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Author Archive: "M. J. Rose"

The Hypnotist

It's an honor to be back at the Powell's blog and share something about my newest suspense novel, The Hypnotist.

All writers have rites and rituals that we've developed over the years. I always wonder about these habits and idiosyncrasies. But I never have the nerve to ask the venerable pros I meet.

Here are mine.

Before I start any book I need three things. The first is a question I don't know the answer to but find interesting enough to spend at least a year finding out.

The second is a quote that captures the spirit of the theme I want to write about — what I think powers the novel.

And the third is an object that belongs to my main character — that has some meaning to him or her — even if I don't always know quite what that meaning is when I begin.

On Memory and Fiction: Part 12

(Read Part 11 here.)

Christopher Gortner is the author of The Last Queen which is set in early 16th century Spain, Belgium, France, and England. This book is his debut, and promises much for the future about the past.

MJR: How do you delve into a historical past you cannot yourself remember — yet you somehow manage to write about so well?

Gortner: For me, it's part instinct (which I talk about more in the next question) and part research. I write novels based on people who actually lived, so it's always a challenge because my imagination is constrained by fact. For example, I can't change the ending, even if it ends badly. I'm obsessive about research; I have to find out everything I can, and that means getting in contact with libraries and archives, finding out-of-print books, setting up meetings with experts in certain areas, etc.

For The Last Queen, I read over 50 books about Juana of Castile and her world; I also took several trips to Spain and other parts of Europe to trace her footsteps and view the places where she lived. I even tried ...

On Memory and Fiction: Part 11

(Read Part 10 here.)

Laurie King is the bestselling and amazingly prolific author of more than an 18 books, and she has kept me reading late into the night time and time again. She currently writes both stand-alones and series — including the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series that takes place in the early 20th century. Her most recent novel, Touchstone is set in 1926 England, during the weeks leading up to the turmoil of the General Strike.

MJR: Laurie, how do you do your research? How do you find your way into the past?

King: I write mostly in the '20s, although I am contemplating a project that will stretch through the '30s, so most of my research is either the written word or photographic, with some film. What I read depends on what I'm writing — biographies for the prominent people and themes of the time, collected letters and diaries for the flavor and individual concerns. Autobiographies can be tricky, because the details tend to be smoothed over by the retelling, and if details are the lifeblood of fiction, they are both the blood and the ...

On Memory and Fiction: Part 10

(Read Part 9 here.)

Sandra Gulland is the wildly popular author of a trilogy of novels about Josephine Bonaparte: The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth. She spent eight years researching her latest release: Mistress of the Sun.

MJR: What are some of the lessons you've learned about research and memory and history in all the years you've spent studying the past?

Gulland: One realization that was important for me in delving into history — an epiphany, really — came while I was feeding my horse. I realized that what I was doing was timeless. But for his height, my horse was not much different from a horse in the 17th century — or the third century, for that matter. As for myself, I might be taller than a woman in the past, and clothed differently, and my constellation of beliefs and customs somewhat different, but my body and soul were basically the same, and what I was doing — feeding a horse — had been done for centuries before. ...

On Memory and Fiction: Part Nine

(Read Part Eight here.)

Douglas Abrams is the author of The Lost Diary of Don Juan, which takes place during the Golden Age of Spain. It's a historical novel that he wrote to answer a question asked by today's men and women: can romantic love survive modern marriage?

MJR: You started out using an historical figure as metaphor for a subject you wanted to explore, but you managed to create a living, breathing man out of your quest. How did you accomplish that?

Abrams: Over the course of more than four years and 30 drafts, I revised The Lost Diary to try to get as close as I could to Don Juan's world, to understand the decadence and the dangers of Golden Age Spain. The more I researched, the more I discovered that the Muse was leading me down the right alleyways of history. Don Juan's story had to be set in this particular time and place, for the unique combination of rebellion and repression that symbolized the end of the 16th century in Spain helped shape him both as


On Memory and Fiction: Part Eight

(Read Part Seven here.)

Heather Terrell is the author of The Map Thief, a novel that takes place in early-15th-century China and the Ming Dynasty, late-15th-century Portugal and the European Age of Discovery, and the modern-day world. I discovered Heather's work when I read her debut novel, The Chrysalis, last year, and I wrote her a fan letter.

MJR: When you write about the past, it's extremely vivid and dramatic. Your characters inhabit that space and yet are still completely relevant and relatable. How do you accomplish that?

Terrell: To plunge into the past, I immerse myself into the real people who inhabited the time period and the finer points of their lives and settings — by studying original sources wherever possible, and the visual aspects of their lives when available. For example, in The Map Thief, to capture the worlds of the early-15th-century Chinese mapmaker who created the map and the late-15th-century Portuguese cartographer and navigator who used it, I reviewed the journals of the historian on board the Ming Dynasty sea voyages as well as the first-hand


On Memory and Fiction: Part Seven

(Read Part Six here.)

David Blixt is the author of the acclaimed The Master of Verona, which takes place in the early 14th century in Italy: the time of Dante, Giotto, and Petrarch; the very birth of the Italian Renaissance. It's an impressive debut and an extremely entertaining and intelligent novel.

MJR: How do you explain how you write so convincingly about a past you cannot yourself remember?

Blixt: I could say that human experience doesn't change, only the trappings and mores of society — that research, married to empathy, will carry the day. But that answer doesn't address the fact that out of all the periods and all the locales, I am drawn to only a few: Republican Rome, late-Medieval/early-Renaissance Europe, and Home Front America. I often wonder why I'm not drawn to China, or Africa, or South America; why not the Victorians, the Ptolmeys, or Napoleon? There is, for me, a visceral connection, and I mean visceral — it's deep beneath the skin, a truly gut-level pull to certain times and places that fascinate me. I write those periods because I know them better than any others.


On Memory and Fiction: Part Six

(Read Part Five here.)

Katherine Neville is the bestselling author of The Eight, which has been selling steadily for the last 20 years. There aren't many authors who discover they've written a classic in their lifetime, but Neville has. The Fire, her fourth novel and long awaited sequel to The Eight, takes place from 1822 to the present.

MJR: Reading your work, I often get the feeling you're not inventing the story as much as retelling it. Almost as if you are remembering it, which is a great feat. How do you accomplish that?

Neville: "Re-membering" just means putting the pieces back together. There are lots of ways to remember our planet's past, other than just stuffing a bunch of googled encyclopedia "factoids" into our heads, as so many history courses often encourage or even seem to require.

For me, one of the most interesting ways of remembering is personified in one of my characters from The Eight — the heroine Mireille's little son, Charlot, who reappears in The Fire as a grown man. In the earlier book, he was described as a child prophet who was


On Memory and Fiction: Part Five

(Read Part Four here.)

Steve Berry is the New York Times-bestselling author of modern-day thrillers that deal with history's mysteries. His research literally takes my breath away. His attention to detail creates a fictive coherence that is to be admired. Berry's newest, The Charlemagne Pursuit (December 2008), deals with an ancient civilization 13,000 years old, the ninth century CE, the time of Charlemagne, and present day.

MJR: Steve, how do you write so precisely and realistically about the past?

Berry: The simple answer is research, research, research. I suppose that means I rely on the recollections of others. How else would we ever know about the past except through the memories of those who experienced it? In my case, that comes from hundreds of primary and secondary sources, which I pore through one by one, searching for those precious few facts that will fit together to make a story. Without those recollections, properly memorialized and preserved, the past would truly be lost.

I'm not arrogant enough to say that my creativity is all that is at work here. Nor am I enough of a believer


On Memory and Fiction: Part Four

(Read Part Three here.)

David Hewson writes contemporary suspense novels featuring an Italian detective named Nic Costa. His newest is The Garden of Evil, which references the work of Dante and 1950s San Francisco. I've been reading David's work since he was first published in the U.S. and have always been amazed by how he uses the past to inform the themes of the current day story he's telling.

MJR: How do you delve into a historical past you cannot yourself remember — yet you somehow manage to write about so well?

Hewson: I choose a few selected items to create a concrete image of the place, then build the rest from imagination.

MJR: Do you spend a lot of effort on being accurate? I find that I can get very caught up in details and waste hours trying to find out something that in the end I realize no one alive now could ever know.

Hewson: While I try to be "accurate" as much as possible (mainly because it would be lazy to be inaccurate when the sources are out there), I don't see veracity


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