To find out more about me, check out my interview with fellow author Maria Grace:
Why do you write historical fiction?
Well, I suppose it’s because I love books and have a fascination with genealogy. When I decided to try my hand at writing, historical fiction seemed to be a natural fit, and the accounts were already there, waiting for me. Our roots always contain a wealth of untold stories—and in the case of the monarchy, many wrongly told stories.
I enjoy unearthing interesting tidbits about my ancestors, learning where they came from and imagining why they chose to do what they did. The Silk Trilogy is loosely based on my granny, her mother, and her grandmother--all from the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Recently, I've also become fascinated by the more 'inexplicable' choices made by my royal ancestors. I have discovered that oftentimes those mysteries make perfect sense, once I consider their personal histories at length. Sometimes, too, those particular choices--the surprising ones--reveal how their opinions and feelings differ from the stereotype that exists of them. Or perhaps they reveal a strong hidden influence. In either case, these clues provide ample fodder for an author.
So, you’re directly descended from royalty? That’s pretty uncommon.
Actually, many of us are descended from royalty, only I happen to have found a direct link. My ancestor Joseph Pack arrived in South Carolina with a grant of land from King George III, his first cousin. Pack is his real name, although I've changed his descendants' names in The Silk Trilogy, since so much of the story is fiction.
I would have had no idea whatsoever of this part of my heritage if I hadn’t been fascinated by genealogy. In his book on the Plantagenets, Dan Jones mentions that perhaps an eighth of the English population is descended directly from King Edward IV alone, so there is a significant likelihood that if you have English ancestry, you also have royal ancestry. There’s an old English saying, “Every Irishman is descended from a king,” but I’d say the English aren’t too far off from that themselves.
Why did you choose to write under a pen name?
While I hope that my books might one day make me a household name, I doubt that my face will ever be as widely recognized, and I like the idea of maintaining a somewhat normal lifestyle at home. Also, our real last name is rather unusual, and I would never want my children subject to being asked at every introduction, "Wow, are you related to Sophia Alexander?" I can only imagine how annoying that would become.
Why did you choose the pen name 'Sophia Alexander'?
I chose it while writing The Silk Trilogy. 'Sophia' is the root of my own first name. 'Alexander' is both my son's first name and my favorite author's surname; these are not a coincidence, by the way.
Who is your favorite author?
Lloyd Alexander. My third grade teacher read us the Prydain Chronicles with excruciating slowness--just a chapter or so a day. It's the only time I can remember absolutely hating to miss school. I thought about those books daily for a whole school year. What's funny, though, is that at the time I had the notion that it didn't matter who wrote books--I was adamantly disinterested in the author's name and impatient with the vanity of the whole thing. However, when I was a couple of years older, I realized that I wanted to read the books again, but we had moved to Germany and I didn't know how to find them--this was before the internet age. When I finally stumbled across Lloyd Alexander's books in my school library, I was ecstatic, and ever since then I have duly taken note of author's names.
So Lloyd Alexander was your favorite childhood author, but who is your favorite author now?
Sorry--it has to remain Lloyd Alexander, though I love many authors passionately. As a girl, I once had a most ordinary, heartwarming dream in which Lloyd Alexander was my father. He came into my room to wake me up, simply looking out of the window while talking to me. I always feel a rush of happiness when I remember that dream, and I consider him my literary father, hence the pen surname.
I will admit, however, that I haven't even finished reading his last published book. I feel rather sheepish about that, but I suppose my tastes have changed a bit as an adult, though I do still seem to love young adult fantasy novels: Shannon Hale's older books, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, Stephenie Meyers' Twilight Series--yes, the popular novels. I've read all of these, but I find that I vastly prefer the earliest books in each of the series, though that’s not universally true.
Regarding authors of books for adults, I enjoy Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, and Dan Brown, among others. As for historical fiction authors specifically, I have appreciated Philippa Gregory's Cousins War series. She has brought to life many of my direct ancestors for me. I generally choose my historical fiction based on the protagonist rather than the author, and my reading in that genre is almost always of an educational bent in alignment with my genealogy interests. That said, I have just enjoyed The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd’s biographical novel about feminist abolitionist sisters from Charleston, and Michelle Moran's The Rebel Queen, about the last Indian queen during the British colonial period, so perhaps that’s not entirely true.
There are too many wonderful books and authors to mention, and no matter how many I list, I know I would leave off even more that deserve to be mentioned. Recently, I have become more focused on nonfiction and am grateful for Ruth Goodman's and Sarah A. Chrisman's books on the details of Victorian life.
Did Philippa Gregory's books inspire you to write the Throne-Bound Novels?
Hmm. I don't think so, though they have been inspirational to a degree. I actually felt the mandate to write the novel about Sophia Dorothea after I had a dream. I'm laughing at myself right now, as I seem to have a theme here! I don't generally consider myself a person who takes her dreams quite so seriously--most of them are just processing daily life, I believe. Perhaps this one was, too.
I was writing my third novel in the Silk Trilogy, but I'd become distracted with exploring my genealogy again--my interest goes in waves--and I was drawn to a cluster of ancestresses from the 17th century who share the name Sophia, which was the pen name I'd already chosen. Sophia of Hanover was a prolific, fascinating letter writer and heiress to the throne of Great Britain--which went to her son, King George I. His wife, Sophia Dorothea of Celle, left behind a personal mess and a slew of letters. A great-grandmother of Sophia of Hanover, Sophia of Mecklenburg-Gustrow, was a brilliant Danish Queen who independently became the richest woman in Northern Europe. I found myself truly wanting to understand their stories, and not finding any fantastic historical fiction that fit the bill, I found myself immersed in numerous dry historical tomes.
Since I'm an author of historical fiction, it was a short step to deciding to write the novels. I was already toying with the idea when I had a dream that an old-fashioned vinyl record was playing. The year 1726 was printed on the record in large print. When I woke up, I was seized with curiosity about the year, and I looked back through my records to find that was Sophia Dorothea's death year. I interpreted my dream to mean that it was time to 'play' her story again, the story that stopped playing in 1726. Yes, I'm a romantic, and I have a notion that as her descendant I somehow have her story buried deep in my DNA.
Was it a big jump to begin writing about the British monarchy after having set your previous novels in the Lowcountry of South Carolina?
More than I realized it would be. Writing about a person who has so many known facts, so many records about her life has been entirely different from writing the Silk Trilogy, which was based on isolated facts, hints, and family stories. Writing about the monarchy is a much more complex venture, especially as you not only have an abundance of good information about your protagonist and her relatives, but you have to muck your way through all the rumors and try to decipher which are true. Additionally, I had to delve into the European politics of the period in order to comprehend my protagonist's situation--not something I'd really considered much before beginning to write. Sophia Dorothea was not technically British monarchy, by the way, though she was the wife of King George I and the mother of King George II. She was a German princess.
Why did you jump to such a distant ancestor for your newest book? Weren't you still interested in writing about those who are closer to you geographically and more strongly related?
Curiosity and connection. I was thrilled to find a wealth of information available everywhere on some of my more distant ancestors at last, after struggling so hard to find the occasional crumb about my Lowcountry ancestors. I lived six years in Germany, as well, so it felt like I was making an old connection to go back there. I also have to admit I was drawn in by the correspondence. Though these women lived far longer ago, I found myself relating to them better in ways than I could to my own grandparents--a fact that I believe has to do with my travels, education, and life experiences. Having lived much of my life in books, reading about plots and schemes, also drew me closer to them--such situations were prevalent all through these royal women's lives, because of their precarious, often-enviable positions from birth. These noblewomen spent much time writing, reading novels, and on artistic and intellectual pursuits (to varying degrees), whereas most of my South Carolina ancestors were down-to-earth farmers--a fact that I'm proud of, but which I don't relate to as readily.
But Caroline likes to read in Silk. Did you make that up?
No, actually. It was part of the reason I was inspired to write about her. I was drawn to Caroline when I read an old article by Bessie Swann Britton that mentioned her blond curls, her friendship with 'Anne', and how she liked to read novels. Given that no one else in my family seemed to have that literary penchant, I liked thinking that I inherited it from my great-great-grandmother.
I did make up much of Caroline's story, though, and after my first draft I changed many of the character names. I mostly kept the dates, locations, and events as well as I knew them to be true, with the exception of the very central character of Stephen, who was my own invention--as far as I know. I don't underestimate the power of intuition, but I would be a bit surprised if a person like him actually existed in her life. I hope that my novel-loving ancestress would have approved of his addition to her story.
What do you plan to write next?
First I have to finish my novel about Sophia Dorothea, which will take some time. My next book may possibly be about Sophia of Hanover--but that one will take even longer. I can't bear the idea of writing her book without reading all of her published letters; therefore, I am studying up on my German and French, as most of her published correspondence is untranslated. So, the reading is rough going, and it will be quite the process...
That said, I may write about someone else first. I had grand plans to try taking on King James I, my favorite British king, but--to my dismay and delight--after I suggested him to Philippa Gregory, she has apparently decided to write about him herself. I don't know if her decision had anything to do with my suggestion, but I'm afraid I was a bit too glowing when I recommended him. He has been maligned to varying degrees by historians, but he selflessly and brilliantly handled an impossible situation. Who knows, I may still write about him. More than one popular novel about his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, certainly exists.
On the other hand, I won't be surprised if one day I'm seized with the notion of tackling a young adult fantasy novel. I've written a couple of fantasy short stories which are being published in local anthologies, and I was thrilled with how easily both stories came to me. Given my love for that genre, I can imagine gravitating that way eventually.
Would you consider writing more novels like The Silk Trilogy?
I would. As I've said, my heritage inspires me. As far as I have discovered, all of my ancestors for the past two hundred years lived and died in the Carolinas, so writing about their lives feels like a perfectly natural undertaking to me.
We'll have to see, though. It's hard to for me to say if I'll have the desire to write more in that Lowcountry vein, since I'm still engrossed in editing the trilogy and my newer writing is drawn to their more distant history.