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.