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The Historical Novel Society’s 2013 Conference is almost upon us and we’re delighted to once again host an author interview in preparation for the big event. Today, we host Victoria Sutton, professor, lawyer and scientist. She writes fiction and nonfiction, including historical fiction typically involving biological or toxicological aspects.
Q – What got you first interested in historical fiction?
A - I think my first introduction to historical fiction that thoroughly took me in was through the British comedy series, Black Adder, starring Rowan Atkinson. That probably drew me into reading historical fiction where I could find the world I craved to experience in an historically accurate way.
My first attempt at writing historical fiction was in my early years after working on geneaology research in the family and I needed to fill in some gaps, so I wrote a fiction piece about how I thought the family history had happened based on my understanding of the context of the period. It was very satisfying and gave me much broader insights than I would have had doing strictly nonfictional notetaking in the research. But I never forgot that process.
Q - How do you find the people and topics of your books?
A - I find people who have many of the same wants and desires as we do, today. I have an endless number of story ideas, but they all tend to be created around an idea or conflict that is still with us today — gender bias, war, politics, power struggles.
Q - Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
A - I diagram the story from start to finish and have a rough outline and diagram. I leave it open for changing it but it gives me a solid starting place. The whole idea for me is to get a draft done first and then revise. I have heard there are two types of writers – the planner and the gardner. I am the planner type.
For research around the historical period, I look for the scholarly articles and books that have been peer-reviewed for accuracy and then go from there to other secondary sources. I look at key historical events that may not be particularly important now, but were at the time.
Q - For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
A - The historical context has to be accurate as well as the setting and possibilities. Most of the time the character is fictional reacting to factual history. That is the magic of being in that world in a convincing way and (hopefully) bringing your reader along.
Q - Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you’d like to share?
A - I have given a lot of talks about biological crimes and once I was giving a talk and suddenly realized that one of the convicted criminals I had highlighted in my talk was sitting in the audience, just released from prison! I had a tense moment deciding whether I should omit that part of my talk, but decided I should give the talk as planned. I didn’t leave anything out, because it was important to my narrative of the law, but it was a rare moment I will remember.
Q - Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
A - I see it growing with the popularity of “The Borgias”, the popular television series and even “Game of Thrones.” Though “Game of Thrones” is decidedly a fantasy, it is based on the factual War of the Roses and that world. I definitely see a growing interest in the genre as a way to tell a fascinating story that has another world that can be explored and experienced.
Q - Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?
A - I enjoy all periods, but I am most attracted to the Medieval period anywhere in the world and the emergence from that period typically around 1500. I am also interested in the Magna Carta period of 1251.
Q - What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?
A - Anything by Philippa Gregory and the underrated and one of my favorites, Jeanne Kalogridis. I also like David Liss’s “The Coffee Trader”. I fear I am leaving out a lot on this question because I have broad interests.
As for favorite movies, I write about the subgenre biohorror, biothriller and bio-fantasy in a new book, The Things That Keep Us Up At Night: Reel BioHorror at www.reelbiohorror.com . You probably will not be surprised some of my favorite historical movies are about the black plague and that period, the 1340s: Black Death (2010), The Name of the Rose (1986) and The Seventh Seal (1957). Other all time favorites are Doctor Zhivago (1965), Passion of the Christ (2004), Ben Hur (1959), and any of the Indiana Jones movies.
Q - Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
A - Alexander Tolstoy
What book was the most fun for you to write?
A - The Lady and the Highwayman, aka 1511
Q - Can you tell us about your latest publication?
My latest work is “The Lady and the Highwayman” which won a place in the Golden Acorn historical romance category, last year. I am excited about my character, Lady Rasa, a young woman from Lithuania who travels to Padua, Italy in 1511 after her entire family was killed by the black plague. She resolves to go to medical school at the University of Padua in the region of Italy in hopes of saving humanity from the plague, but after all her planning finds that the University admits only men. Just when she thinks she has her life planned, she falls in love with her classmate who she discovers is not what he seems to be — but then, neither is she.
Q - Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?
A - I suppose the oddest thing that happened was once not too long ago, when I was writing for a deadline I stayed awake far too long. While writing, I fell asleep for awhile, but kept writing – apparently. The next morning I read what I had written and it was like I had never seen it before. It was actually not so bad but must have been generated in my subconscious brain. I since had it happen again, and thought it was great, but a little weird. I just hope I am not shopping online or writing an email to someone if that happens again!
Ok, I am sure it has happened to other writers who are pushing a deadline, too, but here I am, admitting it. You have had this happen to you, right? Right? Yes? Please say yes!
"Writing is a struggle against silence."
- Carlos Fuentes
"Easy reading is damn hard writing."
- Nathaniel Hawthorne