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. Once I consider their personal histories at length, those mysteries often make perfect sense--and can reveal how their opinions and feelings likely differ from the stereotypes 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, I've read that nearly all of us are descended from royalty. I just happen to have found a direct link, if the bloodline holds. My ancestor arrived in South Carolina with a grant of land from King George III, his first cousin.
Like most people, I had no idea whatsoever about this part of my heritage until I began researching my 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.
There’s an old English saying, “Every Irishman is descended from a king,” but the same seems to hold true for the English--and probably every other long-term civilization as well.
Why did you choose to write under a pen name?
I like the idea of maintaining a somewhat normal lifestyle at home. Also, our real last name is unusual, and I would never want my family subject to being asked if they're related to me at every introduction. 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. I thought about those books daily for a whole school year, and it's the only time I can remember absolutely hating to miss school. What's funny, though, is at that age I thought 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 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 I have duly taken note of author's names.
So Lloyd Alexander was your favorite childhood author, but who is your favorite author now?
Still 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 sheepishly admit, however, that I haven't even finished reading his last published book. My tastes have changed a bit as an adult, though young adult fantasy and dystopian novels are my guilty pleasures, including Shannon Hale's first books, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series, and Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series. I raid my daughter's bookshelves when I really want to unwind.
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 particularly appreciated Philippa Gregory's Cousins War series, as she has brought to life many of my direct ancestors for me. I often choose my historical fiction based on the protagonist rather than the author, and my reading in that genre is typically of an educational bent in alignment with my own writing or genealogical interests. That said, I recently drank in 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.
No matter how many authors I list, I would be leaving 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 Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle after I had a dream. Hmm, I do 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.
At the time, 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, 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. Finding a dirth of historical fiction on these women, I resorted to dry historical tomes with all sorts of mundane facts.
So, in this particular dream, 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 readings to find that it 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. As her descendant, I fancy that her story is somehow buried deep in my DNA.
Was it a big jump to begin writing about the monarchy after having set your previous novels in the Lowcountry of South Carolina?
More than I realized. The Silk Trilogy was based on isolated facts, hints, and family stories. Sophia Dorothea was a German princess, wife of the future King George I, and mother of King George II. The monarchy is a complicated venture, given the abundance of information about my protagonist and her relatives, and I've had to muck through rumors, trying to decipher which are true. European politics of the period also had to be taken into account in order to understand her situation--not something I'd fully considered before beginning to write.
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 actually resided six of my formative years in Germany, so I was renewing an old connection to go back there--and after struggling to find the occasional crumb about my Lowcountry ancestors, I was thrilled to find a wealth of information on these ancestors. Their correspondence particularly drew me in. Though these women lived centuries ago, I found myself relating to them more than I could to my own grandparents--perhaps due to 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 throughout royal women's lives, because of their precarious, often-enviable positions from birth. Noblewomen were afforded the luxury of spending time writing, reading novels, and on various artistic and/or intellectual pursuits, whereas most of my South Carolina ancestors were down-to-earth farmers--a fact that I'm proud of, but to which I don't relate 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 a compilation of articles by Bessie Swann Britton, posthumously published, 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 a 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.