In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Laura Andersen is the author of The Boleyn Deceit, the second in her trilogy of novels concerning the reign of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s son, William. Here is what Laura had to say about reading, writing, and her favorite Firefly episode.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
I started writing seriously just over ten years ago when I had four children between the ages of two and ten. I wrote a hundred pages of a late-Victorian mystery that I’d had been dabbling with for several years and then joined an online writing class. It was the perfect venue for me—accountability without having to worry about how my hair looked or how weird I sounded in person. The things I learned were important, but it was the other writers who changed my life and kept me on this path. I write what I call Twisted History: everything from (obviously) alternate history to historical fantasy to time travel. I just can’t seem to sit still in my own world.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
Now I want routine foods while I write! (I’m imagining comforting soups and pasta and homemade bread while I draft, and lots of chocolate and cheesecake and doughnuts while I revise.) Because I started writing seriously while my children were young, I made a virtue of necessity and didn’t create rituals that might all too easily have been broken by the demands of young motherhood. But these days, I do know when I’m getting seriously near a deadline or simply have the drive to write for more than an hour, because I head to the dining room table. This is the first house in which we’ve had a separate dining room and it’s become, as my friend calls it, ‘an eat-in library’. With the New England woods watching me through the windows, the dining room table is where the bulk of The Boleyn Deceit was revised and copyedited.
Write the question you would most like to answer in an interview, and then answer it.
Hooray! I hoped someday to get this question, being an enormous fan of Joss Whedon, my question is: What is my favorite Firefly episode and why?
Answer: Out of Gas, because of its brilliant structure (I love flashbacks and this episode is a master class in how to use them) and its characteristic Joss Whedon mix of humor and drama. But mostly because Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds makes me cry when he says, ‘Everyone dies alone.’ Then again, Malcolm Reynolds doing or saying anything is pretty near perfect.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?
I am reading Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves, the third book in his Gentleman Bastards series. I’m walking a balance between my instinct to devour it and my reluctantance to finish it. Some of my favorite writers of the last few years write outstanding fantasy: Lynch, George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Sarah J. Maas in young adult. It’s a genre I would love to be able to write someday. I also just finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and I think I love it even slightly more than the excellent Eleanor and Park. Love, love, love.
Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?
If I was one of those writers that couldn’t read fiction while drafting, I don’t know if I would continue to write. That’s how important reading is to me. So yes, I read while I write, thankfully. And whatever I’m reading—from British police procedurals to high fantasy to historical mysteries to contemporary young adult—I tend to find elements that make my writing better. Mostly it’s emotional elements, and I ask myself: How can I achieve that finely-tuned tension between my own characters? How can I more effectively use setting to create atmosphere? But lots of times, my reading is the pure pleasure that reminds me why I write: to offer an emotional experience to my own readers.
If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?
One of those impossible questions, because I instantly want to know more about the person reading and what they like and . . . well, how about five historical fiction books that I most often recommend? Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman (history, politics, Wales, and epic romance) Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (the finest in historical fantasy) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (far and away my favorite Tudor-era series, the six-volume Lymond Chronicles is my benchmark for historical fiction) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (brilliant in every way) The Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (no one wrote finer historical mysteries than Peters and her turn-of-the-last century Egyptologist family. Also, Ramses Emerson.)
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
I was very lucky in that the title of my first book when submitted is the title it was published under: The Boleyn King. For the next two books in the trilogy, my agent and editor and I knew we wanted to keep a familiar structure, so I played around with words that, to me, embodied the tone of the next books. Both The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning were my choices. I figure that’s my stroke of title luck for my entire career and I’m happy to let someone else choose from here on out!
Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?
Technically, The Boleyn King is my early work. It was the third manuscript I wrote to completion (after two historical mysteries) and I distinctly remember thinking while writing it, ‘This is the book that will sell.’ I just didn’t know how long it would take. The story was originally just one book, and it was the first manuscript to get me requests from agents. But ultimately it went nowhere and I did what writers do: moved on. It was my fifth manusript that (after much revising) landed me my fabulous agent, Tamar Rydzinski, a time-travel YA featuring England during the Napoleonic wars. When that novel failed to sell, I sent Tamar my Boleyn book and, in her great wisdom, she suggested I turn it into a trilogy. I tore apart my original manuscript, wrote the first draft of the new Boleyn King, and the trilogy sold. So working on these books has been an exercise in going back to writing I did in 2004 and, well, making it better. (Also longer, considering a 110,000 word story eventually became three 100,000 word stories.) I’m less fussy now, better able to set aside ego and see what’s best for the story. But I think my dialogue and emotional tension is still pretty good: there are sections in the published books that are almost verbatim from the original.
Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?
One of the big YA books this autumn is All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. I’m so lucky that she’s my friend! Before we moved to Massachusetts in 2011, I googled various people in the area where we’d be living and Julie’s website popped up. I was so happy to know I’d be near another writer—and then she turned out to be a fabulous woman as well. And smart . . . seriously, read All the Truth That’s in Me and, if you can, go hear her speak. She’s amazing.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
This is a toss-up, depending on the day and my mood when asked. Mostly it’s Minuette, because she is very unlike me in personality and so her voice, particularly in her diary entries, was always distinct from my own and thus provided an easy way to slide into someone else’s head. I like experiencing the world from her self-assured, outgoing, cheerful point of view (cheerful, at least, in the first book.) Also, why wouldn’t I have an affinity for a beautiful woman in gorgeous clothes who has two amazing men in love with her?
I recently signed a new contract with Ballantine for a trilogy set in Elizabethan England. The Sovereign trilogy will reference the world already created in the Boleyn books, and will include the additional alternate historical twist that Queen Elizabeth is married. I’m working on the first book in the series and doing lots of research about Francis Walsingham’s spy networks, the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Catholic push to reclaim the heretical English. That sounds very scholarly, doesn’t it? It’s really just a spy story with a brilliant Englishwoman, a dangerous Frenchman, plots layered upon plots . . . and kissing.