An Interview with Tracy Chevalier

Tracy 3Last week I went up to London to interview international bestselling author Tracy Chevalier as part of the Romantic Novelists’ Association 60th anniversary celebrations. A number of people who weren’t able to get to the talk were interested in hearing about it, so I thought I would report back on it here as Tracy had so many fascinating things to say about books, reading, writing and art.

Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington DC, the daughter of  is best known for the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was made into a film in 2003. It’s based on the famous artwork of the same name by Dutch artist Vermeer, which hangs in the Mauritshuis in the Hague in Holland. As so much of Tracy’s writing life has been defined by art, we decided to base the interview around eight pieces of art or crafts that she chose to represent various aspects of her life, rather as Desert Island Discs does with music, and it proved to be a very interesting way to structure an interview.

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It’s our Wenchiversary!

Champagne flutes 1

By Mary Jo and the rest of the Wenchly Crew

Has it really been thirteen years since we cautiously launched the Word Wenches blog? Indeed yes, and so much has changed in the world, in publishing, and in us. We've lost beloved Wench sisters Edith Layton and Jo Beverley, entered into new genres and new forms of publishing, and we've expanded to having Wenches from Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US so we can truly say that the sun never sets on the Wench Empire!

IceCreamWikipedeaHere is the very first Word Wench blog post, also written by me. (I thought I was better at not volunteering!) Here is also a link for the first month of blogs, as we felt our way into this new enterprise and learned how to use the blog site's tools.

And we're still here, musing three times a week on books, history, travel, and other intriguing topics. Blogging is work even if we each only write one about every two weeks. When on deadline, there can be a mad scramble to swap dates, whip off something very quickly, or republish an older post. But we've kept blogging all these years because, basically, we like doing this.

We like connecting with our readers. We like being able to do quick, low stakes riffs on Dianethings that catch our attention. We LOVE telling readers about our new books, or new authors we've discovered.

For our first anniversary, we did a three part series on Getting Naked With the Wenches, and very popular it was! Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


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Meet Michelle Diener

Anne Gracie here, introducing our latest guest, Michelle Diener, who writes historical fiction, historical mystery, science fiction and fantasy, space opera,and various combinations of those. MichelleDiener

I first heard about Michelle and her books in the best way possible — word of mouth. I bought the first in her self-published "Dark" series — kind of space opera/science fiction romance. I loved it, bought the rest in the series, then discovered she was also a traditionally published historical writer, and a writer of historical mysteries, so I bought those too. And that's not all she writes.  Find out more about Michelle here.

Anne: Michelle, you were born in the United Kingdom, grew up in South Africa, then moved to Western Australia with your husband and children. Growing up, what books and authors influenced you most?

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Welcome Carla Kelly

1valchloesmall  Anne here. Today I am delighted to present Carla Kelly, a beloved, award-winning and bestselling author of fine historical romance, as well as non-fiction and journalism. Carla has won the Romantic Times Career Achievement award, has twice won Romance Writers of America RITA award, and her readers regularly vote her books into top position in readers polls of favorite or beloved books. She's published nineteen (?) Regency novels, and many novellas. She has also published a collection of short stories set in the American Frontier, and has worked on historical non-fiction as well as working as a journalist. Carla, welcome to WordWenches.Carla_Kelly  

Carla: Gee, when you mentioned 19 novels, I had to look me up on Wikipedia (who put this entry in, I have no idea. My sisters deny any culpability, and I trust them). Here’s the butcher’s bill: 
    18 novels, plus two coming out in 2010: the third sister’s story in my Channel Fleet trilogy, out June 2010; a 4th novel just finished. 
      One anthology – Here’s to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army – which is a collection of my Indian Wars short stories.  TCU Press. This remains my personal favorite work. 
Totheladies       11 Regency short stories, most of them Christmas stories.
      1 edited fur trade 1851 journal: On the Upper Missouri, by Oklahoma Press
       Several history monographs.
     Too many to count: news articles, feature articles and columns for the Valley City Times Record, written between 2005-2009.
      H’mm. This list wears me out. I think I’ll go lie down.

Anne: It's an impressive list. After many years at Signet, with the demise of the traditional regency, many people mourned what they thought would be the end of Carla Kelly books. I was delighted to see you'd moved to Harlequin Historicals, which then went through a turbulent period itself, though it settled down.  Did this change the way you approach your writing at all?

Carla: It’s made me more cynical about writing fiction. I just went through a real kerfluffle over an editor, which I think ended well for me. I’m now with the London office. Time will tell. On the other hand, I write the way I always do. Once I’m writing, I’m happy as if I had good sense.

Anne: Your novellas are much loved, especially your Christmas stories. You have one in the anthology, A Regency Christmas that's out now. Could you tell us about your story?

518lc1EtHuL._SL500_AA240_  Carla: Oh, it’s the classic dilemma of a Navy man who has been at war almost since he received a commission: What do you do when – horrors – peace breaks out? Our hero has some lives to check in on, which he was given to watch over  by a dying shipmate. Since it is a Christmas story and I gave it the perfect, most apropos title, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.” My former editor vetoed the title, so we went with  “Christmas Promise.” (Also, A Christmas Promise owes a tip of the hat to Cyrano de Bergerac)

Anne: It sounds fascinating – the Cyrano reference is intriguing. I have my copy on order; it's presumably somewhere over the ocean. I'm often overruled on the matter of titles, also.
Carla, one of the unique features of your books is that you often don't write about the aristocracy, but about relatively ordinary men and women existing in a period of great change. What appeals to you about this period and type of character?

Carla: As Abraham Lincoln so wisely pointed out, “The Lord must have loved the poor, because he made so many of them.” I’m an ordinary person, and I understand ordinary people. That’s why I write about them. Besides, am I the only author who thinks it’s a tad ridiculous to find dukes, earls, viscounts, and baronets under every bush? I mean, really. Also, I’m forever getting titles mixed up. Eliminating them from the mix makes my life easier.

     Writing about times of great change works for me. Was it Confucius who said, “May you be cursed to live in interesting times.”? This is greatly simplified, I realize, but to me, the best stories are those where someone has been handed a mess, and that person has to get out of the mess he/she is in. (Well, you can tell from that illustration that I was not an English major.) But isn’t it true? From Hamlet to The Time Traveler’s Wife, we’re handed a mess, and the story is how we deal with it.

Anne:  I like tossing my characters into a mess, too. One of the compelling features of your stories is the way your characters grow and change along the way. Which of your characters had the hardest row to hoe, do you think? Which was the most satisfying to write?

Carla: Characters grow and change because real people do (or should). I think Dr. Pierce in “Casually at Post” (the Indian Wars anthology) grew and changed. He was also enormously fun to write. So was Admiral Bright, in the novel I just completed. He had to change or lose his dear wife. Probably the woman with the hardest row to hoe was the heroine in “One Good Turn.” She had a tough life, but it was true to the period. My favorite man was Surgeon Philemon Brittle in The Surgeon’s Lady: a brilliant surgeon, low class, and wit
h arrogance that gets him in trouble, now and then. We get to see a good, talented man struggle, because no matter how brilliant, he's the grandson of a pig farmer.Surgeon's lady  

What appeals to me about characters is how people can take a mess that is handed to them, and work through it with diligence and grace. I see it done all the time in real life, and that’s why I write about it. Art should mirror life, or we don’t learn much, as readers.

Anne: You have a master’s degree in military history and your characters are often in the military.  What draws you to military matters?

Carla: My dad was a naval officer (naval avionics, three wars), and I grew up on or around Navy bases in the U.S. and overseas. My first job as a seasonal park ranger was at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, which started me on a lifelong study of the Indian Wars. I like military matters because the best officers and enlisted men are frank, efficient, reliable and do not engage in overmuch bullshit. I like people like that, men and women.

Anne: I believe you are a historical free-lance guide in North Dakota. What do you enjoy about bringing history to life for modern audiences? Any disasters?

Wellington, UT  Carla: Historical freelance guide; I'm not familiar with that term. I’ve been a park ranger twice with the National Park Service, if that’s what you mean.  I love sharing history with people who are truly interested. Hopefully, even some of my students on the university level caught some of that passion, too, when I taught them.

     Disasters? Oh yes. I remember slogging in rain and sleet with the chief ranger to locate some Indians in one of the tipis just north of Fort Union Trading Post NHS. We were co-chairing a fur trade symposium, and we had to make sure the guys were there. The weather was simple awful. We found them, and all was well in the tipi. I was wet and muddy.

     My personal favorite high-larious moment was when one visitor tried to convince a fellow ranger, Loren Yellow Bird (Arikara), that the Arikara were extinct. What made this such a side-splitter was that Loren and Marla were expecting triplets, and had two older boys. They’ve since added an adopted daughter to the mix. Gee, I love that super family.  I think that tourist went away convinced that he was right, and that the Arikara are extinct. Tourists. You gotta love them. Their taxes help keep the lights on in America's historic treasures.Carla modeling Grand Canyon  

     My favorite moment at Fort Union was when I asked a little boy which of the animal furs he had stroked in the visitor center was his favorite (We had a hands-on display of many types of fur and pelts.) “I liked the gorilla,” he told me. His dad just cracked up. I told the little guy that I think he meant the bison robe…

    I could go on. Lots of favorite experiences. At Fort Laramie, it was telling an African American family about the stellar record of the Buffalo Soldiers, most of them former slaves, who served splendidly in the 19th century frontier army. Also at Fort Laramie, it was helping a blind woman “feel” my 19th century kitchen.

Anne: It sounds wonderful. Are there periods and settings you would love to write, but don't because of editorial preferences? Is there a book of the heart waiting to be written?

Carla: I currently have an Indian Wars novel, and a novel set in Spanish Florida – plus the usual regency – in front of my editors. Wish me luck. I’m right now finishing a novel for a Mormon audience which is set in SE Wyoming in 1911. Anyone would like the book, but it does have an LDS (Latter Day Saints) theme. I’m also tinkering with a fun idea for a mystery series about a juez de campo  in South Texas in 1700s.  

Anne: What books are coming up in the future?

Carla: See above. That's a proposed Regency set in England and Scotland during the darkest days of the War of 1812. I’m also planning a biography of an Indian Wars officer, Capt. Guy Henry, of the Third Cavalry. And that juez de campo (a gov’t employee who investigates cattle rustling, theft and burglary) keeps popping up. There never seems to be a drought of ideas.

You probably get this, too, Anne. People are forever asking, “How do you think up characters and ideas?” I’m always at a loss to explain it. I just, well, do it. So do you. Do any of you have any responses that might satisfy the interrogator?

Anne: Since I was a child I've had characters and stories happening in my head. All kinds of things can make a story sprout. I usually tell people I pick up story ideas like black clothes pick up fluff. Thanks so much, Carla, for joining us. It's been lovely.

Carla: Thanks. This was fun.

Let's chat — you're invited to share your thoughts on any aspect of this interview. So, have you ever been to a historical park? Tell us about it. Or do you have a favorite Carla Kelly book? 
One commenter will receive a Carla Kelly book.  

(1) Guest Elizabeth Hawksley (2) Winners

Next Friday, November 27, Nicola will interview historical author Elizabeth Hawksley.  Elizabeth grew upElizabethHawksley in a Georgian manor house with attics full of stuffed animal heads and old weapons.  Among other things, she'll be talking about what it was like growing up in a Georgian manor house.

A-Winner We've had a slew of recent book winners.  Patricia Watters won a book from guest Linda Fildew.  Maggie Robinson and Joan Woods won books from Mary Jo Putney.  Marie Z. Johansen won a book from Susan King.  Congratulations to all our winners!