Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Interview with Carlyn Beccia

Today I am happy to share an interview with Carlyn Beccia, author of The Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits: Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce Which Royal Rumors Are True. Be sure to visit her on the web (also check out her blog!)

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your journey towards becoming a published writer?

I worked in various advertising agencies as a designer for about 10 years. Clients used to always tell me that my art looked to “young” for their needs. I eventually started to listen to them and realized that I was in the wrong field. In 2005, I submitted art for Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo. My editor wrote back that she loved the art, but asked me to also write a story around it. My immediate response was that I was not a writer. I was ONLY an illustrator. She asked me to submit something anyway. I did and Houghton accepted that book. If she did not have faith in me then I would never have got my start.

Were there any surprises along the way on your journey to publication?

I am always surprised to find so many different interpretations of events and people in history. Peter the Great is especially controversial. No one seems to agree on whether he was a tyrant or an innovator. It’s these stark contrasts that make an interesting biography.

What inspired you to write The Raucous Royals?

The biographies that were taught to me as a kid were so watered down that I hardly remembered any of them and what I did remember were mainly just rumors: Napoleon was short. Marie Antoinette said let them eat cake. Anne Boleyn had six fingers. Catherine the Great had a thing for horses. How did I miss the real people behind these rumors? All those court intrigues, love scandals, murders and follies committed – those are the stories that I wanted to tell. And that is the reason for the book’s format. I wanted the reader to hear the rumor alone first and then guess if it was true or false. You often don’t get to hear both sides first. The book’s format invites readers to experience how a rumor is told and then dive deeper into the truth behind it.

Have you always been interested in history?

No, I hated history as a kid. I discovered my love of history after reading about Mary Queen of Scots. Her tale is ripe with kidnapping, murders and espionage. You can’t help but get sucked in. After Mary Queen of Scots, I found my second love – Elizabeth I.

I learned through my own experience that all it took was one “hook” to get a reluctant history lover reading. So many people and events are connected and when you expose those connections…history really comes alive.

What do you love—do you love—the research process that goes into writing nonfiction?

I always change my mind about which part I loved the most depending on my mood. Some days I say the research because I love treasure hunting for the juiciest tidbits. But the illustrations are the area that I really put my heart and soul into.

Do you have a favorite fascinating tidbit or fact that didn't make it into the book but that you'd like to share?

Because I grew up in the 80s, I have a bit of an obsession with Marie Antoinette’s pouf. Women in the 18th century were true martyrs for big hair. Imagine putting wire, cloth, gauze, scented paste and horsehair on your head just to keep up with fashion. To sleep, ladies would have to wrap their hair up like conical packages supported with piles of pillows. Vermin especially enjoyed the high-hair craze and made protective nests out of them. (Special head scratchers were designed to provide relief.) People were so fascinated by Marie Antoinette’s hair that fashion watchers sometimes got crushed trying to get a glimpse of her latest hair creation. And just imagine having to stick your head out your carriage like a dog or kneel on the carriage floor to get your hair sculpture safely to the ball. Some of the ornamentation got a little ridiculous too like ships, pet parrots, vegetables, small dolls, coffins, funeral urns and even the flour that so many peasants needed to survive. Hair was as much a statement to your beliefs as political t-shirts are today.

Do you have any research tips (or writing tips for that matter) you'd like to pass along?

I have a couple of pages in the book listing research tips, but I would say overall to be persistent and always objective.

My writing tip is to keep a visual and written library of interesting facts going at all times. History and Science blogs are great for finding intriguing tidbits of history. (but make sure the blog sources its material) You never know when you are going to get that assignment to write about some revolutionary war scene or Egyptian tomb and need the details to recreate that piece of history. I keep a fat binder of different historical costumes, foods, toys, furniture, objects and basic ephemera. It contains first hand accounts and descriptions of people too (Samuel Pepys diary is a treasure trove of info!).

How do you find time—do you find time—to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

I am typically reading 3-5 books at a time and they are usually of all different eras. I am in the middle of researching the craziest hats throughout history and will probably be posting some fashion related posts on my blog. I love Kate Berridge’s Madame Tussaud A life in Wax. She has tons of information on crazy 18th century fashions.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

Well, I would love to go back in time and save Abraham Lincoln from being shot, but then…what if I altered the course of history and things turned out wrong. No, I would probably do something frivolous and go share a glass of ale with Elizabeth I.

Other stops on the tour: 01 Charger, the 160acrewoods, A Mom Speaks, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, The Friendly Book Nook, The Hidden Side of a Leaf, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Our Big Earth, Quiverfull Family, Reading is My Superpower, SmallWorld Reads, SMS Book Reviews

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

I liked the bit about the hair. I could not do that now matter how much I wanted to. Way to much time and effort.

Annette Laing said...

Coincidence city: I've just been dipping into Kate Berridge's book on Madame Tussaud for my own research--I agree with Carlyn that it's terrific, but I have to confess that I hadn't noticed the fashion discussions! Anyone who knows me and my beyond bad taste in dress will not be surprised...:-)