This is a day I have been long awaiting! It's my great pleasure to welcome my friend, RWA-WF pal and Magical Musings sister, Michelle Diener, to Brant Flakes to celebrate the release of her fantastic debut novel, In a Treacherous Court (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, August 2, 2011)!! I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to get an early copy in NYC, and I read it madly from start to finish this week. It's richly written, historically fascinating and has characters so compelling it made even my hours of waiting for jury duty service (a long story for another time...) speed by.
Welcome, Michelle! I'm so glad to have you here ;).
Can you tell us the basic premise of your new book?
I'd love to! It is the story of a woman, Susanna Horenbout, an artist from Ghent (which is in modern-day Belgium, although at the time was in what was known as the Low Countries) who is sent by her father, Gerard Horenbout, one of the most highly regarded illuminators and artists of his time, to work at the court of Henry VIII. And while she is on her journey to get there, she sees and hears something that, if correctly interpreted, could ruin the plans of someone plotting against Henry. So I throw her into incredible danger, and lucky for her, the man who's reluctantly agreed to meet her at Dover and escort her back to London because he's there anyway on business for the King, John Parker, is just the sort of ruthless, hard-edged and intelligent courtier you'd want to have around when someone is trying to kill you. The delightful part of this for me is that some of the story is in fact true. [I was really intrigued by this as well!]
What's one scene from this story you loved writing? And what drew you to the historical fiction genre and to writing about this time period??
I love so many scenes in this book, but probably my favorite one is the second to last scene of the book, when Parker has to ask a favor of the King, and he isn't a man given to asking favors. It was great fun to write.
What drew me to this period (aside from excellent books like the Shardlake series) was Susanna herself. I discovered her in a series called the Uppity Woman series by Vicki Leon – it's a YA history series where Leon devotes a single page each to women she finds in history who the historians conveniently never mention but who played a significant role in their time period. Susanna got a page in Uppity Women of the Renaissance. I loved the idea of a woman artist being sent to Henry by her father to work as a professional in a time when women were not considered professionals, and wanted to learn more. I was lucky, in that Susanna's brother and father joined her later in London and her brother became Henry's official court painter. So art historians have some information on the Horenbout family, and I was able to flesh out as much as I could about Susanna from that.
Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel?
I called my husband right away, and then, lucky for me, my mother (and her good friend) were staying with us from the UK (I live in Australia) on holiday, so they heard next. I called my CPs third. :)))
What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.?
I can so see this book as a movie. I even have the soundtrack worked out, with the Coldplay song La Viva Vida being the main theme song. It fits this book so perfectly, I can't hear it without being completely sucked into the world of my story again. [Oh, I LOVE that song! And, yes, I could see it as part of the movie's soundtrack, too.]
What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why?
This is going to sound weird, but I love how ruthless Parker is. He's deadly. He lives in a violent time, and comes from a dog eat dog background. I love how he looks at a situation, makes a judgement about what needs to be done, and if that means committing violence, he does so without hesitation. It is the edge he often has. While others are still working out what is going on, he's already jumped in. He acts.
Did you go on any special trips to research the setting?
Well, my story is set in London in 1525. So unless someone will give me access to a time machine, I have to rely on heavy research of the book and map kind, rather than in the field. But I know London pretty well, I've lived there for more than a year, if you count up all the months I've spent there (not counting the year I spent there when I was born :)) and I've personally been to many of the places described. One thing I'm so sorry about is that Crooked Lane, where Parker lives, no longer exists. It was destroyed to make way for the new London Bridge. Sniff. I'd love to be able to walk that street today.
Are you involved in any online or in-person writing groups or blogs? (I know you are!!) Have your experiences with them added anything especially positive to your writing journey?
Way back in 2005, my two critique partners, Edie Ramer and Liz Kreger (who are STILL my critique partners) and I set up Magical Musings. It has grown in leaps and bounds since them, and we've added some amazing new co-bloggers along the way (xx to Marilyn, who is one of them). We have an amazing daily readership, and a wonderful community which is growing all the time. I love the connections I've made through the blog, some of which have turned into strong friendships over the years. [xx back, Michelle!! I truly love being a part of it.]
What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline?
There is another book. IN A TREACHEROUS COURT is the first book in a series of books, all starring Susanna Horenbout and John Parker. The second book is out in February 2012, so only 6 months after the first book, and it's called KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS. [YAY!!]
As you may have guessed, I am already REALLY looking forward to the next one, Michelle! Thank you so much for being here and for sharing a little more about your wonderful new series. Everybody, do yourselves a favor and grab this novel. For those wandering through Target, you'll find copies on their shelves, too (!!), as well as at bookstores and online.
**ETA: Michelle just let me know that her publisher will give away one copy to one commenter living in the U.S., so we'll choose the lucky winner on August 2nd, Michelle's release day!!