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History Buff is a site
for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women
of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives
in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's
sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!
historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
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Sunday, September 16, 2007
Q&A With Historical Thriller Author Tess Gerritsen
* Your thrillers have become NYT Bestsellers, but THE BONE GARDEN is your first historical thriller. The novel is set in both the present day and 19th century Boston where a seventeen year old seamstress named Rose Connolly must try and stop a killer. What was it about the 1800s that fascinated you?
* How much of THE BONE GARDEN is based on fact and how much is fiction?
* Tell us something surprising about women in 19th century America.
Because of a shortage of anatomical specimens, medical schools of that era were forced to scrounge up cadavers from wherever they could find them. Executed criminals were automatically relegated to the anatomist’s knife, but there weren’t nearly enough of those to fulfill the needs of the schools. So a ghoulish trade sprang up involving body snatchers, otherwise known as “resurrectionists,” who’d sneak into cemeteries after dark and dig up newly interred bodies. The going rate for a body at the time was around $20 – a large enough sum to keep the trade thriving. Students themselves would often do the snatching themselves, and in fact it became something of a rite of passage for doctors-in-training, to sneak into cemeteries and dig up their prizes. So many medical schools were springing up in New York and Pennsylvania that the schools began to import bodies from the south, many of them no doubt deceased slaves. As the trade of snatching grew, naturally the parallel trade of grave protection also grew, paid for by families anxious to protect their deceased loved ones. Wealthy families could pay for armed guards and iron cages or locked tombs to protect the dead. It was the poor – isn’t it always the poor? – who suffered the worst indignities.
* Is THE BONE GARDEN the beginning of a series, and if not, what are you working on next?
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author David Blixt
* Your debut novel, THE MASTER OF VERONA, can be considered a prelude to Romeo and Juliet. As a Shakespearean actor, you must be quite familiar with most of Shakespeare's plays, so what made you choose to write a book exploring the reason behind the feud between the Montagues and Capulets?
R&J was my first Shakespeare show, way back in high school, and the one I’ve done most often since (at present I think it stands fourteen or fifteen productions, in almost every male role). But when I first sat down to direct it and started studying the script, I came across a line I’d never paid attention to. At the end of the show, after everybody has died, Lord Montague has this out-of-the-blue line relating how his wife is dead as well. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it – Lady Montague has three lines in the play, all in Act I Scene i. Here we are, we’ve just seen Romeo drink poison and Juliet stab herself – why do we care if some lady we don’t even remember has died?
I broke it down. Okay, dramatic structure says that an off-stage death is symbolic – death symbolizes an ending – the only thing that has closure is the feud, when Capulet and Montague shake hands. Stringing those thoughts together, it meant that Lady Montague’s death was symbolic of the end of the feud. Well, that didn’t make any sense. Unless – unless she were the cause of the feud in the first place! Betrothed to Capulet, she ran off with Montague instead. A feud that ends in love began in love! That was the initial inspiration for the novel. A single line from Shakespeare.
* How much of THE MASTER OF VERONA is based on fact and how much is fiction? I used as much fact as I could find – the battles, the politics, the poetry, the people – then interwove Shakespeare’s Italian characters, making them featured players as well. Once or twice I was able to merge real people with the Shakespeare characters – the Prince in the R&J is named Escalus, a Latinized version of Scala, the ruling family of Verona. So in essence I’ve set Shakespeare and his sources dancing between the raindrops of history.
In picking a time and place for the origin of the feud, I’m in good company. Dante himself mentions the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in his Divine Comedy – he even calls them to task for it by name! Still, the one aspect of the book I’ll take the most heat for is Dante’s son, Pietro Alaghieri. He was a real person – his descendants still live on the vineyard he bought just outside Verona – but not much is known about his early life. I made him my hero, and made him take a fictional part in historic events. My only defense is that Shakespeare and Dante both would have done it, as they loved a good story.
* Tell us something surprising about women in 14th century Italy.
In another strangely Shakespeare twist, it’s amazing just how often women donned armor and led their husbands’ troops into the field. Most often it was when their spouses were held for ransom, or else had been killed without an heir of age. The local lord would demand soldiers, and in response the more daring women led those soldiers themselves. It reminds me of all the cross-dressing women of Shakespeare – Viola, Rosalind, Portia. So I have a nod to that, too, in the novel.
* Romeo's mother, Lady Montague, plays a major role in your book. In what way, if any, does she reflect the typical Italian woman of her class in 1300s Verona?
“Of her class” is a very important caveat. Because, raised to the nobility, she has fallen for the upper-class fad of “courtly love” that swept the 13th and 14th centuries. Poetry and music extolled the virtues of the noble love-from-afar. The French stories of King Arthur were all the rage, with Guenivere and Lancelot being the ideal of True Love. Romeo’s mother is completely convinced that Love cannot exist without suffering – something she, of course, passes to her son.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author Dora Levy Mossanen
* What was it about Persia that made you want to set both HAREM and
* In your most recent novel, COURTESAN, you follow three generations of
* In researching COURTESAN: A NOVEL, was there anything you were shocked to learn about courtesans in 19th century France?
Thank you Dora! And feel free to visit Dora Levy Mossanen online for more information