Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Interview with Stephanie Thornton, author of The Tiger Queens

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Stephanie Thornton to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, The Tiger Queens. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Stephanie. Great to have you with us again. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Tiger Queens.
The Tiger Queens is the story of Genghis Khan’s conquest of Asia, told from the point of view of his first wife Borte, his rough and tumble daughter Alaqai, a Persian captive named Fatima, and Sorkhokhtani, the silent widow of Genghis’ youngest son. 

Mongolian era historicals aren’t something I see very often. What drew you to this time and place? As an author, where did this story begin?
I’m a huge ancient history buff, but I realized I knew almost nothing about Genghis Khan’s women when Jack Weatherford’s The Secret History of the Mongol Queens came out a few years ago. These women led incredible lives and changed the course of history, beginning with Genghis’ betrothal to Borte when they were both children. That’s where I decided to start the story. 

Atmospherically, I loved the feel of the book. There is plenty of historic detail, but you wove a lot of culture and tradition into the narrative as well. In terms of research, what went into crafting The Tiger Queens? 
My original plan had been to travel to Mongolia for research, but when that fell through I went on a book-buying binge and ordered every Mongolian travelogue, memoir, and non-fiction book I could get my hands on. Louisa Waugh’s Hearing Birds Fly is a stunning memoir about living in Mongolia for a year, and is a book I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys memoirs. I also had a student who’d recently traveled to Mongolia for an exchange so I was fortunate to be able to interview her. 

This particular story centers on four woman: Borte, Alaqai, Fatima and Sorkhokhtani. How do these women differ and what do they represent to Temujin? 
Despite being blood mother to only Alaqai, as the story evolves, Borte becomes a mother to the rest of the women. She is Genghis/Temujin’s rock, even as he begins to take other wives. I think Alaqai reminds Genghis of himself as a child, daring and able to wheedle her way out of any scrape with a grin. Fatima probably represents all the people that Genghis conquered and all the lives he shattered. And Sorkhokhtani is Genghis’ antithesis, silent and brooding, but without her, his empire would have collapsed one generation after his death. 

As an author, how did you find balance between four distinct voices and pull them together in a single narrative? 
Both of my other novels, The Secret History and Daughter of the Gods, were told from a single viewpoint, so ensuring that the four narrators from The Tiger Queens had vastly different voices was a real challenge. Fortunately (or unfortunately), once I started revising, I could hear each woman in my head, often correcting me with something along the lines of, “Alaqai might have said that crass little quip, but I never would.” (That’s Fatima, by the way. She’s nothing if not a snob.) Borte is a seer and many of her observations of the world around her are poetic (a challenge because I am the world’s worst poet) and tied to nature. Alaqai is constantly moving and sometimes a little sarcastic, which is a huge contrast to Fatima, who was raised in one of Persia’s most beautiful and cultured cities before the Mongols sacked it. Finally, there’s Sorkhokhtani who is blunt and down-to-business. 

Since we’re on the subject, which of these women do you feel closest to and why? 
I’m probably most like Sorkhokhtani in that I like to be in charge. (And I can be a little bossy.) I’m also not big on confrontation, but prefer to work behind the scenes to make things happen. 

I thought your characterization of Genghis Khan particularly interesting. What impression do you hope he leaves on your audience?
Anyone familiar with Genghis Khan would probably describe him as a ruthless and bloodthirsty conqueror, which is he was, but I decided to highlight his other sides: the master tactician, propagandist, and charismatic leader. Based on some of his historical actions, most especially his rescue of Borte but also his bestowing huge tracts of land upon his daughters, I assume there was also a more family-man side to Genghis than we read about in the history books. That said, my Genghis takes a back seat to his wife and daughters!

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
This probably makes me sound like a bit of a monster, but Fatima’s first scene when the Mongols are pouring over the city walls was one of my favorites, mostly because there was a bit of culture shock going from writing about smoke-filled gers and fermented mare’s milk to the perfumed balconies and mosques of Nishapur. I also really enjoyed writing the Slaughter of the First Snows early on in Alaqai’s section. The winter killing of the geldings and old animals is critical to the survival of the nomadic Mongols even today, but that scene was dripping with atmosphere. (And a lot of blood!)

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
One of my favorite characters in the book meets a rather tragic and brutal end, which unfortunately, is well documented in history. I initially wrote out the entire death scene in full, but it was so terrible that I couldn’t bring myself to revise it. Instead I cut the whole thing and wrote a new scene from another character’s point of view as she finds the body. My editor ended up thanking me for keeping the death off the page, which was a huge relief!

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
Strangely enough, it’s Genghis’ mother Hoelun who I wish I could have spent more time with. She was a tough old bird, without whom Genghis likely would have died before reaching puberty. The Tiger Queens is my longest book to date, but I could have easily included another 100 pages about her life. Maybe one day I’ll write a novella about her!

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Tiger Queens and if so, what did you alter? 
My biggest historical alterations include compressing the timeline of events (the story runs its course over almost eighty years in reality) and also choosing to focus on only one of Borte’s blood daughters when in fact it’s likely that she had up to six daughters with Genghis. That was too many women to juggle in one novel!

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
By drinks, can we avoid fermented mare’s milk and stick with coffee or wine? 

I’d love to sit down with any of the women, but Alaqai would probably be my first choice, simply because it would be pretty nifty to dish about Genghis with his daughter. 

“So, what did Genghis do when you didn’t pick up your arrows around the ger? Threaten to pour molten silver down your throat, or just ground you?” 

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Tiger Queens, who would you hire? 
Khulan Chuluun played Borte in the movie Mongol, but I think she’d make a great Alaqai Beki. Lyndsey Marshall (Cleopatra in HBO’s Rome) could easily play Fatima. 

In looking at your body of work, I’ve recognized your passion for the lives of powerful women and privately mused that you write HERstoric fiction. Why is this theme so important to you? 
I am a big fan of HERstory, only because there are so many women in history whose lives have been completely ignored, forgotten, or worse, purposely erased. It’s important to recognize these women’s accomplishments and also to recognize that for whatever reason, because they achieved fame, glory, or power, society deemed them to be outsiders not worthy of remembering. It’s precisely because of that that they deserve to be remembered. 

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
My next book, The Conqueror’s Wife, will hit the shelves in December 2015 and follows the twisted tales of Alexander the Great’s wife, sister, lover, and sister-in-law. They could give Genghis’ women a run for their money! 

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Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora” and “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt” are available from NAL/Penguin. “The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan” will hit the shelves November 4, 2014, followed by “The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great” in November 2015.

Website ❧  Blog ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads

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“A gripping epic of sacrifice, revenge, and conquest…kept me riveted from beginning to end!” –Michelle Moran, bestselling author of The Second Empress

“From under the felted ger tents of Genghis Kahn emerge four powerful women. It is a testament to Thornton’s writing prowess that she can so intricately whittle heroines that are both compassionate and ruthless from the bones of our ancestors…a stunning achievement!” — Barbara Wood, New York Times bestselling author of The Serpent and the Staff and Rainbows on the Moon

“A vivid depiction of warrior women tough as the harsh, windswept steppes which nurtured them and who, as the warring Mongol clans battle for supremacy, survive… to ensure their men emerge the victors. Gripping stuff!” –Alex Rutherford, author of the Empire of the Moghul series

“A sprawling historical saga centering on the wives and daughters of Genghis Khan. These bold, courageous women make tremendous sacrifices in the face of danger, revenge and high-stakes survival, all in the name of family love and loyalty. Be prepared to be swept away by Thornton’s richly drawn epic of an empire and its generational shifts of power.” –Renee Rosen, author of Dollface and What the Lady Wants

“They were the Golden Family of Genghis Khan. Yet their lives were anything but golden as they struggled to hold together the very center of the largest empire the world has ever known. An empire that was built in one lifetime, and would have been destroyed in the next had it not been for the wives and daughters of the Great Khan. This is historical fiction at its finest.” — Gary Corby, author of The Marathon Conspiracy

“Three generations of strong women live, love, suffer, and triumph in a fresh and gritty setting—Genghis Khan’s forging of an empire in thirteenth century Mongolia. Marginalized in most histories, these Mongol mothers and daughters, empresses and slaves, claim their voices again in Stephanie Thornton’s The Tiger Queens. Unusual and imaginative!” –Elizabeth Loupas, author of The Second Duchess and The Red Lily Crown

“Stunning. The Tiger Queens sweeps the reader into the ruthless world of Genghis Khan’s wives and daughters with a gritty realism as intense as the eternal blue sky and blood-soaked steppes. Vivid characterization and top-notch writing. This story of strong women, their enduring friendships and passions give a rare glimpse into a shadowy period of history. A worthy successor to Taylor Caldwell’s The Earth is the Lord’s.” –Judith E. French, author of The Conqueror, The Barbarian, and The Warrior

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Format: Paperback & eBook
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Released by: NAL Trade
Length: 496 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0451417800
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on Stephanie Thornton's The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan Blog Tour Schedule

Saturday, November 1
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Sunday, November 2
Monday, November 3
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, November 4
Wednesday, November 5
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, November 6
Review at The Mad Reviewer
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Friday, November 7
Review at Scandalous Women
Monday, November 10
Review at Reading the Past
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, November 11
Review & Giveaway at Book Lovers Paradise
Wednesday, November 12
Review at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, November 13
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Friday, November 14
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, November 17
Review at Turning the Pages
Tuesday, November 18
Review & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, November 19
Review & Giveaway at The Lit Bitch
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, November 20
Review at Layered Pages
Friday, November 21
Monday, November 24
Spotlight & Giveaway at Reading Lark
Tuesday, November 25
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Wednesday, November 26
Friday, November 28
Review at Book Babe

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