History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 February 2010

Welcome Historical Fiction Debut Author Christine Trent!

I’m so happy to welcome historical fiction author Christine Trent, whose debut novel THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER, is was released on December 29, and has garnered a tremendous amount of attention, including an interview that was reprinted in The Washington Post.

On the brink of revolution, with a tide of hate turned against the decadent royal court, France is in turmoil - as is the life of one young woman forced to leave her beloved Paris. After a fire destroys her home and family, Claudette Laurent is struggling to survive in London. But one precious gift remains: her talent for creating exquisite dolls that Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France herself, cherishes. When the Queen requests a meeting, Claudette seizes the opportunity to promote her business, and to return home. Amid the violence and unrest, Claudette befriends the Queen, who bears no resemblance to the figurehead rapidly becoming the scapegoat of the Revolution. But when Claudette herself is lured into a web of deadly political intrigue, it becomes clear that friendship with France’s most despised woman has grim consequences. Now, overshadowed by the spectre of Madame Guillotine, the Queen's dollmaker will face the ultimate test.

THE QUEEN’S DOLLMAKER is set during the era of the French Revolution. How did you become interested in this time period? What you love about it?

I’ve always been interested in French and English history, but the period of the French Revolution is just so full of political upheaval and the destruction of centuries of royal rule that it’s easy to become totally absorbed in the era. I can’t imagine the turmoil the average citizen must have experienced. Also, as much as Marie Antoinette has been vilified over time, I think it’s difficult to do a thorough study of her life and not begin to feel a bit of sympathy – if not outright respect – for her. Given her spoiled and pampered upbringing, she really demonstrated nerves of steel when her world began falling apart. I find the period simply fascinating.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

The mass killings were simply appalling, particularly because they were so indiscriminate. If your neighbor was jealous of you, he might report you as harboring royalist feelings, and that pretty much ensured prison time, if not a visit to the guillotine. Robespierre thought that everyone would support his idea of “purification through bloodshed,” when in reality, people just wanted food because they were hungry. In terms of careful plotting, I tried to ensure that Claudette’s adventures with Marie Antoinette very closely tracked to the day-to-day historical record in the days surrounding the queen’s imprisonment and subsequent execution.

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting that you didn’t already know?

I’d love to be able to say that I traveled to Paris and Versailles for research, but, alas, instead I was forced to rely on my memory of a trip I took many years ago. I also surrounded myself with lots of biographies on Marie Antoinette, and they exist aplenty. Prior to researching, I had no idea that Count Axel Fersen made a trip to England, and he quite took the country by storm. Fortunately for my storyline, I really needed Fersen in England to meet my dollmaker, so it was one of those “Aha!” moments where fact met fiction in a very neat intersection.

What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

In 2003, I had just finished reading Antonia Fraser’s MARIE ANTOINETTE: THE JOURNEY, and was also in the process of weeding through my doll collection (and somehow I never parted with a single doll). Turning the book over in my mind as I was handling all of my precious babies, I remembered that Marie Antoinette enjoyed dolls and frequently sent them to her mother and sister. It occurred to me that there was a nugget of an original story in the queen’s dolls, one that had never been explored before. I finished the manuscript in 2006 and sold it in 2008. So thoughts of the late French queen have literally been swirling around in my head for years.

Please share a bit about your writing process. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I am a 100% plotter. I greatly admire novelists who can sit down and write, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and let the story go where it will. I typically develop a ten-page synopsis detailing the entire storyline and work from there. Sometimes I’ll make some plot changes once the story is underway, but I usually stick pretty close to that synopsis. As a result, I tend to type up a first draft without cleaning as I go, then doing multiple reads to make corrections.

Please tell us about your background, and what led you to become a novelist.

My husband says it was a “no-brainer” for me to write books, because I’ve been collecting them for so long. The poor man spends most of his spare time building me bookshelves. I started out writing as a bit of lark (“Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to write a book?”). It only got serious when page followed page and all of a sudden three years later I had a finished book. That’s when I realized the next step was to try and sell it. I was fortunate to be picked up by Audrey LaFehr at Kensington Publishing.

What/Who do you like to read? And are you one of those authors who tends to avoid reading the same genre you’re currently writing in during the in-progress stages of your own novel?

No way. I love historical fiction and I can’t read enough of it. Writing full-time makes it tougher to get as much reading done as I’d like, but I’ve always got a big pile of historical novels on my nightstand. Waiting for me right now are Michelle Moran’s CLEOPATRA’S DAUGHTER, Lauren Willig’s MASQUE OF THE BLACK TULIP (I’m way behind on Lauren), C.S. Harris’ WHAT REMAINS OF HEAVEN, and Hilary Mantel’s WOLF HALL. I just finished up Harris’ four previous St. Cyr mysteries, as well as Philippa Gregory’s THE WHITE QUEEN. All excellent books. There’s more in my to-be-read pile (including, of course, Leslie Carroll’s NOTORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES as research for future novels), but we probably don’t have enough space to list them all.

What are you planning to work on next?

I just wrapped up a sequel; the working title was THE WAX APPRENTICE, but I've been asked to come up with a different one. This novel follows the adventures of Marguerite Ashby under her apprenticeship to the great waxworker Madame Tussaud. It’s a swashbuckling tale brimming with historical figures, political intrigues, and a heroine determined to live life on her own terms. Whatever title THE WAX APPRENTICE ends up with, the novel will be at your local bookstore in early 2011.


Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Welcome, Christine. I'm so looking forward to this book.

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pam. I hope you enjoy them both!

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have heard many good things about your book, Christine. You lucked out with a lovely cover, too. You certainly chose a volatile period to write about. I'll be looking for this book for my TBR pile. Pam, my husband gave up on the bookcases. We've covered every wall.. I've 36 and still have boxes of books with no home.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

Welcome, Christine. Sounds like a fasinating tale. I'm a fan! Tell me, what kind of dolls did Marie Antoinette like? Were the fashion-plate dolls, exotic, little-girls dolls or some other type. Is there a surviving collection somewhere?

9:03 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Welcome, Christine! I loved The Queen's Dollmaker. Such a wonderful blend of fictional and historical characters and events. You evoked the time and place beautifully. And the way it's written, with dates and places for the scenes, really give the sense of the story unfolding in real time.

As someone else who plots in detail, do you do your research and then plot or go back and forth between the two?

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

librarypat - my mother-in-law double shelves her books (two rows of books per shelf), with bookcases all over, and still doesn't have enough room. What do they call it? A gentle madness? :)

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathrynn - to my knowledge, there is no surviving collection. I would imagine that the revolutionaries would have destroyed nearly everything personal of hers. I recently met an art professor at a local university here, who told me that some French people thought Marie Antoinette was worshipping idols by having dolls, and it was more fuel on the fire of their hatred of the doomed queen. However, I've never come across this information anywhere else. Leslie, have you heard anything like this before?

6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tracy - thank you for reading it and for your lovely compliment. As for plotting and research, I've found it to be impossible to get all of my research done in advance, just because so much comes to mind as I'm writing, and next thing I know, I've jumped down a rabbit hole of research that I hadn't planned on before. Do you experience the same thing?

For The Queen's Dollmaker, my research was mostly focused on dollmaking and Marie Antoinette (whose life is known in excruciating detail), so it was fairly straightforward. For the sequel, which follows the adventures of Marguerite from Dollmaker, the research was far more varied: the life of Madame Tussaud, the Battle of Trafalgar, the Napoleonic Wars, and even geggy performances. Wonder what a geggy performance is? You'll find out in the sequel... :)

6:17 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Yes, I'm much the same with research, Christine. I have to do a certain amount as I'm working the plot out, but then there are more things I realize I need as I go along. Very intrigued to learn about geggy performances...:-).

8:25 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I had the privilege of reading the currently titled WAX APPRENTICE in draft form and the "geggy performance" scene was one of my favorites!

I've got similar book issues. Perhaps half of my books are in storage because NYC apartments don't have room to expand. And as it is I have 4 bookcases that are 96" tall with seven shelves apiece and 2 bookcases that are 84" tall with 6 shelves apiece, plus a 24" wide 3-shelf bookcase and most of these shelves are doubled-up with books as well.

I dream of having a room that is nothing but a library!

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leslie, there is hope that you could one day have a room that is nothing but a library. But as I said, my husband can build bookshelves at your house just as soon as he's done at mine. :)

(He's been working at our house for 12 years, now, and isn't finished yet...)

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My books are also double shelved. My daughter gave me a plaque several years ago that says simply BOOKAHOLIC. I like gentle madness better;o)
Just noticed your last post, Christine. We bought an 1898 victorian farm house. We've been working on it since 1992 and I'm beginning to wonder if it will ever be done. We had to gut it down to the studs and redo everything. Then of course there were the several bookcases for the house he made. In addition to all that, he has made over 30 bookcases for our library.

We all seem to be afflicted with the same ailment.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Librarypat - well, with a handle like "librarypat," it's not hard to guess that you do, indeed, suffer from the ailment that I do! I'm embarrassed to tell you how many bookcases I have. Lessee......throughout my house I have 34 bookcases. Hey, we've got about the same number. But mine aren't double-stacked. Wow! You have quite a book collection!!!

I bet your farm house is just lovely.

6:59 AM  

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