I adored Alisa M. Libby's tragic -- and wonderfully creepy! -- first novel The Blood Confession, so I've been dying (har har) to ask the up-and-coming author, blogger, and Emerson grad about her work. Luckily, the recent arrival of her new historical fiction novel The King's Rose gave me the perfect opportunity.
Thanks so much to Alisa for her post... We have lots of great guest posts still to come, and trust me, you don't want to miss any!
Your novels both feature fairly infamous women in European history: The King’s Rose is about Catherine Howard, the "treasonous" fifth wife of Henry VIII, while the protagonist of The Blood Confession is Erzebet, the “Blood Countess” Bathory. What prompted you to make these historical figures such sympathetic characters?
I’m drawn to tell the stories of “bad girls” in history — girls who make terrible, illogical choices — in order to answer my own questions of, “Why did she do this? What was she thinking?” I’m not interested in making these characters innocent, especially as their bad decisions are what intrigued me in the first place. I like the idea of puzzling together a logic (though not always logical) for them to follow. And creating sympathy was integral for both of these characters: both as a way that I could connect with them as I wrote their stories and (hopefully) as a way for readers to connect with them as well.
What is your research process like?
I read a lot. Particularly in the case of Tudor England, a lot of primary source research has been done about that time period, so there are a lot of great books out there about the history, culture, traditions, food, clothing, and biographies of key players in the Tudor court. I relied heavily on libraries—my local library and the Simmons College library, in particular—where I ordered many books through interlibrary loan. I read a lot, took a lot of notes, and formulated my own “version” of Catherine’s story from what I learned.
Though I did historical research for both, the process was different for each of my books. The Blood Confession is an example of historical fantasy. While I was inspired by the story of Countess Bathory, I ended up creating a fictional story for the life of my character, Countess Bizecka, that would explain why she eventually commits murder. The murders and the blood-bathing are based on the legends surrounding Bathory. The King’s Rose is a more traditional historical fiction, so there was an even greater emphasis on the historical details. While I didn’t fiddle around with actual events, I did have to fill in the gaps of what Catherine was thinking and feeling.
I also took a research trip to England, where my husband and I visited various sites where Catherine lived, such as Hampton Court and the Tower of London. It was amazing to be able to visit the great hall at Hampton where she danced, and the Tower Green where she was eventually executed. It was a wonderful experience to actually be there, after all that I had read about the time period and the people. I made sure that we visited Catherine’s burial place at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula on February 13, the day of her execution. Morbid, I know, but the significance of the date made the visit even more profound. Catherine doesn’t get many visitors, and she is buried alongside her infamous cousin, Anne Boleyn, who had roses draped over her crest on the day that we visited. But we had come a long way to visit Catherine, specifically, and I like to think that she was grateful. For a list of the books I read and a link to my England travel blog, visit my website.
Both books have gorgeous covers with a “period” feel appropriate to their historical settings, and The Blood Confession is particularly striking with its blood-dipped edges. How close is the look of each book to what you imagined?
I think Dutton did a wonderful job with both of my covers; I count myself very lucky. That said, I prefer book covers that don’t show the entire face of the main character. I would rather read how the character is described in the book and envision it in my head. I was a little taken aback to see the initial cover for The Blood Confession, though I think they did a wonderful job of making her look intense and intriguing. Furthermore, I love the blood-dipped pages—the blood stain gets larger as the book gets bloodier! The King’s Rose, I was blown away when I first saw the cover image. I loved it immediately. It is so beautiful, and so perfectly Catherine: lovely, sensual, naïvely seductive.
Do you envision writing more historical fiction in the future? Are there other genres you’d like to explore? What is your next project?
I definitely hope that I have another historical novel in me! There are so many great characters that I would love to explore. But at the moment I’m taking a break from historical fiction. When I finished The King’s Rose, the thought of starting the research process all over again made me want to hide under my desk. There is a lot of research involved, and I have to be completely committed to—even obsessed with—the subject matter. So lately I’ve been experimenting with contemporary fiction, with a bit of magic thrown in. I hope it decides to become a novel, some day.
Did parts of either of the novels develop during National Novel Writing Month? How is writing a novel in a month different from writing a novel on contract with your publisher? What was the transition from NaNoWriMo participant to published novelist like?
Actually, I did start writing the first draft of The King’s Rose during NaNoWriMo, but halfway through I realized I needed to do a lot more research before forging ahead. However, I love the whole premise of NaNoWriMo, and I really enjoyed the book No Plot, No Problem, though I can see how it may not work well for historical novels unless you’ve done a lot of research in advance.
Still, my first drafts are really rough and often pretty lousy, so why not get them on paper as fast as possible? Most of writing, at least for me, is revising and re-writing, and NaNoWriMo is a great way to start that whole process. The entire process of writing a book—on your own, with a writing group, or with a literary agent or an editor—is all about revising. The great thing about working with an agent and then an editor is that you get some really insightful feedback on your work. I’m certain that my agent and editor have helped me to create much better books than I would have been able to do on my own.
For more information about me and my books, visit www.alisalibby.com.