Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Q&A with Kathryn A. Kopple

This week's Q&A is with Kathryn A. Kopple, poet and author of the acclaimed Little Velasquez, a rich historical tapestry set in the rule of Spain's most influential monarchs, Queen Isabel and King Fernando, as experienced through the eyes of their court jester.

Q:  This is a novel about the reign of "Isabella and Ferdinand" who most people know only from their elementary school history books as the couple who financed Columbus. Further study reveals they were the driving force behind some much darker stuff, to the point of genocide. And yet Queen Isabel has been always been treated very well, both by contemporary and modern historians. Comment?

Much of the legend surrounding Isabel has to do with the chronicles (of which there are a number dealing with her reign).  We have to understand that the chronicles—and much of history up until the Middle Ages and even through the Renaissance, were not objective.  History, as the old adage goes, was made and transmitted by the victors.  Also, given Isabel’s reputation as a queen determined consolidate her empire under the name of Catholicism, it’s not surprising that many Catholics consider her a saint.

Q:  When did you first become interested in history and historical fiction?

As Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.”  No doubt, Shakespeare meant that our fate is pre-determined.  My sense of history is not quite as fatalistic, but the more we know about the past—the richer we become in cultural awareness.  History is an excellent teacher. 

Q: Have you ever been to Spain? Tell me about your adventures.

The first time I went to Spain I was two years old.  My parents, caught up in the 60’s social revolution, sold the farm (literally, we were living in Schenectady, NY on a farm), and, with my eldest sister and me, set off on a Russian freighter for an artists’ colony in Ibiza, Spain.  We lived there for several years.  When I was in college and graduate school, I would return to Spain. I’ve lived in Andalucia and Madrid.  While there, I travelled as much as possible:  Spain, Morocco, Italy—all through Europe.

Q: Your writing is so rich than I can open up to any page and feel transported, and yet none of it seems stilted or costumy. What is your secret?

It’s wonderful, as a writer, to hear that—and I really thank you.  I wanted the book to have a comedic yet tragic feel, but it wasn’t until I found Velasquillo, the protagonist (who is an actual historical figure I discovered in a footnote) that I was able to achieve it. Velasquillo set the tone and the style.  Without him, I don’t think the book would have been finished—because it was seven years of research, writing, and then throwing out one draft after another.

 Q:  Tell me about the reference materials you used for your research. How much of the story was based on fact and how much was invented?

The research was a joy for me. Libraries are some of my favorite places. When you are dealing with the Middle Ages and Renaissance history, it’s important to realize that much of what was written (the chronicles) are not history in the modern sense of the word. Chronicles are not necessarily objective; they are homages for the most part and easily romanticized. I wanted to actually show that in the novel. I also thought it important to list all of my sources—historical and current research.  Of course, when it came to telling Velasquillo’s story, I had only a footnote to go on—nothing more.  I became intrigued, and began to ask myself how he managed to gain the favor of two of the most powerful monarchs of the era. Those questions because the basis for the novel.

Q:  The princess Juana strikes me as a bright girl, but a little too sensitive for her own good.  Rumor has it she loved her husband so much she refused to be parted from him, even after his death. I've seen her depicted as many things running the gamut from demented madwoman to innocent pawn.  Where does the truth lie?

Juana of Castile, who is the third child of Isabel and Fernando, was raised to marry a foreign prince (or, in her case, a duke—Philip, the Fair of the House of Burgundy). Until she married, she had no title, no household of her own, although she received an excellent education. Unfortunately, she was ill-prepared for the life that awaited her, especially as the wife of Philip IV.  He was proud, far more connected to France than Spain, and very distrustful in his in-laws. When Isabel I passed away, her chosen heir had died. Juana inherited the empire—or would have, except that Philip declared himself king. In today’s parlance, you might call it a coup d'├ętat. The dark legend you refer to originates in those years after Philip’s death. He wasn’t king very long when he succumbed to a fever. Juana was determined to have her husband buried in Granada alongside her mother—the main reason being that it would grant legitimacy to her children (whom she wanted to inherit the crown). Thus began the bizarre odyssey in which Juana accompanied Philip’s corpse from one city to another, asking that the coffin be opened so she could kiss his feet, and often said to weep uncontrollably over her dead husband’s body.  Eventually, she collapsed—and Castile was thrown into disarray.  Fernando, her father, then resumed control of the government and ruled until his death.  After which, Charles V, Juana’s son, inherited.  In this, she succeeded.     

Q:  In the course of your research, have you run across any interesting facts that you ended up not using since nobody would believe it’s the truth?

Not at all.  I intentionally sought out the most interesting material.  Otherwise, the book would a re-hash of everything that has been written before on the subject.

Q: What inspires you? Do you have any writing rituals?

Recently, I posted on Facebook that some writers do so because they have rich fantasy life.  I write for the opposite reason.  My mind comes alive during the writing process. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Q & A with Katherine Gilraine

Welcome to my weekly series of author interviews.  I intend to interview a different author each week, until I run out of authors who are willing to be interviewed. 

First up is Kathrine Gilraine, author of the popular SF series:"The Index"


Q: Tell me a little about the saga and the worlds it takes place in?
The Index is a chronicle of what happens in the lives of a group of people in charge of keeping the universe in order, and as it happens, their own histories and the histories of the people in charge end up being the root of their conflicts. And as they unravel the past, they have to also deal with consequences of their futures.

The worlds are multiple, and are as varied as they can get. Earth figures, naturally, but is shown across two time periods, 2008 and 3400, and the other worlds serve their own purposes, and so do the countries in them, and all of them - the planets, solar systems, and worlds - have to work together. . For instance, Rovillus, the main character's world, is a bit of an ice-cube tray with its ten countries (or sectors, as it may be), but every ice in the cube thrives only because it works with others. Sometimes you have a world like Mikarra, which is best known for being a city that stretches over half of the planet. Or Kio Jonu, which exists as a massive shipping hub. And all of those worlds, each and every one of them, have issues that sometimes require outside help to resolve.

Q: The thing I like best about the series is the relationships between the character, and the different powers each of the different types of characters have. At one end of the spectrum you have Mages whose powers involve energy generation and at the other end are the Vampires, who absorb and negate. It’s not your typical Whitehat vs. Blackhat story. Sometimes they work together, sometime they work against each other. How would you sum up the underlying conflict?
I see the series as less of good vs. evil and more of ends vs. means. Everyone has a purpose in their lives, some of it malevolent, some of it a very twisted way to "heal" certain things and right certain wrongs, and the big question is, how far is one person willing to go, and how much of it is really justifiable? That's the common thread in all the arcs and sub-arcs of the story. Shourron I dogfights for the universe - but why, and is he really the one in charge of this? And if he isn't, then who is, and why? It's all about the reasons.

Q: What made you interested in SF? What did you enjoy as a child? When did you first come up with the idea for the novel?
I loved, loved, loved adventure books as a kid, and not just any adventure: 19th Century adventure. I was the only girl I knew who read Mark Twain, Jack London, Capt. Thomas Mayne Reid - all those old stories based heavily in adventure, and the entire person vs. nature concept. It was all about character and thinking with those stories, and why people went out into the wilderness. It just fascinated me.

Honestly, I cannot tell you what exactly started my love of science fiction, but that adventure groove that I had since I was a kid is primarily responsible. When I was thinking about what book to write, I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, something that had a ton of adventure in it, but not really limited to the past. I love technology as well, so sci-fi was the de-facto genre of choice.

I tried to write it at various stages in my life, but until I was about 21, I didn't really know how I'd write it. NaNoWriMo in my senior year of college was a perfect way to start the first book.

Q: Movie or miniseries?
Both, honestly! I would love movies, but I think it would get way too long, if Book 1's script version is any indication.

Q: If you were casting a movie, do you have any idea of whom you might cast to play any of the characters? Or would you rather see it as an anime?
Maybe anime-noir, but I think I would like to see it live-action more than anything else. Anime has been saturated with outer-space adventure stories enough as it is, but live-action is more welcoming, especially considering the trend for sci-fi/alt-universe/fantasy series.

And okay, be honest with me: how odd is it that I have my cast kind of picked out already? :) I would love to have Serinda Swan star as Arriella; she has the right build and perfect face for it. Annabelle Wallis or Holliday Grainger for Rena; I've seen them both in Showtime historical fiction series (The Tudors and The Borgias, respectively), and both of them would do well. Colin Firth, or maybe Liam Neeson for Shourron I. Jude Law and Alexander Skaarsgard as Shou and Kian, respectively. And Chris Noth would be my only pick for Lord Kirare, Viceroy of Underworld; I kid you not. He had very inadvertently inspired the character, so it would only be fair. :)

Q: What is it like writing a series? What would you say that your biggest challenges are? Does it get harder or easier? Do you have to refer back to your notes? Do you ever wish you could go back and change something in one of the earlier books?
It gets a lot harder as you go along, and the biggest challenge is, without a doubt, keeping canon and continuity. The truth is, until I finished about 2/3 of Book 1, I had no idea it was going to become a series, and until I started writing Book 2, I had no idea what the first arc was going to wrap up as.

The temptation to go back and adjust the back books is immense, but the way that the story had turned out, across all four books, even the first - and I'll be first to admit that my first book is less than 100% stellar - the entire arc wraps up into a very neat package. Every little detail in the past books that I could possibly stretch and make relevant in the conclusion of the arc, I have done so. I'm sure there's some small quirks that I missed, but I can always incorporate them into the later arcs of the series.

I could go back and change the prior books, but I will not do it apart from reformatting and additional editing. Maybe, just maybe, I'd add a scene or two that plays into the later books. That's the best part about self-publication: you're free to do as you see fit.

I'm lucky, though, that the second arc is being edited simultaneously, so the temptation to revise an already-released work is hopefully going to be that much less!

Q: Are there any scenes you really loved that ended up on the cutting room floor?

Oh, I've thrown out plenty! Most notably, I ditched the entire beginning to Book 1, primarily because it was way cheesy and too...underdeveloped, conceptually speaking, but there was one scene where I wrote Arriella's abilities surfacing as a seven-year-old girl. It was a great scene, but the entire beginning, 100% of it, had to get thrown out. It just didn't jive with the story.

Q: Do you listen to music while writing, require total silence, or can you write through a zombie apocalypse? Describe your typical writing environment.
I need to write at night, and/or away from home, oddly enough. Some of my best writing has been done in hotel rooms, where I drew the blackout shades and got to work. Quiet music is best; I have a deep love for jazz and classical, and can write to it anytime I feel like, pairing it with rock, depending on the scene. And I can never write without tea or coffee - usually coffee - next to me. Coffee makes my world go round. And most crucially, I must not be interrupted when I write. Once I dig into a scene, it takes some serious pliers to get my brain away from it.

Q: What are your plans for your next book?
Well, let's just say, things are about to get complicated. My characters have come out of a major battle, and now they have to reap the consequences of their actions, and they're about to find that some people do break where they do not, and when they break...anything can happen. Plus, you're about to see ambition taken to a whole 'nother level: one of the characters whom you would think downtrodden completely by now is about to show that giving up is not even close to an option. And most crucially, there is the loss factor. Arriella had lost someone very precious to her, and she has no time to deal with that before the conflicts around her demand her attention. Like as not, she is a person as well as a leader, and the second arc will show exactly how she deals with those two separate sides to herself.

Q: What’s the most heartwarming feedback you’ve ever gotten from a reader?

Hmm. Best is probably for Book 4, where someone told me that I have a way of making the readers feel everything my characters feel. One of the best things I heard, really.

Katherine Gilraine has been writing The Index Series since her senior year of college. A New Yorker of twenty years and counting, she loves contemporary jazz, graphic design, and photography, and combined her loves into KG Creative Enterprises, a boutique company that encompasses her various creative skills. She is known to travel for contemporary jazz, and continues to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), crediting the nationwide challenge with providing the necessary motivation to finish each book in the series.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Some learn by seeing, some learn by hear, some learn by doing.  I learn by reading satire.  Interesting article on physical attribute tropes that you can apply to  your fiction.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hello and how are you?  I'm the author of "How to Get a Literary Agent in Two Murders or Less".  Don't me how to get an agent in real life.  I'll talk your ear off.  Really.  I'm obsessed with all things publishing.