I have two young adult novels published by Dutton Books. The Blood Confession is historical fantasy inspired by Countess Bathory, a legendary Hungarian Countess who believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would preserve her youth and beauty for eternity. My second novel, The King’s Rose, is about Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. Catherine was the king’s second wife to be accused of treasonous adultery – the first was Catherine’s own cousin, Anne Boleyn. I’m attracted to historical “bad girls” – when I first read about both the Countess and Catherine Howard, I thought “What in the world was she thinking?” I wrote in order to create a logic for each character’s seemingly illogical actions.
1. Tell us about your latest book.
My second young adult novel, The King’s Rose, was published by Dutton this March (2009). It tells the story of Catherine Howard, a teenage girl who became the fifth wife of King Henry VIII.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
I’ve always had the urge to write, ever since I was a child. That compulsion to write has helped to keep writing a part of my life. I don’t feel quite right, quite myself, unless I have a project in progress, or at least an idea turning around in my head.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
A writing day starts with my morning scurry around the house, gathering all the things I’ll need before I sit at my desk: a pot of green tea, a jar of honey, my notebook, any books I might need, the dog, the dog’s blanket. On a good day, there are also ginger snaps involved. The more I have at my disposal once seated at my desk, the more likely I am to sit down comfortably and get to work.
I’m by no means a morning person, but I don’t like to start too late. If I’m seated, tea cup in hand, by 9 or 10 a.m., that’s a pretty comfortable beginning. The flow of the day will depend on where I am in a project: if I’m deep into a project, especially a revision for which I have a deadline, then ideally I’ll spend a full day working on it (providing all the synapses are firing correctly). If a project is new and hasn’t quite “sparked” yet or if I’m really struggling with a part of the plot or the character’s voice, I fade much more quickly. This can lead to frustration and disappointment, and to an over-indulgence in ginger snaps.
4. Describe your desk/workspace.
My husband built a table that is the perfect desk for me. I’ve got a collection of books within arms reach: dictionary, thesauri, historical sources from my last novel, along with some favorites meant to inspire just by their proximity. When at home, I write directly on to my computer, and I often listen to music – each book has a different soundtrack. During the writing of The King’s Rose I listened predominantly to The Medieaval Baebes and music written by King Henry VIII.
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
Some of my favorites, which are also great examples of an unreliable narrator:
The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George
Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
And some gorgeous, poetic prose:
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Ghosts by Marsha Parker
Endless Love by Scott Spencer
And some strange, dark humor:
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you
1. During my sophomore year in college I spent a semester living in a purportedly haunted castle in a small town in Holland. Living in that castle and traveling around the country made a huge impression on me, but I still haven’t written about it—at least not directly. I know that there are images, thoughts, impressions that I’ve taken from that time and used in my fiction.
2. I never saw the ghost who resided in the aforementioned castle. Ghosts have no interest in me. I searched for Catherine Howard’s ghost at Hampton Court and had no luck there, either, but I think this was for the best, for both of us.
3. I like a gray, rainy day; it’s perfect writing weather.
7. Favorite quote
My favorite quote, said about King Henry when he began to tire of one of his many wives: “Thunder rolls around the throne!”
8. Best and worst part of being a writer
The worst part: I still worry about my writing. I can worry about a project at any point during its creation. There is no resting on laurels – it’s all about what I happen to have in progress at any given time. Also, I connect a lot of my sense of self-worth to whatever I’m working on, which is a lot of additional pressure.
The best part: I would still be writing even if I hadn’t had the luck of being published. So in spite of my worries, I consider myself very lucky. As scary as it is to have to let go of my work and have it “out there” in the world, it’s an amazing opportunity to share that work with others. And when they respond to it with enthusiasm…well, that will never, ever get old. It’s goosebump-inducing.
9. Advice for other writers
Writing is not always easy and not always fun—no matter how much you love doing it. If you’re having trouble, if you’re stuck, if you’re worried this project is going nowhere, keep in mind that this is all a natural part of the process. Read critically, and think about the type of book you want to write. If you’re stuck, write a list of the things that you like about your project, why you’re drawn to write it, and try to isolate what isn’t working, what’s holding you back. Writing is a messy business. Embrace it.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
I studied writing in college. For my final thesis, I wrote a novel. There was a reading for all seniors graduating from the writing program, and I read an excerpt from my book in front of the crowd. And I realized that it wasn’t very good. Standing in front of a room full of my peers and professors wasn’t the best place to learn this lesson, but I think the important thing is that I learned it. Writing a novel was still an important accomplishment for me, and I struggled to make that book work. But I also read a lot, and learned more about writing and about the type of book I wanted to write. Eventually I put that book aside and moved on to something different.
Where can people buy your books?
The Blood Confession and The King’s Rose are available online and at all bookstores. For more details about my books, visit www.alisalibby.com. To read about my travels to England in search of Catherine’s ghost, visit my blog at http://alisamlibby.wordpress.com/.