Interview with alternate history author Laura Anderson

Orson Scott Card has delved into the alternate history genre with his Alvin Maker series and Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. But the former is fantasy (there’s magic in it), and the latter is science fiction (there’s time travel in it); I don’t think he’s written what might be considered a pure alternate history novel: one that simply imagines what might have happened if a particular historical event had happened differently.

LDS author Eric Swedin’s novel When Angels Wept: A What-If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a pure alternate history that won a Sidewise Award a couple of years ago. Other than that, I can’t think of any other LDS authors who have published pure alternate history novels — with the exception of my interviewee this month, Laura Anderson, whose novel The Boleyn King was released yesterday by Ballantine Books.  (If you know of any other alternate history novels by LDS authors, pure or not — by which I mean the purity of the alternate history, not the authors — please mention them in the comments.)

I had the pleasure of reading an early draft of The Boleyn King a few years ago, back when Laura and I were in an online writing group together, so I’m particularly pleased to see it finally get published.  Laura will be reading and signing this evening (May 15) at 7:00pm at the King’s English bookstore (a particularly well-named bookstore for this particular book) in Salt Lake City, so if you have a chance to swing by an pick up a copy, I recommend it.

Here are my questions for Laura and her responses:

1. Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, The Boleyn King. How does it feel to see the story finally in print?

Can the word ‘surreal’ be overused? This has been a long time coming, considering that the first version of this book was finished in 2005 and doesn’t feel like it quite belongs in the real world. Perhaps the most gratifying part is having people talk to me about my characters and knowing that they care about what happens to them.

2. This novel is the first of a trilogy. Can you give us an overview of the books?

The Boleyn King introduces readers to a world in which Anne Boleyn outlived Henry VIII and has seen their son crowned king. William is seventeen and chafing at the restraints of the regency, caught up in political conspiracy at home and battles abroad. But it’s friendship and love that have the true power to injure, for the Tudors are notoriously stubborn where their hearts are concerned.

3. The novels are set centuries before the LDS Church was established, so obviously there aren’t any Mormons in them. But is there anything in them that you feel was influenced by your LDS faith? Beyond that, what influence does your faith have on your writing in general?

Being set at the time of the Reformation, the novels deal with the split between Catholic and Protestant and I think my own faith inspired my respect for true devotees on both sides of the religious divide, as well as a sense that faith upheld by violence is contaminated. On my writing in general, I hope that my stories are infused with generosity and compassion for all my characters, no matter how they behave. I have three teenagers and one pre-teen, and if adolescence seen through motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that everyone, no matter how horrid their behavior, wants to be understood.

4. Who are some of the authors who have influenced you the most?

I adore Juliet Marillier, whose book Daughter of the Forest introduced me to a world poised between history and fantasy. Sharon Kay Penman writes lush, impeccable historical novels that make me wish fiercely to inhabit those times (with rather more hot water and rather less death in childbirth). And Brandon Sanderson is a storyteller extraordinaire who never wastes a word or a character or a setting. It’s good to dream big!

5. What got you into writing historical fiction, and alternate history in particular?

Virtually every story idea I’ve had has been historical. Partly, I think, because my natural storytelling voice fits the past rather than contemporary. And partly because I have always loved history and believed that it is a collection of people and stories and I want to know those stories and feel connected to those long dead. As for the alternate history, it was sparked by one very specific question while reading a biography of Anne Boleyn: What if Anne had not miscarried her son in January 1536? What effect did that one personal, domestic tragedy have on the larger history? Also, I was intrigued by the possibilities of playing with history and characters and timelines; spinning things sideways for a little while respecting the larger factual outline.

6. What advice do you have for would-be writers?

READ! Anything and everything you want. Read widely. Read deeply. Read voraciously. Read because there’s nothing else in the world you’d rather do. Read until there is one thing you’d rather do, at least some of the time—write your own stories.

And when it’s time to write, choose your teachers and critique partners and How To Write books wisely.Input is invaluable—but in the end, it will always come back to your own instincts. Trust others, but trust yourself just a tiny bit more.

7. What question should I have asked you, but didn’t, and what is your answer?

What is my favorite Eric James Stone story (because I’ve been lucky enough to read many of them in the early stages over the years!) And the answer is: The Ashes of His Fathers.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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5 Responses to Interview with alternate history author Laura Anderson

  1. Th. says:

    .

    I’m curious who the target audience is for this. Is it being marketed to those who like historical novels of the period? to alt-history fans?

    (Incidentally, Eric, fwiw, I’m working on an alt-history novel now. But I don’t even have a working draft yet, so it’ll be a while.)

    • I think they’re targeting those who like historical novels of the period. Here’s some marketing copy:

      Perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, and Showtime’s The Tudors, The Boleyn King is the first book in an enthralling trilogy that dares to imagine: What if Anne Boleyn had actually given Henry VIII a son who grew up to be king?

  2. Marny says:

    Of course the LDS author who has written the most “pure” alternate history stories is Lee Allred. Specifically, his “For the Strength of the Hills” won first prize in the Writers of the Future contest and was a Sidewise award nominee. But his are short stories and you’ve asked about novels.

    A. Edward Cooper wrote Triumph of the Third Reich, which I believe is straight alternate history. It’s the only novel-length alternate history I know of.

    Unless steampunk counts as alternate history. D. J. Butler’s City of the Saints and Matthew J. Kirby’s The Clockwork Three are excellent alternate histories.

    Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books are alternate history fantasy.

    Virginia Baker, Cheri Crane, Julie Wright, Madeline Baker, Lynn Kurland, Chad Daybell, Rob Ficiur, Chris Heimerdinger, J. Scott Savage, W. Dave Free, Arvin S. Gibson, Kate Gordon, Christy Monson, Janette Rallison, Helen Hughes Vick, and Rebecca Winters have all written time travel stories. Ginny Baker’s Jack Knife and Janette Rallison (aka C. H. Hill)’s Erasing Time are the only science fiction novels, and Julie Wright’s Eyes Like Mine is the only one where someone from the past comes to the present day.

    There are also some novels with ghosts that have been around hundreds of years, which could arguably be time travel, but that’s getting a bit far afield so I’ll stop now.

  3. A lot of steampunk does fit under the alternate history label. I’d definitely put City of the Saints in that category, but I don’t know enough about The Clockwork Three to tell — from the description on Amazon, I can’t really see that it gives an different version of historical events.

    I’m behind on my Monster Hunter reading, but I’d put them more as urban fantasy/secret history than alternate history.

    Reading your list reminded me of one more: The Freedom Factor by Gerald Lund. It’s not quite a pure alternate history, because it involves someone from our timeline going to a timeline in which the Constitution was never ratified.

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