TBF 2010 is merely days away and I still have so much stuff that I want to share with you guys! Today? An interview with Alisa Libby!
C: Have you always been interested in history? Once you knew that you wanted to write novels, did you know that they would be historical fiction?
AL: I had no idea that I would one day write historical fiction! When I was in high school I thought history was a boring list of names and dates to be memorized for a test—nothing terribly inspiring. I wanted to write novels, and I was naturally drawn to write young adult fiction. Then I remembered reading about Countess Bathory, who (according to legend) believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would keep her eternally young. It wasn't the fact that it was historical that intrigued me (though I'll admit, the corsets and gowns of the 16th century are awesome) but the character, herself. Suddenly, history was flesh and bones and blood—a lot of blood, in this case. I started to think of her as a real person who had once walked upon this earth: what was she thinking when she murdered her servants and bathed in their blood? Why did she do it? I wrote the novel in an attempt to answer those questions. I became similarly obsessed with Catherine Howard, the wayward, teenaged Queen of England. I had other ideas for my second novel which were quickly put aside when I read about this young girl, propped upon the throne and married to one of the most infamous kings to grace the pages of our history books. King Henry VIII proves the theory that truth is stranger than fiction. If there were a novel about a king who married six wives, divorced two and beheaded two others, it would seem completely implausible, wouldn't it? And it was, I suppose, but that didn't stop Henry.
C: What kind of research goes into a book like “The King’s Rose” or “The Blood Confession?” Do you enjoy the research part of the writing process or is it more of a chore?
AL: I love to research a character and a time period that fascinate me. For both of my novels, I researched the time period, the location, the characters, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, their culture and beliefs and holidays and music and poetry. But for The King's Rose I did more than read books. I went to England to find Catherine Howard's ghost. In November of 1541, after just over a year of marriage to King Henry, the king's guards entered Catherine Howard's royal apartments at Hampton Court Palace. She was not told what the problem was, but Catherine was well aware of the secrets she had kept from her royal husband. When she saw that they intended to imprison her in her chambers, she broke free from the guards and ran down the hallway, shrieking Henry's name. The guards caught her and dragged her back to her apartments; she never saw the king, again. This story may be a legend in itself, but people have claimed to have seen Catherine’s ghost running down that corridor, screaming for her royal husband. On our visit to England, my husband and I went on a “ghost tour” of Hampton Court, at which Catherine's ghost was one of the featured spirits. What would I ask her ghost, if I saw her? I wished that I could speak to Catherine and get her blessing for telling my version of her life. I wondered what she would say to me, what she would want to explain if she could. Alas, I've never had much luck with ghosts. I peered into every shadow in that hallway, called Catherine's name in every room in the Palace, but no spirit appeared to tell me her side of the story. Perhaps this is best, for Catherine's sake and for mine. On February 13, the anniversary of her execution, we visited Tower of London: the site of Catherine's final days, her execution, and her burial. I left a stone on the crest that marks Catherine's burial site. Unlike her famous cousin Anne Boleyn, Catherine doesn't get many visitors. I told her I had come a long way to visit her, to pay my respects. History is lived by real people after all, and I had never felt that more strongly than in that moment. I like to think that she was glad to have had a visitor; someone thinking about her life, centuries after her death.
C: Are you currently working on any projects (aka new books!) that you can tell us about?
AL: I have two projects slowly, gradually in progress. I'm so superstitious and secretive about my works in progress! But I will say this much: neither of them are historical novels, and both have an element of magical realism/fantasy. My characters wear jeans and I don't have to research what they might eat for breakfast. It's quite liberating. That said, I do hope that I have another historical novel in me. But it can't be forced; it needs to be the right idea at the right time, as with any book—they take so long for me to write, I need to be completely and utterly committed. And yes, maybe a bit obsessed.
C: What was the last book that you read for pleasure?
AL: “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to “The Hunger Games.”
C: What author are you most looking forward to meeting and/or seeing at the Fifth Annual TBF?
AL: All of them! There are some authors – Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins – whose work I already adore. And others I've got piled up, waiting to be read. It's such an exciting opportunity. I still get star-struck around great authors. The more I loved their book, the more tongue-tied I get. It's quite embarrassing.
Thanks for the great interview, Alisa! We can’t wait to meet you in only 3 days and 12 hours!