Jennifer's Journal


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sir Randall of Braesford Interviews Jennifer Blake

Sir Randall of Braesford is the hero of By His Majesty's Grace, Book 1 of The Three Graces trilogy. Recently, he took time from his knightly duties and derring-do to sit down and talk with his creator, Jennifer Blake.

Sir Rand: I’ve a great curiosity about what you’ve done with this story of mine, milady. What brought you to write about the times in which I live? Or about my keep and estates, if it comes to that?

JB: It began with a workshop, if you must know, one taught with long-time friends and fellow writers, Bertrice Small and Roberta Gellis. The subject was how to avoid plagiarism while using books and other printed material for research. Roberta suggested that we each take the same bit research and use it to write two or three pages of a story to illustrate how we use factual details without copying from the information source. At the end the workshop, we would each read our pages to the group.

Sir Rand: Dame Roberta being something of an authority on my times, I suppose she chose the subject?

JB: Exactly, a paragraph on late medieval pele towers. That was hardly my area of expertise, but I studied the tower’s description, added a bit more research for color, and wrote what was basically the beginning of a story. In this tale, a well-born heroine, Lady Isabel, arrives at the home of the man the king has commanded her to marry. She is disturbed by the forbidding nature of the late 15th century keep, with its manse and pele tower, that was a reward from the king for services rendered by this new-made knight. The description of the tower was tied to the doubts and fears of the heroine, and the pages ended just as the hero—that would be you, sir—was about to make a dramatic appearance. When I read my pages at the workshop, there was a beat of complete silence. Then someone called out, “But where’s the rest of the story?”

Sir Rand: A most flattering reaction, I’d say.

JB: Oh, agreed. But truth to tell, there was no more. And it was unlikely there would ever be any more as nearly all my 60-something previous books and novellas, including several international best sellers, have been set in the southern U.S., in Louisiana. I was type cast as a Louisiana author.

Sir Rand: So what took place to change matters?

JB: A few months later, after finishing the last book of my Masters at Arms series, I created a proposal for a new trilogy set in New Orleans. The stories revolved around sisters, known as the Three Graces, who were prevented from marrying by a voodoo curse. My editor liked the idea, and we were about to go to contract. Before the deal was finalized, however, she attended a sales meeting where figures were presented which indicated books set in Europe were preferred over those set in the United States. Afterward, she emailed my agent to ask if there was any way I could transfer my Three Graces trilogy across the Atlantic. Yes!! I certainly could! So the pele tower and it’s manse, as described for the workshop, became your home.

Sir Rand: This voodoo curse you mentioned doubtless evolved into the dread curse of the Graces of Graydon, said to have carried off so many of Lady Isabel’s noble suitors.

JB: It did indeed, though the concept had to be altered a bit to make it fit into the medieval time period. But I actually prefer the way it turned out.

Sir Rand: As do I, since it gave me a role to play. Exactly how did you decide how I would look, what I would be like?

JB: It was a step-by-step process that began with the rooks, or ravens, that I’d described as circling the pele tower in those first paragraphs written for the workshop. The raven became your heraldic symbol, and I then more or less tied your physical description to that image.

Sir Rand: Less rather than more, I hope!

JB: In the most handsome way possible, you may be sure! Beyond that, I needed you to be someone the heroine would resent having to marry. Your status as the baseborn son of a lord guaranteed that. However, the place you had reached—companion to King Henry VII, a man knighted on the field of battle and awarded a keep and marriage to a lady of good birth for his service to the crown--required an unusual combination of intelligence, power and extreme loyalty. What? You are blushing, sir. Shall I stop here?

Sir Rand: By all means. But I would like to know how you discovered my long association with Henry Tudor.

JB: That was a matter of deduction based on research. Henry had been a fugitive from Yorkist assassination plots for almost half his 29 years. He had known friends and companions, however, men who shared his exile in Europe, and then accompanied him when he invaded England in 1485. I put your background together, so to speak, by assembling bits and pieces of notes from a dozen or more men.

Sir Rand: I’m far from sure I appreciate that image, but let it pass. How ever did you, a lady for all your modern dress, learn to think like a knight, particularly in the heat of a melee?

JB: A large part of it came from simply putting myself in your place, experiencing every scene through your senses and mind-set, feeling what you felt as it unfolded. But while visualizing the melee scene, it occurred to me that battle fatigue, known today as traumatic stress syndrome, could not be a totally modern phenomenon. It must have had severe consequences during a time when combatants met face to face, hacking and slicing at each other with all the mind-stunning effort, the horror of mangled flesh and blood that must have resulted. Much of the melee scene came from that perspective.

Sir Rand: You provided a squire for me during that combat, and afterward. Why was that? And how did you decide what he would be like?

JB: You received a squire because it seemed most knights had one during that time period, and he was a logical secondary character. David gained a more important place for himself as he became ever more useful to you and your lady. But it was as he told Lady Isabel something of his background and his dreams that he took better shape and form, became something more than just a minor player. In one sense, then, he created himself.

Sir Rand: How did you choose the lovely Isabel for me?

JB: You deserved someone who was your match in strength of will, courage and that illusive quality called “heart.” Beyond that, I have to admit she is made up of all the things I like in a heroine, including steadfastness in the face of difficulty, love of family, the ability to think under fire and the refusal to accept defeat. Her greatest flaw is pride, but then the two of you were well matched in that, as well.

Sir Rand: God’s teeth, milady, you’d not suggest I’m arrogant?

JB: No more so than I made you.

Sir Rand: Aye. Well. Since you put it that way. Touching on other matters you arranged for me--what of the tumble in the sheets with Isabel that took place amid a lather of raspberries? Not that I’m complaining, you understand, but still…

JB: That was your doing, I swear it. You were playing the lute, as I recall, singing a playful song about a youth and his lady-fair who went looking for sweet red raspberries and how they managed to enjoy them. The next thing I knew, you had found a goodly supply and were mulling over sundry things to do with them.

Sir Rand: ‘Tis a far cry from searching for raspberries to taking a crock of them to the bed where Lady Isabel lay innocently sleeping.

JB: Are you saying it was never your idea to make a sensual assault upon your lady’s truthfulness using berries and well-ground sugar?

Sir Rand: That’s just what I’m saying. ‘Twas your doing, and well you know it! If you could make me out to be an arrogant arse, then you could certainly turn me into a diabolically conniving and too randy lover of… raspberries!

JB: I protest, sir!

Sir Rand: Protest all you please, but I know the right of it. And another thing! Why did you put me in prison?

JB: You were in the way.

Sir Rand: Nay, milady. I’ve never been one to stay where I was not wanted.

JB: No, but how else was Isabel to discover how much she missed and needed you, how much she would mourn your loss if you were to hang? Beyond that, this was her story, and you were being a good deal too stalwart and heroic, leaving her with little to do. She had to show her mettle, don’t you see?

Sir Rand: You’ve a point, I suppose. And it was the Tower for me, anyway, I’ll be bound. Henry could hardly allow a crime such as I was accused of to go unpunished.

JB: Even if you were his friend and long-time companion, yes. Though I do regret leaving you in doubt as to whether Isabel would choose between being your wife or your widow.

Sir Rand: A likely tale. You’re a witch who likes to torture men is what you are, milady. You might as well admit it and be done.

JB: Am I really supposed to answer that? Sir Rand? Come back! Where are you going?

Sir Rand: Why, where else, but in search of raspberries? I’ve a sudden great yen for them, now that I'm put in mind of that scene and the delicious charms of my lady-fair…

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Blogger Heather Hiestand said...

Great character interview! It's a wonderful novel - I loved it!

6:28 PM  
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