If you’re joining us today, I’m interviewing a historical novelist who has earned rave reviews for her debut. It features the glittering court of Ferrara, and the type of intrigue one might expect whenever the Medicis and Borgias mix. (Find Part I here. You can also find a helpful Q&A on conflict Elizabeth did with me on Writer Unboxed here.)
Jan: You’ve had some exciting news in the last week, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth: Yes. It’s now confirmed that The Second Duchess will be one of several books featured in a Barnes and Noble/Nookcolor sweepstakes built around the new Showtime miniseries The Borgias. Television commercials promoting the sweepstakes — win a fabulous trip to Rome! — will run nationally at the beginning of Showtime shows throughout the months of April and May. In addition, Barnes and Noble will promote the sweepstakes with in-store endcaps, which will also feature The Second Duchess.
Congratulations. I hope this brings you many more readers. Now, back to our regular programming. 🙂
A theme within The Second Duchess is that Barbara’s curiosity – or her “disquisitiveness”, as termed by Alfonso – comes with a steep cost. In a way, her quest for the truth seems emblematic of the battle I associate with the Renaissance: that of intellectualism and science versus the Church. Any thoughts on that?
Well, it was certainly not conscious on my part! But it’s true that the story takes place in the midst of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and the rise of Humanism. Barbara was fortunate enough, because of her birth and position, to receive a good education. I think her semi-monastic upbringing, mostly secluded from her father’s and brother’s Imperial courts, contributed to her general character trait of curiosity. So much was going on, so close and yet so far away! As a girl, particularly a girl who was given books like Il Cortegiano, she was endlessly curious about the court she was allowed so little access to. The cookie you can’t reach is always the most delicious!
Another strong element in Barbara’s “disquisitiveness,” though, is her pride. She doesn’t set out to learn the truth about the first duchess out of sheer curiosity or willfulness. Her Habsburg pride — and the pride of the Habsburgs is legendary — is deeply wounded by Alfonso’s way of going about convincing her (I won’t go into detail so as not to spoil the story!) to stop asking questions. She is humiliated and frightened. She determines to learn the truth about Lucrezia’s death partly to strike back at Alfonso for his arrogance and cruelty, and partly to gain information she can hold over his head to prevent him from humiliating her again. I would say she is determined to blackmail him, but the word “blackmail” wasn’t in general use at the time.
You are the first cousin thirteen times removed of Bessie Blount, Henry VIII’s mistress. The fact that you know that and I don’t know my family tree back more than two generations implies certain things to me. So! If I were to survey your life through anthropologic eyes, what other clues would I find that you’d grow up to be a historical novelist? Precisely how does a parent “grow” one, anyway? 😉
I found out about my connection with Bessie Blount by accident, while doing genealogical research online. My dear mother had carefully kept a family history going back four and in some cases five generations, for both her own family and my father’s, and with the rise of sites like ancestry.com and familysearch.org, it’s much easier to trace one’s family back further. My first connection with the Blounts is a great-great-great grandmother on my mother’s side, and from there it traces back. I was quite astounded to find I was (very tangentially) connected with Bessie!
I think the first hint that I would grow up to be a historical novelist was the fact that from third or fourth grade on I sneaked adult historical novels from my parents’ bookshelves. I had no idea what I was reading in many cases, and made up my own pronunciations for the words I didn’t know (I was virtually an adult before I learned that one didn’t pronounce the “h” in “whore”) but I understood enough to be swept away. My favorite movies were historical epics. I was a very romantic little girl and to me, history was romance with a capital R.
I also loved making up stories and acting them out. My sister can attest to the various costume dramas we acted out ourselves, and with our paper dolls.
You’re hard at work on another book. Tell us about your next project.
It’s called The Flower Reader, and it grew from my fascination with Mary Queen of Scots and the casket letters. One day I found myself thinking (always a dangerous moment) “I wonder where that casket came from, and what else it was used for, and what happened to it.” There is a casket at Lennoxlove House in East Lothian that is possibly the casket-letters casket, but no one knows for sure.
When I began to imagine the casket, I saw flowers (I have no idea why), and from that grew my main character, Marina Leslie, called Rinette — a young woman with a talent for floromancy, which is the art of reading intentions and the future in flowers. Rinette has an intense love-hate relationship from childhood with Mary Queen of Scots, who was such a young woman herself when she returned to Scotland to rule. Only nineteen! And of course between Rinette and Mary there’s a mysterious and flamboyant Scarlet-Pimpernel-like Frenchman, Nicolas de Clerac. As in The Second Duchess, there is history, there is a thread of mystery and detection, and there is an unconventional love story. All the things I love!
What would you like to have said about your writing in another ten years’ time?
“My grandmama has written ten books! Look, they’re right here on my bookshelf.”
I’m quite serious. One of the things that kept me going through this whole process was imagining the Broadcasting Legend™’s children and grandchildren — whom I’ve happily adopted as my own — going into a bookstore and seeing the name “Loupas” on a book. Of all the wonderful, fortunate things that have happened to me via The Second Duchess, one of the most wonderful of all is that my nine-year-old granddaughter (who adores bookstores) not only picked up the book off the shelf, but took it to school for her show-and-tell. She said she was proud of me and my heart just melted with delight.
Of course I would also like people to say things like, “I always look forward to the new Elizabeth Loupas, because I know I can curl up with it and be swept away.”
Peeps, thus concludes my interview with Elizabeth — the last comprehensive one I’ll be doing on Tartitude for a while. Because she did sweep me away, I’m delighted to finish on such a high note.
Before you disappear, Elizabeth has a few giveaways.
1.To be entered for a draw for the Moleskine Passions Book Journal, illustrated to the left, you will:
- Reside within North America — Alaska and Hawaii included!
- Leave a comment in the space below.
- To be entered twice, the standard requirement to blog/tweet or post a link to Facebook about this interview, with a note in the comments below that you did so.
2. If you wish to receive a signed postcard from Elizabeth — gorgeous, because they’re a reproduction of the cover art — contact her through her e-mail at eloupas @ gmail.com, minus the spaces. Once she receives your mailing address, she’ll ship that off to you.
Lastly, Elizabeth welcomes visitors to her website.