Monday, April 13, 2009

Interview with Alisa Libby

I'm happy to welcome Alisa Libby, author of The King's Rose and The Blood Confession to Becky's Book Reviews. I was pleased to get the chance to interview her. I found The King's Rose to be a delicious historical novel--a nice blend of historical and romance.

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

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. It’s something I’ve always felt compelled to do. Throughout my teen years I wrote a lot of very bad poetry and even worse short stories, with maybe a few decent ones mixed in. Looking back, I consider this all practice. I went to Emerson College and studied Writing, Literature and Publishing, with a focus on fiction. By my sophomore year I realized that I wanted to write young adult novels. I learned a lot from work-shopping stories in my college classes. After graduation I continued to learn about the craft of writing by reading very critically and figuring out what worked for me and what didn’t. I developed a sharper eye for how the novels I liked were structured and how characters were developed. Reading has taught me a lot about writing.

What helped me break into publishing was finding a literary agent to represent my work. I sent an agent a synopsis and the first few chapters of my novel in progress, and he was interested in seeing the full manuscript. I revised the book a few times with my agent before it was ready for the eyes of the editors, and then the process of revisions began again once I signed my first publishing contract. For me, most of writing really is re-writing and revising.

What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?

When writing is really clicking along and going well, it’s incredibly exciting. It’s not that it’s easy—I would never want to insult the all-mighty muse by saying that it’s easy—but there is so much that can be discovered in the process of writing a novel, and those revelations make it all worthwhile. As for what I find the easiest, it really depends on the book. Sometimes the voice of the character is very strong, other times I have to work to clarify that voice. Every project has its own unique challenges. I often have a problem with beginnings, not knowing how or when in the chronology of the plot a novel should begin. Every re-write is an experiment.

What inspired you to write The King’s Rose?

I came across the story of Catherine Howard and I was fascinated…and perplexed by her actions. Catherine was a teenager and hadn’t been a member of the court for a year before she was wed to the powerful King Henry. But in spite of her naivety, she must have known that the king had already beheaded one of his former wives, Anne Boleyn, on charges of adultery—and Anne was Catherine’s cousin. You would think that, knowing this, she would have been on her best behavior, regardless of her past indiscretions. But after just over a year of marriage, Catherine was accused of having an affair with one of the grooms of the king’s chamber. Assuming she really did have an affair, what was she thinking? Why did she do it? Was she overwhelmed by passion, cruel to King Henry, or terribly misguided?

Have you always been interested in history? In King Henry VIII and his six wives?

I never considered myself a history buff, but historical fiction did make a huge impression on me. I was probably around eleven or twelve when I read a novel about Lady Jane Grey that brought me to tears. Still, it didn’t occur to me at the time that I would write historical fiction. As for King Henry, he was always in the periphery. I did find him interesting, but I didn’t know anything about Catherine. When I did learn about her, the fact that she is one of his lesser-known queens appealed to me; I wanted to imagine her side of the story.

Why do you think people are so fascinated with this time period?

It was a brutal time to live in, a time when even saying the wrong words aloud could be tantamount to treason. Even speaking of the king’s death was considered a crime, which is ironic as it must have been on everyone’s mind as the king’s health began to fail. And in the midst of this brutality there was Henry, draped in lavish velvet robes, his fingers studded with jewels. There was horrible poverty and illness out in the squalid streets of London, but in the palaces of royalty there was an excess of food and wine and revelry—but that did not mean that to be near the king was to be safe. You would be entertained and well-fed, perhaps, and you would wear very fine clothes if you had the money for them, but you were not safe. Catherine Howard learned that the hard way.

Do you have a favorite scene or a favorite quote from the novel?

There are some scenes between Catherine and the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk that come to mind, immediately. The Duchess is hard, unyielding, and Catherine is so eager for her approval and affection. It’s a dangerous combination.

What was your first impression of the cover art for The King’s Rose?

I think I cried a little bit. It is such a beautiful image, and it so perfectly embodies my vision of Catherine: young, sensual, naïve. She was used as a pawn, offered up for the enjoyment of King Henry and the benefit of her family members. But Henry’s “rose without a thorn” wasn’t so perfect, after all.

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

I do love the research process. I’m naturally drawn to it; no matter what I’m writing I feel this innate need to read all that I can, as if I’m constantly hunting for one elusive detail that will set the story on fire. Researching Catherine’s world was two-fold: I had to get the chronology accurate, the sequence of events that shape Catherine’s story. Then I collected details to make her world believable: their way of life at court, the clothing, food, and customs. Historical fiction requires “world building” similar to high fantasy, only thanks to history the details are there to be discovered as opposed to invented. Luckily I was so utterly fascinated by Catherine’s story and the time period that it was able to hold my attention throughout all of that research.

The other fun part of research was taking a trip to England, to visit some places key to Catherine’s story. It was amazing to stand in Hampton Court, where the young queen danced and celebrated, and in the Tower of London, where she was eventually executed. I made sure to visit her grave on February 13, the day of her execution. It was a profound experience.

Can you tell us anything about your current work in progress? Do you have any upcoming releases?

At the moment I’m taking a break from historical fiction. As much as I love the research process, the thought of jumping back into it once I had completed The King’s Rose was a daunting thought. So I’m trying something a little bit different this time—contemporary fiction with a bit of magic thrown in. Here’s hoping it turns into a book.

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

I make reading a priority. If I didn’t read anything but my own stuff, then I wouldn’t learn anything new and my work would turn stale. I’m not great at reading new releases, as my reading list is so very long. But some of my recent favorites include A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz, The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven, Undine and Breathe by Penni Russon (I have yet to read Drift, the final book in the trilogy), Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, and The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos. I know there are others but these immediately come to mind.

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

Wowee! Maybe I’ve seen too many time-travel movies, because I’m hesitant to say that I would go back and change history because you never know how that could mess things up in the years to come, like a domino effect. With only twenty-four hours and a pile of money…I would love to spend Christmas at Hampton Court in 1540, when Catherine Howard was queen. From what I’ve read about King Henry, he threw a heck of a party.

For more details about my books please visit For a full account of my travels to England, visit my blog at

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Sharyla said...

What a wonderful interview. Thanks! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book!

Melissa O. said...

Great interview! I actually hadn't heard of this book until I saw this interview and your link to your review. Now I really want to read it! You see, Catherine Howard is one of my ancestors, on my mother's side of the family. So it would be very interesting to read this fictional account of her. :-)