Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Interview with Juliet Grey

Juliet Grey's trilogy of novels about Marie Antoinette just won me over from the first book, and I'm delighted to share my interview with her. Learn about her writing process, her real name (!), and what she's reading -- and be sure to enter to win a copy of the final book in the trilogy, Confessions of Marie Antoinette.

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

My first work of published fiction was a romantic comedy titled Miss Match. Published in 2002, it’s about a NYC high school drama teacher who has trouble meeting guys who aren’t allergic to commitment, so she enrolls with a matchmaking service. The service is being run temporarily by the proprietor’s son, because the proprietor has run off with one of her own clients. But the son has a hard time fulfilling the company’s obligation to set the heroine up with six satisfactory matches because he’s too attracted to her himself. Even so, because he has never seen a happy marriage, he is a yet another commitment-phobe. Hilarity ensues.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I’m fueled by very strong black iced coffee. Sometimes I play music from the era in which my books are set. It’s too disconcerting to listen to the Beatles or a Broadway score when I’m writing the 18th century. Sometimes I burn candles to create a certain ambience. I often surround myself with images of my characters, especially my protagonists, and often I’ll seek out something they owned or were in some way personally connected to. For example, when I wrote the Marie Antoinette novels, I bought perfume (and wore it as I wrote) copied from scents that she herself had commissioned and burned candles from Cire Trudon, a company that Marie Antoinette herself patronized and from whom she ordered candles for her rooms in Versailles and le Petit Trianon.

I usually take my research notes on lined notebook paper using an extra fine-point purple Pilot pen, but I type my drafts right on the computer. I have to revise on a hard copy. I get no sense of continuity when I read a manuscript on the screen. I’ll mark it up in a purple or red Pilot pen so I can’t miss the revisions.

Was Confessions of Marie Antoinette the original title of your book?

It was originally titled The Last October Sky, a title that I felt was evocative and atmospheric. The last novel in the trilogy is bookended by events that take place in the month of October. I always had an image in my mind of Marie Antoinette on the scaffold looking out at a perfect blue sky with just a few fluffy white clouds. The most exquisite autumn day imaginable, to juxtapose it with the horror of what is about to take place. However, the name of the book was changed after the novel was written, edited, and revised, because the publisher thought that Marie Antoinette’s name should be in the title. As beautiful as the original book title was, it’s difficult to argue with the wisdom of wanting your book to show up in a Google search of “Marie Antoinette.”

As you were writing Confessions of Marie Antoinette, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I always become emotional when I have to kill off a character, especially when I’ve spent so much time with him or her and have come to know them so well. I knew I would be emotional about the death of Louis XVI (and of course about the queen’s death as well), but as I was writing the scenes, I was an utter wreck. Hysterical sobs. Apart from exonerating Marie Antoinette in my trilogy, merely by writing novels that are based on the historical record and not on propaganda, throughout the course of my research and writing I fell in love with Louis, realizing that he was also deeply maligned. Posterity has left us a highly unflattering portrait of both sovereigns and by and large that image is as distorted as a funhouse mirror. There was much goodness in Louis. I came to admire him despite his flaws (name one person who has no flaws?) and I was as devastated as Marie Antoinette was when I had to lose him.

This is the third and final book in your trilogy about Marie Antoinette. Did you find Marie Antoinette's story fell naturally into 'three' volumes or did you need to adjust how you wrote the books to fit them into the three-book structure?

I always knew I wanted to write her story as a trilogy; and it fell very clearly into three volumes right from the proposal stage. Where the “act breaks” of the three-act or three-book structure would fall, were always crystal clear to me.

You also write as Leslie Carroll. Why did you choose to write under another name? Does Juliet Grey do anything Leslie Carroll doesn't?

Leslie Carroll is my real name. I started out writing women’s fiction, and later historical non-fiction under my own name. When I began writing historical fiction, I was already published by a different house in the other genres and I was asked to choose a pen name for historical fiction. In fact, I previously wrote historical fiction under the pen name Amanda Elyot. The pen name Juliet Grey was chosen solely for the Marie Antoinette historical fiction trilogy. I am still writing non-fiction (books about the lives and loves of European royalty) under my own name.

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

I have to say, I’m almost always writing. Which doesn’t allow for enough leisure time with my husband, and that’s a bummer because he a wonderful guy! Because I publish in more than one genre, and am always researching or writing or revising, or promoting an upcoming or recent release, it’s like keeping multiple plates spinning simultaneously, so I work 7 days a week and rarely take breaks or vacations. But I don’t regret it because I adore my job. I go home to NYC when I can and visit family and museums there or go to the theatre and then make myself all upset that I’m not acting anymore. At home my guilty pleasures for taking time out to relax are baking (I have a sweet tooth!) and TV shows like Project Runway, Glee! Say Yes to the Dress, What Not to Wear, and Downton Abbey. And I’ll page through Vogue or Architectural Digest and get ideas for wardrobes and decorating dream homes on a normal human budget. I’m an inveterate multitasker: I can be reading a research book while I’m watching TV and checking email.

Read any good books recently?

In fact I’m currently re-reading one of the best novels ever written—Pride and Prejudice—in preparation for my appearance on a Baltimore Book Fair panel on Jane Austen and the 200th anniversary of the publication of P&P on September 27th. Also as panel prep, I re-read my own Austen-influenced time-travel novel from 2006, By a Lady, in which Miss Austen is herself a character. For pleasure, I love reading my colleagues’ historical fiction and lately I’ve read Kate Darby’s The Whore’s Asylum, Stephanie Lehmann’s Astor Place Vintage; I’m reading David Blixt’s Her Majesty’s Will; and now that Confessions of Marie Antoinette is finished, I can finally returned to novels set in 18th century France. Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety has been on my nightstand for four years!

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My thanks to Ms. Grey for her time. You can learn more about her and her Marie Antoinette trilogy at her website.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Confessions of Marie Antoinette to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 10/4.


  1. She sounds wonderful!I love that she has an exact pen that she uses.

  2. Good evening, Audra & Ms. Grey-Carroll!

    One of my best friends is named Leslie, and she was always a healthy reader soaking up epic fantasies; I was curious if she was into the French Revolution as I am becoming myself, because I am finding what I personally love in epic fantasy cross-sects with the Revolution in some ways, as it was a multi-layered time in French history, to where everything presumed known and unknown were not easily defined nor understood! You had to see past what you were told, and you had to believe things that were not popular. I cannot even imagine the amount of strength that it took Antoinette to succeed in keeping her sanity, much less having joy in anything during that arduous time!

    I love the photograph of the author in this period outfit, as at first glance, it reminded me of Dunst's Antoinette film (which I have not seen, here I refer to the trailers), but at closer inspection I realised it was the author herself! What fun! I read how she is also an accomplished actress in her own right! A perfect compliment to being a writer! As I would perceive stagecraft could only enhance your ability to convey your characters in a more lucid and 3-D dimensional sphere on paper if you are inhabiting them in person! :)

    I agree with her on revisions having to be made on hard copy proofs! I find this myself, as to be frank, I cannot read for long spurts of time be as it were (online/off-line in Word), which is why nearly all of my personal re-writes have been done after I've printed off a draft! Either that, or when I had a quirky temperamental typewriter that still managed not to eat my words but rather convey them, I enjoyed the ease of knowing I was reading everything as it was being inked straight to paper! Hence the reason I long to get back to 'typing' via a typewriter! I, too, find whittling away in a notebook to be the easiest way to store away little antidotes or bits of research nuggets of interest to peruse lateron. By pen or by ink (of forementioned typewriter!), I confess would be the best tools I can have in my writing arsenal :)

    I'm not a big fan of 'red' ink, but that defers to school where my teachers made my papers bleed, even if it were not necessary as they didn't like students who could flex out what they wanted to say within a few revisions! :( I opt instead for other colours in the rainbow spectrum of available inks these days! Purple has long since been my choice, as well, but there are certain blues and hues of orange that settle well for my purposes! A good dark green can go a long way too!

    Its her method of immersion that I found singularly unique -- the burnt candles, the atmospheric music, the exactness of the details of the items she procured!! Impressive! Ahh, I felt for her on the title change! Too bad "Confessions,.." could not have been the sub-title for "The Last October Sky", as in:

    The Last October Sky:
    Confessions of Marie Antoinette

    Ooh, my dear goodness, her schedule! I give her a heap of credit for being able to find balance between work, home, marriage, writing, and publishing commitments (ie: marketing, publicity, touring, etc)!! I am not sure if I could ever set myself up at quite a quick pace as that! I already know what a 24/7 job can do to a person, so I would fear for her a bit down the road if this continued, as you really do need holidays and firm breaks in these schedules!

    "Astor Place Vintage" was one I had earmarked for myself! How keen to find that authors are seeking out the same titles that catch our eyes!? I oft wondered how they juggle everything, and still manage to find rapt joy in 'pleasure reading' which I nearly presumed might have been on hiatus!

    I loved this informative interview, you always do such a smashing job, Audra! And, I enjoy getting to know the authors!