|Author, Sophie Perinot (from Amazon.com)
What inspired you to write about Marguerite de Valois in "Médicis Daughter?"
I have a Valois obsession. I’ve never understood why these French royals get so little attention (aka historical fiction and costume dramas) and the Tudors get so much. What is up with that? The Valois dynasty is full of fascinating characters, and its last years encompass the violent drama and partisanship of the French Wars of religion. Quite frankly I find the Valois more intriguing and sexier than the Tudors.
As for Marguerite herself, I was drawn to the contrast between her life and that of Elizabeth I of England. Both were the last royals of their line, yet only one got to be a sovereign Queen. And that was simply a matter of bad luck—or rather the difference between French and English law—not because Marguerite lacked the abilities to rule. She was highly intelligent and politically astute. Arguably she was more similar to her strong-willed, politically expert mother, Catherine de Médicis than any of her three brothers who sat on the French throne. Yet none of this is what we hear about Marguerite. Oh no . . . instead we hear she was wanton and promiscuous. Why is that?
Well, the last years of any ruling family are generally recounted by “what’s next”—that is by people who have something to gain from smearing their predecessors. That was certainly true of the Valois. And, owing to the contentious political and religious climate of the second half of the 16th century, even before they died out, the Valois were being attacked by enemies, rivals and anonymous political pamphleteers. In the case of Margot her attackers—like those who later skewered Marie Antoinette—chose the easiest and most ancient path for destroying a woman: assertions of rabid sexual desire. I decided to undercut the toxic myth that envelopes Marguerite de Valois by giving her a voice and showing her as a complex woman of contradictions and conscience.
Why do you think people are still so drawn to reading and learning about the Medicis?
Power. The name Médici, or Médicis as the French spelled it, makes people think of power. And as Henry Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
Of course I love Margot. The book is written in first-person present-tense through her eyes so I know her in a special way. Sometimes I feel as if I channel her. But I also love her cousin, Henri de Bourbon, Prince (and then King) of Navarre. He is such a fish-out-of-water at the Valois court: blunt, unfashionable, unconcerned with what other’s think of him. He spends a good deal of his youth as a hostage of sorts among the Valois—who are his cousins—and I think that a lot of people underestimate him. That is their mistake. Margot certainly makes that error, but she is smart enough to eventually recognize and appreciate how much savvier Henri is than he seems.
What is the strangest/ most interesting detail you came across while researching “Médicis Daughter?
One of my very favorite historical oddities in “Médicis Daughter” is the Princesse de Porcien’s book of hours. The Princesse had the habit of having former lovers portrayed in her devotional book crucified or otherwise in uncomfortable states. I find that both daring and hysterical. My critique partner got to that portion of the manuscript and wrote, “This has to be true because you COULD NOT make it up.”
Can you tell us about a favorite scene in the book?
One of my favorite scenes occurs on the day after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre began when the Court rides out into the corpse strewn streets to go to the Cimetière des Innocents. A Hawthorn bush has suddenly bloomed at the cemetery and this flowering is being seen and celebrated as a miracle by the Catholics—viewed as God’s approbation of their actions in slaughtering their Protestant brethren. Margot makes the trip under duress, and I worked hard to capture both her disgust at some of the people she loves best and her pain—both spiritual and physical—in witnessing the carnage. She becomes fixated on one particular pair of corpses in the Rue Saint Honore:
“A small child in his night shift lies at the side of the road just ahead. His hand is within a hair’s breadth of a woman’s, doubtless his mother, who was equally unable to save him or to retain his hand in death. I cannot take my eyes off those hands. As we pass, my head turns over my shoulder to see the pair of them. The effort of holding back my tears is physically painful. My chest burns. My stomach is hollow. I glance at Henriette but she looks straight ahead.
What monsters we are.”
Was the writing process of this book any different for you than "The Sister Queens" or "A Day of Fire?"
Absolutely. I am such a character-driven writer. I am always waiting to hear the important voices in a given novel and since those voices are very distinct that can really alter things. Some books present very linearly—that was true with “The Sister Queens.” Some come in bits. With the manuscript that I just turned over to my agent, the first thing my main character gave me was a verse of a song—lyrics he sings in the first chapter. The second thing he showed me was how his story ended. So I was writing the in-between. “A Day of Fire” had a writing process shaped not only by my story’s two alternating points of view, but by the unique fact that six authors were composing a novel together. So we wrote some scenes in real-time on google documents, with each of us speaking through and for our own characters. “Médicis Daughter” is a coming of age story, so it tended to move forward organically as Marguerite matured before my eyes.
If you could bring three fictional characters or historical figures with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
How deserted is this island? Because if there are no minions and I bring a bunch of queens we all know who is going to get stuck as lady-in-waiting. But assuming that royal guests bring with them the appropriate servants then, as I count down to the release of “Médicis Daughter,” I’d like to hang out with Marguerite de Valois to see if she is who she told me she was. I wouldn’t mind sitting down with Catherine de Médicis too but NOT at the same time or even on the same island.
Marguerite and I would be joined by Elizabeth I of England, because when I was a little girl I believed I was her reincarnation.
Finally, though it is tempting to select a handsome gentleman to round out the group (especially if we are going to be trapped on this island for any length of time), I think I will keep things “16th-century-ladies-only” by inviting Henriette Duchesse de Nevers. She is one of Marguerite’s closest friends in my novel, and I have a feeling that she’d liven things up. Suddenly this is sounding like a party. Oh and for the record, the French throw better parties than the English (don’t tell Queen Elizabeth I said that).
Medicis Daughter will be released December 1, 2015.
Pre-order it at your favorite retailer: