As part of the kickoff event of The Historical Fiction Round Table, we are celebrating the new release of Leslie Carroll's newest non-fiction work, titled "Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny and Desire".
Marie, thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers a little about my background and writing. The historical fiction blogging community has been so supportive and I really have found a cyber-home away from home with you ladies.
As a writer under several pseudonyms, which are your favorite types of stories to write?
I’ve written contemporary and historical novels as well as historical nonfiction, but they’ve all had something in common: relationships. They are all stories about men and women finding (or losing, or having to cope with not having) love. And many of the stories involve the interrelationships among family members as well; not just the relationships between spouses and lovers, but among a given subject’s grandparents and parents, children, and siblings.
Which were your most successful works so far?
It depends on your definition of “success.” I define success as the ability to do something I love—and get paid to do it, too! And every single book I have written has been an intensely enjoyable project for me.
What has been the greatest learning experience for you as a writer?
Hard truths about the business end of the business. For instance, a story that a writer may be bursting to tell might not be one that sells.
You have been an active member in the blogosphere by communicating with bloggers and book reviewers much more than other authors. What are the pros and cons of the online community of which you participate in?
Writing is such a solitary activity that I find it necessary to seek a balance so that I’m not really alone all day with just my own thoughts. And without the personal interaction and life experience, we’d have no stories to tell. Before I found this community I wondered if I was the only geek in the world (besides my agent) who was nuts about a certain subject; and then I found a whole community of like-minded people located all across the globe, who speak the same language (history and historical fiction) that I do, and can talk about the Tudors or the Georgians, for example, like they’re the neighbors down the block who we’ve known for years.
The historical fiction blogging community is so supportive of writers and so passionate about our books that it’s hard to stay away! The flip side of that is that when you’re on a deadline and must-must-must finish writing a certain number of pages or review back cover copy, or copyedits, or complete a research book before the library begins charging you overdue fines … and yet there’s a fascinating discussion taking place on someone’s blog—you just have to chime in, too!
As a resident of New York, (I used to be also!) what is your favorite New York landmark? Where is your favorite place to have lunch? Your favorite Broadway show? Do you prefer to walk, drive, or take the subway or train? If you were forced to move out of New York, where would you like to move to?
My favorite NYC landmark is the carousel in Central Park. My grandmother lived a block away (in an apartment I shared with her after graduating college and which I lived in for several years after she passed on and before I got married). She (or my first cousins, if they were in town) would take me there when I was little. I’ve done a lot of my best thinking there; mourned break-ups, gotten ideas for books or how to fix a scene, and made sure to take a ride every Kentucky Derby Day. And a man wasn’t the guy for me unless he’d ride the carousel with me. The calliope music still plays the same songs they did when I was growing up, so it’s incredibly nostalgic for me every time I visit.
My favorite place to have lunch—if it’s a special treat—would be Serendipity (or afternoon tea at the Four Seasons; they do the most amazing Christmas tea). If I don’t care about my arteries (well, there goes Serendipity again), the Second Avenue Deli (which is no longer on Second Avenue) has the best corned beef in the city.
My favorite Broadway show (I have a number of them) is probably “Kiss Me Kate” because every single song is a hit and the Kate and Petruchio story (told in KMK as a play within a play) is one of my favorites. It’s too often misdirected as a battle of the sexes. It’s really a coming together of equals.
I walk wherever I can (I do a lot of my best thinking while I’m walking down the street as well); ditto for public transportation. I also use the opportunity (when I get a seat) to get research done. I always have a book in my purse, and because the nonfiction in particular requires so much research, it’s a rare day that I can read purely for pleasure.
I always thought I’d be the last person out of NYC—the one to flip the light switch. But if I were “forced” to move out of NYC, it would be for a reason other than choice. Choice would see me living in Bath, England, or London, or Paris, or Venice—Italy, not California. However, I’ve fallen in love with some stateside locations over the past several years: Chicago, Santa Fe, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, Southern Vermont.
As an actress, what were your favorite gigs that you participated in, and do you still act?
I most certainly do still act—when the role, the play, the other people involved, and the time commitment (a salary would be nice as well!) all excite me. My favorite roles have always been sexy, misunderstood women (and wouldn’t you know, those types also happen to be the same women I like to write about in my historical fiction and nonfiction) Favorite roles include Amanda in Noel Coward’s Private Lives (that’s how I chose my former pen name, Amanda Elyot), Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Milady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, and Guinevere in King Arthur (an 1895 verse version (with musical underscoring by Sir Arthur Sullivan) of the famous love triangle, which first starred the legendary acting duo of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry).
Growing up, you were taught to follow your bliss by your grandmothers. Just what exactly is your bliss these days? How has this changed since you have become an adult?
I’m an adult? Yikes! Now you tell me! I’m probably following my bliss more now than I did when I was younger. Life experience has shown me the importance of doing what you love every day of your life (as long as no one gets hurt, physically or emotionally), following the Golden Rule, and making sure that your loved ones know how much you love them. Even if you have the career you want, it’s important never to forget the people that are integral to your ability to have that lifestyle. The bliss is doubled when you have the home life you want as well, with the right partner.
What has been your biggest disappointment in your life?
I admit to struggling with this question, Marie. Not because I’ve never been disappointed (hah!) but because I’m not sure how to answer it. I will say this: I hate goodbyes, whether it’s because of someone’s death, the close of a show, a friend moving away. I just find them heartbreaking. And all of my grandparents are long gone … but I think about them and their profound effect on my life literally every day.
What has been one of the greatest gifts bestowed on you? (take that in any connotation!)
Meeting—and marrying—my husband, Scott.
Who have been your favorite inspiring authors and favorite books?
I’d prefer not to mention the living authors whose books have delighted me because (a) the list will be long; and (b) if I leave someone out I’ll never hear the end of it; and (c) because I would never want a colleague to think “hey, she didn’t mention me!” So I will keep it short and just mention Jane Austen—because it’s true. And because the experience I had playing Jane in The Novelist, a gorgeous romantic drama written by the prolific novelist himself Howard Fast, directly inspired me to become an author. I even got a novel out of that experience (well, Amanda Elyot did), titled BY A LADY: Being the Adventures of an Enlightened American in Jane Austen’s England. As it’s a time travel, the book is considered a “paranormal.” I consider it a paranormal romp with its tongue slightly inside its cheek. Jane is a supporting character in it as well. There are no zombies or sea monsters, but there is a tantric sex scene—and no, Jane is not in it.
What is your favorite genre to read for pleasure at this point in your life?
Historical fiction—hands down! I become so envious when I see the new releases mentioned on all the HF blogs, and I wish I had time to devour them all.
What book are you reading right now?
At the time I’m answering these questions, I’m reading three biographies of King John—research for my 3rd nonfiction book. By the time this interview runs, I’d better have finished them. Then it’s on to Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. And if my copy of Peter Mottley’s The Harlot’s Progress has arrived by then, I might be very tempted to set aside my research books and dig right in.
Do you watch TV regularly? What shows do you watch?
I don’t watch TV regularly, though I admit to being a Project Runway junkie. I have never missed an episode. And we don’t have TiVo so we can’t tape the episodes. I’ve been known to rearrange my schedule just to be home in time for the telecast.
In your recent non-fiction works of Royal Affairs and Notorious Royal Marriages, you spotlight some of history's most fascinating royals. Which Royal Couple that you have researched was the most surprising to you?
One couple I absolutely fell in love with was Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. I came into my nonfiction research with preconceived notions about each of them and about their marriage and what I came away with was the inspiration for a fictional trilogy! Biographers and historians lay out the facts of people’s lives, but I like to delve into their psyches (must be the actress in me!) to figure out the motivations and reasons behind certain actions. I think that Marie Antoinette and Louis were in way over their heads. It was hard for her because she was considered the outsider from the start; only a handful of people were in favor of her marriage. And Louis was a shy, nearsighted boy (he was the fat kid in class who everyone picks on, but who has hidden depths, if anyone cares to look). Their problem in the bedroom led to each of them needing an outlet for their sexual frustration. Marie Antoinette became a shopaholic. Louis hunted and stuffed his face. And yet events were so much bigger than both of them. Additionally, the fact that no one liked either of them and they were the butt of so much ridicule and bad press made me feel for them all the more. I love to see underdogs triumph. And in their case I found myself rooting for them all the way to the guillotine, always hoping, although knowing otherwise, that there would be no cool head, or deus ex machina to save them.
What were your favorite little known facts in history that you uncovered during your research?
Unlike her sister, Elizabeth II, the late Princess Margaret was not a Corgi lover. Instead, she had a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Rowley. I laughed so hard when I read that about her because it’s such an inside joke. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were named for Charles I and Charles II of England; it was the breed of dog they preferred. Charles II, who also loved his horses, had a stud stallion named Old Rowley. The Merry Monarch himself was quite the stud, siring numerous illegitimate children (though no legitimate ones; his queen, Catherine of Braganza, couldn’t bring a baby to term). Consequently, “Old Rowley” became one of the king’s nicknames as well.
And Edward VIII who abdicated for love of his girlfriend, the twice-divorced American Wallis Warfield Simpson, used to like to dress up in a diaper (according to a former girlfriend, Lady Thelma Furness) and be pushed about in a giant pram. He and Lady Thelma would do needlework side by side. Evidently, several of the Windsor men were quite the dab hand with a needle and embroidery silks!
What is one of the biggest misconceptions of history that has been repeated over and over that you would like to see corrected?
Here’s one: Richard I (Richard the Lionhearted) was most likely not gay. A popular misconception, and an interesting character twist on this manly warrior-king; however it’s not verifiable. In fact, Richard slept with women indiscriminately while he was off on Crusade and may have left illegitimate children all over the place. He didn’t have a child with his wife, Berengaria, because (apart from their wedding), they were scarcely in the same country. She remained in Italy for most of his reign, as the guest of Richard’s sister.
What historic royal figure is your personal favorite and why?
I have soft spots for Marie Antoinette, Josephine, and—believe it or not, Anne of Cleves and Caroline of Brunswick. These women were so maligned during their lifetimes, as well as by historians writing over the subsequent centuries; but too often we’re told only one side of the story—the side that casts them in a negative light. These women were bold and brave in their own ways, with the instincts of survivors. Three of the four women I mentioned were treated so poorly and openly insulted by their own spouses. I see their side of the story and my heart goes out to them, along with my admiration.
Have you visited Europe for your research? What is your favorite European country?
I have visited Europe for my research, though I can never travel there often enough! I don’t think I have a favorite European country, though there are certain cities and towns that resonate with me. I was in Paris (and its outskirts, visiting Malmaison and Versailles) in September, and was reminded how much I adore the city. As a fervent Anglophile (my paternal great-grandparents were English) I love just about every square inch of Britain that I have seen, with many more places yet to visit. Then again, Venice Italy just makes my heart soar.
What are your future writing goals?
To continue to write both historical fiction and nonfiction … there are so many wonderful stories to tell, I’m sure I won’t run out of fascinating people to write about.
You are working on your third non-fiction title, (ROYAL PAINS: A Rogues' Gallery of Brats, Bastards, and Bad Seeds) to be published in the spring of 2011) and you are going to write a historical fiction trilogy on the life of Marie Antoinette. With all this on your plate at this time, what do you do to wind down and relax? What do you do to get yourself in the mood for a productive day of writing?
It’s my job, so I wake up in the morning, and I do it—made all the easier by the fact that I’m having boatloads of fun. I spent years working survival jobs (sometimes three of them simultaneously), so I am grateful for every day that I can walk over to the computer, fire it up, and spend the day doing something I love. I’m my own boss and I make my own hours—how great is that?
I set myself goals every day as to how many pages I plan to write (or to read, if I’m in the research stage). To relax I like to bake, do needlepoint, and if my husband’s home I even find it relaxing to do my research sitting on the couch while he’s reading, on the computer, or watching TV. Old movies on TCM are another great way to relax.
Do you still have time for crafting hobbies? What are your favorite crafts to create?
I’m a big needlepointer. Also a knitter. And I’ve crocheted my share of granny-square afghans in my time, too. I find that working with my hands is a great way to focus my mind. When I was reading all about Jane Austen’s life as I was preparing to play her in The Novelist, I learned that she would embroider to focus her thoughts on a given scene she was writing and when an idea came to her, she would drop her embroidery hoop, pick up her quill and begin to scribble it out.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration at this time?
In all sincerity—pat yourselves on the back—it’s the historical fiction blogging community and their followers! It is incredibly exciting (as well as reassuring) to know that out there in cyberspace there are so many people, with such positive energy, who share the same passion for the subject matter and who are so supportive of authors.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
With more bookshelves! Seriously, I’d like to split my time between NYC and a lovely pastoral place in the country, with plenty of time to travel for my research, and with Scott and a Cavalier King Charles spaniel of my own at my side. I certainly don’t see myself giving up writing, ever. I have writers on both sides of my family, and they got up every morning and hit the typewriter well into their eighties. Their work ethic and their longevity were admirable!
That was a fabulous interview!! Thank so much to Leslie for answering so many questions for your readers! And thanks for the pat on the back!
Please check out the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table site for more Leslie Carroll events this week!
Giveaway of one copy of Leslie's new book, "Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny and Desire". to one US Resident!!
Leave me a comment here, with your Email Address!!
Ends January 22, 2010!!