Today, the extremely talented Jennifer Laam joins us to answer some questions about her debut novel, THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR. It is a historical reimagining of the Russian Revolution and the fate of the Romanov blood line, as told through three fascinating women.
After the interview, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of her book!
1. THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR tells the amazing story of what could have happened if Tsar Nicholas II had a fifth daughter who escaped Russia before the revolution. What attracted you to this period of history and to the Romanov family?
I feel attracted to times of upheaval. I grew interested in Russian History during the events leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. From there, I started reading about the first Russian Revolution in 1917 and Rasputin and the last royal family. I think I was most drawn to the beauty of their lives, at least on the surface, and the juxtaposition of that beauty with the sad state of the country politically and the family’s ultimate fate.
2. Rather than just tell the story from the “secret daughter’s” point of view, you decided to weave together the tales of three different women at three different points in history. Why did you decide to format the story this way?
From the first time I started to jot down ideas, I wanted to tell the story this way. I wanted to explore our continuing fascination with the Romanovs, particularly with individuals who claimed to be Anastasia or another member of the royal family who had miraculously escaped the massacre at the Ipatiev House. It seemed natural to have one story set in imperial Russia, one in present day, and one in a time period that would connect the other two stories.
3. What will readers love most about this story?
I think my novel is romantic, and not just in the sense that all three women have intriguing men in their lives (side note: they do!), but in the sense that it deals with our connections to the past. The way we view the past, even when we romanticize it, informs our present lives and the way we see the world. I’m drawn to historical imagination even more than I’m drawn to straight academic history. I think many readers will relate to this.
4. So your debut novel officially came out in October, published by the prestigious St. Martin’s Press. How has your life changed (or not) now that you’ve finally achieved the dream?
Deep down, I think I wanted the multi-book deal, the movie option, and the home on the beach. That may have been a tad unrealistic for a debut novelist. Nevertheless, now that I’m officially published, something wonderful has happened. I feel validated, especially when I receive feedback from readers. When I meet new people, I feel comfortable telling them I’m a writer. I feel like I can make this my career and that is incredibly exhilarating.
5. Can you tell us a little about the process that got you there, and what you learned along the way?
My process for this novel was haphazard. I worked on numerous drafts on and off for at least ten years. Several years ago, I went through a major life upheaval. I decided it was time to really buckle down and get this thing done. I joined a local writer’s group through meet-up. This is how I found my critique partners. They bolstered my courage. I finally finished the book and decided to query. I found my agent, the amazing Erin Harris, through Twitter.
Along the way, I learned how much I depend on my writing group to keep my spirits up. My writing partners keep me motivated. They guide me through my weaknesses and remind me of my strengths. And I try to do the same for them. They keep me going.
6. The road to publication is never without its rough patches. How did you weather those storms?
My writing group kept me focused. I found the roughest patch in the road to publication was the point at which all my edits were complete and the manuscript was truly out of my hands. And then it was a matter of waiting for the publication date. The only thing that kept me sane was starting a new manuscript and chatting about it with my writing buddies. Difficult as it is to start from scratch, it’s a joy to create something new.
7. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you can share with aspiring writers?
Write every day. This is more a case of “do what I say not what I do,” but it’s excellent advice. Sometimes you need to step away from your current work, but you can always jot a few lines down in a journal or have fun with another project. In my opinion, writing is like working out. It’s hard to start each day, but once you do, you feel better. It’s also hard to get back into it once you stop for too long. At the same time, you don’t want to get too mechanical. Mix it up. After a recent bout of writer’s block, I started to write with pen and paper again, instead of directly onto the computer. It was a simple change, but it worked!
8. I’m sure you’re very busy promoting THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR, but can you tell us what to expect next? Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m working on a companion novel for THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR. I follow some of the characters from the contemporary plot line into present day Russia. Their story connects with a story set in the past. The historical section features Catherine the Great’s most impressive lover/advisor, Prince Potemkin, and how he dealt with Catherine’s final favorite: a very pretty but perhaps not particularly talented young man named Platon Zubov. I’m having fun with that situation.
To win a copy of Jennifer’s book, please leave a comment below. The giveaway will remain open until 11:59 p.m. Thursday, December 19, at which point we’ll pick a winner at random. Best of luck to you all!
Because next Wednesday falls on Christmas, there will be no author interview next week. But don’t worry! I’ll be back on New Year’s Day with Julie Anne Lindsey, author of DECEIVED, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE, and several HONEY CREEK romances. What a fabulous way to kick off 2014!
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday!
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