A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
What a wonderful, romantic story David W. Wilkin has to tell about how he wooed his wife — with writing. Read on!
1)What moved you to become an author?
As I mentioned in some other interviews, the reason I write Regency Romance is all about Cheryl, my wife. We met at a Regency dance and wooing her involved my writing a few pages of a story and sending it to her, until I won her heart.
2) Tell us about your current novel.
The current novel that I am excited about and think that everyone should come and get a copy, is Jane Austen and Ghosts. I wrote it very quickly because the idea came to be quickly and the story was just all there. Then nuance came as I started typing.
There are a host of novels about Jane and our Regency/Victorian era writers and novels now meeting the supernatural, zombies, sea monsters, and of course the very timely favorite Vampires. I had never read any of these, having just read through Dracula twice in my life.
But the inspiration came to me because of the success of this sub-genre and a cousin who finds ideas to make movies. Well the whole cult of these books and success of Twilight and others in the field suggested that Patrick was going to buy, or someone who did Patrick’s job at another studio, these stories and make a movie. So what would happen if one studio cornered the rights and had to now make that movie. Oy Vey! If Jane should be allowed to come back to Earth…
Or even come back with a few friends. And in Hollywood, there are a lot of those who have passed to the next life that Jane might now know who could come back with her and provide inspiration on how these novels really should be made into movies.
Though the authors of the novels within the novel are caricatures, like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for instance, or Lady Catherine. The detail of Hollywood and the parallel plot lines to Jane’s work should provide anyone who likes Jane’s work with some fun along the way.
3) How did the story begin to develop in your mind?
As I mentioned, the things that came together were the current fad in Regency and Victorian era writing with the supernatural and the realization of these movies coming out. But I did not just weave that into the story alone. Studios and production companies have more than one iron in the fire, else they won’t be able to go into production on the next project.
So as the main plot of our novel, to begin work on the screenplay for the Jane project is being discussed with the authors of these special novels, there is another movie project about to start shooting the next week.
That along with the succession plan of the production company which speaks to mirroring the success that Elizabeth Bennet might find with Darcy and his ten thousand a year.
4)Tell us a little about yourself?
Well, I was 6 ft and almost 1 inch. Now I’m shrinking.
That was probably too little.
I’m a man writing Regency Romances. That has to be a little different.
So why? Why do I like the Regency?
I have written elsewhere about how Southern California at one time started a craze in Regency Reenactment. With that craze came the locals running a monthly dance practice so all would be ready for the two big events each year that are held. A Regency Ball held in Fall called the Autumn Ball, and then A Regency Assembly where the group would go to a hotel and take it over for a full weekend of activities, dancing, and another Ball.
A friend, thinking they had a woman to introduce me to, urged that I go to this dance practice, and though I did date the young lady once, I went back to the practice at various times because others knew of it. It was a good way for my friends and I to have fun doing these dances, and as time went on I became quite good and taught them, as I also did the dances I had mastered in my Medieval/Renaissance reenactment group.
5) In the current work, is there an excerpt to share?
In Jane Austen and Ghosts there is a reveal that takes place near the end. I don’t know if everyone can guess at it, but one can see how tricky I make my Jane as a Ghost. A little bit more of the willfulness we see in Elizabeth Bennet that we don’t see in many other of the Heroines of Jane’s.
I think readers will also enjoy a look at the past Hollywood Icons and Legends who journey back over to visit us at DeMille Brothers Studios. Some of whom are not only famous, but infamous, and some you may have to be immersed in Hollywood lore and legend to identify.
6) Where should we look for your work?
I can be found at the iBookstore, and Amazon, Nook and other online places for eBooks as well as physical books. I have created one webpage that sums it all up which I humbly (proudly, arrogantly, annoyingly) titled David’s books:
“Jones’s excellent new historical…”
That’s all I could see of the new Publishers Weekly review coming out Monday, Aug. 6., as displayed in my Google Alert. My pulse gave a little skip. Like a dog on point, as the cashier before me chatted very pleasantly about her former life in Bosnia, I focused only on the little screen in my hand. When I’d read the review, I looked about for someone to tell. The cashier was still there, smiling.
As sweetly as she congratulated me, I also knew that she couldn’t really appreciate what this means. Publishers Weekly, I told my boyfriend, is like the Rolling Stone of the publishing world. (“I hope it’s better than that,” he said, classical musician that he is. :))
At any rate, I’m sharing it now because you, dear reader, certainly understand how gratifying and, yes, validating, it was for me to read this review:
“Jones’s excellent new historical (after the prequel, White Heart) reimagines the world of 13th-century Europe and the dramatic true story of four sisters who each became queens. Their influential mother, Beatrice of Savoy and countess of Provence, arranges even before the girls’ births to wed them to powerful men in an effort to ensure the safety of her beloved homeland, which has long been the object of desire of warring parties. Marguerite marries King Louis IX of France, Eléonore weds Henry III of England, Sanchia becomes Queen of the Romans, and Beatrice assumes the crown as Queen of Sicily. Though their mother is thrilled to see her plans come to fruition, the new queens soon become mired in turmoil. Marguerite suffers under her overbearing mother-in-law, the White Queen; Eléonore is roundly disliked by her countrymen; Sanchia is frequently misled by her naiveté; and Beatrice grows into a power-hungry villain. As the young sisters desperately try to maintain ties to one another, the political agendas of their new homes threaten to undermine the bonds of family. Jones’s impeccable eye for detail and beautifully layered plot–each sister narrates her side of the story in alternating chapters–makes this not only a standout historical, but an impressive novel in its own right, regardless of genre.”
Whew! Thanks for being there. You may have just stopped me from bursting into flame. 😀
This is only the latest in a long string of glowing reviews for not only FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS but also WHITE HEART, the prequel. You can read them all here, and then go here to buy your own copy.
They were the most celebrated women of their time, the Sisters of the House of Savoy, four cultured daughters of the Count and Countess of Provence at a time when southern Europe was the cultural center of the universe.
Troubadours frequented the southern courts, nobles who penned the songs, often of unrequited love from some unattainable lady, that captured the public imagination for more than two hundred years. Minstrels performed them on vielle, rebec, guitarras morisca, pipes, drums, harps. Jongleurs, with their juggling and acrobatics, provided visuals: breaking wind while standing on their heads, for instance. Wine flowed freely – and, coming from the Languedoc region, you know it was good. Lavender scented the air; the beaches glittered in the southern sun.
And the sisters, schooled by their ambitious mother with a boy’s education, grew like the sunflowers for which their lands would someday become famous.
From this idyllic life, Marguerite, the eldest of the daughters, traveled to Paris at the age of thirteen to marry Louis IX, the nineteen-year-old King of France. Her Savoyard uncles, Thomas and Guillaume, accompanied her, hoping to gain positions at court. Her mother-in-law, the formidable dowager queen Blanche de Castille, promptly dashed their plans by sending them home, along with all who had accompanied her. As Marie Antoinette would be, Marguerite was left alone in her new, dark, cold, austerely religious city. And her trials were just beginning.
According to historians including Louis IX’s first biographer, Sir Jean de Joinville, Blanche began immediately to interfere with Marguerite’s marriage to her son. Whenever they tried to spend time alone together, Blanche appeared, then pulled Louis away for more pressing business. Is it any wonder that Marguerite took six years to bear her first child, and ten to give her husband, at last, a male heir? Louis, in the meantime, seemed to lose interest in her except, perhaps, sexually: Marguerite would bear him eleven children in all.
And yet, as one of the protagonists of FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS, Marguerite is a true heroine. Forced against her will to accompany her increasingly fanatical husband on Crusade, she gave birth to at least three children there, naming her first Jean Tristan – “Jean of Sorrows” – because of his birth in the city of Damietta, Egypt, in the midst of a terrifying Turkish siege. Deprived by Blanche of any opportunity to reign as France’s queen, Marguerite showed her true mettle during this crisis, saving the city and negotiating her husband’s release from prison before she’d even to recover from labor — perhaps traveling up the Nile in a boat and, as her sister Beatrice recalls, bludgeoning crocodiles with an oar.
Louis seemed barely to notice what she had done for him, according to Joinville, did not even thank her for ransoming him from Egyptian prison. Hers must have been a lonely life – or was it? Joinville’s own writings praise her strength and courage, criticize his friend Louis for neglecting her, and reveal details of her life that only an intimate friend would have known. Was he her Lancelot? I like to think that with him, at least, this admirable woman found comfort, and perhaps love.
Blanche’s death in 1254 gave Marguerite the opportunity to show the world of what she was made. While Louis, wracked with guilt over his devastating loss in Egypt, reformed the kingdom’s laws and persecuted heretics and blasphemers with a fanatical zeal — cutting off a man’s lips for blasphemy, for example — she built up the kingdom’s bankrupt coffers, decided legal disputes, commanded respect. At last, it seemed, she had all she desired – or nearly all.
The thorn in her side: Provence. When her father married her to the king, he promised a dowry of 10,000 silver marks or Tarascon, his most heavily fortified castle on the Rhone River. When he died, however, he bequeathed the entire county, including Tarascon, to his youngest daughter, Beatrice, in hopes, he said, that she might make as good a marriage as her sisters had done. Marguerite would spend the rest of her life fighting for her share of her beloved Provence. And, when Louis died and she was summoned to testify at the hearing establishing his sainthood, she refused.
“Louis,” she says in FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS, “was no saint.”
These were the most celebrated women of their time. Everyone knew who they were; wherever they went, they attracted crowds of admirers. Today, though, we’ve forgotten them; their stories have been subsumed by those of their husbands. I wanted to honor them by bringing them back to life in my new novel, FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS.
What drew you to the story of these sister-queens?
I was drawn primarily to two aspects of their lives: their accomplishments as women and their relationships as sisters.
Marguerite, Eléonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice of Provence were the first four sisters in history to all become queens – and of great kingdoms: France, England, Germany, and Italy (Sicily). I read Nancy Goldstone’s biography, FOUR QUEENS, but it left me wanting more. From her book I gained a sense of what they did, but not of whom they were.
I felt indignant over Marguerite’s struggle against a powerful, possessive mother-in-law and a religiously fanatical “mama’s boy” of a husband, and awed by the courage and intelligence she showed in Egypt when Turks battered at the walls of Damietta, where she had just given birth, and her husband and all his men waited in prison for her to rescue them – which she did.
I admired how Eléonore married, at 13, a man more than half her age (King Henry III of England was 28 at the time) and yet formed a solid marriage with him, becoming his true partner in ruling, as well as uplifting hundreds of her personal family members by means of appointments in the realm and the church and good marriages. She also fought like a true mother lion for her children’s interests.
I wanted to cry for Sanchia, blessed – and cursed – by exceptional beauty. Pious and shy, she was hardly queen material, but her mother’s ambitions landed her in marriage to a shrewd, money-grabbing womanizer who made her queen of a country that she abhorred: Germany. Her husband soon lost interest in her completely, and left her to die alone in their castle. What a sad tale: Had she lived the life she seemed best suited for – in the convent – she might have been a great abbess.
Beatrice completely intrigued me. So much younger than the rest of her sisters – she was barely a toddler when Marguerite left home to marry King Louis IX of France – she was also, apparently, her father’s favorite. When he died, he left Provence to her, throwing her sisters, and her life, into turmoil. Princes and their armies besieged her castle, aiming to take her by force. But Charles of Anjou, the youngest brother of France’s King Louis IX, succeeded, whisking her away on horseback to Paris, where they wed. What a romantic tale! Unfortunately, he was cruelly, ruthlessly ambitious, and Beatrice seems to have supported him, even recruiting 26,000 men to conquer Rome for the Pope, then leading them over an Alpine pass in the winter. What a gal!
How much of FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS is history, and how much is fiction?
In “Four Sisters, All Queens,” I took a bare modicum of literary license. The events involving Abraham of Berkhamsted and the death of his wife are factual, but whether Sanchia or Richard was involved we do not know. Also, chroniclers of the time said that Marguerite negotiated her husband’s release from Egyptian prison using messengers, but I sent her directly to the Egyptian queen. And we do not know whether Marguerite really had a love affair with anyone, although we do know from Sir Jean de Joinville’s chronicle of the life of King Louis IX, her husband, that he enjoyed an intimate relationship of some sort with her.
What was your greatest challenge in writing FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS?
Oh, gosh, there were so many! Deciding which point of view to use was very tricky. Third person present tense? That would lend a sense of immediacy – like watching a film – but how could it work when everything happened so long ago? First person from each sister’s viewpoint? But what about the sisters who die before the book is over? I decided on telling the stories from the viewpoint of Marguerite, who lived the longest, but realized I wouldn’t be able to include intimate details of her sisters’ lives, since she wouldn’t know them. I got stuck about one-third of the way into the book. Then, one Sunday morning, I awoke with the thought, “I’m going to do it in third person present.” I got up and re-wrote Chapter 1, and loved it. The book flowed from that point onward.
Researching an entirely new era – my previous novels, THE JEWEL OF MEDINA and THE SWORD OF MEDINA, take place in 7th century Arabia – was so time consuming. I had to learn everything all over again, what they ate, what they wore, how they traveled, what their homes looked like, what their music sounded like, everything, in addition to the history of the era. Yikes! I understand now why some authors choose one era and stick to it. Unfortunately, I’m too ADD for that.
Fitting the events of all four sisters’ lives into one tale without having it sprawl too much – publishers have word limits, you know, because every page costs money – was another challenge. I had to make choices. And the events of their lives were so momentous and complex that they raised other issues, such as the struggle of the Catholic Church for power; rampant and vicious anti-Semitism; the politics behind, and cruelties of, the Crusades; misogynistic attitudes toward women and limits on their power and education; and more. “This book could be about so many things,” I moaned to my life partner, a writer of classical music. His suggestion: Focus on the emotional lives of my characters. It was the best writing advice I have ever received. I’m going to dedicate my next book to him.
The entire blogosphere, it seems, is abuzz about FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS, my new book about the fabulous Sisters of Savoy, four sisters from Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Sicily in the 13th century. The latest to pick up my book: BookTrib, where my book is a featured selection all this week. They’re giving away eight copies, have set up a landing page for me, and are featuring a new blog post by me every day — to my great delight. Come on over and join the fun!
Over at The Secret Writer, the not-so-secret Calum McDonald this week posted an interview with me in which I reveal my work habits (or lack of them), my literary influences, and the worst part of being an historical novelist.
At A Bookish Affair, Meg has reviewed the e-novella prequel, WHITE HEART: A Tale of Blanche de Castille, the White Queen of France, and given it four stars! “Blanche is just one of those characters that you love to hate!” she wrote. And, “I really liked this prequel and it made me excited to read FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS.” Stay tuned for her review of the novel.
Sitting prettily near the top of the list for Biographical Fiction on Amazon, FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS has been recommended as a must-read by a number of reviewers, and boasts a passel four- and five-star ratings. Readers are praising its beautiful writing, its character development, and its page-turning plot. “I wanted it never to end!” several have said on Goodreads. (I felt the same way when writing it.)
While you’re on Goodreads, check out the THREE group discussion threads happening around FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS. Historical Fictionistas has two: One with author participation and one without. We’re also reading and discussing my book at Book Lover’s Hideaway. Come and join us!
I have a novel to write — a complex, challenging tale, my most ambitious project yet. Under contract with Simon & Schuster, I have a deadline to meet. So what the heck am I doing on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads?
Publicizing FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS, is what.
Six weeks after my novel’s debut, I still spend hours every day spreading the word about new reviews — three bedazzling ones this week from Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers, Layered Pages, and Fresh Fiction — and dreaming up new ways to expand its presence online and in the media. And I’m wondering, these days, how much is enough.
“Why don’t you just stop publicizing your new book, and let it be whatever it’s going to be?” my 18-year-old daughter asked. “Write your new one, Mom. That’s how you get readers — by writing books.”
But, oh, she doesn’t understand. This is my baby we’re talking about, my creation — and also my career.
Yes, THE JEWEL OF MEDINA helped to make my name as an author. An international best-seller, it did quite well in the States in hardback. But then my publisher, Beaufort Books, decided not to bring it out in paperback. Then they brought the sequel, THE SWORD OF MEDINA, out in hardback-only, too. This was about the worst thing my publisher could have done for my career, aside from not publishing these books at all (Ballantine, the original publisher, backed out of our two-book deal just before THE JEWEL OF MEDINA’s pub date after being warned that they might cause terrorist attacks).
Because of this unexpected, and disappointing, turn of events, readers can’t go into most bookstores and see my first two books for sale. The shelf life of hardback books is finite. I think A’isha’s story ought to be read — which is, after all, why I wrote the book — so I feel sad about that. The effect, however, is more than emotional. My books never having had a paperback launch, never having been on bookstores’ “new in paperback” tables, and not being available on bookstore shelves has essentially rendered them invisible in the U.S. market. Forgotten.
So, with FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS, I must start again. It’s almost like being a debut novelist — but I’m not. I’m building my readership one review at a time, one Tweet at a time, one Facebook post or Goodreads friend at a time. I do it in part because I love connecting with readers, but also because I believe in my books.
And yet — when do I get off this publicity merry-go-round? How much marketing is too much? Is it ever OK to let my books be what they are, and to trust that word of mouth will spread the word about them?
After all, Heloise’s story clamors to be told. Immersed in her world, I don’t want to be anywhere else — but there’s a Goodreads discussion going on around FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS, and I have a blog interview waiting to be answered. Don’t cry for me — I love all the attention my book is getting — and yet, I ask you: When is enough enough? If I turn my attention to other matters, will my book become invisible, as the first two seem to be? How does anyone know when to stop publicizing? Or, given the infinite online possibilities today, is stopping ever OK?
Have I created a monster? Last night, Blanche de Castille – the White Queen of France and the evil mother-in-law in my forthcoming novel “Four Sisters, All Queens” – tried to kill me.
I don’t recall what I did to offend her. Nothing much, probably. I mean, look what happens to Marguerite, the oldest of the four sister-queens in my novel — and as sweet as a Brignoles peach until she finds herself the target of Blanche’s perpetual and inexplicable ire.
In my dream, I’m imprisoned in Blanche’s castle and awaiting execution. On the day the deed is supposed to happen, I decide to go to her and beg for mercy. To my astonishment, she doesn’t even know who I am – I, her Creator!
“Let me live,” I plead, “and I’ll write a novel to glorify France.”
She ponders the notion. Then she reaches for a livre and – I kid you not – flips it. It lands on the floor heads-up. “Heads! You win,” she says.
But she doesn’t stop there. She picks up the coin and flips it again. “Tails,” she says. “You lose.”
To my relief, she flips it again. Heads. I relax, knowing I’ve won two out of three. But no. She flips it again – tails. Then again – heads. And again – heads.
Now I’ve won for certain. But that chienne doesn’t stop. “There’s something wrong with this coin,” she says, and begins searching for a different one.
I begin talking. “Four Sisters, All Queens” is coming in May, I say, and will bring attention to her and her reign. Read it, I plead, and then decide. “I’ll write another book about your son, Louis,” I say, “or anything you want.” Desperation tinges my voice.
She considers this, and agrees. It’s a busy month for her, though, so she won’t be able to finish the book for a while, she says. That’s just fine with me, and I leave her with a big grin. How can she fail to love the book, in which she plays a prominent role? My life is saved.
Then I remember: In “Four Sisters, All Queens,” Blanche de Castille is a snide and jealous mother-in-law, overbearing and even cruel, who makes Marguerite’s life miserable. Blanche is going to hate it. I’m doomed.
But I remember, also, something else: “White Heart,” my novella coming out in April, shows, by telling of Blanche’s earlier years, how she got to be that hard, cold woman in “Four Sisters, All Queens.” It establishes her complexity – for aren’t we all mixtures of light and dark, naughty and nice? – and her strength as one of the greatest queens in France’s history.
That’s the book I’ll send to her! Of course, at only 18,000 words, it won’t take nearly as long for her to read – which may mean less of a reprieve for me. But I don’t realize that until I wake up.
My manfriend Jeff provides the perfect ending, however.
“You begin to feed cream-filled Bismarcks to the executioner,” he says. “On the day of your execution, just before he drops the blade of the guillotine, he drops dead of a heart attack and you’re saved.”
There’s only one problem with his scenario, I tell him: Guillotines weren’t invented in the 13th century.
He laughs, thinking this an unimportant point. But I know better. I am, after all, a writer of historical fiction. If I gave Blanche de Castille a guillotine, my readers would be the ones calling for my head.
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I want to write, but I can’t find the time,” I’d be richer than J.K. Rowling, who, I’m pretty sure, has never made this complaint. Usually, I bite my tongue in response — but here’s what I’d really like to say.
Keep reading (and writing),
Last night, we dined in peace. Our waiter took our orders, brought our bread, wine, and water, and walked away. Later, our soup arrived — discreetly. Now you don’t see it; now, you do. We were deep in conversation about a serious subject. The air between us fairly hummed with thoughts and emotions. We held hands. We ate our soup and laughed together, then resumed our talk. The soup disappeared. The entree appeared. And never once did anyone interrupt our tender discussion to ask, “How is everything?”
We should have felt outraged. What kind of place was this, anyway, not to interrupt our personal. obviously intense conversation to inquire about the quality of our meal?
It was a European place, that’s what kind it was, with European service. And, frankly, I prefer it.
Have a meal in an American restaurand, and chances are you’ll find yourself stopping mid-sentence — and even mid-chew — to answer the question, “How is everything?” As if you wouldn’t have flagged your server down if something were wrong. Intrusive service, not bad food, is the biggest problem at the restaurants where I dine.
Who trains these people? What makes them think that popping by again and again to ask me inane questions constitutes good service? Nothing makes me grit my teeth more than, “Still working on that?” As if dining were hard work. Or, “Still picking?” I think of my mother, harping, “Don’t pick at your food.”
Here in Paris, the servers do not intrude. They watch from afar, waiting for you to place your fork tines-down on your plate, or for you to push it away. Then they will slip in ever so discreetly and ask quietly for permission to take it. And then, unless you ask for the check, they disappear. No one tries to hurry you out the door. Allowing you to digest your meal and to enjoy your experience take precedence over turning tables.
Once I told a friend of mine, who is Parisian, about a server who argued when an American, non-French-speaking young woman complained of being served pink wine when she’d thought she’d ordered red. “Doesn’t she care about her tip?” I asked.
Jacques scowled. “We pay our servers a good wage in France,” he said. “We don’t need your tipping system. You’ve created a servant class with it.”
That must be it. Not over-eager to please, like panting puppies, and not anxious to move us out the door so they can collect another tip from the next customer, European servers can relax, secure in their wage, and can allow us to do the same as we dine. It’s better for the digestion that way. Maybe it’s time we in American got rid of our “tipping system,” and started paying our servers a fair, living wage.
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