If you missed part 1 of my interview with historical novelist Michelle Diener, when we discussed her international background and writing and research process, click HERE, then come back. Michelle’s brilliantly researched and fast-paced debut novel, a Tudor-set historical called In a Treacherous Court, recently released from Gallery Books. It’s the story of a female artist–an illuminator–caught in a male-dominated profession and then in a web of court intrigue along with one of King Henry VIII’s men, Keeper of the Palace, John Parker.
I’m so pleased to bring you part 2 of our interview today, when Michelle and I discuss dark moments, best advice, changes in the publishing industry, and more. As was the case last week, be sure to leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for one of her books; U.S. residents only, please. Enjoy!
TW: What was your darkest moment writing your debut? How did you get through it?
MD: I think every author knows that feeling of ‘What am I doing? This is the worst book I’ve ever written and there is no saving it.’ But I got through it because my CPs would read a chapter I’d literally savaged time and time again, rewritten three or four times, and by then hated, and they’d just rave about it. That definitely helped me keep going. But when I really got into the hell of it, I wouldn’t even send to my CPs, to spare them, you know, the ordeal of reading something that bad. Then I’ll keep plugging on, because I’d tell myself I can fix it later, there may be something I can still use. And then I’d read it all a week, or maybe two, later, and I’d realize it was just that I was too close. Some of it was actually okay. Because I know that about myself now, it is definitely easier to carry on.
TW: What advice would you like to pass on to aspiring writers?
MD: Never settle. In your writing and in your dreams. When you write, make sure what you are writing is not the easy way out. Dig deep and make it as original as you can. In your dreams for your work, decide what you want and go for it. When I was living out in the middle of nowhere in South Africa, submitting my work to New York agents, I think a lot of people probably thought I was mad.
TW: There’s a lot of pressure on authors today to do–everything. Write, help with publicity and sometimes marketing, dive headlong into social media. What are your boundaries? And what do you think about the newest kid on the block, Google+?
MD: I am completely comfortable with Google+, to answer your last question first. I haven’t had time to explore it fully, but I’ve been with Gmail since it’s beta phase, many, many years ago (my brother scored me an invite to gmail when you couldn’t get one for love or money!) and I don’t have the same “Eeek, a new thing to learn” response to Google+ I had to other social media. (And this time, I provided my brother with the invite to Google+ :)). I just don’t have enough time to spend long on FB and Twitter. I try to go there at least once every couple of days, and for now, that just has to be enough. As for help with marketing, I don’t mind helping with that. No one wants me to succeed more than I do, so being a part of the team where that is concerned is not a burden but something I’d want in on anyway (the Virgo in me, again!). But the writing has to come first, and that’s the boundary, I suppose. If it starts really pulling me away from the story (and it has done, from time to time) it is time for me to take a step back.
TW: How are things “down under” in terms of the book industry? Are things there are volatile as they are here? And will that affect the steps you’ll take to publicize your books, as they’ll be published in Australia as well as in the U.S.?
MD: The Australian Borders has also taken a massive knock, so as far as book stores go, things are a mirror-image, here, I’d say. And there definitely isn’t the same volume of books being bought, purely because the population here is much smaller and wouldn’t support the same level of production as there is in the States. I’d say a larger percentage of Australian-set books are bought, which makes total sense, and that’s probably why writers such as myself, who are writing books that are not Australian-specific, shop our work in the States or in the United Kingdom. Just because of that smaller market, I can’t stretch myself too thin on promo in Australia, although I have done some promo, and will continue to take advantage of any opportunities that come my way. I suppose the difference is I am not out looking for those opportunities, but I have been lucky to get some, anyway.
TW: I love the additional information at the end of In a Treacherous Court – not only the book club questions, but the author’s note, which goes into detail about what was true and what was fabricated in the story, but also the book-club enhancements that were suggested—including reading Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir, and hosting a royal get-together. How involved were you in creating these ideas? Did you request the author note; how important was that for you? Not every book needs one, but this one seemed enhanced with the extra information.
MD: I asked for the author note. It was important to me, because I wove fact and fiction so closely in the book, I wanted readers to know what was ‘real’ and what wasn’t. I also wanted to explain why I chose to make up certain things, because often it was based on fact. Henry’s hero-worship of Cesar Borgia in his youth, which I made up, came from Henry’s own personality, the love he had of action, of daring and of larger-than-life personalities. It was one of the ‘could have been’ things in the book. It may even have been true, but there is no record that I know of that sheds light on what Henry really thought about Cesar Borgia, if he thought anything at all. As for the book club questions, I wish I could claim credit, but no, that was my editor. I was given a look at them, and asked if I was happy, and of course, I was!
TW: You’re part of a group blog called Magical Musings. What’s the blog’s focus? What should we know about it?
MD: I’m one of the founders of Magical Musings, which has been going since 2005. We started out more writer-focused, but changed as the years have gone by as we one by one became published, to be a more reader-oriented site. We added new co-bloggers to our team just over a year ago, all from different genres, and that gave us another huge boost. Our logline is: ‘Where writers and readers meet’, and we try to create an open and friendly environment for interaction. The one tenant we started with and which still carries us through today, and I think has been vital to our success, is that we’re all about the positive.
TW: Is there anything you wished you’d known about this business before your book was published that you know now?
MD: I used to work in publishing, so there wasn’t much I wasn’t aware of. It feels to me the industry is changing so much anyway, it’s like a new world every couple of months. I’m also (again) such a Virgo, I made it my business to understand what I’d be getting into ahead of time. So no, if anything, there have been great discoveries of a positive kind, such as how much I enjoyed getting to know my editor and the PR team at Simon & Schuster, the support I’ve received from them, when all I’d ever heard was doom and gloom about a debut author’s chances with a big publisher.
TW: What’s next for you?
MD: I’m working on revisions for KEEPER OF THE KING’S SECRETS right now, and it should be out early next year, hopefully February 2012. Book three is written and submitted, and I have just written a short story for a paranormal anthology (NOT my genre, I was so nervous to write this story, as I’ve never written a contemporary paranormal before, but I overcame my nerves because the anthology is for charity, all the proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and my dear friend and critique partner, Liz Kreger, is on her eighth round of chemo for cancer, so it was just not an offer I was going to turn down. The anthology will be called ENTANGLED and should be out in September as an ebook.)
TW: Lastly, I’d love the answers to four more personal questions. What is your favorite novel? Favorite cookie? Favorite color? Favorite time of the year?
MD: Favorite novel? Are you nuts? No way am I able to pick just one. If I had to pick one book I’ve read over and over, probably even more than I’ve re-read Jane Austen and Salman Rushdie, that would be THE DANGER by Dick Francis. Not sure what that says, but there you go. I love reading that book, and I must have read it at least six or seven times. Favorite cookie? That’s easier. Cranberry and white chocolate, I think :). Favorite colour is most definitely green. And favorite time of year is winter, but South African and Australian winter, with rain and temperatures that don’t require TOO many layers of clothes. There is certainly no snow involved (much to my snow-deprived children’s disappointment).
Thanks for a wonderful interview, Michelle!
Readers, find In a Treacherous Court at brick-and-mortar bookstores near you or online sites. You can learn more about Michelle Diener and her debut novel by visiting her website and blog, Magical Musings, and by following her on Twitter and Facebook. And don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d like to be entered into the drawing for a book (U.S. residents only, please). Write on!