Interview: Jeanne Kalogridis

Jeanne Dillard Kalogridis will be the writer-in-residence at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Jeanne is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books, including historical novels (The Inquisitor’s Wife, The Devil’s Queen, The Borgia Bride and others), dark fantasy (The Diaries of the Family Dracul trilogy), and novelizations (The Fugitive, the Star Trek movies and others). She’s also written several nonfiction titles. The New York Times called her Family Dracul trilogy “authentically arresting”; Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, called it “terrifying.” USA Today called The Scarlet Contessa “a guilty pleasure of a novel,” while Publishers Weekly called it “[a] vividly rendered historical . . . plenty of intrigue and conspiracy in the lusty plot.” Her historical novels are renowned for their detail and evocativeness; according to Publishers Weekly, “Kalogridis nails the palace intrigue and lush pageantry of the Renaissance.” She specializes in writing about remarkable women who have been ignored or maligned by history.

Born in central Florida, Jeanne earned a B.A. in Russian and an M.A. in Linguistics at the University of South Florida. Afterwards, she escaped to Washington, D.C, where she taught English to foreign students at The American University for eight years. During that time, she was fired for unionizing and used her period of unemployment to write her first novel. Happily she was rehired with full back pay before eventually retiring to write full-time.

She now lives in northern California with an enthusiastic if stinky Labrador named Django. Visit her website (jeannekalogridis.com) or blog (historyisabitch.com) or catch her on Twitter at @jkalogridis. You can also find her on Facebook.


You’ve mentioned on your blog that you miss teaching. Why? What is your favorite part of teaching?

The incredible energy shared by student and teacher when the teacher has something to offer and the student “gets” it and is eager to learn more. I’ve worked out of my house for some thirty years now, and I miss the ability to “talk shop” about writing or language with others. I genuinely care about each student and nothing makes me happier than to be of real use to him or her.

Tell me about writing historical fantasy. What fascinates you about following history instead of making up your own worlds?

History is written by the victors, yes? And most of those victors were male. I enjoy writing about women who have been reviled by history–such as Catherine de Medici, whom I wrote about in The Devil’s Queen–and portraying what I think their point of view might have been.

To my mind, writing engaging historical fiction can be harder than writing pure fantasy, because certain events MUST be included in the plot; it’s the writer’s job to look beneath the history and focus on creating a character who grows and learns and experiences conflict because of those historical events. There’s less freedom for the author. At the same time, the great joys of writing historical fiction are the challenge and the learning. In most cases, I knew nothing about my protagonists’ era and loved the research involved. And when learning about one period, country, and person, I always came across other exciting eras and historical figures to write about.

Some people say there is no market for historical fantasy. Do you run into this misconception sometimes? How did you carve out a distinctive, original area for yourself in this sub-genre?

Well, it’s news to me because I’ve done well with historical fantasy and love reading it. In terms of carving out a niche: It wasn’t intentional. I just can’t seem to keep from writing the dark and fantastic. Theoretically, I write for a line of “straight” historicals, but I’ve never been able to avoid injecting a dark fantasy element.

When does The Inquisitor’s Wife come out? Can you tell us a bit about it?

The Inquisitor’s Wife is scheduled to come out in either late 2012 or early 2013. It’s the story of a young woman with a mixed heritage–half Jewish, half Christian, a conversa–who lives in Seville during the Spanish Inquisition’s first auto da fe. At the beginning of the story, she hates her Jewish heritage. By the end of the novel, she has taken up the converso cause and risks her life for it.

I understand you’re still pretty new to Twitter (as am I). What is your opinion of this social media format, and are you enjoying it?

What I love about Twitter is its ability to enable the formation of on-line communities; I’ve met some very dear friends (writers and others) through Twitter. And it’s nice to occasionally help them out by tweeting about their work.

What I hate about Twitter are the spammers, and those people who miss the whole on-line community concept and think that the point is to tweet the title and link to their novel every five minutes, instead of engaging in real on-line conversation.

You wrote a blog post last spring about the hard work that is writing…and rewriting. You said that Indie writers seem to ‘get’ this better than many print-published authors, yet many others claim that Indie authors will fail miserably in the department of proper revision and editing. Do you think Indie publishing will continue to grow, or will the traditional gatekeepers once again take over the industry?

I was wrong if I implied that all Indie writers share that attitude. But I’ve met a number of Indie writers who take their work extremely seriously and worry about the lack of a “real” editor’s hand. They therefore work harder than some print-published authors I know.

At the same time, of course there’s an ocean of careless people who slap anything up in print. I use the term Indie to refer to those non-traditionally published writers who are serious about craft and professional in their attitude. That narrows the field a bit.

As for proper revision and editing; the unprofessional Indies will indeed fail miserably at revising and editing, because they don’t care. (I’ll say right here that I have purchased an Indie title from a print-published author and was horrified to find it was a disjointed unedited collection of notes.) Those who do care and have the good luck to find a fellow writer-editor with some talent, or a critique group with at least one person with some writing chops, will succeed.

I think that the traditional gatekeepers are already moving in. But there’s too much freedom and too much profit for authors for Indie publishing to languish. I think it’ll continue to grow for some time.

What advice do you have for those seeking to publish their first book-length work in today’s e-book world? Should they still hold out for legacy publishing to build credibility, or dive in to the self-publishing world, or a bit of both?

My advice: Shoot first for legacy publishing. For one thing, the publisher has a far more powerful marketing department than an individual using only Twitter and Facebook. It will take a long, long time for the prejudice against the self-published die away, if it ever does.

But if attempts at legacy publishing fail, then I say go Indie.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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