommendations, so I decided to start a blog to recommend and review places as I found 'em. It's a great place for me to blow off steam and have a little fun while keeping my prose muscles loose, and frankly to keep my name in front of colleagues and fans while I'm busy writing novels. I'm afraid I've neglected it a bit in the run-up to the release of MNIW. But I'm looking forward to getting back to it. I just found this awesome burrito place...

Kelly: By your own admission you're a guy of many hats and have moved in and out of different careers and focuses. Given the success of My Name is Will, what will you do next?

Jess: If only the success of Will was a given! I hope it does well enough that I'll be able to publish my second novel (on a foodie/literary history theme), currently in the works. I truly enjoyed each of my past careers, first with the Reduced and then at Disney. But in the back of my head I always had that gnawing feeling that I should be writing a novel. I loved writing MNIW, and hope to continue writing books and short stories until the end of my days. So, please, if you're reading this, go buy a copy -- and tell three friends... and then write that five star review on!

Oh, I'm also adapting The Tempest as an animated feature length film, which I would also produce, for Starz/Film Roman.

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