Thursday, September 15, 2011

Interview with Lynn Cullen

Earlier this summer and I read and adored Lynn Cullen's historical novel Reign of Madness. Please read on to learn more about Ms. Cullen's writing process, Reign of Madness, and her next project. (I'm already dying to read it!).

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The first story that I remember writing was about a bear that ate so much honey that he had to roll home in a barrel. I was around six and hadn’t heard of Winnie the Pooh. I thought I was very clever and original, and didn’t worry too much about explaining how this barrel conveniently happened to be on top of the hill where the honey was.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to get started after a “run” (if I can call my slogging along that) or walk by reading the work I’d done the previous day. I usually can’t resist rewriting that, and so an hour or two later, I begin on the new passage to be done. I write at the pace at which I “run”—slowly. I don’t work from an outline although I do jot down on a Post-it note or some other scrap of paper what I need to achieve in the chapter upon which I’m working. I also have a rough idea of how I’m going to end the book, so I carry that with me in my mind as I inch toward my goal. I’ve based many of the characters in my last few books on paintings and/or painters, so I keep the books with these paintings nearby for reference and inspiration. I work every day—I love writing!—unless I’m in Europe doing research or at my daughter’s, playing with my grandchildren.

Was Reign of Madness the original title of your book?

Yes! The book had no title for the first several months that I was working on it. During this time, my agent, my editor, and I would email each other with suggestions. I had floated out winners such as “Beauty and Madness,” “Age of Discovery” or “Madness of the Queen” until my editor said, “How about Reign of Madness?” All of us immediately loved it and that was that.

As you were writing Reign of Madness, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

As I mentioned, I don’t work from an outline so each new chapter comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I was particularly startled by Juana’s mother, Isabel, in the scenes where she tries to reach out to Juana. She wants so badly for Juana to see her not just as a mother, but as a woman, complete with flaws but with strengths, too. I was very interested to see how vehemently Isabel yearned to have her adult daughter understand her. This might be because I have three adult daughters….

Do you have another project in the works, and if so, can you tell us about it?

I’m working on a book about how Dutch Golden Age painter Judith Leyster, the first woman to ever have her own workshop, might have influenced Rembrandt. It has entailed many trips to Amsterdam and Haarlem—yes!

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Play with my granddaughters! I also love going on research trips, where I haunt the palaces and towns where my characters lived. I’ve been to the location of every scene in Reign of Madness. Some people collect stamps; I collect scenes for my books.

Read any good books recently?

I’m just finishing The Paris Wife. I think Paula McLain did a masterful job of evoking Jazz-Age Paris and Europe. I bet she had a lot of fun doing her research.

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My thanks to Ms. Cullen for her time answering all my questions. Learn more about Lynn via her website and Facebook. You can find more reviews of her book by checking out the other blogs on the tour.


  1. I really enjoyed this interview! I miss being a child...children don'e worry about things like adults do as Ms. Cullen illustrates whoile telling about her first story...the bear with the honey who rolled down the hill in a just do what they want and enjy themselves. Who cares where the barrel came from or that Winnie the Pooh had already bene written?!

    I love the titles Ms. Cullen considered for her book but I think Reign of Madness is the best!

    I really liked how Ms. Cullen discussed being startled by Isobel who wanted so badly for her adult daughter to understand her. She speaks of Isobel in such a way that she sounds completely real...this makes me hope and believe in the book Isobel jumps off the page with a vibrancy and life force.

    I was thrilled to read Ms. Cullen's opinion of The Paris WIfe, another book I'd love to read!

    Thank you Audra and Ms. Cullen for a delightful interview. The questions and answers completely absorbed my attention!

  2. I have to say I think Reign of Madness is by far the best title out of those options. This author seemed very personable and friendly.

    I am also interested in her next book, since I've never heard of Judoth Leyster but love Rembrandt. Interesting, and thanks for the awesome interview, Audra.

  3. Loved Reign of Madness, and loved this interview! Lynn Cullen is such a witty and wise woman, and I can't wait to see what she does next!

  4. @Amy: Thank you for the thoughtful comments! I hope you do get a chance to read this book as it's marvelous, and one of the things I so enjoyed was the humanizing of Isabel. As I said to Lynn privately, too often I find mother-daughter relationships in historical fiction to be v trite or overly sentimental but in this book, it felt real -- awkward, uncomfortable, emotional, intimate -- sort of all the things I'm finding as I forge an adult relationship with my own mother.

    @Jessie: It's been so awesome corresponding with Lynn -- she's really a class act! I am really super pysched for this next book -- you might want to check out her earlier book I Am Rembratdt's Daughter since you're a fan of his work!

    @Heather: Isn't she just great? It always makes me happy when an author is as awesome as their book!

  5. Thank you for all of your lovely comments. I will have to tell my daughters that Heather called their mom "witty and wise." They will chuckle, but I LOVE it.

    Thank you, dear Audra, for asking such great questions. I'm on AuthorLynnCullen on facebook or should anyone want to further the discussion...or ask me anything else!

  6. Great interview :)
    Ever since reading about this book I have wanted to read it. She sounds fascinating

  7. awesome! i like the sounds of the upcoming project as well. wooot for Amsterdam!

  8. I just adore your interviews, and I would love to travel for research....Sounds like she has a great time writing and researching.

  9. I've been wanting to read this one since I first heard about it - I think Juana is fascinating! - so I'm excited to learn a bit more about the book.

    Thanks for sharing the interview!