Authors: Stories Behind the Books, J.L. Spohr
Today is the first day of Summer! It is that time of year that is great for reading. There is nothing better than laying out on a blanket in the cool shade on a hot summer day reading a good book. It is absolutely one of my favorite things to do this time of year when I need to just slow down, take a break, rest my mind, relax. I have recently marked my one year that I started the Author Project and I want to celebrate on the first day of summer by sharing my shoot with J.L. Spohr. J.L. Spohr is a romantic, historical fiction writer who sets her stories in the 1500s, a time of lavish kings and queens, even though her characters go through less than lavish times. J.L. Spohr talks about her royal inspiration, the balancing act process of writing, and what is next for her.
Stories of kings and queens, giant battles, and royal back-stabbings, were these the stories you read as young reader? Who or what did you read specifically?
As a child I read everything from science fiction like L’Engle and Sleator to non-fiction about the African rain forests. I was the kid after bedtime reading with a flashlight under my sheets until my eyes couldn’t stay open. But as far as royal intrigue, I was at a very impressionable age when I watched Princess Diana marry, cementing the fantasy that some day, some prince could whisk me away from all my problems and I could have awesome outfits, live in a castle, and ride horses all day. And people would have to do what I say and not the other way around. Which sounds pretty darn fantastic to an eight year old.
As I grew up, I still loved the outfits and the castles, but the history behind it all was the real fascination for me. Why the Tudor era and the early Renaissance, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps it was because Diana was British, perhaps because I studied in London for a time in college, perhaps it was because Henry VIII is morbidly fascinating and his daughter to this day remains one of the most successful rulers of all time. Ok, it’s just the outfits.
What kind of research do you go through (or one does) to write in a time period over 500 years old? How do you stick to traditions of the time?
Sticking to the time is a fine line. The first draft of Heirs & Spares was so authentic it was unreadable with all the old English, the accenting. So, I had to make the dialogue readable for a modern audience. The funniest things to me are when, if people take issue with accuracy, they often take issue with something that was pulled straight from the pages of record from the 1500’s. So while it needs to be accurate, it also needs to be readable and believable. Human nature, human motivations, never change, lust, greed, love, loyalty, pride, jealousy, sacrifice, bravery, these all move us to sometimes unspeakable and sometimes beautiful acts and they always have. Many of my plots and characters are based on actual historical people and events. For example, the queen from Heirs & Spares is an amalgamation of Henry VIII’s six wives.
As far as the amount of research, for these it was much less than I’ll have to do for a book I’ll be writing set in the fifties and sixties, simply because I studied the European reformation extensively in graduate school. That doesn’t mean I still didn’t do quite a bit, just that I know the era quite well.
An example of what goes into the research: I needed a character to have an illness that often kills, but when it doesn’t it lingers in the body for years. So, not only did I need to find that illness, I needed to make sure it existed in 1569 and find out what they called it then. Then I needed to find out what herbs or remedies they would have used to try and treat it and whether or not they associated the years-long effects to the original illness. That alone could take half a day.
Heirs and Spares and God and King, take place in a very historic time period for art and discovery. Did any particular event or year influence you for your story? Inspiration?
The series is indeed set in an exciting time in history and I use as much as I can of that to inform the stories, mostly leaning on the chaos of the reformation as my country (which is fake, by the way, but set within a real Europe) is Catholic and surrounded by the Low Countries who are turning to Protestantism and France, which was fighting its own wars of religion. My country is too small to be of any influence, but big enough to be a trophy for either the Catholics or the Protestants, with even Spain and England trying to get a piece of it.
There were events, such as the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris, that play important plot parts in the books, but I wouldn’t say anything in particular drove or inspired the story. I tend to be a character-focused writer, so for me, it’s the characters and how they react that matters, not so much the events themselves.
Can you talk about the process of getting your book published?
I’m what has been coined a “hybrid” author, in that I have an agent, but have also published independently. Truth be told, I wanted to publish the Realm series (Heirs & Spares etc.) the old fashioned way, but when Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, became pregnant, I figured the best time to market a book about royal heirs might be when the future royal of England was born. So I pulled all my queries and got to work publishing independently, hiring a great group of editors, designers and formatters at The Editorial Department. I was able to launch the book two weeks before Prince George was born and leveraged that into media appearances and articles. Start to finish, my first book took four years to be published. The editing and writing process are shorter for me now, so each book takes about nine months to write and maybe four more to edit, design and publish.
On the traditional side, my current book has taken two years: one to write and one to pitch to my agent, then revise and now she is pitching to publishers. Once it’s sold (fingers crossed) that’s probably another year until it’s on the shelves. So no matter which route you go, publishing is neither easy nor quick, and both have their pluses and minuses. For now, I’m content with both.
Writing comes with all kinds of difficulties to create a exciting plot and interesting characters. With Historical Fiction, is there a certain type of roadblock you overcome in this genre?
One of the roadblocks is trying to take away our modern sensibility of right and wrong. The religious persecution of that era was horrific and merciless. And, even though we had Queen Elizabeth, and for all intents and purposes Catherine Medici in France, misogyny was ordinary and expected. For a woman to speak her mind could mean death (just ask Anne Boleyn). And yet, there were men who treated their wives and daughters with deep love and respect, and there were women who owned successful businesses and controlled nations. Add to that, the story and characters have to be appealing to the modern reader, so, while the king in my story is a pretty affable guy, he makes some cringe-worthy comments that would be commonplace in that era. So I work hard at balancing the era and the reader, as well as the story I want to tell.
What are you working on now?
Too many things! I’m currently writing the prequel to the Realm series called Sword & Shield, about when the future king was exiled and the future queen grew up in the country. I’m also finishing up the editing of Crown & Thorns, the final book in the series. I’m also researching the next two books I have slated to write, one, about Queen Jezebel and the prophet Elijah from the Bible, called Thrown to the Dogs will be sort of a Poisonwood Bible meets The Red Tent novel, and another about a group of five women friends in the fifties and sixties called Round Robin.
And of course, the book my agent is selling, with the working title Ghost of a Woman, is about a modern day mother who dies in her house and is doomed to haunt the inhabitants. It weaves family trauma, self-discovery, and fractious female relationships into a story about the bonds of love and sacrifice that run deeper than death. And oddly, it’s funny.
J.L. Spohr's work can be found online at her website, amazon.com, and your local bookstore. You can find more of J.L. Spohr's work and follow her on what she is workingon next...
Twitter & Instagram: @jlspohr
J.L. Spohr, thank you for being a part of my project.
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