Sunday, December 15, 2013

You Can Take the Writer Out of Mysteries…. Laura S. Anderson

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Picture it — Anne Bolelyn gives King Henry VIII the son he so desperately wants, who grows up to be England's king — instead of Queen Elizabeth. This intriguing "what if" is the basis of novelist Laura S. Anderson's alternative historical fiction trilogy about Anne Boleyn's son.

I remember tossing The Boleyn King, the first in the series, in my bag for an eighteen-hour flight from New York City to Honolulu. Well, in all that time, I barely looked up from the page — finishing just before we started our descent to Hawaii. Yes, it was that enthralling.

Here's the official description of the The Boleyn King:

Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William’s mother, Anne Boleyn.
Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king’s desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England’s fortunes forever.

And I'm going to let Laura describe herself, since she does it so winningly:

Laura Andersen has one husband, four children, and a
college degree in English that she puts to non-profitable use by reading everything she can lay her hands on. Books, shoes, and travel are her fiscal downfalls, which she justifies because all three ‘take you places.’ She loves the ocean (but not sand), forests (but not camping), good food (but not cooking), and shopping (there is no downside.) Historical fiction offers her all the pleasure of visiting the past without the inconvenience of no electricity or indoor plumbing. After more than thirty years spent west of the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Massachusetts with her family.

And now, I'm honored to introduce novelist Laura S. Anderson on mysteries, secrets, dead bodies, and more….

LAURA S. ANDERSON: Once upon a time there was a woman whose secret dream was to write. After years of writing silently in the background, rarely speaking of her dream, her friends dared her to do it. Finish a novel, they said, and when it’s finished we’ll read it in book club. She took the dare, and ten months later her first novel was complete.
      Clearly I work well under the threat of public humiliation.
     That first novel (and the second) was a historical mystery. From the time I could read by myself, I devoured the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. When I was eleven, I discovered Agatha Christie. And in my best college class ever, I took a senior seminar on The Mystery Novel. Everything from Ellery Queen to Dostoyevsky, as well as an introduction to several of my enduringly favorite authors: Ellis Peters and Dorothy L. Sayers. I distinctly remember reading A Morbid Taste for Bones, featuring Peters’ medieval Brother Cadfael and thinking, “I didn’t know you could do this!” Mix history and mystery . . . who knew?
Passion, however, doesn’t always equal skill. Those first novels—like most first novels—were not received to rapturous acclaim in the publishing world. I wrote other books, ones without an overt mystery, and finally landed on the publishing path. While receiving a long string of rejections for a YA time travel novel, I sent my agent the third manuscript I’d written, an alternate history featuring the imaginary son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. “I love it!” she said. “Make it a trilogy.”
     With no idea how to do it, I tore apart that long novel and set about creating a new coherent plot on which to center the first book. And that’s where my love of mysteries came to my rescue.
     I love every aspect of mystery novels: characters under pressure, communities fracturing from the weight of wickedness, the search for truth, the guiding principle that every single life matters and murder destroys more than just that single life.
     Then there’s structure. Mystery novels center on the answering of questions—who, what, why. I adore questions. Present me with a blank page and no structure and my mind revolts. Give my mind a starting place and it begins to spin a web of hurts, pains, desires, fears, possibilities.
     So what happens when a mystery lover is writing a non-mystery novel?
     Secrets. Lots and lots of secrets. Of which, thank goodness, the Tudors possess plenty.
     Also bodies.
     In my case, in need of a new plot structure on which to build the first book in a trilogy, I began with a body: a young woman at the bottom of a staircase with a broken neck. Did she fall or was she pushed? Why did she seek an audience with the king just before her death? Why is she carrying a scandalous broadsheet directed at Queen Anne Boleyn’s past sins? And who fathered the inconvenient child she is carrying?
     While working on the second book for Ballantine (The Boleyn
Deceit), I got a new editor: Kate Miciak. It was a name I knew, as the past or present editor of such mystery writers as Laurie R. King, Elizabeth George, Alan Bradley, Charles Todd (and now Susan Elia MacNeal.) In our first conversation, I told her that my fondest writing dream is to be able to write a good mystery novel.
     She told me I have it in me. So I continue to practice. I imagine my detective and my setting. I force my mind to construct twisty plots and wonder when I’ll be able to keep them from collapsing under their own weight. I use elements of mysteries in my alternate historicals (the first novel in my new trilogy features Queen Elizabeth I’s intelligencer, Francis Walsingham, and the young woman he persuades to spy for England.)
     And I continue to devour my favorite novels: mysteries of every sort. Cozy and procedural. Contemporary and historical. Devastated communities and committed investigators and—the final, essential ingredient for the best mysteries—hope. Hope that evil is an aberration and goodness a state to be continuously sought.
What do you think of the idea of alternative histories? Novelists switching genres? Defining genres?

Leave a comment and be automatically entered to win a copy of The Boleyn King!

Read Laura's blog here.
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  1. Alternative histories, switching genres, defining genres . . . I think less about any of that and more about having a book that tells a compelling story, a book filled with interesting characters, a book that draws the reader in . . . . And now I have to add your Anne Boleyn books to my teetering to-be-read stack . . . .

  2. I love the idea of alternative history. I've never read one but it's an intriguing idea for fiction. The Tudors' secrets would give an air of mystery, as would the what if question. And we never know really what the true truth was. What if Henry VIII became a priest, the future he was preparing for when his older brother died. I've read two of his exegeses that he had written while studying theology. They were brilliant. How different might the world had Henry become a priest instead of king?

  3. So interesting Laura! I've started several non-mystery novels and finished none. I love the idea of the secrets replacing the mystery. thanks for visiting--will try your books!

    And ps, didn't our newest RED Susan do a fantastic job with her first weeK? Hooray for susan!!

  4. Joan, I'm with you -- think less about genre than about a compelling story…

    And Reine — that's a fabulous idea for a book as well! The church was just as political as court.

    And Lucy/Roberta, THANK YOU!

  5. I absolutely love the idea of alternative histories. I've always loved historical fictions and often been fascinated by the chance and circumstance that often seemed to shape parts of history. This does lead to so many what-ifs and I am so excited to see where the Tudor might have gone with this twist of fate. Thanks for the author post!

  6. I love books about the Tudors - this alternate history series sounds fascinating! I am putting it on my "to read" list!

  7. What do you think of the idea of alternative histories? Novelists switching genres? Defining genres?

    Heavens, anything goes. As long as it's a great story.

  8. A good book is a good book. I especially enjoy an alternative history when it's different enough to be intriguing, but then the story draws me in and I sometimes forget it's not as history really happened! Added to my tall tall tall TBR stack!

  9. This sounds SO fabulous. SUCH a good idea. I am enchanted and mesmerized by the idea of a good idea, you know? We know it when we hear it, right? (Laura, do you remember when you thought of this?)

    An yes, YAY to new Red Susan, too! ANd a sip of the Jungle Red concoction she dreamed up for us..another wonderful idea.

  10. Our new Red Susan MacNeal's first week up on Jungle Red has been a huge success, and made a big hole in my book budget!

    Now, another book I want to read!! Laura, I don't care a thing about genres. I just like a good story, a compelling idea, and narrative tension. Narrative tension doesn't require a body and a detective to move the reader along--just a cracking good story.

    I love historical novels and alternative history is even more fascinating. If your heart's desire is to write a "straight" mystery, I hope you do, but in the meantime I can't wait to read the Tudor books!

  11. I think fiction, by it's very nature, allows the writer to go where s/he will. As long as it is done well!

  12. Thanks, everyone! I'm still politely fainting in the corner at the thought of sharing digital space with so many writers I have long read and loved :)

    Hank, I do remember when I thought of this idea: in the summer of 2003 while reading a biography of Anne Boleyn. When I read about the miscarriage she suffered the day of Katherine of Aragon's funeral, I thought about how such a small, personal tragedy could have changed so much more than just Anne's life. And the following summer at Hampton Court, I had my star-crossed lovers waltz into my mind and demand to be part of the fictional world of Anne Boleyn's son. So long ago!

    Now I feel old.

  13. Thanks so much for coming by, Laura! This week has been so fun and this was just the cherry on the sundae.

  14. A good story is a good story, no matter its genre. I think an alternative history could be pretty interesting. Just trying to think of all the ramifications of a single different action is mind blowing!

  15. Oh my! These books sound great! I've long found the intelligencers very fascinating. And the whole alternate history idea is fabulous.

    Thank you, Laura! I see a bookstore stop tomorrow.

    Yes, Susan, you did a fine job as the newbie Red.

  16. I love alternative history stories. The two that I've read which most people will recognize are Philip Dick's Man in the High Tower and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. I am fan of the "what if" in history. Sometimes it seems that the course of history walked a thin line on which way it would go, and pivotal events that turned the tide for that course were anything but foregone conclusions.

    The idea of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn having a son together is most intriguing, Laura. I recently saw a PBS special on Henry VIII, and his life provides so much material for alternative story lines. Oh, my poor TBR list is about to receive three more books. But what's to complain about, three more wonderful books. Thank Laura.

  17. Really interesting history often been fascinated by the chance and circumstance that often seemed to shape parts of history....

  18. I am definitely putting this book in my TBR pile. I have never read an alternate history book, but I enjoy reading about Tudor history.

  19. I also adore mysteries and history and find myself writing books that combine both, no matter the genre or period. I agree that mystery writing gives a great grounding in plot and structure. They have narrative drive and engage the reader in uncovering secrets, something to be applied to all books.

    Congrats on your trilogy!! It sounds fab.