3 Question View – Alisa Libby

This post is the sixth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.
Alisa Libby

3 Question View – Alissa Libby

Author, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose

Anna:
Your novels, The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose, are historical fiction; what drew to this genre? In your travels to do historical research, where was your favorite destination? How does being in a place inspire you? What is the most fascinating fact you discovered in your travels by being “on the spot”?
Alisa:
I came to write historical novels by accident. History was a bore to me in school, just a list of nameless dates and facts to memorize. But when I started reading about particular people, it occurred to me that history was filled with characters who were once vital and alive. History is about people—fascinating, flawed, lovestruck, mad people, in many cases.

As for historical research, my husband and I took a trip to England to research Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. We visited the Tower of London on February 13th, the anniversary of her execution. I visited her crest on the chapel altar, beneath which she is buried. I felt her presence there more strongly than I had at Hampton Court, where her ghost supposedly still haunts a particular gallery, running and screaming Henry’s name. 

It was a bittersweet meeting; Catherine is buried alongside her infamous cousin, Anne Boleyn, who had a half dozen roses on her crest on the day we visited, while Catherine had none. The yeoman guard showed us that the white marble of Anne’s stone has turned pink from so many years of red roses being laid upon it. This made me sad for Catherine, the overlooked (but still doomed) wife of King Henry. I said hello to her and left a stone to mark our visit, and made it clear that we had come a long way to visit her, specifically.


Anna:
On your blog you say you are attracted to “characters who do something
wrong.” Which character was a greater challenge for you to write – Katherine Howard or Countess Bathory? Out of all the females in history, what led you to these two as the focus of your novels?


Alisa:
I love this question! Each character posed unique challenges. With Bathory, the challenge was to make her a sympathetic character. That book is more historical fantasy, because I added many fictional elements to her life (this is why I changed her name to Bizecka in the book). I still wanted her to commit the crimes of legend: bathing in the blood of her servants, believing that it would keep her young forever. So, how to make the reader empathize with such a character? How to show her madness growing gradually, in a way that is believable? That was the challenge. I started at a place that I could deeply understand: I gave the young Countess a best friend, and felt her betrayal when that best friend leaves her behind. A very common story, but it alters Erzebet’s perception of her world.

With Catherine Howard, the challenge was perhaps even greater: her sin was stupidity. This is extremely difficult to empathize with, as a reader. What could she have been thinking, cheating on King Henry? Didn’t she know that adultery – or even the intent to commit it – was a crime punishable by death? She surely must have understood this, to some extent; the Tudor court was a dangerous place, ruled by an emotional, unpredictable king. I had to remain true to historical accounts of Catherine while also filling in the gaps to reveal more of her character and create her own “logic” (however illogical) to explain her actions.

Anna:
When writing historical fiction, how do you balance between sharing juicy historical bits with the reader without overburdening the story? Has there been a historical detail in one of your books that you badly wanted to include, but cut for story purposes? Will you stay with the genre of historical fiction or are there other types of writing calling your name?

Alisa:
Oh, so many details! It really was difficult, especially with The King’s Rose. I researched their food, clothing, daily life, holidays, music…The details are valuable for world-building, but it is tricky to include just what you need and not a sentence more. A delicate balance that I’m still learning to strike! I took a break from history and was working on some contemporary stories for the last few years. But there is something exciting about setting a story in a different time period. The beliefs and customs of that time influence the characters and the story itself in very interesting ways.

The King’s Rose
Appointed to the queen’s household at the age of fourteen, Catherine Howard is not long at court before she catches the eye of King Henry VIII. The king is as enchanted with Catherine as he is disappointed with his newest wife — the German princess Anne of Cleves. Less than a year from her arrival at court, Catherine becomes the fifth wife of the overwhelmingly powerful, if aging, King of England.

Caught up in a dazzling whirl of elaborate celebrations, rich gowns and royal jewels, young Catherine is dizzied by the absolute power that the king wields over his subjects. But does becoming the king’s wife make her safe above all others, or put her in more danger? Catherine must navigate the conspiracies, the silent enemies, the king’s unpredictable rages, as well as contend with the ghosts of King Henry’s former wives: the abandoned Catherine of Aragon, the tragic Jane Seymour, and her own cousin, the beheaded Anne Boleyn. The more Catherine learns about court, the more she can see the circles of danger constricting around her, the threats ever more dire.

Check out the book trailer for The King’s Rose! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGaAGyAgvas

The Blood Confession
Erzebet Bizecka lives in a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains, the only child of the Count and Countess Bizecka. Born under the omen of a falling star, Erzebet is a child of prophecy: the predictions of a scryer tell of a child whose days will end quickly, or whose days will have no end. As a teenager, Erzebet strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young village girl, Marianna, but even her dearest friend can not understand her overwhelming fears of growing older and losing her beauty. The only one who does understand her is Sinestra, the beautiful, mysterious stranger who visits Erzebet and assures her that there are ways to determine her own destiny. With the Biblical passage “The life of the flesh is in the blood” he successfully lures her into a dark world of blood rituals in order to preserve her youth and beauty for eternity. But will the blood treatments—exacted from willing servant girls—be enough to keep her safe forever? How far will Erzebet be willing to go to sever her life from the predestined path God has chosen for her?

Visit the book trailer for The Blood Confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYyij1xBLv8

Alisa’s Links
www.alisalibby.com
www.alisalibby.com/blog

3 Question View – Gordon McCleary

This post is the fifth of a new series, highlighting talented people whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

 
Gordon McCleary

3 Question View – Gordon McCleary
Writer, Humorist & Blogger,  

A Yankee’s Southern Exposure

Anna:
The writings on your blog, “
A Yankee’s Southern Exposure“, focuses on the humorous side of the culture clash between North and South (Dunkin Donuts vs. Krispy Kreme, NY Jets vs. NASCAR, Philly Cheesesteak vs. Fried Green Tomatoes). What brought you to the South? What do you love best about your adopted homeland? What do you miss most about the North?

Gordon:
First off, thank you for this unique opportunity to participate in your interview series. I ended up down south while working for a state contractor. Once the contract ended, I had the opportunity to move with the company or stay in Florida and find another job; I stayed. I stayed because I love the pace and the people. The pace is more deliberate and not as tense as it is up North. The people down here (most of them) have good souls and go the extra mile in extending a courteous gesture.

On the other hand, I do miss the fast-paced environment up North and the daily grind the big city offers. I am conflicted and it does come out at times in my writings.

Anna:
Your style of blog post writing is breezy and charming, interspersed with exaggeratedly funny photos, such as this:

 

Your style of witty one-liners is also quite popular on Twitter (57K followers at publication). How do you divide up your time and inspiration between your social media? What are your favorite ways to engage with your followers and readers?

Gordon:

I write it as I think it and see it; I am a very visual person. At times, I will look at many photos of the subject matter and write around the visual experience. Things that strike me as funny and quick, I will post on Twitter. If the tweet has some relevance, sometimes I’ll add a link to my latest blog post.

As far as how long I spend on social media, it depends on my mood. I have days where I am gone, M.I.A…and then I have consecutive days where I will post on the blog/ Facebook/ Twitter. I never go too long without updating something. I like to tweet a funny, off-the-wall comment about my latest blog post and then tweet that with a link; this seems to bring in a lot of traffic. I don’t like a lot of ads when I am reading online, so I made it a point to not put any advertising on my blog. I am in it for the pleasure of sharing and writing.

Anna:
Your experiences down South have led to some bizarrely comic escapades (the disappearing roosters, adventures with food – pigs feet and collard greens). What is the oddest thing that’s happened to you thus far? What would be the title of your dream blog post?

Gordon:

I would say attending the annual “worm grunting festival” in Sopchoppy, Florida is right up there with one of the strangest experiences I have had. I also attended the worm grunting ball at the end of the festivities. They are serious about their worms!

Title of dream blog post? Bless his heart, A hot mess in a cool place” 

Best Tweets from @ASouthernYankee:
* My wife: you wanna watch Glee? Me: you know, I’d love to but I was gonna drink battery acid and play with my poison ivy plant tonight.

* Anybody know exactly what time tomorrow the end is coming? I need to tell my wife that this “honey do” list may not be happening.

* Tweeting from my bunker……my wife is pleading with me to come out….I know a zombie when I hear one !!!

Visit Gordon’s blog, A Yankee’s Southern Exposure
http://yankeeexposure.blogspot.com

Follow Gordon on Twitter: @asouthernyankee

A Very Few Moments

I’m sort of a sensitive person (attention: understatement). I cherish the evanescence of beauty – the fragility of a wildflower or the shimmering high note of an aria. I cry easily at happy things and sad things and beautiful things and memorable things. There have been very few moments in my life, however, which have combined all of these things. This post is about one of those moments.

Royo

One of my very favorite (living) artists is Royo, the master Spanish Impressionist. I had collected several of his serigraphs, but was longing to own an original. One day the owner of the gallery where I worked came in with two sketches under his arm, then set them against the far wall. I identified them immediately as Royo original sketches (despite the fact that we carried 40 artists and I was ten feet away) and actually -vaulted- over the massive wooden desk and snatched it up in my hot little hands.

“What is this??” I asked. Actually, I’m pretty sure I screeched.

“New sketches from Royo. They just sent them over from Spain,” he said, “Nice, aren’t they?”

Al Aire (In the Air), Royo, Original Colored Pencil on Paper

“Nice”, dear reader, did not even begin to describe the sketch in my hands. I was devastatingly heels-over-head besotted with this gorgeously nuanced sketch done in colored pencils. Only Royo could do such a magnificent scribbling on brown paper and make it look half-Da Vinci. My throat was mostly closed-up at this point, but I managed to croak, “How much?” He named the price and I ruefully hooked the sketch on the wall and stepped away.

I spent the rest of the day casting furtive glances at “my sketch”, as I now considered it. Cleverly, I had positioned it behind a door, so almost none of the foot traffic coming into the gallery could see it, unless the door was closed. When someone did pause to look at it, I hurriedly called their attention elsewhere – to a landscape, a floral, anything to prevent them from glomming on to “my sketch” and realizing they could acquire a Royo original for less than $2,000. Royo’s oils started at $9,750, to give you a sense of the futility of my task.

I made it through the better part of the day and even managed to leave the gallery for a few minutes and head to one of our other locations. When I stepped back in the door, my gallery director said, “Oh, your sketch sold.” My heart plummeted through my pancreas and I stopped dead. It turned out that it was the -other- sketch that sold, but that was all it took.

I practically tackled the owner when he re-entered the building: “I’m buying that sketch.”

He laughed, until he realized I wasn’t joking, “You can’t.” He then explained that new works had a 30 day hold on them before they were available for employee purchase. This was a bogus rule, as I knew I was the first employee threatening to buy an original off the floor.

I didn’t have 30 days. In fact, I knew I likely didn’t have 30 hours. All of my coworkers were merrily emailing the new bargain originals off to their client list. Royo sketches are both rare and in demand, due to their affordability.

So I stormed, I cried, I threatened and charmed and, in the end, I think I just wore him down. I ended up paying wall price, of course, but it felt like the best money I’d spent. Al Aire was mine. The title means In the Air and that’s pretty much where I existed. My little heels weren’t touching the ground, my head was sky-high and I floated about, probably annoying everyone in my vicinity.

Fast forward to the Royo show.

Royo was coming to our gallery. I was going to see him and meet him and maybe, if I was lucky, speak to him. I was in the throes of a giant art-history nerd crush. I felt like I was meeting John William Waterhouse or W.A. Bouguereau.

When Royo entered, he was the personification of the charming, small-boned Spanish gentleman. His charisma was unmistakable. His voice was soft, but everyone hushed when he spoke. He kissed my hand when he met me and I’m pretty sure I tilted.

I wasn’t able to approach him about my sketch until the next day. I was deeply nervous and had over-prepared. I had typed my request in Spanish, because I didn’t trust my nerves or pronunciation. It read like this:

Estimado Señor, estaría muy honrado si podría firmar mi esbozo “Al Aire”. Ella es muy hermosa y me gustaría saber nada que me puede decir acerca de ella. Esta es mi primera original y la quiero mucho. Sinceramente, Anna

Which means, roughly:

Dear sir, I would be very honored if you would sign my sketch, “Al Aire”. She is very beautiful and I would like to know anything you can tell me about her. This is my first original and I love her very much. Sincerely, Anna 

I’m fairly certain that the sheet of paper was damp with palm sweat by the time I was able to hand it to him. He read it and smiled a half-pleased smile. He picked up the sketch and looked at her, made a small noise of recognition, almost an “Ah”. He spoke rapidly in Spanish to his translator, “He remembers this, he says. It is Maria, you know.” Maria is Royo’s daughter’s best friend and one of his favorite subjects, “It was effortless, he says, she is very free.” We then posed for this picture.

Royo, Anna, and Al Aire

He dedicated the back to me with several florid strokes of the marker. When he handed it to me, I was somewhere between bliss and dismay that I was tearing up. A lot. He smiled at me again and gave me a hug. Royo hugged me; that’s something to tell the grandkids, like “Oh, yeah, I bumped elbows with Monet.”

I walked back to the front desk and set the sketch against the wall, working to regain a modicum of composure. My friend and coworker Leslie had the camera in her hands. She impulsively lifted it and snapped off a candid shot. I demurred, “Oh, don’t take a picture; I look a mess.”

She lowered the camera and told me earnestly, “You want a picture of this. You only feel this way a very few moments in life.”

And she was right.

A “Very Few” Moment