Many years ago, I read Carolyn See’s book, Making a Literary Life. There was much to love about this book but what has really stuck with me is her advice to write charming literary notes to those whose work we admire. I took that advice to heart and have made it my practice ever since that time (though See suggests writing one note per week, I am not quite that prolific). That’s how I first connected with the amazing Candace Fleming. I had read her book, Boxes for Katje, at Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle, weeping over the poignant story. Of course, the book came home with me and thus the letter to Candy. We bonded over publisher dinners when we shared a publisher and, though we don’t see each other often enough, I delight in every moment I spend in her company. It is my honor to host her today, in celebration of her anthology, Fatal Throne (Schwartz-Wade/Random House).
I can’t imagine a better place than Kirby’s Friends Friday post to blab about my latest book, Fatal Throne (Schwartz-Wade Books/Random House). It is, after all, a collaboration among friends, a book created by me and six of my most talented writer pals – Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, Deborah Hopkinson and M.T. Anderson.
Our project began three summers ago when Stephanie Hemphill and I were sitting at my dinner table talking Tudor. It sounds random, I know, but the wives of Henry VIII obsess us both. They’re enigmas, often seen solely in their relation to the king. Thus, Katharine of Aragon is the old battle ax; Anne Boleyn, the seductress; Jane Seymour, the good wife; Anne of Cleves, the ugly frump; Catherine Howard, the giddy bubblehead; and Kateryn Parr, the stoical matron. But who were these women really? What were their thoughts, dreams and ambitions? I wished they could speak across the centuries. And that’s when it stuck me. Why couldn’t they? Why couldn’t Steph and I – and some others — write from their perspectives, giving them differing and unique voices?
Plus one more… M.T. Anderson as Henry VIII.
We began with few rules. We set a word length and a due date. We decided to forego British spellings and “Ye Old English.” And we agreed that each story would begin at the queen’s “moment of doom;” the moment she realizes her days are numbered. This could be a bold, dramatic moment like teenaged Catherine Howard laying her head on the chopping block. Or it could be a more subtle moment, as when Katharine of Aragon realizes her beloved Henry loves someone else.
None of us shared our moment in advance. We didn’t confer with each other, or attempt to make our stories consistent. Each writer was free to interpret the historical material in whatever way she felt appropriate. After all, one of the things that fascinated us most about this project was the idea of conflicting perspectives; the way different people interpret things differently. If there ended up being contradictions between queens’ “memories,” all the better.
Once finished, Anne Schwartz edited each story individually; we did not see one another’s editorial comments. That doesn’t mean we didn’t email each other about them. But our processes remained very individual… intentionally so.
Meanwhile, Tobin was reading our stories… and responding in the king’s voice. His Henry butts in, bullies and bad-mouths. He is, as Tobin calls him, a “crapulent tyrant.” And brilliantly, his self-righteous, self-aggrandizing denials serve only to confirm his wives’ stories.
Tobin also had a brainstorm. Why not vault from Henry’s death into the future? Why not end the book with Queen Elizabeth riding out against the Spanish Armada? In one of history’s greatest ironies Henry – who distorted so many lives in his drive for a male heir – in a sense actually achieves his goal. He gets his strong heir, but in a form he could never have imagined… his daughter’s! Is it as spoiler to tell you the book ends with Elizabeth’s triumphant reign as a female monarch, the product of all that hope and tragedy?
Queen power, indeed!
Candace is the author of more than forty books for children, including picture books, middle grade novels and biographies. Among her nonfiction titles are Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia, and most recently Strongheart Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen and The Amazing Collection of Joey Cornell. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Orbis Pictus Award, as well a two-time recipient of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, the ALA Sibert Honor, and the SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction. You can learn more about Candace on her website.