Today we are so lucky to have debut author Michelle Diener here to talk to us a little about her newest release In A Treacherous Court, the first in her Susanna Horenbout and John Parker Series from Simon & Schuster. The series will continue on with it’s second release scheduled for February of 2012.
Michelle, Thanks so much for being here!
Book Pushers: Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Michelle: I’m the kind of person who was a writer from the moment they could pick up a pen. I’m the oldest of five children, and I spent a lot of time weaving elaborate stories for my brothers and sisters. I was the in-car entertainment on long trips. 🙂 I was born in London, but grew up in South Africa, and I now live in Australia. So I’ve done the rounds of the former British Empire :). I went in to publishing when I finished my MA, and then into information systems. I only started writing seriously when I suddenly realised my dream was slipping away and I wasn’t doing anything about it.
Book Pushers: What do you have in store for Susanna and Parker in the future?
Michelle: I feel sorry for Susanna and Parker. I throw a lot of trouble their way. In KEEPER OF THE KING’S SECRETS, Parker bears the brunt of it, but Susanna has her turn in book three of the series, title as yet undecided (although I do have one I like).
Book Pushers: The rich description and setting of In a Treacherous Court focused on different aspects of court life/world, did you have a difficult time in your research discovering the gritty and minutiae details?
Michelle: Fortunately for me, there is a lot out there. The Letters and Papers of Henry VIII are exactly that, letters and papers between Henry, Katherine, and their staff compiled into massive volumes which are fortunately available online. It makes searching for something so much easier. All kinds of minutiae crop up there, as well as the big things. And historians like Alison Weir, in her HENRY VIII: A KING AND HIS COURT, really go down to the most basic level. The amount of research Weir did is staggering, and I have it all beautifully put together and at my fingertips, thanks to her. I used a number of research books, but Letters and Papers and Weir’s Henry VIII are the two I used the most.
Book Pushers: Why do you think the Tudor setting is so popular in historical fiction? What about this time is so riveting in your eyes?
Michelle: Henry VIII was a man who had a vision for England as the leader in all things, fashion, art and music included. He spent a lot of money trying to make his vision a reality. He hired artists and musicians from the continent, he dressed beautifully, he tried to emulate the ways of the Burgundian Princes, and loved pageants and plays, and the ideal of courtly love. But through-out this, he also had a huge succession problem on his hands, and of course, this was the Renaissance, so there was change, and new ideas and new ways of thinking coming from all directions. With all that going on, who wouldn’t find it exciting?
Michelle: I must say, I don’t see In a Treacherous Court as a mystery, so much as thriller or historical suspense, because we know well before the end who the villain is, it is really more the tension of who will win the day, the villain or Parker and Susanna. But mystery, thriller, suspense or just straight fiction of any kind, I love some romance in everything I read. It adds an extra zing, and makes the book so much more enjoyable to me.
Book Pushers: As a reader, mysteries seem to be so involved and are probably difficult to plot. Are there any essential rules an aspiring mystery author should follow – the DOs and DON’TS of mystery writing according to Michelle?
Michelle: I can only say, do as I say, not as I do, LOL, because I often scrap chapters of work at a time when I realise I have either painted myself into a corner, or taken the obvious road. I’m really tough on myself. I don’t want to settle for the well-worn groove. If it seems obvious, then I try to think of another way. And I never, ever do something just because it’s convenient to my plot. That has made me have to think of some pretty innovative ways out of trouble for my characters, but that has always strengthened the story, in my mind. As a reader, I don’t like to see an obvious plot device just so the hero or heroine can escape, or so something can happen that the author needs to happen. If it isn’t logical, but it would help, tough. I just won’t have convenient ‘co-incidences’ or serendipitous events for the sake of the plot.
Book Pushers: What appealed to you to write about and base your books on Susanna and Parker. And did their romance take you by surprise?
Michelle: This whole series started because I read about Susanna in a history reference book for the young adult market, Uppity Women of the Renaissance by Vicki Leon. It was just a short page of information on her, but that was all I needed to pique my interest. I did more research, and I just knew I had to write her story. The idea of a woman who was acknowledged by the best artists of her day as exceptional, at a time when she was competing with them in a field of expertise that was considered the sole preserve of men, excited me. And it made me so sad that nothing remains of her work, save for a brass plaque which can be found in All Saint’s Church in Fulham, London. Even that is not definitely by her, but it is extremely likely. When I learned that she had been sent ahead of her family to Henry’s court, and had met and married one of his courtiers, well, I just had to come up with a really wild and thrilling adventure for her.
As for her romance with Parker, to me, that’s such an interesting part of the story. Parker held a powerful position, even though he wasn’t a nobleman, and it seemed strange to me that he would have been allowed to marry her, rather than Henry arranging a marriage for him with one of the daughters of another courtier or nobleman – something Henry did to bind his courtiers to him. Susanna would not have come with land or a large dowry and she was unusual and different to the other women in Henry’s court to say the least. It had to be true love!
Book Pushers: Do you have any plans or ideas percolating to write in a different genre or new characters and setting?
Michelle: I just did a huge dive off the deep-end for charity, and contributed a short contemporary paranormal with some romantic elements to an anthology which should be out in September. So, completely different to historical fiction. The anthology stars a host of amazing authors, and I’m proud to be among them. Some of the names include such bestselling authors as Jennifer Estep, Allison Brennan, Karin Tabke and Cynthia Eden, among others. All the proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It is going to be an awesome anthology, and all for an amazing cause.
As for my historical fiction, I have another Susanna and Parker book lined up, but just to keep things fresh, and to get down onto paper a story I’ve been mulling for at least five years, I’m writing a book set in 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s a bit darker than my Susanna and Parker books, but I’m loving it, and I know I can go back to the Tudor period completely refreshed after my foray into the streets of London nearly 300 years on from when Susanna and Parker walked the cobblestones.
Book Pushers: We have to ask you this question! If you had the power to to invite five famous people from the past for a dinner party, who would they be and what kind of dinner party game would you all play?
Michelle: Oh, no question: Susanna Horenbout, Henry VIII, John Parker, the Cardinal Wolsey and the Duke of Norfolk. And then I’d make them play a game of truth or dare :).
Book Pushers: While researching Parker’s role as a servant to the King, what was the most interesting/weird duty that you came across?
Michelle: There are so many, but this is a fun one. There was a very set ritual performed around Henry’s daily schedule. Part of it was that each night, when they made up his bed with fresh linen, one of the Yeomen would pierce the bottom straw mattress of the King’s bed with a dagger to route out any hidden assassins. Every single night, as a matter of course. Talk about making sure there were no bogey men under the bed!
Thanks so much Michelle for coming to talk to us today!
Michelle has offered to giveaway a copy of In a Treacherous Court to one lucky commenter. Just leave a comment or question for Michelle in ordered to be entered. Open to US only, ends on August 1st. Please read our giveaway policy for more details. Good Luck!