Interview with Author Victoria Grossack

Authors Victoria Grossack & Alice Underwood
1. Who or what inspired you to become an author and to write about Greek Mythology?
When I was fourteen – a very long time ago – we read Sophocles’ play, Oedipus Rex, in my high school English class. I was fascinated by the story but I felt that it was being told wrong. (Such heresy, criticizing Sophocles!) Sophocles’ play gives the point of view of Oedipus, but I thought that Jocasta’s perspective was far more interesting. She gave birth to a son who was taken from her; she lost her first husband, King Laius; after the death of Laius she was challenged by the Sphinx. Her life was rich with drama. Moreover, she had more clues than anyone, and so I was fascinated by the question: did she ever realize that Oedipus was her son, and if so, what did she do about it? I thought Jocasta’s story would make an incredible novel, covering about forty years of her life – as opposed to Sophocles’ play, where everything happens in one day.
I longed to write this novel, but I realized that I could not write well enough to do justice to it. I also knew I knew nothing about ancient Greece. This was before the internet, when research had to be done in libraries, and when I was too young to travel to Europe and explore archaeological ruins. But the story stayed with me. I remember crossing my fingers throughout the years and hoping that no one else would attempt it, because I always felt that it was my story.
Fast forward several decades. By the time I met Alice Underwood in Switzerland I had several writing projects under my belt – some terrible unpublished novels, and a few successful short stories and articles. I can’t say that I was a good writer when we met, but I had improved significantly since my time as a freshman in high school.
Anyway, Alice and I were working for different divisions of the same company and collaborated on a work-related project. We found we made a very good team and wrote several non-fiction articles together. We were also both interested in ancient Greece, and fortunately, Alice had minored in classics, which meant that she already knew a lot of details about Bronze Age Greece. And so we decided we to write Jocasta together.
Writing fiction with another person is very different from writing non-fiction articles, and our first pass was abysmal. It took us a while to work out a rhythm, based on our own strengths and weaknesses. Amazingly, our strengths and weaknesses are mostly complementary.
While writing Jocasta we became intrigued by Niobe, who was queen in Thebes just before Jocasta. Her story is absolutely fascinating – she’s the daughter of King Tantalus – and so we tackled that next. The project was rich and complicated and so needed a trilogy to do it justice.

2. What is your favorite book you have written and why?

What a question! If you have several children, aren’t you supposed to love them equally? Anyway, Alice Underwood and I have written four books together: Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus, and the Niobe trilogy, which consists of Children of Tantalus, The Road to Thebes, and Arrows of Artemis. I’m truly happy with how they all turned out. Children of Tantalus is a great adventure as well as a coming-of-age story, and Arrows of Artemis offers a solution to a mass murder that has gone unnoticed for more than three millennia.
But favorites? It’s a toss-up between Jocasta and The Road to Thebes. Jocasta has a pure intensity that keeps building until the truth explodes. The Road to Thebes has great characters – a cowherd turned musician, a villainess plotting a coup, and a wisecracking ghost. They both have romantic elements, too – which for me is usually a turn-off, but works in these books because the characters are so appealing.

3. What is your next book project?

Alice and I are working on Guardians of Thebes, a sequel to Jocasta. It covers the showdown between Jocasta’s brother, Creon, and Jocasta’s daughter, Antigone, as well as the time from the end of Jocasta to the war between Argos and Thebes.
Each book has presented unique writing and storytelling challenges, and currently Guardians, although it has some great scenes, is driving us crazy. We’re not sure if it will ever reach the point where we can publish it. However, we encountered monsters in each of our other projects, and somehow slew them, so we hope to get through this one too.

4. What is your favorite quote?

When in grade school, I was forced to memorize Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, and lines come back to me when I need them. Here are my favorites:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
Life has given me successes and failures and I have learned that often neither is fully merited. Other lines, when I consider political discourse these days, strike me as especially apt:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
By the way, your questions make me realize what an impact education has on our lives! How different mine would have been if I had not read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Kipling’s If!
5. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
First, start with small projects. For example, if you wanted to run a marathon, you would focus first on jogging around the block instead of going out to run 26 miles. The same is true for writing. Work on a short story, or write up a comic or dramatic episode from your life. Blog. Get used to producing clean sentences and good paragraphs. You need training for writing just as you need training for anything else.
Second, study so that you actually know what you’re doing. Good writing has many aspects to it. There’s plot, and character development, and dialogue, and themes, and conflict, and tension, and even deciding which spelling rules to use – to name a few. You could try to learn how to do this all on your own, or you could get help. There are books on writing. There are writing courses. There are writing groups in which the members critique each other’s writing. I belonged to a group for years, and I actually learned tons from critiquing others’ writing. As I went through scenes written by others I discovered what worked, what didn’t and why or why not, probably with more objectivity than if I were reviewing my own words.
Finally, write because you love it, and not because you want to make money. Money and fame may come – but they probably won’t. Nevertheless, if you have a story that you are burning to tell, telling it will enrich your life.

Victoria Grossack’s Bio:

Dartmouth graduate Victoria Grossack leads an international life, with homes in Switzerland and Arizona and a professional career in the financial industry that has spanned the Atlantic. She is fluent in German and French (and English of course) and has an MBA. Her last full-time position was as a Senior Vice President in New York City for a reinsurance company, but she is currently writing full-time and living with her husband who is a professor at the University of Arizona. Her writing has been published in Contingencies, Woman’s World, I Love Cats, and The Journal of Actuarial Practice. She was a regular columnist for Fiction Fix, writing monthly articles that have been used in several writing classes. She teaches writing courses at Coffeehouseforwriters.com on historical fiction, creating characters, and the levels of structure in fiction. She also tutors mathematics, as solving problems in algebra and geometry make a nice break from creative writing.
Alice Underwood Bio:
Alice Underwood studied classics at The University of Texas and Princeton University while earning her degrees in mathematics. Her passion for antiquity has taken her from the shadowed catacombs of Princeton’s libraries to the ruins of Pompeii and the sunny shores of Crete and Santorini. Her work has been published in Consortium, Networks, and The Journal of Actuarial Practice. Currently an Executive Vice President at one of the world’s top insurance brokerage firms, Alice lives and works in New York City.
Thank you for giving me the pleasure of this wonderful interview!
Regards,
Stephanie

I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish

This is probably one of the best memoir I have read in sometime. I was feeling so many different emotions reading this story.

I was conflicted with the political side of it though. It’s a horrific and complicated situation. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a unique person. He was raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Srip under horrible conditions. The lack of humanity these people are under are appalling and tragic. Abuelaish never gave into to the bad situation he was living in. He stayed strong and never gave up. Which is understandable if he did. He grew up to become a medical doctor. He is certainly a person to admire.

One of the things I respect him for most is that when his daughters were killed by Israeli soldiers. His sadness over the loss of his daughters never turned towards hate and wanting revenge. He wants peace between the Palestinians and the Israeli people.

Matched By Ally Condie

Folville’s Law by David Pilling

A novel set in the closing years of Edward II’s reign, following the adventures of Sir John Swale, knight of Cumberland, as he investigates a murder in the Midlands that threatens to destabilize the kingdom. Along the way he meets a widow, Elizabeth Clinton, and makes an enemy of the ruthless outlaw Eustace Folville. Meanwhile, England is threatened by invasion and civil war, and it remains to be seen who will survive and who will perish in the brutal game of 14th century war and politics.

David Pilling

My review: David told me that Folville’s Law was his first published book. I was pleasantly surprised! He did a splendid job. I’ve read a lot of first published books that I didn’t like. He is a wonderful story teller. This is a book you want to keep on reading to find out what happens next. I was at the edge of my seat a few times. This story is full of wonderful characters (fantastic character building by the way), adventure, intrigue, betrayal, villains and more. I’m looking forward to continuing on with the series. A must read!

I gave this book four stars!

Interview with Author Christy English

                                                     Author Christy English

1. Who or what inspired you to become an author?

I started writing as a child and never stopped. I began to write again as an adult, but only for myself. Characters showed up with their stories, and I wrote them down for pure pleasure. For the first few years, no one read them but me. Then, one day, I was in Barnes and Noble and saw Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with the Pearl Earring and I realized that not only did other people write historical fiction, a lot of people wanted to read it. So I began working harder, making my books better so that more people could enjoy them than just me.

2. What is your favorite book you have written and why?

My books are like children. I love them all for different reasons. I love The Queen’s Pawn because of the fiery connection between Eleanor and Henry, and for Alais’ sweet innocence at the beginning and at the end of the novel. I love To Be Queen for Eleanor’s passion and courage, for her bravery in the face of great odds, a woman who ruled in a man’s world, and who ruled well.

3. What fascinates you the most about Eleanor of Aquitaine?

I love that Eleanor never gives up. Though faced with insurmountable challenges, Eleanor never surrenders. Though she loses many battles, she never gives up on the over all war. The war she fights all her life is to rule in her own name, to protect herself and her power, to become the woman she was born to be. Like few women in history, Eleanor succeeded in that, and in many other things.

4. What is your next book project?

I am currently writing Regency romance novels for Sourcebooks, and I am loving it. I am re-telling Shakespearean comedies, beginning with The Taming of the Shrew. It is so much fun to delve into a new time, and to completely immerse myself in romance. I am a sucker for true love, and in a romance novel, true love always triumphs.

5. What is your favorite quote?

“Write what you love.”

6. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Keep writing. Stay in the chair, no matter how tempted you are to give up, to give in, to give out. No one can write with your voice, no one else can tell your story but you.

Much love,
Christy

Christy English
Author of the Historical Novels

To Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine
and The Queen’s Pawn
From New American Library
www.christyenglish.com
Author Bio:
Raised in Wilmington, NC, Christy English received her undergraduate degree in history from Duke University, then began her work as writer of historical fiction. For years Christy attended writers’ conferences, listening to the stories and the experiences of published authors. She decided to take to heart the wisdom of the renowned southern American author, Reynolds Price, given once at a North Carolina Writer’s Conference: “Go into your room, close the door, sit down at your desk, and write.” While continuing to follow Mr. Price’s advice, in 2006 Christy moved to New York City, where she worked as an executive assistant by day, and as a writer of historical fiction by night. Christy’s novel, THE QUEEN’S PAWN, caught the eye of experienced editor, Executive Director Claire Zion at New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Publishing. Claire and Christy met for lunch, and the published version of THE QUEEN’S PAWN was born. Christy’s second novel, TO BE QUEEN: A NOVEL OF THE EARLY LIFE OF ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE, was released from New American Library in April 2011. Her new Regency romance series Shakespeare in Love will be published by Sourcebooks in the fall of 2012.
With many thanks!
Stephanie

Ladies & Literature Contest

If you are not a member of Ladies & Literature and you are looking for a ladies book club! We are it!! We are holding a contest, winner gets a prize. So please come on over and join us. We would love to have you!

Here is the link: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/40140.Ladies_Literature

Best,
Stephanie

We’re a ladies only club.

Zoo Station by David Downing

A few years ago my Grandfather started to speak of the war in bits and pieces. He sparked my interest in learning more. I’ve read several fictional books over the years about the war, but Zoo Station puts the icing on the cake.

What an intellectually fascinating written story of espionage, good and evil and the time leading up to the brink of war. As I got deeper into the story the more intrigued I became by the characters and their situation. This book touched my heart. A must read.