Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Author Interview: Robin Maxwell & Giveaway

I posted a review yesterday about a fascinating novel called SIGNORA DA VINCI by Robin Maxwell. Today, I am so excited to have Ms. Maxwell stopping by. She took time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few of my questions about her latest historical fiction novel:

Booking Mama: SIGNORA DA VINCI is such a wonderful book -- there are so many interesting topics covered within the pages. I know that there is not a lot known about Caterina, but how exactly did you come up with the idea to write a book about her rather than Leonardo?

Robin Maxwell: My original interest was in Leonardo. To my thinking, there is not another figure in history with a more fascinating mind. But publishers of historical fiction today are focused on stories from a woman's point of view. There are very few who will publish a book with a male protagonist. So I began looking for a significant female in Leonardo's life. Because of his sexual orientation, there were no significant female lovers, or wives or daughters. So I began exploring his mother. When I first discovered how little was known about Caterina, I was a bit taken aback. But once I'd taken in all the material about da Vinci himself -- his works of art and his written word compiled from his notebooks in a 1,080 page tome, and the masses of material about the world into which he stepped as a young apprentice in Renaissance Florence in 1466 -- I worried no more. I realized that I had a nearly blank slate when it came to Leonardo's mother, and that I would be able to extrapolate her character by studying her son, and her actions by following the monumental happenings of the period.

Booking Mama: I was amazed by how many huge historical events you covered in this novel. How much research did you conduct while writing SIGNORA DA VINCI?

Robin Maxwell: It's hard to explain just how much research I did for this book. After six novels set in Tudor England and Ireland, I was faced with all new characters, a new earlier time, and a country with its unique and complex political landscape. I needed to know my way around the city of Florence in those years, as I'd never even traveled to Italy. Luckily there was one research book that had maps of the city at different times in history, so I had that open almost all the time, plotting my characters' movements from here to there. One reader was astonished when I told her that I'd never been to Florence, as I'd described it perfectly. Plus there were themes and throughlines that were new to me -- apothecaries and alchemical laboratories. Secret societies and the philosophies they studied. The immense canvas of Renaissance art and architecture. I nearly went blind reading and taking notes, calling up information on the internet and printing it up for further reference, then fitting all the pieces together into one impossible and very detailed book proposal (which I later used as an outline for writing the novel).

Generally, once I'm partway through the writing -- one to two hundred pages into a book, I can put aside the research material and just write. Not so with Signora da Vinci. This was so detail-intensive that until the very last page of the epilogue, I was sitting there in my overstuffed writing chair with my yellow pad in my lap and research books to the right and left of me, looking up references till the final sentence. Of course you can't flaunt your research, either. I remember what Rosalind Miles once said when we were sitting on a panel together and she was asked about research. She said "Research is like a ladies slip. One should always be worn, but it must never show." Writing this book was exhausting! When I was finished with the first draft I felt like my brain had been fried. For a few months afterwards, I had memory lapses, difficulty remembering simple words, and even a bit of disorientation. I'm okay now, but it'll be a long time before I attempt another book that requires that kind of research.

Booking Mama: I was completely fascinated by the whole idea of the "Shadow Renaissance" - that many brilliant minds of 15th century Florence, Milan and Rome were involved in esoteric studies (even though the punishment would be death.) What part of the Shadow Renaissance do you find the most interesting?

Robin Maxwell: What intrigued me was that virtually every head of state in Europe, despite his claims of piety, had some interest or involvement with esoteric or occult practices. Everyone hired on Greek tutors at their courts so that they could study Plato and Hermes Trismegistus (whom they believed was a great Egyptian sage). Even Pope Alexander (the first Borgia to wear the papal crown) had his Vatican apartments painted with pagan images. For whatever reasons, in Italy during these times, certain men and women were ready to crawl out of the darkness of medieval thought and consider that perhaps human existence was a bit brighter than the hellfire and damnation that the Christian Church promised was everyone's destiny. How can you not love the individuals -- the courageous members of Florence's "Platonic Academy" -- who risked burning at the stake to study spiritual enlightenment? It thrilled me when I found a way to insinuate Leonardo da Vinci's mother into that august society.

Booking Mama: One of the most interesting parts of the book was when Da Vinci "created" the Shroud of Turin. I really have to know, how did you come up with that idea?

Robin Maxwell: About six years ago I read a non-fiction book -- The Templar Revelation -- by a couple of English journalists, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, who were certainly influences on Dan Brown's writing The Da Vinci Code. They introduced me to the idea that there was hidden pagan symbolism in Leonardo's works, and mentioned their belief that he was behind the Turin Shroud hoax. When I was fashioning my proposal, and needed a good plot twist for the end of the book, I searched the Picknett/Prince bibliography and found that they had written another book called Turin Shroud. I based my fictional storyline on the extensive research and experiments they conducted that proved to me that Leonardo was, indeed, behind the hoax. I give them an extended acknowledgment at the end of my novel.

Booking Mama: You have written a few other historical fiction novels about different countries and different time periods. What time period in history do you find the most interesting? If you could "time travel," where would you go?

Robin Maxwell: I kind of feel -- with Renaissance Europe -- "Been there, done that." So if I had to pick one time, it would be the antediluvian world, in the great civilization I believe existed before the great flood (the end of the last Ice Age) around 12,000 years ago. That's when I believe the great Pyramid of Giza and the sphinx were built. And I take Plato at his word -- that Atlantis was not a myth but the true history of the world. In fact, my one yet-to-be-published novel in a genre I call "historical science fiction," is called Poseidon In Love -- about the god-king and his beloved earth-woman wife, Clea'ta. If I could time-travel, I'd like to get some answers about the first great civilization on earth, and why it came to an end.

Booking Mama: I certainly hope that you are working on another historical fiction novel. Are you in the process of writing another book? If so, when can we expect to read it?

Robin Maxwell: I'm mid-stream on a second novel set in a bit earlier part of the Italian Renaissance, 1444 Florence. It's called O, Romeo, and it's a story of the star-crossed lovers seen through the eyes of Juliet. I believe it's set to be published in March, 2010.

Booking Mama: I am selfishly asking this question because I am always dying to know what other's reading tastes. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you reading now?

Robin Maxwell: I don't love all the books by any one author, but here are some of my all-time favorite titles. Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible; Sena Jeter Naslund's Ahab's Wife; Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner; Stephen King's early scary books, as well as the non-scary quartet of novellas, The Four Seasons; Ann Patchett's Bel Canto; and in non-fiction Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods. Right now I'm reading C.W. Gortner's wonderful Tudor mystery The Secret Lion, and David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Booking Mama: Is there anything else that you'd like Booking Mama's readers to know either about you or SIGNORA DA VINCI?

Robin Maxwell: I hope that Signora da Vinci will make readers think about the horrors of religious persecution in all its forms. Early Christians were persecuted by the Roman Empire, but later the Christians -- now Catholics -- turned that around and started in on everyone they considered heretics -- whether it was pagans and atheists (of which Leonardo da Vinci was one), Jews, Gypsies and Protestants. Then the Protestants got too full of themselves and started burning witches. Even among different Protestant sects there is dissension. There are some today that feel the Israeli Jews are persecuting Palestinians. Throw in the Muslims and their "infidels" and you've got a world full of hatred and bigotry. Nothing upsets me more about the way things are than the violence engendered by religious intolerance. There will never be peace on earth until that ends.

As you can clearly see, Ms. Maxwell is incredibly interesting, as is her latest novel SIGNORA DA VINCI. I just happen to have two copies to giveaway courtesy of Penguin. To enter the contest, leave a comment (with your e-mail address) telling me what historical period you find the most interesting. To double your chances, blog about this contest with a link back to this post. If you want three entries, twitter about this giveaway. The contest will be open until Friday, February 13th (UGH!) at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the two winners the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!

58 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I love this interview, Julie! I think the early 20th century is the most fascinating period of history. milou2ster(at)gmail.com

Linda said...

I've read such promising reviews of this novel. I'd love to win a copy. My favorite historical period is English medieval, esp. the era of Henry II through King John.

Gwendolyn B. said...

This interview is a keeper! I love the image of Robin Maxwell sitting in her overstuffed chair with her writing pad and research books and maps spread out all around her. I don't have one "favorite" historical period - but I tend to read most about the ancient Near East, Medieval England, and England and American history from 1900 to about 1950. However, I'm always willing to hop around the world through time and space!
Thanks for the chance to win a copy of this book -- it's going on my TBR list no matter what!
geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

Mom of 5 Boys said...

Great interview. I have two books by Robin Maxwell in my TBR pile right now, because I loved the two books of hers that I had already read.

I love historical novels in general, so it's hard to pick one. I'd have to say England's history, particularly Henry VIII, Victoria, Mary, etc. I'm not sure why I find that so fascinating, but perhaps it's because my ancestors come from there? I'm starting a new interest in WWII fiction as well.

Jo-Jo said...

I also love to hear what books authors love and she has a couple of my favorites listed there! I really enjoy WWII fiction and work from the Henry VIII period. Please enter me in this contest!
joannelong74@gmail.com

LazyDaisy0413 said...

I'd love to read this book. Please enter me. I especially enjoy reading books set in the middle-to-late 1800s.

Thanks.

lazydaisy0413[at]yahoo[dot]com

carolsnotebook said...

Great interview. I think my current favorite historical period is Victorian England, but that changes occasionally.
Thanks for entering me. This is definitely one for my TBR list, whether I win or not.

Karlie said...

I can't wait to read this book. Please enter me!

Karlie said...

Oops, forgot to say that Italian Renaissance is my favorite period to read, especially Michelangelo and Davinci.

traveler said...

Thanks for featuring this wonderful book which is unique and compelling. It interests me greatly since Italian Renaissance is a period that has always appealed to me greatly. The interview was fascinating.
saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Wanda said...

Ooooo love the Victorian era. It is fascinating to me.
Thanks for asking!

Amanda said...

This is a great interview! I love reading about how authors researched their books. I have a fascination with the Industrial Revolution time period. So many changes which affected art, music, literature...just an interesting time period. Thanks!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, Julie. I'm just dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

mamakane said...

I enjoy historical fiction that is based on the lives of real people. Also, any that deal with the expansion of the US - :) the wild wild west. LOL!

Irene Yeates said...

Great interview; now I really must read the book! Thanks so much!!

Irene
cyeates@nycap.rr.com

Janel said...

I love reading about the American pioneers, like Little House on the Prairie. I can't imagine the bravery involved in packing up your family and heading West. Thanks for the great giveaway!

jgbeads AT gmail DOT com

Janel said...

I also blogged about this in my right sidebar at:

http://janelsjumble.blogspot.com

ddurance said...

I love the medieval period of castles and knights.

Deidre

Becca said...

I have always been fascinated by Ancient Greek and Roman history. Feudal Japan is a close second.
rebecca.bradeen(at)verizon(dot)net

Dar said...

Oooooh, pick me please. I'd love to read this. My absolute favorite is the Tudor period by far. Great giveaway.
bj19662001 (at) yahoo (dot) ca

Melanie said...

I've seen several good reviews of this book, so am looking forward to reading it. Regency England is probably my favorite time period, but I enjoy most historical novels.

Anya said...

I like to read about the WWII era. Thanks.

Stacie said...

I love the Victoria era history!

ruth said...

What a fantastic interview and novel. I would enjoy it so much. My favorite era is definitely early 1900's in England. Thanks for this lovely giveaway.
elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

darbyscloset said...

I have heard such good about this book! I would love to win a copy!
My fave time right now in history is the time around King Henry VIII.
Thanks so much
Darby
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

alissa said...

The interview was extraordinary as is the novel. I appreciate this giveaway. My favorite historical period is the British 1930's through Word War 2.
rojosho(at)hotmail(dot)com

mindy said...

nice interview and thanks for the giveaway my favorite era would be the Victorian i find it very romantic

Cheryl said...

I want to read this book and after reading your interview, I want to read it even more!

Please enter me. Thanks

clbstitch at yahoo dot com

MJ said...

does the Civil War era count??

The Tome Traveller said...

Wow, that was a fantastic interview! I love Robin Maxwell & have read all of her previous books, so I would be so happy to win this one. My favorite era is Medieval, anywhere in Europe. Thanks for a great contest!

Carey
thetometraveller (at) yahoo dot com

Victoria said...

It's hard to choose one historical period that's interesting but Colonial America has always interested me. utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

Valorie said...

My favorite historical period is the last century of the Roman Republic and the Julio-Claudian Dynasty begun by Augustus.

Valorie
morbidromantic@gmail.com

Valorie said...

Blogged!
http://morbid-romantic.net/2009/02/03/book-giveaways-0202-0208

Valorie
morbidromantic@gmail.com

Valorie said...

Gave a Tweet here:
http://twitter.com/morbidromantic/status/1178887751

Valorie
morbidromantic@gmail.com

liane66 said...

I like the Civil War era.
Please enter me.
Thanks for the giveaway!
kimspam66(at)yahoo(dot)com

Cindy Hudson said...

Love the interview and the book sounds fascinating. I'll put a link to it at my blog, http://www.motherdaughterbookclub.worpress.com.

It sounds like something the moms will really like. I find so much of history fascinating, particularly the Italian renaissance and American history as told by Gore Vidal. My daughter and I have been enjoying reading together his series of stories about the political events that shaped our nation.

ChristyJan said...

I enjoy Historicals from almost any time period. One of my favorites would be western romances set in the 1800's.

hawkes(at)citlink.net

Jenny Girl said...

Excellent post.
I'm torn with regards to my favorite time period. I like ancient times like Egyptian or Roman Empire, or the Medieval or the Elizabethan era too. See I'm torn. Thanks for the contest.

Susan said...

I suppose I'd have to say the Regency period thanks to Jane Austen. Thanks, this looks like a great book.

Alyce said...

This is a tough question (and the answer changes with my mood). Today I will say the regency period, but I also like stories about ancient times (Rome & Egypt, etc.).
akreese (at) hotmail(dot) com

suburbanbeatnik said...

Thanks for the interview, and I'd love to win a copy of the book! Right now I'm in the middle of Maxwell's "Virgin" and am loving it. I always like hearing what authors think- and those are some interesting things Robin said about "the great antediluvian civilization." It kind of reminds me of what Clark Ashton Smith wrote about in "Hyperborea."

My favorite periods to read about are early modern Europe, particularly the 17th and 18th centuries. I also like reading about ancient Rome and pre-Columbian America.

neroville (at) yahoo.com

taterbug said...

I like the European Renaissance era. Thank you so much for the great interview and the opportunity to win a copy of the book.

The Giveaway Diva said...

wow this one sounds so interesting! i would love to be entered!! i think the victorian era is the most interesting!!

nicolemarielum(at)gmail.com

Kaye said...

Mid 20th century interests me. I really like books set during WWII.
florida982002[at] dot com

Alyce said...

I blogged about it here:

http://athomewithbooks.blogspot.com/2009/02/weekly-giveaway-roundup.html

Kristen said...

My favorite time period is Regency England (all the elaborate rules and the veneer of society hiding so much that seethed below the surface fascinates me) but I am always happy to delve into other historical periods.
whitreidsmama at yahoo dot com

sherry said...

I think all periods in history are interesting.

niteswimming at gmail dot com

Lady Roxi said...

Love the Renaissance period.

Thanks,

darkfyre1(at)gmail(dot)com

Taminator said...

I'll read just about any historical period, but I am very partial to the Tudors, and even earlier, with Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Sandee61 said...

I've read several of Robin Maxwell's books, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Thanks for your review of this one...I'd love to read it. Please enter me in your giveaway!

Sandy

Muzzley56[at]aol[dot]com

Renee G said...

I love reading books on the early 1900s. After seeing a number of reviews on this book, I can't wait to read it. Please include me in your drawing.

rsgrandinetti@yahoo.com

Melissa N. said...

Loved the interview. I love all historical fiction, but am in my Italian Renaissance phase right now :)

Anna said...

Great interview! I'm fascinated with the WWII era, but reading Michelle Moran's books have made me curious about the 1200s in Egypt, too.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric
diaryofaneccentric at hotmail dot com

Bcteagirl said...

I am currently working my way through Cara Callan which is set in the mid 30's. Although I know it may not be considered the most romantic time period I really enjoy reading stories from this time. It is interesting to read about how people really had to change to get by. Thanks for the contest!

Pam said...

Great interview and I love this time period and would like reading about it. Thanks. pamelashockley(at)netscape(dot)net

Toni said...

Great Giveaway. I already won this month but I wanted to just join in the hooplah over here.. good luck everyone!!

avisannschild said...

Great interview, this book sounds fascinating! My favourite period of history is probably Victorian England.

Denny, Alaska said...

My favorite history period is 18th century England. Thank you for hosting this giveaway!

denny(dot)gill(at)gmail(dot)com