Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Interview with Sophie Perinot, author of Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Sophie Perinot to Flashlight Commentary to discuss Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Sophie. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Médicis Daughter. 
Thank you Erin, it’s always a delight to be with you!

Médicis Daughter is the story of the oft-maligned youngest daughter of Queen Catherine de Médicis and King Henri II of France. It is a coming-of-age tale in which my main character, Marguerite de Valois, must determine—and sometimes fight for—her place within her family and within an intrigue-filled French Court caught in the tumultuous years of the Wars of Religion. Ultimately Margot will be required to choose between her mother’s demands and those of her own conscience.

Why did Marguerite de Valois appeal to you as protagonist and why do you think readers will appreciate her? 
I’ve been fascinated by the Valois for years, particularly by the last members of the dynasty. They are so much more than the vilified paper cutouts often presented. This is absolutely the case with Marguerite. It is stunning to realize all the potential in Marguerite that was wasted simply as a result of the circumstances of her birth. For example, had she been born in England and not France she would have been a sovereign queen upon the death of her brother Henri III.

I believe Margot will appeal to readers because she is genuinely struggling with who she wishes to be. Along the way she confronts some stark realities and challenging issues. While some of these crises are obviously specific to the 16th century, others remain germane today. I believe most people still grapple with finding a balance between pleasing their parents and becoming fully independent as they mature. And, tragically, many women today still blame themselves for men’s unwelcomed sexual attentions (and even assaults). The struggle to be a moral actor is universal and timeless.

Marguerite is not perfect—not a Disney Princess. She is a real, flesh and blood woman trying to balance her own emotional and personal needs with her duties to her King and the needs of her country. These later duties, as her governess notes early in the novel, are “set upon [her] shoulders by birth, [and] cannot be declined . . . .”  That’s a tough road to have to walk.

Blackbirds play an interesting role in your novel. Why did you choose this particular symbol? 
There is scene in Médicis Daughter set a few days after the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in which a vast number of black birds arrive in the courtyard of the Louvre. This event is not a literary device. It happened. It was creepy, and the historical record suggests it completely unnerved King Charles IX who at first mistook the birds’ cries for the cries of dying people. So you would be forgiven for thinking that I took my inspiration for the symbolic birds in my novel from this event. But sometimes writing fiction is stranger than working from truth. I actually decided on the device of the black bird based on a particular portrait of Catherine de Médicis. I was asking myself if the young Margot (who was believed to have the gift of premonition) were to see her mother (I woman she loved, but was also completely in awe of) in a dream, what form would Catherine take? As I pondered that question I pulled out some of my portraits of Catherine and I knew, I just knew. The opening scene of the book came from that moment of clarity. Later, when I discovered the account of the mass arrival of the black birds while doing additional reading I got the shivers.

Catherine de' Medici
Marguerite has a complex relationship with her mother. How would you describe Catherine and why do you feel she treated Marguerite as she does?  
Catherine is a woman of great cunning with a voracious appetite for power. She can be judged harshly for this—and was in her own time, particularly as she was a foreigner and a woman. But while such characteristics made her forbidding and less-than-likeable on many occasions, she needed them. Catherine faced a tremendous challenge at the time of her husband’s untimely death. France was left with a series of boy kings—her sons Francis and Charles in turn. Without her will of iron the Valois might have fallen. Interestingly, Henri of Navarre who had ample reasons to hate Catherine was to say after her death, “What could the poor woman do, with five children in her arms, after the death of her husband, and with two families in France—ours and the Guise—attempting to encroach on the Crown? Was she not forced to play strange parts to deceive the one and the other and yet, as she did, to protect her children, who reigned in succession by the wisdom of a woman so able? I wonder that she did not do worse!”

As focused as Catherine was on dynastic concerns, and on fighten what was to become a string of eight religious wars, she had little time for hand-holding with her daughters (or anyone else for that matter). You either did what Catherine wanted or got out of her way. In the case of her relationship with Margot, they were close—quite close—for a brief period. So they were not incompatible. But that closeness could not hold up in the face of a denouncement by Margot’s brother Anjou, who was Catherine’s openly acknowledged favorite, or in the face of Margot’s decisions to act in pursuit of her own interests and in conformance with her own conscience rather than merely following her Mother’s orders. 

What theme from the story do you most hope strikes a chord with your readers?
There are actually quite a few, but if I had to pick one it would be the idea encapsulated in the book’s dedication to my children, “Never let any person’s will supplant your own, nor anyone’s advice override the dictates of your conscience” not even your mother’s. However one ultimately feels about Marguerite de Valois’ life decisions, I respect the fact that she was a woman of both genuine religious feeling and personal conscience. She did not merely “go along” even when, as in the period immediately surrounding the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, such quiet compliance would have kept her in the mainstream and been to her benefit.

What sort of research went into Médicis Daughter? What sources did find most valuable? 
How much space have we got? Seriously, the Valois are a passion for me. I have been reading about them and researching them on and off for nearly two decades. That’s long before I researched or wrote my debut novel, The Sister Queens. People may disagree with my vision of the Valois or some of my conclusions about them—I expect that, because historians differ and historical novelists are certainly entitled to—but it probably won’t be because they’ve read something I haven’t read or considered something I haven’t considered. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
I enjoy emotion-laden scenes the most: transformative moments that leave the characters changed and, hopefully, really affect the reader. These can be scenes of profound personal triumph—in which case the word enjoy seems natural—or scenes that are gut-kicks, the scenes I cry when writing. Perhaps for those the word enjoy seems strange, but what I really mean is I am happiest when a scene consumes me, when the characters take over and move so quickly, speak so quickly, I can barely keep up. There were certainly a number of such scenes during the writing of Médicis Daughter. The one that comes to mind as I sit here now is that devastating scene when Margot must persuade the love of her life to marry someone else. She ends up in a sobbing heap. That scene wrote itself so organically that it was sort of an out-of-body experience. And there were definitely tears on my end as well as on Margot’s.

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 on?
Several. I dearly love a good sub-plot. But the days of Dickensian novels with dozens upon dozens of minor characters and stretching to hundreds upon hundreds of page are gone. I actually trimmed quite a lot out of this book while my editor and I were working on it. There was one sub-plot in particular I felt sorry to see go. It involved a member of Catherine’s household, Isabelle de la Tour the Baronne de Limeuil, who fell in love with a man she’d been asked to seduce on the Queens’ behalf. This had rather life-altering (not in a good way) consequences for the Baronne, and Margot, observing this gentlewoman’s disgrace, would certainly have been profoundly affected by it. However, that entire learning experience did not make the final cut of the novel. I will be blogging about the historical incident at the center of this discarded subplot later this month. So if anyone is interested they should keep an eye out for that link when it goes up.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Médicis Daughter and if so, what did you alter? 
I’d like to refer everyone to my author’s note for the answer to this question. I am quite open there about the inferences I made (because “facts” are not always as clear as people think, nor do they cover everything) and also about what I altered for the purposes of creating the best possible narrative arc.

Henry of Navarre and Margaret of Valois
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?
I’d like to share a bottle of wine, preferably a good Jurançon in honor of her husband’s kingdom, with Marguerite de Valois herself. Médicis Daughter is written in first-person present-tense through her eyes, so feel that I’ve come to know her in a special way. There were times I felt as if I actually channeled her while writing. So I’d like to meet Margot in person to see if she is who she told me she was.

Mind you, I wouldn’t mind sitting down with Catherine de Médicis either. But NOT at the same time, and not while drinking.  No, if I sat down with the Queen Mother I would absolutely want all my senses sharp and all my wits about me.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
I’ve actually handed my next manuscript over to my agent for his comments. I am extremely excited about it, but also sworn to secrecy ;)

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"Amid the glamorous intrigues of the 16th-century French court, Marguerite de Valois, the youngest Medici daughter, deftly balances secret escapades and public duties... Perinot matches the rhythm of Margot's life to the political storms: as the battles escalate, so do the perils of love and lust. A riveting page-turner skillfully blending illicit liaisons and political chicanery."―Kirkus Reviews

“This is Renaissance France meets Game of Thrones: dark, sumptuous historical fiction that coils religious strife, court intrigue, passionate love, family hatred, and betrayed innocence like a nest of poisonous snakes. Beautiful Princess Margot acts as our guide to the heart of her violent family as she blossoms from naive court pawn to woman of conscience and renown. A highly recommended coming-of-age tale where the princess learns to slay her own dragons!” ―Kate Quinn, national bestselling author of The Lion and the Rose

“The riveting story of a 16thcentury French princess caught in the throes of royal intrigue and religious war. From the arms of the charismatic Duke of Guise to the blood-soaked streets of Paris, Princess Marguerite runs a dangerous gauntlet, taking the reader with her. An absolutely gripping read!” ―Michelle Moran, bestselling author of The Rebel Queen

“Rising above the chorus of historical drama is Perinot's epic tale of the fascinating, lascivious, ruthless House of Valois, as told through the eyes of the complicated and intelligent Princess Marguerite. Burdened by her unscrupulous family and desperate for meaningful relationships, Margot is forced to navigate her own path in sixteenth century France. Amid wars of nation and heart, Médicis Daughter brilliantly demonstrates how one unique woman beats staggering odds to find the strength and power that is her birthright.” ―Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway's Girl

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Sophie Perinot writes historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Sister Queens, (2012 NAL/Penguin) was set in 13th century France and England. The Sister Queens weaves the captivating story of medieval sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence, who both became queens – their lifelong friendship, their rivalry, and their reigns.

Perinot's next novel, Medicis Daughter , (2015 Thomas Dunne/St. Martin) is set three-hundred years later--at intrigue-riven 16th century French Valois court. Medicis Daughter spins the tale of beautiful princess Marguerite who walks the knife edge between the demands of her serpentine mother, Catherine de Medicis, and those of her own conscience.

Ms. Perinot has both a BA in History and a law degree. She left the law to pursue artistic interests, including writing. An avid reader, especially of classic literature, and life-long student of history, it seemed only natural that Sophie should write historical fiction. As someone who studied French abroad and a devotee of Alexandre Dumas, French history was a logical starting point. An active member of the Historical Novel Society, she has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times.

Website ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads ❧  Facebook

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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: December 1, 2015
Released by: Thomas Dunne Books
ISBN-13: 978-1250072092
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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