Sunday, August 14, 2011

Q & A with Author Sandra Byrd

Though we've never met in person, (she's in Washington, I'm in Iowa -- but that's what the internet is for, right?) I've considered Sandra Byrd a mentor and friend for a long time. Over the years I've benefited in countless ways from her friendship, encouragement, and advice. This past year Sandra's excitement about the creation and release of To Die For has had me chomping at the bit to get my hands on this book. And now that I've read it? (See my review here) I can hardly wait for the next Tudor novel from this talented author who also happens to be one of my favorite people.

Q: How difficult was it for you to switch hats from writing contemporary and often humorous fiction (like the French Twist Trilogy) to put on the heavier, more cumbersome helmet of a serious historical novelist?

Sandra: Because I love the time, the people, and historical novels in general, it didn't feel heavy or cumbersome at all. It was pure pleasure. It was weightier, though, to make sure that I got all of the details right. Most people who like to read historical fiction also love history, so I knew they'd keep me on my toes. I like my novels to align as close as possible with the real story, too, so I enjoyed the research challenge. My historical timelines, before I ever begin to write the novels, run between 40,000 and 50,000 words alone.

Q: A year or so ago we chatted about To Die For and you called it "the book I've always wanted to write." What makes To Die For THAT BOOK for you?

Sandra: I've always been in love with British history, especially from the medieval age through the Victorian age. Getting to write where I most love, and have always loved, to read was what made it so delightful to me. I also felt that Anne deserved to have a point of view that showed her more holistically. She's often portrayed as vixen or victim. I had the compulsion of a friend, maybe, to add to the effort to set the record straight.

Q: It's clear from the writing that this time period and these characters, both fictional and historical, are dear to you. What made you decide that NOW was the time to write this book-of-your-heart?

Sandra: I'm not sure. I think I'd written all of the contemporary books I had interest in exploring, and there are so many historical stories I want to dig into. When you go into a project knowing you might sweat blood over it, you want to put those long, difficult writing hours where your passion lives.

Q: You've referred to yourself as "a lifelong Tudorphile." What first captured your fancy with this time period and cast of characters?

Sandra: I started reading Victoria Holt, who was also known as Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr, perhaps when I was about 11 years old. She made historical fiction so engaging that I constantly delved into my still-favorite time periods. I think the drama of the Tudor years, plus a lot of strong women, has helped to keep my interest all this time.

Q: While several other novelists of Tudor fiction have told their tales as an outsider looking in, you took a risk, telling Meg's story in the First Person Point-of-View. How did this change how you approached the subject and your research?

Sandra: From a young age, we women are wired for friendship. Little girls link arms in exclusivity with one another on the playground. The most devastating betrayals during our middle and high school years often come not from boys, but from the friends we thought loved us and in whom we'd trusted. I have several friends with whom I've been close for more than twenty years and I know they have my back, and I, theirs, no matter what. So when I began to write novels set in the Tudor period I wondered, who were these Queens' real friends, those who would remain true in a treacherous court? Ovid wrote, "While you are fortunate you will number many friends, when the skies grow dark you will be alone." I began with Anne Boleyn and Meg, and began by looking through their hearts.

Q: What do you see as the biggest prize (other than having been entirely engrossed in your tale!) your readers will take away from this novel?

Sandra: I want them to see Anne as I believe, through extensive research of really creditable sources, she really was. Anne was definitely a witty, strong, and ambitious woman. But she could also be soft, funny, warm, and was a loyal friend, sister, and daughter. She was a powerhouse for the English Reformation. Women in that time and place had many more restrictions than we do today, and yet they didn't chafe under them so much as meet the challenge with creativity and perseverance. I'd love to have twenty-first century readers discover that about them, too.

Meg, too, learned faith and patience and that sometimes, really, it's better to be the setting than the stone, and that good will come in due time. I try to remember that from her life as well.

Visit Sandra's website for more info, plus virtual castle tours!



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