April 30, 2012
Sherry Jones is perhaps best known for her controversial novels, The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, international best sellers about the life of A’isha, who married the Muslim prophet Muhammad at age nine and went on to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam. Her new book, Four Sisters, All Queens, a tale of four sisters in 13th century Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Italy, comes out in just a few short days.
I've been a fan of Sherry's since reading A'isha's story – and not just the story of the Prophet's extraordinary wife, but the story of how her tale came to be published! (Two words: death threats. So much for my belief that a writer's life is uneventful.) I was delighted when Sherry agreed to a Q&A here on my blog – my very first author interview! Enjoy her entertaining answers.
1. What drew you to write historical fiction and not, say, chick-lit or young adult or sci-fi?
A'isha, the protagonist of my first two novels, "The Jewel of Medina" and "The Sword of Medina." I've always tended toward literary fiction in my reading tastes, but she called to me to write her story. In doing so, I discovered the satisfaction of discovering inspiring women in history and getting to know them deeply, and of bringing them to life on the page. Now I'm hooked!
2. You've written two novels about Prophet Muhammad's wife A'isha – and now you're on to medieval France and four sisters who all became queens. That's quite a jump! What drew you to write about such widely disparate time periods?
I had intended "The Jewel of Medina" and "The Sword of Medina" to be part of a trilogy. After all the controversy around these books, however, I felt a bit beleaguered -- burned out on 7th century Arabia. I'd paid several thousand dollars for an English translation of an Arabic biography that I needed for the third book, but I couldn't get myself motivated to write. In the meantime, I found Nancy Goldstone's "Four Queens" in a Seattle bookstore which specializes in biographies and histories. After reading it, I yearned to know more about Marguerite, Eleonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence, these 13th century Kardashians, haha! I wanted to know their emotions, their relationships with one another, their lives with their husbands, their ambitions and frustrations. For me, the way to know them was to imagine them -- to write a novel about them.
3. Tell us a little about your research process.
I immerse myself as completely as possible in the time and place while I'm researching. I read everything I can find about the era and the people in my books. I take classes, write to historians, visit the locales where my stories take place, when I can. I go to museums, listen to the music of the time, read the literature. I consult primary sources when they've been translated into English, cursing my decision not to study Latin in college. I fill myself up with facts until I feel as if I'll burst if I don't start writing -- and, even then, I continue researching.
4. Do you have a set routine when working on a book?
I roll out of bed and start writing. Once I get into the "dream state" of writing I lose all track of time -- but I'm not one of those marathon writers who goes and goes for days on end. My brain gets tired, my writing gets sloppy. So I stop, usually after about 6 hours. I take lots of long walks to process and dream, after which I may write some more.
5. “Four Sisters, All Queens” has not just one but four very powerful women – and your recent e-release “White Heart” has yet another powerful queen. If you could be any one of your characters, which would you pick and why?
I already am my characters, and they are me! And yet -- if I had to choose one, I'd be Eleonore. She had a husband who respected her -- dare I say loved, in a 13th century marriage? -- as well as true queenly power, a close relationship with her children, and a knockout wardrobe. She was also, it's rumored, a writer.
6. You've had to face considerable controversy and uproar when you chose to write about Prophet Mohammed's life. What did you learn in dealing with that? How has your experience differed with “Four Sisters, All Queens”?
I learned that I'd rather focus on how to live -- in love, courage, wisdom, and peace -- than live in fear of death. I learned that people believe what they want to believe. I learned that I have all the strength I need within myself. I learned that, contrary to popular belief, bad publicity is not the same as good publicity. "The Jewel of Medina" and "The Sword of Medina" are about the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad who, according to the Islamic traditions, was 9 when she married him, and he was 52. A history professor read an advance copy and freaked out because, she said, of the book's sexual content (it is PG-13). She scared Random House into dropping publication of my books 3 months before "The Jewel of Medina's" pub date, and told a Wall Street Journal reporter that I had written softcore porn about Muhammad, Understandably, the Muslim world went nuts, especially radicals in the Middle East and, surprising to me, the UK. My British publisher's home office was set on fire, causing him to cancel publication, too. I had death threats. It was a very frightening time. "Four Sisters, All Queens" doesn't have that kind of controversy attached. Well, I DO portray Saint Louis as a religious nut, which he was, having himself flogged every day, wearing hair shirts, ordering the lips cut off a man for blasphemy. So the French may taunt me. But I'm not afraid.
7. Are you currently reading a book, and if so what?
I'm reading a master's thesis on Abelard and Heloise and a French biography about them. I'm also reading C.W. Gortner's "The Confessions of Catherine de Medici" and "The Dovekeepers" by Alice Hoffman.
8. Favorite vice that gets you through the stressful times?
Wine, chocolate, and good lovin'. ;)
9. From ancient Arabia to medieval France – where will your next book take you?
I'm staying in medieval France for a novel under contract with Simon and Schuster about the storied French lovers Abelard and Heloise. It will be the first novel about them since the discovery of letters they wrote to each other during their courtship. It will also, like all my books, be a feminist novel exploring women's power, or lack of it.
10. What other question if any do you think I should have asked you in this interview, and what would be the answer?
"Every writer, it is said, writes about one thing. What is that one thing for you?"
Women's power in patriarchal society. Girls mature faster than boys and, judging from patriarchy's sorry history of war, exploitation, and oppression, we stay that way. When women run the world -- and we will -- will things be different? You bet!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Sherry! And I cannot wait to read “Four Sisters, All Queens” - just a few days to go.
"Four Sisters, All Queens"
Amid the lush valleys and fragrant wildflowers of Provence, Marguerite, Eléonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice have learned to charm, hunt, dance, and debate under the careful tutelage of their ambitious mother—and to abide by the countess’s motto: “Family comes first.”
With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite’s illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eléonore—independent and daring—is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.
Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite’s duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers—Provence itself.
From the treacherous courts of France and England, to the bloody tumult of the Crusades, Sherry Jones traces the extraordinary true story of four fascinating sisters whose passions, conquests, and progeny shaped the course of history.
Pre-order "Four Sisters, All Queens"
April 27, 2012
Something sweet and silly for the weekend: the fun blog Coffee with a Canine, where I got invited to talk about my dog. Something I can never resist!
to find out how a mixed-breed rescue pup has become an Outer Mongolian Temple Dog named after a Roman dictator.
April 25, 2012
What do writers read? That's Marshal's question over on "Writers Read," and it's a good 'un. As a historical fiction writer, it's probably no surprise that I read a lot of HF. But I try to dip into other genres too, in the spirit of expanding my horizons, and that's why my current reading list doesn't just have HF on it, but classics, thrillers, and YA dystopias . . .
Click here to find out!
April 23, 2012
I met Heather Web at last year's Historical Novel Society Conference - she was such a delightful dinner companion that I couldn't resist her invitation for a Q&A on her blog! And she's got interesting questions too - forget "Where do you get your ideas?" Heather asked me what my favorite vices are that get me through the bad times. My answer?
Click here to find out!
April 18, 2012
Coming this Saturday: panel discussion and book signing for three historical fiction authors: Stephanie Dray, Sophie Perinot, and myself. God knows what we'll end up talking about, but the three of us know how to have fun. Stop by to get a book signed, ask a question, or just say hi. I promise you it will be a great time!
Here are the details:
Date: Saturday, April 21st
Time: 1-3 p.m.
Location: Barnes & Noble, Spectrum Center, 1851 Fountain Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Hope I see you there!
April 17, 2012
I'm over at C.W. Gortner's blog "Historical Boys" today for another Q&A - only by now, I'm a bit tired of talking about myself! Christopher is a friend of mine, and rather than do the standard interview, he and I ended up in a conversation about everything under the sun: our respective books (his "Queen's Vow" about Isabella of Castile comes out in June), our dream casting if HBO ever offers either of us a mini-series, and what's good, what's bad, and what's controversial about writing historical fiction.
Click here to read our convo!
April 16, 2012
I'm hopping over the water today for my first UK-based blog - a Q&A with Calum at "The Secret Writer." Calum had some great questions, like asking what made me decide to write historical fiction in the first place - but I can't promise my answers are always serious.
"Female characters in historical books get to wear much better clothes than modern heroines. I'd much rather be describing a silk stola or a Renaissance kirtle than some appalling tunic-and-jeggings combination."
Come on over to England
to read the rest! And Calum, thanks again for having me.
April 13, 2012
I've been tagged by my friend and fellow author Sophie Perinot ("The Sister Queens") for something she calls Author Tag. I'm always keen for weekend fun, so let's see if I can figure this out:
1. Go to the 77th page of my latest book.
2. Count down 7 lines.
3. Copy the 7 sentences that follow, and post them as a teaser.
4. Tag 7 other authors.
Okay, page 77 of "Empress of the Seven Hills" . . . counting down . . . aha. A scene where a Roman senator and his wife (some of you who read "Mistress of Rome" might remember Marcus and Calpurnia!) are preparing to have Emperor Trajan to the house for dinner, and are watched with considerable amusement by bodyguard Vix:
"I don't see what all this fuss is," Senator Norbanus said mildly, looking up from his scrolls at his madly rushing wife. "Emperor Trajan is a soldier; he's easy to entertain - put a slab of meat on his plate and enough beer in his mug, and he's happy."
"But Empress Plotina notices everything," Lady Calpurnia groaned, "and I won't have her wrinkling her long nose at my
housekeeping." Very heavy under her swollen belly now, Calpurnia went lumbering about the house trailing lists and menus and worried slaves - even the daughter of the house was pressed into service, and I saw Sabina down in the kitchens with her hair tied up in a rag and a smudge of flour on her chin, wrestling gamely with a lump of bread dough. "Show me," she said, watching the cook's expert hands pummeling and punching. "How interesting."
I hid a grin because she'd said the same thing to me last week, in exactly the same tone of voice, when I showed her something under the blankets (never mind what).
Now, let's see who else I can tag on Facebook . . . Happy Friday 13th; you're it!
April 12, 2012
Judith Starkston wrote my first and fabulous blogger review
for "Empress of the Seven Hills," and I was delighted when she also invited me over to her blog for a Q&A! She has some great questions, like whether it was harder to find lasting romance in ancient Rome than in the modern day. Plus, there's a sneak preview on what I'm writing about in my next book!
Hint: not ancient Rome.
To find out, click on over to Judith's blog!
Judith, thanks so much for having me.
April 11, 2012
Svea is hosting me over at Muse in the Fog today as her guest blogger - thanks, Svea! Topic of the day is Roman architecture and its political uses:
"Politicians sometimes curried votes by paying a bathhouse's entrance fees for a day: “Come get a free massage and beauty treatment at the Baths of Trajan, and don't forget to vote for Mitt Romney!” Frankly I think this is an idea that needs to be revived; I have no intention of voting for Mitt Romney, but I'd be happy to let him pay for my pedicures."
Plunge into The Fog
to read the rest and enter the giveaway for a free copy of "Empress of the Seven Hills!"
April 10, 2012
I'm guest blogging at the Historical Fiction Connection today, and my topic is the eternal dilemma all HF authors face, the one that occasionally has me pondering a career switch to YA dystopia where I wouldn't have to face the following problems:
1.How to make my character likeable even when they have some historically-accurate-but-distasteful opinions from their time period such as “Hey, I think slavery's just fine, want to go out and shop for a masseuse?”
2.How to ramp up the story's suspense for a historical figure when the reader already knows, thanks to Wikipedia, the history books, or the latest Showtime TV sensation, exactly what happened to them.
Head over to the Historical Fiction Connection
to read the rest and enter the giveaway.
April 9, 2012
Happy Easter everybody! Grab a chocolate bunny and come to court with me - that's not traffic court, but The Maiden's Court, another of my favorite book blogs, run by the delightful Heather who I was lucky enough to meet at last year's Historical Novel Society Conference. I'm Heather's guest blogger today - the topic? Perception vs. Reality about what it meant to be a woman in ancient Rome:
"A Roman woman's marriage vows gave her considerable flexibility. If a 19th century woman wanted to escape a bad marriage to a cheating husband, she was out of luck unless she could prove her husband had not only cheated on her but compounded his offense by beating her, abandoning her, or going insane. All a 1st century Roman wife had to do to get rid of the jerk she married was move out of his house."
Come on over to the Maiden's Court
to read the rest and enter the giveaway. And thanks for having me to court, Heather!
April 6, 2012
TGIF, everybody, and for weekend reading, here's my last guest post of the week. I'm over at Darlene's wonderful blog Peeking Between the Pages today, talking about what a typical day in the life of a writer looks like, and why it's not as glamorous as Hollywood thinks:
"If there’s any TV show I get a kick out of, it’s `Castle' starring Nathan Fillion. He plays a bestselling crime novelist, and frankly, Hollywood’s idea of a writer’s daily schedule cracks me up every time. Nathan Fillion spends all his time running around solving crimes, attending red-carpet premieres of the movies made from his books, and playing poker with James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and all his other New York Times bestseller buddies. Very rarely is he ever seen writing – just staring pensively at his laptop screen right before the murderer bursts in with a gun."
Come on over to Peeking Between the Pages
to read the rest - and yes, there's a giveaway.
Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog, Darlene!
April 5, 2012
Day 3 of my blog tour - it's been great to talk to so many readers online. Today I'm over at "Tanzanite's Castle," with a guest post on the books and movies that first got me hooked on that drug known as historical fiction. Number 4 - the movie "Last of the Mohicans."
"Something about the combination of sweeping scenery, haunting music, violent battles between European soldiers and Indian tribes, and passionate love story between an Indian warrior and a courageous English miss just stabbed me through the gut. Still does."
Fellow HF addicts, come on over to Daphne's castle
(thanks for having me, Daphne!) to read the rest and share your gateway drug - you might win a free copy of "Empress of the Seven Hills" in the giveaway!
April 4, 2012
Day 2 of my blog tour, and today I head over to Passages of the Past - one of my favorite book blogs, and Amy has been kind enough to let me be her guest blogger. My topic: sexuality in ancient Rome, and why the GOP would fall over in a dead faint. A sneak peek . . .
"With all the heated debate going on right now about gay marriage, there's been a great deal of revisionist history. Pundits and politicians cry out for a return to the ways of the past, when men only slept with women and marriage was sacred and inviolable. This might have held true for some eras of the past, but certainly not all . . . I can tell you now that if Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney were suddenly transported back to A.D. 102, as undivorced heterosexual men they would find themselves in the distinct minority. "
Click here to read more!
Amy is also hosting a giveaway; two copies of Empress of the Seven Hills
(titled Empress of Rome
in the UK) to be given out!
April 3, 2012
My third book Empress of the Seven Hills
is finally out! You'd think this whole process would get easier, but nope: I'm still gnawing my nails and pacing. Fortunately I have learned a few things since Mistress of Rome
was first published and I nearly drove myself crazy sitting around waiting for that first review to pop up. I now know enough to keep myself away from my Amazon sales ranking (ok, almost), have another book on hand to read for distraction (thank you, Elizabeth Loupas, for publishing "The Flower Reader" today), and most important of all - drink lots of champagne with a husband and some dear friends who are under firm instruction to keep me away from my computer should my willpower falter.
It's also the kickoff of my blog tour, and the lovely Vera has been kind enough to have me over to her blog "Luxury Reading" for a guest post. A sneak preview:
“Funny,” my husband commented when he read through my first draft. “Your hero Vix is a lot like me.”
Me: “No, he’s not!”
Husband: (raising an eyebrow) “So it’s a complete coincidence that both your husband and your fictional hero are left-handed and quick with a sword, have freckles and a short temper, snore like a chain-saw, can’t sit still without one foot jittering, get easily irritated with idiots, turn to putty when one particular muscle under the left shoulder blade is massaged, are in the military, and have a habit of pissing off superior officers?”
Click here to read more!
Vera is also hosting a giveaway, so be sure to enter to win a free copy of Empress of the Seven Hills
(titled Empress of Rome
in the UK).