Thursday, June 19, 2014

Interview with Lynn Cullen

Earlier this week I reviewed Lynn Cullen's Mrs. Poe, her deliciously gothicky novel of Edgar Allan Poe and poet Frances Osgood.  I just fell in love with Ms. Cullen's writing with her previous novel, Reign of Madness, and I'm delighted to share my second interview with her.  Read on learn more about Mrs. Poe, her other books, and what she does when she's not writing.

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Thank you for this chance to chat, Audra. I’m a huge fan of you and your blog and am happy to be here with you today! So, to answer your questions:

Was Mrs. Poe the original title of your book?

Mrs. Poe was the title before I’d even begun writing the book, which is not my usual experience with novels. I usually agonize for months before settling on one. I’m going through that right now with my work-in-progress. But I knew Mrs. Poe was this book’s title from the get-go, just as I knew the main character would not actually be Virginia Poe, but the woman who wished she could be the real Mrs. Poe, Frances Osgood. I had in mind the novel Rebecca, in which the main character was obsessed with her new husband’s first wife, Rebecca. Mrs. Poe isn’t told from Virginia Poe’s point of view, just like Rebecca is not the narrator in the du Maurier book.

As you were writing Mrs. Poe, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Two characters kept trying to run away with the book. One was Samuel Osgood. In real life, he was a total jerk for leaving his wife and daughters while he chased women, but darned if he didn’t keep trying to make me like him whenever he had a scene in the novel. Even though I knew he was a rat, his voice kept coming to me as someone charming. I let him have his way and be charismatic because I figured that’s how he must have got in all the ladies’ petticoats.

The other character who threatened to take over the book was Margaret Fuller. She insisted upon calling a spade a spade and didn’t care what people thought and I loved her for it. (As you see, if characters are really working, they become very real to me. It’s kind of spooky if I think about it too much.) Interestingly, these two were the main people to warn Frances of the cost to her emotionally and professionally of having an affair with Poe. I appreciated their candor, even from that rascal Samuel Osgood.

The heroines of your novels are so diverse -- painter Sofonisba Anguissola, Spanish princess Juana de Castile, Rembrandt's daughter Cornelia van Rijn, and most recently, poet Frances Osgood. Is there a common theme between these four women?

All four find themselves constrained by the roles they were called upon to play in their societies. Their limitations stemmed from being women—if they had been men they wouldn’t have had the difficulties they did. However, each of them finds a way to get what they want, although the price they pay is terribly steep. Sofonisba gets to be the first painter but sinks from view in history because she’s not allowed to lay claim to her work; Juana de Castile allows the men in the life to take the crowns she does not want but is locked up for 46 years because the menfolk fear she will take them back; Cornelia van Rijn learns to love Rembrandt van Rijn when it is almost too late; and Frances Osgood is finally creates a stir as a writer only after she is scandalously linked with Poe. They all should be broken by their experiences but remain hopeful. I am fascinated by their resilience.

Are you working on something now and if so, can you tell us about it?

I’m working on a novel about Mark Twain and the women in his life, and wow, am I finding that he is an angry man. He could be so noble and yet so cruel. I think that his childhood is the key to understanding him. Actually, isn’t that the key to understanding just about everybody?

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

I walk a lot, year ‘round, and hang out often with my daughters. Now that they’re grown up, they’re my best friends. A lot of our activities are based around kid’s play as the daughters now have four little ones. Evenings with friends and family tend to involve margaritas.

I also love to travel to research for my books although when I do, I stress about leaving our cats. I wish I could tell them that we’re coming back!

Read any good books recently?

I loved Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters. It’s a literary historical novel rolled up in a fun package. Frankly, that’s what I aspire for with my books.

Thanks for your great questions and for having me aboard, Audra. And may I ask, are you working on something now and might you tell us a tad about it? Inquiring minds want to know…

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To answer Ms. Cullen's question (thank you for asking!)... Yes, I'm at work on a very, very, very muddy second draft of a historical novel.  I began it last fall when I went on sabbatical and spent five weeks mostly alone in western Massachusetts writing it.  (It's a hot mess.)  Taking place during the mid-1800s, it follows an abolitionist minister's wife from Cambridge who moves to Kansas with her husband to fight for the Free State movement.  When she is introduced to a pamphlet about birth control, she becomes embroiled in the politics of morality when she shares her knowledge with other women.  I'm in the midst of writing classes this year which I hope will help me clean up my draft; my goal is to nail down half of it before our baby comes!

My thanks to Ms. Cullen for her time and thoughtful answers (and kind question!).  You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Mrs. Poe to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 7/4.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / New York City / Edgar Allan Poe / Frances Osgood / Writers / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Love Affair / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Gallery Books (4/1/2014)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A destitute poet finds creative inspiration and passion with the dreamy and very married Edgar Allan Poe.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's spot on for the book!

I'm reminded of...: Melanie Benjamin, Sandra Gulland, Jeanne Kalogridis

First line: When given bad news, most women of my station can afford to slump onto their divans, their china cups slipping from their fingers to the carpet, their hair falling prettily from its pins, their fourteen starched petticoats compacting with a plush crunch.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I am a huge fan of Cullen's previous novel, Reign of Madness.

Review: Set between 1845 and 1847, this novel is narrated by Frances Osgood, a Boston blueblood who enraged her family when she eloped with a talented, but grasping, portraitist.  Abandoned now by her serial philanderer husband, she is living with friends as she struggles to make enough money from her writing to support herself and her two daughters. 

When she meets Edgar Allan Poe -- newly superfamous for his poem "The Raven" -- her life becomes more rich and more complicated as he helps her career and spurs intense passion.  Complicating things, however, is Poe's childlike wife, who is a mix of sweetness and vindictiveness that has Frances torn between guilt and anxiety. 

There's a juicy, gossipy feel to the world of 19th century New York literati that will inspire you to camp out on Wiki.  Cullen takes figures that popular culture seems to "know" and turns our perceptions of them on edge: Poe is Mr. McDreamy while Margaret Fuller comes off as a mere tabloid writer, hungry for money and headlines.  Louisa May Alcott is a flitting fangirl and Herman Melville is a pest to be waved off.  (Loyalists may dislike her imaginings, but even I, as a devoted Fuller and Alcott fan, found it fun to see my favs painted in a different light.)

Mixed into this cameo-laden fest are the atmospheric historical details that I love in hist fic, from hints about costume and dress, social behaviors, inventions and other industrial changes, and the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. 

And while the love story didn't work for me (it's the rare romance sprung out of infidelity that can warm my heart!), I still greatly enjoyed the drama and atmosphere in Mrs. Poe.  The gothic overtones to the story harken back to the 19th century penny dreadful and echoes Poe's works, and make some of the credulity straining moments feel less outrageous.

This edition includes the entire text of Poe's "The Raven" as well as as a poem by Osgood, and a brief Author's Note.

Perfect for summer, this is a great novel for longtime fans of Poe as well as those unfamiliar with him and his world.  It's eye-opening, a little provocative, and dramatic fun.  

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Mrs. Poe to one lucky reader!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 7/4.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Winners!

A lovely, busy weekend -- hope all of you have had restful ones too!  Here are my giveaway winners from the last few weeks!

The winner of I Am Livia is ... Elisabeth H.!

The winner of The Quick is ... Martha G.!

Congrats to the winners!  I don't have any open giveaways at the moment, but will this coming week -- so be sure to enter! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Interview with Laura Purcell

Yesterday I reviewed Laura Purcell's marvelous historical novel of "mad" King George, his wife and daughters, Queen of Bedlam.  It was a fascinating look at a royal family I know nothing about, and had the best kind of drama: medical maladies, love affairs, heartbreak, mother-daughter relationships, husband hunting... I'm delighted to share my interview with Laura Purcell, so read on to learn more about her, her current novel, and what she does when she's not writing.

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

It gets very confusing, I will give you the simple version! It was a Regency romance about two sisters and their summer in Bath. The elder Sophie was the parents’ favourite and had been tacitly engaged to her soldier cousin since birth. The younger Caroline was the beauty and soon started to attract attention at the assemblies. To cut a long story short, it was a riot of crossed wires. Everybody fell in love with the wrong person, or thought someone liked them when in fact they were after the other sister. In the end, Caroline married the soldier cousin and Sophie married one of her sister’s discarded suitors.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I tend to write whenever I can grab a spare moment, so there aren’t any set routines. However, I insist on a constant stream of coffee to get me through! I also have lots of historical notes, so I like to keep these to hand as I write.

Was Queen of Bedlam the original title of your book?

No, it was originally called God Save the King. It then went through a phase of being referred to as simply Queen Charlotte before it finally transformed into Queen of Bedlam. My husband still wishes I had called it George 3, The Revenge!

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

Yes, I was a little bit surprised by Sophia, one of Queen Charlotte’s daughters. She had a rebellious spirit and a sharp wit, but as I wrote about her life I found her becoming much more timid and vulnerable than I had suspected.

Why the Hanoverians?

As you can tell from my first piece of fiction, I was always a big fan of the Regency era. I decided to write a story with a character who worked at court, so I bought lots of books about the King and Queen they would have worked for. Before I had completed my research, I found myself becoming obsessed with George III’s huge family and their lives. I started to feel like they were my friends. I realised I couldn’t write a character who worked for the Queen, as I would only make them weirdly infatuated with their employer! I started writing from the point of view of George III’s wife and daughters instead.

But questions arose that made me widen my period of research. What were his parents like and what effect did that have on his character? What happened to his grandchildren? The more I read, the more fascinated I became. I discovered so many amazing people with astonishing stories in the family tree.

They were, to my mind, more interesting than the Tudors, but hardly anybody knew about them! I decided I had to change that.

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

I read and watch films to relax. I am also an animal lover and spend a good deal of time looking after my pets. At the moment I have three lovely boy guinea pigs – I did have a whole herd of ten, but alas time has taken its toll on the little ones.

Read any good books recently?

Oh yes! I’ve lately finished Sarah Waters Affinity, which just devastated me. I’m a huge fan of Waters but I never see her twists coming. I love that she can make me drop the book and scream ‘No way!’ The book I am currently reading is An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey. It’s about a Georgian cook who gets caught up in a mystery involving her mistress and an old jewel. It’s excellent so far.

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My thanks to Ms. Purcell for her time and thoughtful answers.

You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell

Title: Queen of Bedlam
Author: Laura Purcell

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / UK / Royalty / Marriage / Mother-Daughter Relationships / Mental Illness)
Publisher/Publication Date: Myrmidon Books Ltd (6/10/2014)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: When King George, beloved husband and father, goes mad, his wife and daughters struggle to remain loyal while their own lives fall apart.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Guiltily, I do -- it's so ridiculous and vampy (which isn't the plot of this book) but I adore the dress and the hair.

I'm reminded of...: Marci Jefferson, Karleen Koen, Anne Easter Smith

First line: This would be the last time; Charlotte had made her decision.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: Had heard good things about it!

Review: I can't squee enough about this novel -- it was so fascinating, disturbing, intriguing, and exciting it pulled me out of my reading slump -- and is another fabulous example of great, escapist historical fiction.

Set in the late 18th/early 19th century during George III's reign, the novel follows his wife Charlotte and a handful of their 14 children (primarily their daughters). George -- "mad" King George as well as the hated George of the American Revolution-- is a beloved husband and father, and his wife and daughters flock to his side when his mysterious illness manifests in bouts of mania, violence, and occasional cruelty.  As time goes on, however, the constant threat of his madness provokes everyone to begin to look out for themselves, fracturing the family, and costing his daughters enormously.

Purcell manages to make George's chronic mental illness read compellingly, and I couldn't help but feel sympathetic toward him.  His wife, Charlotte, is harder to like -- she cruelly depends on her children, mostly her daughters, to help her deal with her changing husband -- and her choices really stuck in my craw.  The myriad children were distinctive individuals, but the story focused mostly on the Royal Princess Charlotte and Sophia -- both of whom had tragic dramas I loved/felt awful about.

Despite the heavy tragedy implicit in the plot, the story really races, and didn't feel crushingly dark or depressing.  Purcell offers happiness to her characters when she can, and moments of grace when she can't.  

Originally a self-pubbed bestseller -- as God Save the King -- it's been picked up by Myrmidon. I can't speak to any changes made between editions as I've not read the original release, but I'm delighted that it will find new readers.  This edition has a family tree and a brief historical note about what details she fictionalized.

Purcell has ambitious plans to tackle the Hanoverian/Georgian dynasty in fiction so those who are unfamiliar with this family but enjoy royal drama will have some meaty escapades to dig into.   I'll be eagerly anticipating her next release!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Weekend reads and perking up...

Thank you, everyone, for the continual kind words and understanding with every mopey post of mine!  I'm perking up a little now -- perhaps the much promised second trimester perkiness is finally kicking in! -- and I'm actually inhaling books again.  (Whew!)  Although not at my usual pace, but whatever, I'm grateful I can stay up past 8pm these days!

My weekend reads is Laura Purcell's Queen of Bedlam, a novel of the wife and daughters of "Mad" King George.  I'm loving it -- it's a monarchy I have zero familiarity with and it drips with the kind of drama I don't often see in royal hist fic.  Can't wait to squee about it next week.

What are you reading this weekend?