A Conversation About CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED with Helen R. Davis

This week, I spoke again with Helen R. Davis, who has written several books on powerful historical women. I wanted to talk with her about her work on Cleopatra VII, the amazing Egyptian queen who - like Anne Boleyn - has been treated terribly by fiction.



Lissa: Tell us about your book on Cleopatra.
  
Helen R. Davis: Books is a better question. CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED is the first in a series that imagines the world after Antony and Cleopatra VII triumph at the Battle of Actium over Octavian. Told in my style of first person as though the queen were my confidante, the first in this series covers Cleopatra VII's life until the Battle of Actium, although I have moved that battle back 6 years from 31 B.C. TO 37 B.C. to coincide to when Cleopatra's second husband, Marc Antony, was beating Octavian in the propaganda war. CLEOPATRA VICTORIOUS will tell of an imagined life with Antony and Cleopatra after their victory. This title will be released late 2017 or early 2018. CLEOAPTRA MAGNIFICA and CLEOPATRA TRIUMPHANT are sequels written about a fictional great-granddaughter of Cleopatra VII, known as Cleopatra X.

 Lissa: What led you to write about her? Was there a particular part of her story that intrigued you?
  
HRD: I sensed a kindred spirit in Cleopatra VII. Like her, I am intellectual and enjoy politics. I also sensed a woman who was strong but very womanly.  In other words, she was classically beautiful but smart. What a great combo!   I was always intrigued by her demeanor and legend.  I also don't buy that she wasn't pretty. Sorry, but she had to have been something to snag Caesar and Antony.

 Lissa: I wonder if - like Anne Boleyn - it was her charm and  personal magnetism that made her beautiful. I've met some women like that in my own life. To look at a photo of them, you wouldn't think they were particularly attractive, but when they're chatting and laughing, they are just lovely. I imagine Cleopatra was a wonderful conversationalist. As educated as she was, I imagine she was well-read (probably having people bring her books from the Great Library before it was destroyed) so she must have been incredible to talk to.

HRD: There is an aspect of that too. Personalities can add to people. Some people do have all of the outer looks and none of the inner beauty to match.
  
Lissa: Cleopatra was an amazing woman. She managed to survive the attempts of her siblings to wrest the throne from her, and made two strategic marriages to the rulers of Rome that managed to keep her country independent for years. Why is it, do you think, that she isn’t seen in the same light as European queens who also survived rebellions and made strategic alliances for their nations?

HRD: I think it's because she was seen as a bad woman trying to keep Egypt independent from Rome.  Many people project modern values onto historical characters, or even onto certain contemporary characters who they don't like.  Part of it is also that her death was the end of ancient Egypt, unlike Isabella or Elizabeth I, whose reigns were the 'births' of modern Spain or England.

Lissa: That may be it... She was the closing chapter. And until modern times, there was an aura of judgement or condemnation because she was seen as sexually liberated. Of course, there's no evidence she ever took a lover outside of marriage, but she still had that reputation because Rome saw "the east" as being immoral.

HRD: Cleopatra was actually more monogamous than some of the women Rome held up as examples. She was likely only intimate with Caesar and Antony. 

Lissa: If you ask most people to imagine Cleopatra’s life, they think of her lounging around on silk pillows all day. But she was a very hard-working queen. Can you tell us about some of her accomplishments?

HRD: Yes. She spoke 9 languages, possibly more. She was the first in her dynasty to learn the native tongue of the people. She cared for the poor and made laws stopping tax collectors from gouging them. She donated to the Jewish population in Alexandria, helping build a synagogue. She likely authored several books on cosmetics. She was a devoted mother, unlike other members of her dynasty. She was, for all practical purposes, the world's first career woman.


Lissa: Let's expand a little bit on her domestic side. She does appear to have been a very devoted mother. Do you think that had anything to do with her religious feelings? She regarded herself as an incarnation of Isis, the mother goddess. Do you think that was "publicity" or do you think she internalized it and really did feel herself having a special affinity with Isis? 

HRD:  She was very devoted to all four of her children. Part of it probably was she internalized being an incarnation of Isis, but earlier Ptolemaic queens had done so and they were certainly not devoted mothers! Cleopatra III saw herself as an incarnation of Isis but she had her daughter, Cleopatra IV, killed. There is no evidence of Cleoaptra VII killing her children.  Probably she actually was the devoted mother and  loyal wife she portrayed herself as.

Lissa: Do you think Cleopatra had any emotional attachments to her brother or sisters before politics tore them apart?

HRD: That is a question I can't answer. The age differences between her and her older sisters probably prevented any closeness. I have written Tryphaena as a shallow, older woman, but we know very little about her. Berenice IV, her second oldest sister, was a woman who ruled Egypt on her own. Arsinoë IV was much younger, and my portrayal of her is as a wicked, evil woman—much as the Romans wrote Cleopatra. Her younger brothers she was forced to marry she likely had no affection for—imagine being forced to marry, for example, a bratty immature kid from elementary school.   If she did, I would imagine her being close with Berenice IV or Arsinoë IV.


Lissa: Ptolemy does seem "bratty," and either he had poor impulses, or his advisers did. I've always cringed a bit when I read the part about him presenting Caesar with the head of Pompey. Such a tragic mistake - a mistake I can't imagine Cleopatra making.

 HRD: Exactly. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Lissa: It seems like Cleopatra’s father chose her to be his heir when he took her to Rome with him, then elevated her to be his co-regent after Bernice was defeated. Why do you think he chose her over his sons or Arsinoë ?

HRD: Cleopatra was Ptolemy XII's favorite daughter. I think he chose her because he saw her potential. He also did favor her over her sisters, as the historical record shows.

Lissa: Had things turned out differently, do you think Arsinoë  or Ptolemy could have kept Egypt independent from Rome? Would either have been a decent ruler?

HRD: Arsinoë came across to me as very spoiled, as did Ptolemy. Cleopatra VII brought Egypt much more time than either of them would have.

 Lissa: Do you believe the historical record that Cleopatra asked or ordered Marc Antony to have Arsinoe slain in the temple? I've always found that detail to be a little jarring for her character. It doesn't seem like something she would do - so publicly, so sacrilegiously.
 
"Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl"
An example of how each era reinterpreted Cleopatra
through the lens of their own era.
HRD: It's not impossible, but it does seem very out of character for her.

Lissa: If Caesar had named his son with Cleopatra as his heir, how do you think things would have turned out?

HRD: Much better for all involved. I cover that in my alternate history series.

Lissa: Why do you think he didn't? Ceasarion was his only son... the only one he would ever have. He had already shown himself to be bold and willing to break rules that seemed inviolate, such as crossing the Rubicon. Why do you think he held back in this respect?

HRD: I actually did read in one biography that Caesar had a copy of his will where he named Caesarion as his heir, but that it was destroyed by Octavian. I think it was in Cleopatra: Goddess of Egypt, Enemy of Rome by Polly Schoyer Brooks.  I don't know why Caesar held back. Possibly he did not foresee his assassination. But he was a bold man, and I've kept the copy of his will in my alternate history.

Lissa: We know the sad fate of Ceasarion. What about Cleopatra’s twins and her son Ptolemy Philadelphos? Their stories fade into the mists of history. Do you think Octavia was kind to them? We know Cleopatra Selene married, but what do you think happened to the boys?

 HRD: I think Octavian probably had the boys killed. If he killed Caesarion, why wouldn't he kill Antony's sons? Cleopatra Selene was no threat to him. It's become popular to portray Selene as some kind of modern woman living in the ancient world, but I don't believe in the happily ever after fantasy about Selene.  As for Octavia,  she was a kind woman, but it could have been propaganda by Octavian that she was nice to them. After all, what better way to make Antony look like a jerk and Cleopatra like a slut?

Lissa: I'd like to believe she was kind to them. Those poor children... To lose their parents and their kingdom in the way they did! I'd love to speak to Selene. I wonder if she inherited her mother's cleverness.

HRD: Oh no, I'm not saying she wasn't kind to them. I'm just saying how convenient for Octavian!

 Lissa: Hollywood has failed Cleopatra more than any other queen. She’s usually depicted as a wanton or hedonistic creature. Do you think Rome “won” in this respect, and their scornful depiction of her has managed to rob her of the respect she deserves?
  
HRD: Sadly, yes.  Many people think of Cleopatra as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.  Rome's portrayal of her, though, says far more about Rome than it does about the great Cleopatra. I hope this series will shed light on who she really was and who we are now by imagining what we might have become.

Lissa: Have you ever read Margaret George's book on Cleopatra?

HRD: Absolutely. I read it in college, but I felt it could have been about 100 pages shorter.I had seen the TV series it was based on beforehand. I hope to do my own movie where I play Cleopatra in the future, only I want to play her as the victorious queen she deserved.


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You can find CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED on Amazon or directly from Savant Books.
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An Interview with Helen R. Davis, Author of THE MOST HAPPY

I always love talking to authors who've written about Anne Boleyn, and this week, I had a discussion with Helen. R. Davis, whose novel The Most Happy is an alternative history of Anne Boleyn's reign.


Lissa: Tell me more about your new Anne Boleyn book. Having written about her myself, I’m always interested in seeing new perspectives.

Helen R.Davis: My novel is an alternate history that imagines a world in which Anne Boleyn bears Henry VIII  a son, in addition to Elizabeth I.  In this alternate history scenario, Edward VI  is Elizabeth I's twin, born twelve hours after she is.  This novel flows the events of Henry VIII's reign until his jousting accident in 1536, in which he dies and leaves Anne Boleyn regent for his young son.  All of the characters of the Tudor court are still here, albeit in an altered setting.

Lissa: I’d like to imagine that! I think Anne Boleyn would have made a fine queen regent. She certainly had excellent role models from her younger years at the courts of Margaret of Austria and Claude of France. Margaret was a very astute ruler – pious and erudite, and it seems Anne may have modeled some aspects of her reign on Margaret’s court. Perhaps on gentle, quiet Claude, too – Anne’s charitable efforts in having her ladies sew shirts always made me think of Claude’s court.

How do you picture Anne—meaning her personality? We’ve seen books which portray her as a somewhat unpleasant person, some which portray her as a woman with the ambition to “catch” a king with her charm, and others which portray her as a victim of her family’s machinations. 

H.R.D: My picture of Anne is always Genevivve Bujold's portrayal in Anne of the Thousand Days. Though not  completely historically accurate, it is much closer to the truth than other portrayals of her I have seen. As a Francophile, I am enamored by her love for France.

Lissa: France was certainly the cultural leader of the day. I’ve always pictured Anne as having a slight French accent when she spoke English. After all, she spent most of her younger years in courts where French was spoken as the language of educated people. It enraptures me to think that she may have me da Vinci while she was at the French court. And King Francis – though later it’s claimed he said some cruel things about her sister.

I’ve also always loved the “ruse” by which Anne famously met King Francis in Calais. She must have been so hurt when the royal French ladies refused to host her, but she made sure she got what they came for – Francis’s tacit approval on their marriage.

H.R.D.: I see her as a woman who wanted to have a normal life, but destiny had other plans for her. I believe she made the best she could out of a bad situation, and I think many people, especially lately, are unfair to her.

Lissa: Susan Bordo wrote a very good book about how each generation “re-interprets” Anne according to their own current views on women. In the 1990s, Anne Boleyn became a “mean girl.” How do you think fiction contributes to the way a culture interprets its historical figures? Do you think fiction bears any kind of burden in that regard, knowing that many of the readers are swayed in their opinions of these people based on the story?

H.R.D.: I think fiction definitely plays a big role, more than some history buffs would like to admit. While novels often fill in gaps, that does not mean that they do not have a place in teaching history, for good or for ill. And yes, I do agree that fiction does often shape historical figures and interpretations of them.   What sparked my interest in Anne Boleyn was Anne of the Thousand Days, and I then went to reading biographies on Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I before the rise of 'The Other Boleyn Girl.'

Lissa: For me, it was Margaret George’s Autobiography of Henry VIII. I fell in love with that book and I started a life-long quest to learn more about the time period and the people. She’ll always have my gratitude for such a wonderful introduction to the Tudor world.

H.R.D: While I respect Philippa Gregory as she gave me encouragement during a dark time in my life, I have met so many people who say they hate Anne because of 'The Other Boleyn Girl.' In a way, my novel is a response to this. Anne Boleyn was not perfect at all, but my portrayal is an attempt to capture who she truly was without shying away from her flaws, even though this is a book that rewrites historical events.

Her treatment of Katharine of Aragon and Mary Tudor wasn't her finest hour, but it should not be held up as the clincher for her morality.

Lissa: I’m not so sure Anne was really mean to them. In my research, I came across a lot of people attributing quotes to Anne, but not direct evidence of it in the records.

H.R.D: That is good to know.  I agree with you. Unfortunately, sometimes people get ideas in their heads and they cannot be swayed otherwise.

Lissa: What about her physical appearance? There are several portraits which purport to be Anne. The NPG portrait with the dark hair is the most famous. What do you think of the Holbein sketch, or Elizabeth’s portrait ring? Do you think Anne could have been completely different than the way we picture her?

H.R.D: Like Cleopatra VII, we don't know what she looked like. It would be something to see images of both women, I think. My favorite has got to be the one that is on the cover of The Most Happy. Elizabeth's portrait ring is a more flattering image, and I find it a tender gesture on the famous queen's part.  I am NOT  a fan of the Holbein sketch at all. She had to have been more intriguing than that!  Like Cleopatra VII, I don't buy that she wasn't gorgeous. Cleo and Anne had to have been something to have captivated men such as Caesar, Antony, or Henry VIII.

Lissa: I think Henry was more captured by Anne’s spirit than he was by her physical appearance. She was bold enough to disagree with him, debate with him, and challenge him, but she did it in a way that charmed him rather than angered him…. At least, at first.  Once she became his wife, he seems to have expected her to change, and her challenges to him started infuriating him instead of intriguing him.

I see Anne as one of the mothers of the Anglican Church. She laid a great deal of the groundwork for the Reformation in England. Do you think she gets the credit she’s due for the way she shaped English history?

H.R.D.: No, she doesn't. She's either seen as Henry's victim or someone who got her just desserts for supposedly usurping a saint.  Not that Katharine of Aragon didn't suffer terribly, but many on the 'Team Katharine' side refuse to see her flaws:  mainly stubbornness and attachment to an indifferent man, much like her sister, Juana of Castile.

Lissa: It wasn’t stubbornness at all! I’ve argued quite a bit with people on Tumblr about this. As much as I adore Anne, Katharine was right. She was the rightful queen and Henry didn’t have the right to take away her title or disinherit their daughter. She could have lived in luxury and been able to see Mary again if she’d only capitulated. I imagine it was sometimes tempting. But she couldn’t give in. It mean surrendering her beloved daughter’s future. 

I also think that, in the end, she still loved Henry and believed to the very last he would wake up one day and realize he loved her too and return to her side.

H.R.D:  Oh no, I'm not saying Katharine of Aragon wasn't right to fight; that's something she and her rival had in common was standing up to Henry.  I'm just saying that Katharine of Aragon had her flaws that often get overlooked or brushed under the rug.  Still, she was blinded by love and could not see Henry for what he really was.

Lissa: While I was researching my novel, I found a segment in one of the Imperial Ambassador’s letters that made my heart actually hurt for her. In it, Katharine said that she was absolutely certain if she could just speak to Henry for a few moments, he would come back to her, but Anne Boleyn’s servants were preventing him from being able to come talk to Katharine. This was in 1532, after years of Henry mistreating her. I just wanted to reach back through time and hug her, because it was so obvious she was a woman who loved someone so intensely that nothing could shake it, not even that man’s cruelty.

H.R.D:  I admire Katharine of Aragon too, and I am currently working on an alternate history that imagines her as Queen of Castile with my co-author, Carolina Casas.   Let's give both women their dues.

Lissa: All of Henry’s wives were remarkable in their own ways. It’s lovely to see someone who appreciates that.

H.R.D: Both Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were wronged by the same man, and both were amazing women.  As for Anne, she deserves more credit for her part in shaping the groundwork of the Reformation and she also deserves more credit for this: nobody was burnt at the stake during her brief reign as queen consort. Also, two women had power with Henry VIII: Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.  There was never to be a third.

Lissa: Queen Mary always hated Anne Boleyn and blamed her for what happened with her father and his cruelty. Do you think Anne is unfairly blamed for the way Mary and Katharine of Aragon were treated, or do you believe Anne had a hand in urging Henry to take a harsh stance against his former wife and daughter?

H.R.D: I somewhat answered that in the last question.  Anne might have had a role in it, but ultimately, the choice was Henry VIII's.  After Anne was executed, there were rumors Mary would face the same fate if she did not sign the Oath of Succession. Anne did at least repent at the end. Better late than never.

Lissa: Did you discover anything that surprised you or changed your mind about Anne during your research?

H.R.D: The fact that she saved many lives while she was queen and donated so much to charity. I think she was mostly good but had flaws and became a scapegoat for an unpopular king. Her ties to France are also dear to my heart.

Lissa: Do you think Henry VIII’s accident in 1536 marked a turning point in his personality, or did it simply make his patience shorter?

H.R.D: Henry was always a tyrant, let's not make excuses for him. Having said that, it certainly changed him for the worst.


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You can find The Most Happy in paperback on Amazon or Kindle or directly from the publisher.




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Meet Me at Comic Con, Columbus Ohio!


I'll be on two panels:

Friday - 7:00 - 7:45pm (B234)
MODERN MYTHOLOGY AND URBAN FANTASY: THE MAGIC TODAY

Sunday - 1:00 - 1:45pm (B234)
FEMALE CREATORS BREAKING STEREOTYPES

I'll also be set up at booth 333. Stop by and say hello!
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A Conversation with the Authors of ISABELLA UNASHAMED

Today, I'm speaking with the authors of Isabella Unashamed, an AU historical novel. For those who don't know what "AU" means. it's history re-imagined. It's the ultimate "what if?" for those who love history and want to explore what might have happened if things turned out just a little bit differently.
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Isabella of Castile is known as Europe's first great queen. Renowned for her marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon and birthing of modern day Spain, Isabella is also known as the queen who launched the Inquisition, completed the Reconquista, and expelled the Jews from her nation.  Not long after her triumph in 1492, her dynasty came apart and unraveled, and it was whispered by many that the Trastamara line was cursed. Her children either died prematurely or had horrible ends. Her most famous daughter, Catalina, became known as the ill-fated Katharine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII of England's unfortunate six wives. 

But what if Isabella had been wiser and not expelled the Jews—some of the very people who ironically helped put her on the throne of Castile? What if Isabella had had more foresight and had her successor be Catalina, who, although the youngest, was the most like her and the wisest of her children?  How would the power balance of 15th and 16thcentury Europe have shifted if Catalina had been the powerful queen regnant of Spain and not one of the 'merry wives' of Windsor?

With a joint effort Isabella Unashamed is written by two authors from very different cultural backgrounds who have nonetheless, joined together to create a haunting portrait of Spain's most famous queen, as well as a glimpse of what might have been had Isabella been wiser. 

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The three of us had a great discussion about history, fiction, and how we judge historical figures through our modern eyes. 


Lissa: What motivated you to write this novel?


Helen R. Davis—I respect Isabella but I don't admire her. I have mixed feelings about her. I respect her stance on the Reconquista, but I wish she hadn't kicked out the Jews. I also wish Torquemada had not been in her life, or had been in it less. If he hadn't, she would have had a reputation mainly for good and not a mixed legacy. Thus, as with my Cleopatra Unconquered series, I decided Isabella should have a chance to shine as a bright light.

Carolina Casas --I have always found the Reconquista period fascinating and with Isabella and Helen and I were eager to delve into this subject.

Lissa: I have always had the same ambivalence when it comes to Queen Mary I. I intend for my next novel to be about her, but I’ve never been able to decide if I dislike her or pity her, or possibly some combination of the two. She had amazing qualities as a person and as a queen, but she did terrible things… Just like Isabella. Isabella has always impressed me as the female half of the “Catholic Kings” – a woman holding the throne in her own right and dealing with her husband with a level of equality almost completely unknown in that era.

H.R.D: That’s the thing. Either extreme paints a picture that is inaccurate. We need to give these women their dues and not judge them by modern standards, yet we cannot excuse them either.

C.CIt is very easy to see history as a black and white issue, especially this era. Isabella was a complex individual, a woman of her times who had no qualms about doing what was necessary to defeat her enemies, and justify it through her faith.

Lissa: And why did you choose this particular event?

H.R.D: I already covered it in the first stance. I also feel that this is a time period where our culture is under attack and we need to choose where we stand and not try to please both sides. 

C.C.: Curiosity. I have always wondered how big of an impact it’d been if Isabella had taken a different approach following the taking of Granada.


Lissa: That’s always a beautiful moment as a writer, when your imagination takes flight based on that wonderful question “What if…?”

H .R. D: That’s the same thing that inspired my CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED series. I imagined her winning and not losing and a whole new world was born.

C.C: That is the wonderful thing about AU. It offers a world of infinite possibilities, and the people who engage in it, are the ones who do most research because they want to make it look as plausible as possible. It’s the same with historical fantasy -yes, there are supernatural elements, but there is also a lot of research involved in the making of that novel.


Lissa: Isabella is such an iconic figure in late medieval and early modern history, what made you become interested in her?

H.R.D: It was a book called Jewel of Castilla by New Mexico author Carolyn Meyer. It was a young adult novel that painted Isabella as a teenage girl I could relate to. I loved her interest in learning and could kind of relate to the suitors pushed on her but her wanting to choose her guy that she knew she was meant for. She was a 15th century woman, but the fact she chose her own husband in a time when women weren’t supposed to do that and she rejected all the others is one that shines to me. You go girl!

C.CShe was the first Renaissance Queen who set a proto-meritocracy which had never been seen before in addition to encouraging female scholarship and taking control of her own destiny at a time where women -even in Castile- were supposed to be subservient.


Lissa: Margaret Beaufort, grandmother of the man who would one day be Katharine of Aragon’s husband, was given a similar opportunity. She was told she could choose between two Tudor brothers. She said she’d pray about it, and the next morning, said that a vision of a saint had told her which brother to choose. I always wondered if that was her concealing her decisiveness under the guise of piety.

H.R.D: That’s not impossible but I do truly believe in her spiritual side of things and I believe in that aspect of human nature is timeless.

C.C: Religion and politics were intertwined back then -more so than now- and as such, you had people who were extremely devout, using their faith as a tool to justify their actions or, in the case of Margaret Beaufort and Isabella I of Castile, make their ambitions come true. It can be seen as deceptive. From their point of view however, it made sense and offered them a boost in their self-confidence.

Lissa: That’s something that’s always piqued my interest about Isabella – she was never able to get much of a formal education herself, but she had a deep and abiding respect for learning and saw to it that her own daughters had the classical education of princes. Erasmus was stunned when he saw the depth of Katharine of Aragon’s education – not only for a woman, but for any person.

H.R.D: Yes, Isabella was a pioneer of women’s education. As such, it would be somewhat ungrateful to hate her.

C.C: Isabella’s actions tell us a lot about her ambitions and what she hoped Spain would become. She wanted Castile to be its leading voice; the best way for Spain to remain relevant is by becoming recognized as the center of education, exploration, and other (then) scientific pursuits. Under Isabella’s reign, you had two notable female scholars who translated several classical works into Spanish, and taught some of their daughters.


Lissa: Do you think that Spain’s prosperity would have lasted more if she had not issued that edict that expelled the Jews from Spain?
H.R.D.: Absolutely. I have no doubt about it. 
C.C.: Definitely! The Jewish population contributed a lot to Spain, especially to Castile. They were amongst the most prepared and hardworking individuals who prior to their expulsion, had supported Isabella over her niece when she crowned herself Queen.


Lissa: And therein lies a puzzling aspect for me. As intelligent as Isabella was, she didn’t see how catastrophic this could be for her realm’s economy. She essentially removed one leg of a table without planning for replacing it or supporting the industries that would collapse.

H.R.D: Well, hindsight is always perfect. Not just for Isabella, but our own lives as well.

C.C: No doubt she was warned about what would happen if she kicked out a productive section of her population away, but by the time she’d taken Granada, she was so sure that god was on her side, and feeding on her spiritual insecurities, Torquemada and others warned her that if she wanted to keep this winning streak, she had to resort to more drastic measures. It was a clumsy move -one that seemed good at the time because of that winning streak but as time went on, Spain began to suffer the consequences of her actions. 

Lissa: What do you think was Isabella’s major contribution to the modern world and has your view of her changed since writing this novel with your co-author?

H.R.D. --I cannot condone everything she did, but my opinion of her has become more positive, although not entirely negative. Mainly I am pleasantly surprised and delighted to know she promoted women's education and she really was, for all her flaws, the bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

C.C. –While researching her, my view of her slightly changed and I see her now as a complex individual, someone who wanted to bring her kingdom and her husband’s into the new world, but who was still a product of her time. If I had to pick just one, it would be embracing the ideals of Christian Humanism more fervently than any other monarch at the time. This went hand in hand with promoting women’s education, including her daughters’.

Lissa: I think a “bridge” is a good way to describe her. She wasn’t quite “modern” but she wasn’t quite “medieval,” either.

H.R.D: That’s another thing that needs to be understood about her. I love bridges between eras.


C.C: Isabella is the best representation of that transition. She was born at a time when tensions between countries and faiths couldn’t be higher, and people’s school of thought regarding that and gender were changing. She grew up embracing much of the old world but welcoming some aspects of the new.

Lissa: Are there any misconceptions about Spain or the time period you would like to clear up? 

H.R.D.: The machismo surrounding Spain was not from Castile, but from her husband's nation of Aragon. Castile had twelve queens regnant. It was also from Andalusia.

C.C.: Isabella was not an ignorant queen who was subservient to the church and a traditional wife. Her relationship with the church was turbulent from the moment she took the crown, and while she loved Ferdinand with all her heart, she was far from docile and never shied away from voicing her disagreements to him.

Lissa: What was it you think made Isabella love Ferdinand? How do you think she would have felt about what happened to Katharine of Aragon after her first husband’s death?

H.R.D.: Come on, what’s not to love? They were perfect for each other in so many ways. I don’t blame for going for Ferdinand! As for Isabella and Katharine of Aragon’s first husband, i think Isabella grieved over her daughter’s loss. That’s one thing that never changes regardless of era-- parents do love their children, at least good ones.

C.C.: She wanted to be an agent of Spain. She needed a strong partner who could help her rule and defend her crown, but she also wanted to be an agent of her own destiny. Ferdinand was handsome, smart; he had the love of his people and was his father’s favorite, on top of that, he was almost the same age as her.

I think Isabella felt grieved for her daughter. Both her and Ferdinand cared for all their children deeply, but they seemed to have a special connection with Catalina, so naturally they would have felt her loss the greatest. Catalina was still a stranger in a stranger land, and even though she had won her mother-in-law and most of the court over, she was now stuck in a political limbo. Isabella knew what that meant, which is why she worked hard to get her that papal bull.

Lissa: Have either of you been to Spain? If so, how did this help? If not, would you like to go?

H.R.D.: I have been to Castile, and it and Galicia are the parts of Spain I either liked or would like to visit. I don't care to visit Aragon or Andalusia, but if those doors open someday, I'll take the chance. I have been to the palaces mentioned in the novel.

C.C.: I haven’t. I hope to go there someday and visit all the iconic places I’ve read about and that my co-author and I wrote about. I imagine it will be like going back in time.

Lissa: I haven’t been to some of the locations in my books, but I feel like I’ve “lived” there through my characters, and I have this feeling that when I step into those buildings someday, I’ll feel like I’ve been there before.

H.R.D: Yes, I’ve not been to Egypt, but when I was in Israel, I got a feel for the era.

C.C: I have had the feeling ever since I was a little girl of three and my dad read to me the death of King Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory. I felt like I was there and when I had my first history lesson and my professor talked about England and Spain, I felt like I had been swallowed by a black hole and landed on those realms during the early modern period. It was magical, and while writing this book, I felt like I had gone back in time once more. And I have never been to Spain - I’d like to visit there someday, but reading about these places since I was a child, makes me feel like I’ve been there countless times.


Lissa:  Isabella is not as covered in historical fiction as someone such as Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, or Cleopatra. Why do you think she is ignored by historical novelists?

H.R.D.: She is a figure that is a thorny subject. People either go to the extreme of venerating her or turning her into a medieval Hitler. While this novel is not a hagiography, it doesn't shy away from her warts.
C.C.: There are still many myths surrounding her and people prefer to swing from one extreme to another, rather than see her as the complex figure that she was. This novel didn’t shy away from bringing to the fore her attributes and her flaws.

Lissa: Sometimes, the flawed characters are the most interesting characters! Of course, some of the things the people in the 15th and 16th century considered “flaws”, we consider character strengths. No one would blink today at a woman disagreeing with her husband or being firm and decisive, but those were not desirable traits in a woman of those days. I think the bold spirit of some of these historical figures led to historians viewing them with distaste for hundreds of years. We’re still living with the shadows of those perceptions coloring our history. 

H.R.D: Women like Isabella have always existed. Our modern ideas of gender equality didn’t exist back then, but that didn’t mean there were not spirited women. The Cleopatras and Isabellas make history books interesting. 

C.C: I know, right? I am interested in real people not caricatures of them, and Isabella is one of those people who get put on a pedestal or thrown under the bus. Isabella’s story is nothing short of astounding and as Helen has pointed out, there have been so many other women like her in history who became relevant because they decided to take the reins of destiny into their own hands and forge their own paths. 

Lissa: You are both from very different cultural backgrounds. How do you think knowledge of both helped shape this project?

H.R.D.: My background is English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish, so I could appreciate Isabella's spirit. I also felt I was in a land that, while warm and sunny, was the polar opposite of mine. I also love France -a nation Isabella didn't care for. In a way, this is an ironic twist of fate for me.

C.C: I am Hispanic. I grew up in Mexico and as a result I have been taught about these events since I was a child. This history is very close to me and the older I got, the more interested I became, especially in Isabella. 

Lissa: Here in the US, we usually only hear of Isabella in the context of funding Columbus’s voyage to the New World. (The old myth of her pawning her jewels crops up from time to time.) I became familiar with her as Katharine of Aragon’s mother because of my particular interest in Tudor history. It’s so sad that we miss out on learning more about this fascinating woman! 

H.R.D: I think part of it also is that, as I said before, she’s not a figure modern people feel comfortable with. 

C.C: I wouldn't know about basic education in the US except from what I hear from my cousins who've studied here and my college experience. It seems to me that it has to do more with simplicity and making things easier for students to understand. It is a real shame because young people are smarter than their teachers give them credit for, and I am sure many of them wish to know the full story.


Lissa: Tell us some interesting trivia about Isabella (like her perfumes or something like that, little things that will make her seem human, like Cleopatra bathing in donkey's milk).

H.R.D.: Her favorite scents were civet and musk. She also learned Latin. I find that interesting as it is supposedly one of the languages Cleopatra, the subject of one of my other alternate history novel series, did not speak. 

Lissa: Learning Latin in those days was essentially learning the language of knowledge itself. It was almost a “secret language” of learned men because it was a dead language, spoken only by scholars and churchmen. Women were starting to push their way into that world. 

H.R.D: That is so true.

C.C: Yes, and that opened doors for women of other social backgrounds less than a century later. 

Isabella grew up not having the luxuries a person of her station would have, as a result when she became queen, she always made sure that she looked the part. She loved to wear the finest things, and was up to date with the latest fashions, even imposing her own as well! But it is her desire to further her education that I find most interesting because it is what led her to have her daughters’ an education nearly equal to princes.



I’ve always been fascinated by the way people used fashion to send silent messages, not only about their status, but about their political leanings. And it particularly interests me how France – even when they were the “enemy” – always seemed to be the one who set the fashions.

H.R.D: France. A land I have always loved. That is an area Isabella would have debated me on, I am certain!

C.C: France was a realm synonymous with refinement and even Isabella had to recognize, that they were THE trendsetters.

Lissa: Tell me something in particular that you learned while writing the book. When I started writing about Anne Boleyn. I discovered things during my research that surprised me and changed my mind on some things. Did you come across anything like that?

H.R.D.: I did. I identify with her strong faith that I had no clue she possessed. I also found it interesting she gave so much to charity and no one was burnt at the stake while she was queen.

C.C.: Yes, I did. I found her pragmatism really interesting and a facet of her character that is rarely seen. She would say one thing and do the opposite, and she had no qualms about breaking sacred oaths if it meant protecting her family.

Lissa: Ooh, what you just said about “sacred oaths” fired my imagination! We all know that Katharine of Aragon defended her marriage to Henry VIII, swearing that she had never been intimate with her first husband Arthur Tudor. Do you think that she was “her mother’s daughter” in this aspect, and would have had the will to lie if it meant fulfilling her destiny to be Queen of England?

H.R.D:  I do think Katharine of Aragon was politically astute, but I do believe she told the truth about her and Arthur. Besides, this is Henry VIII accusing her. I will take the word of Katharine or Anne Boleyn over Henry any day!

C.C.: I think she was but being the youngest daughter and having seen her parents at her finest, she also wanted to live up to a stronger ideal than what was expected of her. You look at her siblings, and they were all expected to have bigger responsibilities -some of them weren’t prepared for that; Maria for example chose not to be a political consort, the eldest Isabel fell into a deep depression after her first husband died, and the third one (Juana) tried to rule but wasn’t up to the task. Catalina seems to have been very different and take on a more pragmatic approach like her mother, but she did take on her religious devotion more seriously, therefore I don’t think she would have told a lie of that nature.

Lissa: What is your favorite image of Isabella?

H.R.D.: The best image of her is “La Virgen de la Mosca”, where she has her hands on a book. Some have said that it is a depiction of St. Catherine, or her posing as this celebrated saint. It is simply iconic and beautiful, and a testament of her religious conviction.



C.C.: My favorite representation of her on screen has been by Michelle Jenner in the Spanish series “Isabel”. She brought out the best and worst of Isabella and made her seem human. My favorite portrait of her is the one where she proudly wears the Castilian crown and is holding the royal scepter. The look of her face perfectly exemplifies Isabella’s attitude -She was charismatic and approachable, but she was also a master politician who was good at her game.



  .¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.



Thank you so much for the great conversation, Helen and Carolina! 
You can find Isabella Unashamed here.

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The Final #TalismanTuesday The TALISMAN CHRONICLES Episode 6

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It's the final #TalismanTuesday - and release day for PRISON - The Talisman Chronicles, Episode 6, by T.M. Franklin. (If you haven't read WINDOW yet, be sure and start there!)

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Chloe Blake knows a battle is coming. She’s seen it—over and over—in her living room’s mystical picture window.

But she’s also seen something worse.

Chloe and her friends are The Order, gifted with powers to fight the dark chaos that’s descended on Lamsden and is bent on wreaking havoc not only there, but around the world. They’re prepared to fight, but fighting may not be enough.

And if Chloe’s visions are right, they might not all emerge from the battle unscathed.

Or even alive.
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Grab PRISON today on AMAZON!

And if you haven't started The Talisman Chronicles yet, what are you waiting for? You can download them all to your Kindle right now!


Don't forget to enter the Giveaway for a Kindle Fire, Signed Paperbacks, or an Amazon Gift Card!

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T.M. Franklin writes stories of adventure, romance, & a little magic. A former TV news producer, she decided making stuff up was more fun than reporting the facts. Her first published novel, MORE, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days. MORE was well-received, being selected as a finalist in the 2013 Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards, as well as winning the Suspense/Thriller division of the Blogger Book Fair Reader's Choice Awards. She's since written three additional novels and several best-selling short stories...and there's always more on the way.



Connect with T.M. Franklin

Web Site |Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Google+ | YouTube |Email

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Valentine's Day #Giveaway of DOMINION #dystopian #romance #EOTWAWKI

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! In honor of the holiday, I'm giving away an autographed copy of DOMINION!




A generation has passed since the pandemic known only as the Infection ended the world as we know it. In a little town in the Appalachian Mountains, Taylor has known only a harsh and brutal struggle for survival in a land littered with the rusted-out remnants of a lost world. By day, she labors in a coal mine. In the evenings, she tends a secret collection of beehives, and uses the honey to pay for lessons in survival skills, such as hunting, fishing, and collecting herbs. Her home is a single room in a crumbling old motel, and her only companion is a pet box tortoise named Go she’s had since she was a child.

When her town is destroyed by a vicious gang of raiders known as the Nine, Taylor escapes with Dylan, the son of the mayor. Their only plan is to head south and escape the Nine’s vast territory, avoiding areas contaminated by meltdowns and industrial pollution where mysterious illnesses plague the residents.

Dylan has never known hunger or hardship and struggles to learn survival skills. He’s never known a woman like Taylor, either. He tries to pay her back by teaching her to read, and telling her the stories passed down from the world of Before.

They certainly didn’t plan on falling in love. Taylor fights it every step of the way, because in her world, any emotional attachment is dangerous. She’s been taught since childhood that love slows you down, makes you weak. But the feelings growing between them cannot be denied.


Taylor finds herself slowly breaking every one of her hard-learned rules of survival. She discovers that perhaps some of those things she’s always fought to avoid are the very things that make life worth living.


… And death shall have no dominion …
 



Click HERE to read the first chapter.

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US residents only



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#TalismanTuesday The Talisman Chronicles Episode 5 Releases Today

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It's #TalismanTuesday and today, SHIELD, The Talisman Chronicles, Episode 5 is now available!

When Dylan Kennedy finds himself standing in the rain on Chloe Blake’s doorstep, with no memory of how he got there, he has no idea that the weirdness in his life is just beginning. He opens the old wooden chest in Chloe’s attic and, with a flash of blinding light, he’s endowed with a unique gift—and made part of The Order.

But Dylan and the others face a growing threat—a darkness that feeds on pain and thrives on chaos. It’s getting stronger every day, and soon, they’ll have to fight it head-on, whether they’re ready or not.

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Wow! Things are getting crazy in Lamsden, WA!

Grab your copy of SHIELD today on AMAZON. And if you've missed any of The Talisman Chronicles, you'll want to make sure you've read WINDOW, TIMEPIECE< GAUNTLET and MANTLE first!

Don't forget to enter the Giveaway for a Kindle Fire, Signed Paperbacks, or an Amazon Gift Card!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


T.M. Franklin writes stories of adventure, romance, & a little magic. A former TV news producer, she decided making stuff up was more fun than reporting the facts. Her first published novel, MORE, was born during National Novel Writing month, a challenge to write a novel in thirty days. MORE was well-received, being selected as a finalist in the 2013 Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book Awards, as well as winning the Suspense/Thriller division of the Blogger Book Fair Reader's Choice Awards. She's since written three additional novels and several best-selling short stories...and there's always more on the way.


Connect with T.M. Franklin

Web Site |Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Google+ | YouTube |Email

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