I reviewed Sophie Perinot’s fascinating historical saga THE SISTER QUEENS in March, and now she is kind enough to answer my Muse questions for readers and writers. If you are a fan of family drama and smart, sweeping historicals, you will love THE SISTER QUEENS. You will also enjoy her answers to my queries.
1. What inspired you to write THE SISTER QUEENS?
A footnote. Several years ago, while researching a different project, I came upon a footnote in a history of Notre Dame de Paris about Marguerite of Provence (whose kneeling image is carved over that great church’s Portal Rouge) and her sisters. These remarkable 13th century women (daughters of the Count of Provence and related, through their mother, to the powerful house of Savoy) all made politically significant marriages (with the eldest two becoming the queens of France and England) yet I had never heard of them. I wondered how they could have slipped through the fingers of history. The fact that they had seemed utterly unfair. So I started a file folder with their names on it, vowing to come back and tell their story. The Sister Queens fulfills that vow.
Once I’d committed to the characters at the center of my novel, the manner in which I chose to frame my story—as a tale of sisters rather of political events—was inspired by my personal life. I am half of a pair of incredibly close sisters. My sister and I were college roommates and we still speak nearly everyday by phone. I get tired of books that portray sisters as back-stabbing, hyper competitive rivals. That is NOT my experience of sisterhood. I believe lots of sisters draw tremendous strength from each other and stand together to face life’s challenges. It’s that sisterly support that I wanted to celebrate in my book, both to honor of my own sister and because I believe it will resonate with sisters everywhere.
2. What is your favorite part of the writing process?
The moment when my characters come to life and begin to speak and act for themselves almost without my volition. After that “genesis moment” they can be disruptive—starting conversations when I am showering, weaving scenes I am desperate not to miss when I am driving, saying and doing things that don’t follow my plot outline—but it is still so much better than trying to coax them into action.
3. What part of the process is not your favorite?
The most difficult part of the writing process for me is NOT comparing how I work to how any of my (very talented) writer friends work. I happen to be a slow first drafter, and I tend to write scenes as they come to me rather than in chronological order. I have friends who work in a very linear manner and others who can turn out a draft in a month or two. If I start thinking about that I’ll end up curled in a fetal position under my desk with whatever chocolate was handy. That’s no good. I have to write my books my way or they won’t get written at all. That means listening to friends’ writing stories without obsessing over their writing processes.
4. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your debut author self before the launch of THE SISTER QUEENS?
“Finish a draft of the next book BEFORE your launch, stupid!”
Seriously, I’d been warned by veteran author friends that I would write little or not at during the 6-8 weeks surrounding my launch but I was incredulous. I couldn’t imagine promotion would take more than an hour or two a day (cough). Nor could I foresee that when I wasn’t promoting my brain would be like an over-excited, sugared-up toddler with the attention span of a gnat. So I’d go back, shake my pre-debut self and tell her to get busy on the wip during the pre-publication period. Hard though it is to believe, it is easier to work on your wip while you are doing rewrites for your editor, reviewing copy edits and reading page proofs than it will be in the 2-3 months after launch. Set weekly writing goals during your run up to launch and make yourself meet them. Then, about a week before your launch, surrender yourself fully to your “world domination blog tour,” author appearances, and (of course) to obsessively checking your Amazon rankings.
5. What is your favorite novel of all time?
I do not have a favorite novel of all time.
I believe different novels serve different needs in our lives. Personally there are about 200 books from my reading-past that I consider “must owns”. When I bought my first house I assembled a library containing these personal selections so they would always be within reach and so that my children would be exposed to them as they grew up. Some of the novels are comfort food—guaranteed to divert me whatever my stress or circumstances. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which I re-read religiously during every exam week of my academic career) falls in this category. Others novels in my collection were “formative”—they changed who I became, how I viewed life, or how I viewed literature—and I can still rely on them to remind me of important truths. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is such a book. I’ve re-read it in every decade of my life since my teens.
6. What is your first memory of writing?
I can’t remember NOT making up stories. I am not sure whether it was my FIRST foray into writing fiction, but I have distinct memories of creating an illustrated picture book called Mustard Cream Pie in which a momentarily unattended toddler “helps” his mother finish her banana cream pie by adding mustard from a jar his brother left on the counter after making a bologna sandwich. Riveting, I know! I still have this literary gem I found it while helping my parents to move out of my childhood home and it is now on the bookshelf in my family room.
7. What do you most want readers to take away from THE SISTER QUEENS?
What a reader ultimately takes away from my book will depend on what she/he brings to it. I think the very best books allow us to approach issues in our own lives from the comfortable distance of a fictional setting.
The Sister Queens is a sister story first and foremost. Yes, it is set in the 13th century and the atmosphere, politics and history are richly detailed and appropriate to that time period but the book focuses on that which is timeless—the way our sisters shape us whether by challenging us or by supporting us. So I suspect many readers will use the book as a catalyst to reflect on the sister issue in their own lives. But there are a number of other themes/questions raised by the book. For example: are all long-term romantic relationship doomed to a period of stagnation; how do couples work past that; does society place too much value on professional competence in judging a man and too little on competence as a husband or father? I don’t want to answer those questions (or any questions raised by my novel) for readers. I want to leave them free to draw their own conclusions informed by their life experiences.
Thanks so much, Sophie!
For more on Sophie and her work, visit her website at http://www.sophieperinot.com/.