I always enjoy meeting other Tudorphiles, and have met many through the Tudor Society which I joined a few years ago. I recently met Lissa, we've exchanged our Tudor books, and now she's my guest. Meet Lissa and read a dialogue we exchanged, which we called our Tudorfest. Lissa's Tudor novel is UNDER THESE RESTLESS SKIES.
Lissa is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete's foot ... though only in her head. Real life isn't so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.
She is the author of three novels. Ghostwriter is available through The Writer's Coffee Shop, Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. The End of All Things is available through TWCS, Amazon, and iTunes. Under These Restless Skies is available through Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher.
She also has a short story in the Romantic Interludes anthology, available from TWCS, Amazon and iTunes, or can be purchased separately from Amazon. A short story collection featuring the characters from The End of All Things is also available from Amazon.
An Interview with Lissa
Tell us about your hero or heroine in UNDER THESE RESTLESS SKIES. Give us one of his/her strengths and one of his/her weaknesses.
I loved writing about Will Somers. He was a real person during the reign of Henry VIII. He supposedly came to court around the time Henry became obsessed with Anne Boleyn, and he was with Henry all the way through the end. Will was Henry’s fool, or jester, but he seems to have been more like a counselor to him, and he was the only person who could talk the king out of his dark moods. According to legend, Will was extremely generous with the poor and was beloved by them for it. One of my favorite stories about him is the time he tricked Cardinal Wolsey out of one hundred pounds – an enormous sum in those days – and then went right outside and distributed the money to the poor at the Cardinal’s gates.
The records don’t tell us if Will ever had a wife, but he did supposedly have a son who served at the court of James I, so I decided to give him a wife of his own…. With a bit of a twist.
Years ago, I read the fairy tale The Selkie Wife, and it broke my heart. I wanted to write a version in which the selkie was excited about life on land and in love with the man who captured her. Emma is a very special creature, bright and curious, and pure of heart. Being at court, in the palace of lies, is so difficult for her.
Writing these scenes through Emma’s eyes was heart-rending for me, and really made the people of the era come alive. I had a few moments where I said to myself, “Am I really sitting here crying over someone who died five hundred years ago?” but that’s the author life for you!
What drew you to this time period for this novel?
In eighth grade, I read the magnificent Margaret George’s Autobiography of Henry VIII, and it set off an obsession for me. I had to read everything I could get my hands on about the Tudor era. And I really never stopped. It seemed everything I learned set me off on a new quest, something else that needed explained. And what fascinated me the most was how two historians could look at the same piece of evidence and come to entirely different conclusions about what it meant.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
I’m an obsessive researcher. It took me over a year to write Under These Restless Skies, even with all I already knew about the Tudor period, because I had to go back and research everything. If I was writing a dinner scene, I wanted to make sure every food on the table would have been there, every jewel mentioned on the headdress would have been commonly accessible. I even went to NASA to find out what the phase of the moon would have been on certain dates so I could describe the sky accurately. (Incidentally, it was a new moon when Henry married Anne Boleyn on November 14, 1532.)
I decided from the outset that I was going to try to throw aside everything I’ve “learned” about Anne Boleyn from historians and go back to the actual records and papers of Henry’s reign. (Fortunately, most of that is online these days.) Consequently, my Anne is a bit different than you’ll find in a lot of modern fiction. It’s amazing how much myth and legend has been built up around this woman from historians’ supposition, and not from the actual facts.
I don’t think there was a single page of this book that I wrote without having to go back and research something.
I stayed up all night once in making sure that the Tudors used the word “shark.” It took me hours, but I finally found a transcript of a lawsuit in some small British library that discussed a shipwreck, and one of the sailors testified about how he and some of the others who’d survived the sinking were floating in the sea all night, clinging to debris, and were being picked off one by one by the sharks. It was fascinating stuff, and the sky was light outside before I finished reading it. But yeah, they did call them “sharks.”
Was writing this book different from your other titles?
Yes, because I’ve never been someone who used a structured outline. But in this case, I had to follow history. I had little post-its everywhere with dates or births, conceptions, deaths, marriages… It was a challenge to write within the framework, but I enjoyed it immensely.
Do you intend to revisit this time period?
I’m “writing” a novel in my head right now to see how it turns out. It’s a story set in the time of Queen Mary Tudor. Her midwife is a woman with supernatural healing powers who knows if anyone finds out what she can do, she’ll be called a witch and burned at the stake. She’s torn between loyalty to the sad queen and her genuine fear for her safety and that of her family.
You, the Author
What kind of books do you love to read? Why?
I read just about everything. If you looked at my library, you’d have a hard time determining my taste in books because I have such a varied collection. If I get curious about a topic, I’ll buy multiple books on it. My mind will pose a question like, “When did we start having lawns?” and I won’t be satisfied until I have an answer. If I’m curious about a person, I’ll buy multiple biographies, and fiction about them too, because how they were perceived down through the years becomes part of their story.
What type of music do you enjoy relaxing to?
Lately, I’ve been listening to the HAMILTON soundtrack, but I’ll listen to almost any genre except for county. (The major exceptions to that being the Red-headed Stranger and Johnny Cash.)
What is your stress buster?
When I discover that, I’ll let you know. :D
What is your favorite food? What food do you seek when you’re sad, sort of a comfort food?
I’m not really much of a foodie, and stress has a tendency to “put me off me Wheaties.”
What’s your biggest regret in life?
Not having faith in myself. It’s something I’m working on, but I have a feeling it will always be a struggle.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
Went to Paris on a whim when I was 18. Drank champagne and swam in the Seinne. Yes, I went “in Seinne.” I love that pun.
When did you write your first book? How long did it take you to write it?
My first novel took about 30 days. But that was because I’d already “written” it in my head, and so it was mainly a matter of just typing it out.
Perhaps I should explain… I was a fanfiction writer. I started in the latter months of 2011. To my shock, one of my stories became popular overnight, and caused a small stir in its fandom. It brought me the attention of a publisher, and they contacted me to see if I’d like to write a novel.
I’m a bit reclusive and I never had any ambitions to be an author. I’d always written stories in my head. I’d work on them like a novel, editing out parts and re-working them until I was satisfied with the story. Then I’d tuck them away on a mental shelf and move on to the next. I’d sometimes re-write popular books and movies to have endings I liked better or send the characters on new adventures. When I learned that other people did this and there was actually a huge community devoted to it, I decided to post a few of those stories.
I was expecting to be utterly unnoticed within the vast number of stories out there, but I’d get some small satisfaction from thinking someone, someday might discover one of my little tales and enjoy them. To my surprise I had twelve people who read my first story. Willingly! And they were so kind and encouraging. It gave me the courage to post another and that one just absolutely exploded on me. By the end of the first week, I had five thousand readers, and by the end of the month, it was something like thirty thousand per day. And it just kept going. It was dizzying and terrifying. I felt like I had a responsibility to these people to give them a good story. It had been entirely different when it was just for my own amusement.
That’s when the publisher contacted me. I was scared to death. I wasn’t expecting – or really wanting – that much attention. And I certainly never expected to be writing “real books.” But I decided to take the plunge. And here I am, almost six books later.
Did you encounter any obstacles in writing? What are they? How did you overcome them?
I was spoiled from the outset. My community was extremely kind and supportive, and my publisher… Well, they pampered me. They encouraged me to spread my wings and try new things. To date, the only thing holding me back is myself, and my lack of confidence.
How did you feel when you receive your first contract? What did you do? Any celebratory dinner, dance, event, etc to commemorate the occasion?
I honestly can’t remember. It was all such a daze, such a wild, bewildering ride. My head still hasn’t stopped spinning yet. I was at a signing earlier this year and as I wrote my name, I remember looking up at the smiling reader and thinking, “Is this really happening?Still?” Because it all still seems like this crazy dream I’ll wake up from.
Any writing peeves, things you wish you could improve on, things you do with exceptional talent?
I wish I could get back the dizzying speed with which I used to write. Again, my first novel was completed in a month. But after having gone through the editing process so many times, I now carefully consider each sentence, and whether I’ve used too many adverbs (one of my bad habits) and all those obscure rules of language that I somehow never absorbed.
What do you think about editing?
It’s a crucial part of the process, and you have to have a collaborative relationship with your editors. Their job is to improve your work, to make it the best possible book it can be.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story? How do you go on from there? Maybe you can give us an example with one of your books.
My characters come to me, seemingly as fully realized people. They whisper, “I’m So-and-So, and this is my story.” I sometimes feel like I’m just transcribing it.
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
I write in all sorts of genres. I have a ghost story, a post-apocalyptic series, and the Tudor novel we’re discussing today, Under These Restless Skies. I write in multiple genres because that’s how my mind is… Jumping from one thing to another. Fortunately, my publisher never insisted I stay in one genre. They let me play as my imagination leads me.
Among those that you’ve written, which is your favorite book and why?
That’s like asking someone their favorite child! And I have to answer in a similar fashion: I love them all for different reasons. I love Ghostwriter because it was my first “baby.” I love Under These Restless Skies because the Tudor era is my favorite time period. And I love The End of All Things because it allowed me to explore different aspects of the human character.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you jot them down in a notebook, in case you forgot?
No. Crazy thing – I have all these beautiful writing notebooks, and most of them haven’t been touched. I keep everything inside my head.
Which of your books feature your family/friends, etc? What characters are modeled after them? Why?
None of them. I’ve never included someone I knew in one of my books. The closest thing was that I used the name of a friend of mine, Denise, for a character name. My characters are their own people.
Who is your strongest/sexiest/most lovable/hottest hero/heroine? Why?
Carly Daniels is my strongest character ever. Which is funny, because I got some initial reviews of my first novel featuring her complaining about her being a “weak character” because she was in a state of shock after the world ended around her. But she ended up being the strongest character in the series, a community leader with an unshakable belief in the inherent goodness of people, and a desire to make the new world even better than the one that came before it.
Have you ever wanted to write your book in one direction but your characters are moving it in another direction? What did you do in such a situation?
Oh lord, YES. My last book, part of the End of All Things series featured a strong-headed young woman named Taylor. She did not want to fall in love with the hero, Dylan. She fought it every step of the way, because her world is harsh and cruel, and she’s learned that love is a weakness that can get you killed. I felt like I was battling for her heart right alongside the hero.
Do you outline your books or wing it? Describe your process.
I write my books in my head, mulling them over until they’re “done” before I ever sit down at a keyboard. Sometimes, the process takes years. I have one I’ve been working on since high school which simply can’t be worked out to my satisfaction, and will probably never see the light of day as a result. But I just can’t let go of it. It’s maddening!
How do you decide on setting?
I know it sounds weird, but my characters do that when they come to me and whisper their names and tell me their story.
Sometimes, it takes a while for me to fully understand what they’re saying. It took a long while of listening to Seth’s soft, poetic voice before I realized he was a ghost.
What is your favorite part of writing?
Simply telling a story. I prefer “storyteller” to “author.” Stories are one of the most important things to people. It’s how we preserved our history for eons. It’s how we taught lessons of morality to our young people. It’s how we shaped and interpreted the world around us for generations. And even today, people will quickly forget a lesson, but they’ll remember a story.
What is your least favorite part of writing?
The self-promotion aspects. I hate it, and I can rarely bring myself to do it. I seriously envy those authors who can go out and aggressively promote their books, because that’s the key to success in this industry. But I just want to tell stories, you know?
What’s the strangest thing you have ever done in the name of research?
When writing my End of All Things series, I had to research some… well… some things that can get you put on watch lists. For months, I was joking with friends I was going to be arrested and sent to Gitmo.
E-books, print, or both? Any preferences? Why?
I’ll always prefer a printed book. Nothing can match the sheer tactile pleasures of holding a book in your hands… the scent of the paper, the feel of it beneath your fingertips… But I recognize and appreciate the convenience of ebooks. I no longer have to pack a separate suitcase just for my books when traveling.
How much time do you spend promoting your books?
As little as possible! It’s simply not in my nature. That was one of the things I had to get assurances on before I agreed to publish. I didn’t want to be obligated to it. My publisher assured me I wouldn’t be forced to do personal appearances or anything like that. I gradually worked my way around to doing one or two signings per year, but they’re hard on me.
Please tell us your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of it?
This one was hard for me, because I’m an intensely private person. My readers know I’m married, I live in Ohio, and I have two dogs, but that’s about it. It took me a long while to accept the idea of using social media because it felt so…. revealing. I didn’t even have a Facebook profile before I became a writer, but my publisher insisted I needed one.
At first, I had no idea what to say. I’m introverted by nature, so I didn’t like the idea of having to talk to people. I found a balance after a while. I’m chatty online now, but it’s usually inconsequential stuff. Jokes, memes, funny dreams I had… that sort of thing. I don’t like being in photos, so I found a little stuffed “mascot” for each of my books, and I take pictures of them instead. What I like about social media is that I can respond when I feel like it, without the pressure of in-person interaction.
How much of you is in the books you write? In what ways?
Nothing biographical or intentionally self-referential. I suppose no author can entirely separate themselves from what they’ve written, but my characters feel like they’re entirely their own people. I was once talking to one of my editors about Seth, who was the main character in my first novel. I said, “He’s so lyrical and poetic,” and my editor said, “That’s you, Lissa.”
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I was 35 when my first book was published, but I’ve been “writing” all my life. I just never thought anyone else would read it!
Tell us a secret, something the blogosphere doesn’t know (can be about yourself or your books)
I sneak a little bit of my favorite poetry into every book. Sometimes, it’s obvious – the lines quoted outright – but sometimes it’s subtle, with the wording woven into the narrative.
Bookmark or Dog ear?
If there are people who ever answer this question “dog ear,” I don’t want to meet ‘em.
An Excerpt From UNDER THESE RESTLESS SKIES
Anne drew back and asked George something. Emma could tell his answer was reluctant. Anne frowned slightly and shook her head. One of her ladies held the train of her gown while she turned to sit in her chair under her canopy of estate, embroidered with her family’s arms. There was a crinkling sound from beneath the cushion, and one of the ladies lifted the edge of it to pull out a sheet of paper. She gasped and thrust it behind her back.
“Give it to me,” Anne commanded.
The maid of honor stared at her.
Anne snapped her fingers. “Give it to me!” she said, her tone sharp and brooking no disobedience.
The maid obeyed, hanging her head. Anne glanced down at the paper and froze. Emma, who had gone over to take a seat on her stool by Anne’s chair, peered up to see what had shocked Anne so.
It was a drawing, crude but effective. Over some words, which Emma could not read, Anne Boleyn was sketched on the paper, but her long, swan-like neck ended in a stump. Her head lay in a basket by her feet, the dead eyes staring at nothing.
It was those eyes that chilled Emma, and that night she would struggle to explain to Will why those empty, staring, black eyes had horrified her so, and would wish he could see into her mind because her words were not adequate.
Anne had not moved. Emma thought she hadn’t yet breathed. Her eyes were huge in her wan face. The ladies and courtiers were starting to notice something was amiss and they were staring at their mistress, whispering behind their hands.
Emma did the only thing she could. She took Anne’s hand in her own. Anne looked down at it with surprise, for it was a very bold gesture, one which could only be forgiven from a fool. The stiffness of her posture relaxed a little, and she squeezed Emma’s hand.
But a thin, humorless laugh escaped her, and Anne bit her lip as if to hold back more of it. She wadded up the paper and let it fall at her feet, then dropped with her customary grace into her chair and called out for a goblet of wine. But her face was still coated in a sick pallor, and her lips were white with the force she pinched them together.
“What did the words say?” Emma asked.
Anne gave the woman who brought her the goblet of wine a tight smile of thanks and waited until she left before she spoke. “It was an ancient prophecy. It says around this time, a queen of England will be executed. When the Tower is red and another place green, we shall have burnt two Bishops and a Queen. When all is passed we shall have a merry world.”
“God’s teeth,” Emma whispered, using an oath she’d heard Will use many times.
“It matters naught,” Anne said, flicking her hand in an attempt at airiness. “These baubles circle freely but signify nothing. Another I have heard of late, When the cow rideth the bull, then, priest, beware thy skull.”
Emma’s brow crumpled in confusion.
“The dun cow is a symbol of one of the king’s minor titles. The bull is supposed to be me, because of my family name, Bullen.” Anne gave Emma’s hand a slight squeeze, a convulsive movement of which Emma did not think Anne was aware. Her features were still carefully schooled into impassivity. “In any case, the prophecies always seem to end with someone losing their head.”
“But you still want to—”
“ ’Tis not about what I want,” Anne hissed. Her eyes were filled with a sudden, fierce fire. “I have no choice, Emma Fool. I never had a choice.”
Our Tudorfest Dialogue
Lissa: What was your introduction to the world of the Tudors? For me, it was finding Margaret George’s Autobiography of Henry VIII in my high school library. That’s what made me fall in love with the Tudor period.
Diana: I’ve been interested in the Tudors since I’m a kid. My mother was a voracious reader and lover of history, and I don’t know which particular book it was, but I do remember reading A CROWN FOR ELIZABETH by Mary Luke when I was in high school or younger. That’s probably what got me started. When I was 12, I went to see Anne of the Thousand Days in the movies. After that I was seriously hooked.
Lissa: I adored Bujold’s Anne, probably the closest screen depiction – in my opinion – to what the real Anne Boleyn was like. I wish a scene like Anne’s passionate speech to Henry had actually happened. And I think the real Anne would have agreed with this film that her blood was “well spent” if meant the reign of Elizabeth.
What made you want to explore the court of Henry VIII from the perspective of an heir of the Plantagenets?
Diana: I’d just read BLAZE WYNDHAM by Bertrice Small, a novel where Henry has a fictional mistress. I wanted to emulate that. But to give it some more depth, I had two heroines who are sisters. I made them Plantagenet heirs because the older sister Topaz believes she’s the rightful queen; her father, Edward Plantagenet, should have been next in line for the throne, but the Tudors kept him sequestered in Sheriff Hutton Castle, out of the way, all his life. The other sister, Amethyst, becomes Henry’s mistress. Two very different sisters.
Lissa: From a modern viewpoint and knowing how the rebellions against Henry turned out, I was groaning when I saw the direction Topaz was heading for. Do you think her decision to rebel was ultimately selfish, knowing what happened to traitors’ families during Henry’s reign? (Look at what happened to poor Margaret Pole when he couldn’t reach her son!)
Diana: She looks selfish from our modern perspective, but back then, mindsets were much different. Many people risked their lives for what they believed was their birthright, or went into battle for the faction they supported. She was adamant that she was the rightful queen, as the daughter of Edward Plantagenet, who she believes also got cheated out of the crown. She was willing to risk her life for that, and went into battle with Henry for her cause.
Lissa: In your novel, Amethyst spends years as Henry’s lover. Do you think he was actually capable of love? I tend to view him as a pure sociopath, incapable of ordinary human attachment.
Diana: You’re right about that; I don’t believe he was capable of true love. He only cared about himself; women were mere props to him. When he was finished with them, he discarded them—and you know the brutal ways he did that, with Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard! I believe he truly cared for Amethyst to the extent of his ability; he certainly was infatuated with her, and they had great chemistry. But he wasn’t in love with her, and I don’t believe he ever was in love with anyone in real life. With Anne Boleyn, it was obsession more than love or caring.
Lissa: Do you feel Henry VIII had any positives as a king or as a person?
Diana: As a king, he created an army to keep England safe, implemented peace treaties through Cardinal Wolsey, and brought England out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance, as a patron of the arts and music, his interest in astronomy, and in Greek mythology. He made the English language much more widespread, with the first Bible in English.
Lissa: You’re very kind in your assessment of his virtues. You’re right that he was intellectually curious and he encouraged the arts. His patronage of Holbein was something to be lauded, because he certainly elevated English portraiture art.
I tend to give more credit to Anne for the development of the English Bible. She was the religious reformer, the one with the fervent faith. Her idea was to use the money from the dissolved monasteries to fund free schools for the common people so that they’d be able to read the Bible, but we all know how well that idea worked out. Her insistence on it may have been one of the things that led to her death because it was the most bitter argument she had with Cromwell, right before the beginning of the “investigation” into her adultery.
Diana: As a person—I can’t say I do, because he was way too self-centered, and oblivious to the consequences of his actions, such as breaking off with the Catholic Church and starting the Church of England just to obtain his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. How self-centered can a man get? He destroyed many of the magnificent monasteries and abbeys, and had dissenters brutally executed. I’d have to say his faults outweigh his qualities.
Lissa: Your book doesn’t focus on the queens as much as other Tudor novels do. Do you have a favorite among them?
Diana: My favorite has always been Anne Boleyn, because I believe she truly loved him, and died such a horrible death for crimes she didn’t commit. She was the ultimate victim and human sacrifice. I also like her because she was feisty, intelligent, and challenged him on many subjects. It’s one of history’s great tragedies that she didn’t live to see her daughter Elizabeth become the great queen she was.
Lissa: Anne Boleyn is my favorite, of course, but I also have a soft spot for little Katheryn Howard. She was such a sweet girl, and so badly used by the men in her life. She was slain just because she’d been sexually experienced before she married Henry. From a modern perspective, it’s horrific beyond words. Henry could have set her aside and sent her to a convent, because there was plenty of evidence she was legally married to Francis Dereham. He had an out. But he wanted her dead for breaking his heart.
Tell me about your research process. Did you find anything that surprised you?
Diana: I wrote THE JEWELS OF WARWICK in 1991, with no internet! I relied solely on books. This was even before I joined the Richard III Society, so I didn’t know any scholars to give the manuscript a thorough critique.
Lissa: Me either. I had a history buff friend read it once I’d finished, but I’ve never had anyone I could have vet the manuscript for me. But I think I’m my own worst critic when it comes to historical accuracy. I’m very hard on myself when it comes to verifying every detail I can. I’m sure I made some callow mistakes along the way, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.
When I first started writing, I was intensely private about my work. I didn’t have any editors or betas. The editing process was difficult for me at first. I had very warm and kind editors who presented it as “We’re just taking this and trying to make it the best it can possibly be!” But it was still difficult to “open up” to other people with it.
Diana: What surprised me was the chain of events leading to his divorce from Catherine of Aragon—his ‘great matter’ as he called it—his confrontations with the Pope, his many frustrations, his terrible treatment of Catherine, what he put her and his advisors through, and the great lengths he went to, just to divorce her and marry Anne, for his (as we see it now) selfish reasons, one of which was the need of a male heir. One of the books I read to research this was THE DIVORCE by Marvin Albert. It goes into great detail about each step Henry took, ending with breaking with Rome and starting the Church of England.
Lissa: Henry was incredibly stubborn about getting what he wanted. He couldn’t bear to have anyone refuse him. I think of what Campeggio wrote when he arrived in England, that an angel descending from Heaven couldn’t tell Henry he was wrong about something.
Imagine what his parents would have thought if they could have seen him and how utterly horrified they would have been at what Henry did —the way he squandered his fortune, broke with the church, and abused his wives and daughters.
His father would have been appalled, as Henry VII was known to be a miser! I’m sure his mother Elizabeth of York would have been extremely disappointed with the way Henry handled things. Her own two brothers Richard and Edward disappeared from the Tower of London, and no matter what the experts say, we’ll never know what happened to them. We don’t know if she knew, either, but she would have been horrified to see her son execute Anne and Catherine.