Jessica Dotta, author of "Born of Persuasion" answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.
1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?
Even though this is the first question of the interview, I saved it for last because I couldn’t decide. How do you choose a life when you already know the full thread of their fate?
For example, Joan of Arc sounds fun, but I don't want to be burned alive at the stake, (so, skip.)
Queen Elizabeth- being a beloved queen sounds good, but growing up with people whispering your mother was a witch, fearing my sister will kill me if she feels threatened. (Nah, skip.)
Harriet Tubman- help fugitives escape, be called Grandma Moses, but be reared in slavery and always fear for my life. (Nope, skip.)
Jane Austen- lives in Regency, England. I already love her occupation. But to write sweet romances but never be married? Lose the man you love to a tragic accident—(Nope, skip that one, too.)
Is it just me, or do all the truly exciting people come with as much pain as they do glory?
If there is a woman in history, that lived carefree as an artist in Renaissance Italy, had a wonderful childhood, freedom and money, and married her true and then lived out her days happy and absorbed in her art —I'll be her!
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
I'm drawn to the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian era, but I am not fooled into wishing I was born during those periods.
My parents are laborers, and as such, I would have been lucky to gain employment as a scullery maid and they had the cruelest workload. I have several friends who would have died in childbirth.
Much better to host a historical tea for friends, and then slip back into your jeans and modern life.
3. You're having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?
Wow, what a fabulous dinner this would be!
William Wilberforce who fought tirelessly against slavery—to the point where he had nervous breakdowns and didn't die until after he'd heard the news that his act was passed through Parliament. He, and his close-knit community, invented marketing—only their reason was nobler than selling products to make themselves rich.
Sir Winston Churchill –Though not always kind or nice in private, there is something I utterly adore about this gruff, relentless, man. " He was the lion who roared when the British Empire needed him most." What a title! He stood opposed to one of the most evil dictatorships, without kowtowing to political correctness. Who wouldn't rally behind a man responsible for these words : “If this long island story of ours is to last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood on the ground.” I most certainly include him on the short list for dinner.
Lady Jane Grey- Queen of England for 9 days—they say she fainted when she learned they hailed her as Queen. Did she know it was also her death sentence? Surely she suspected. Did she truly decide set prisoners free, get rid of the expensive wardrobes and live according to the gospels? I know not, but I'd love to have dinner to find out.
Cleopatra VII Philopator- the last Pharaoh of ancient Egypt. What a world to become a queen during. She had to survive murderous brothers and sisters, in order to gain the throne to the richest kingdom on earth. She managed to hold onto Egypt during an age where the greediest and strongest empire (Rome) coveted her wealth. No ordinary soul was she. She would most certainly add to the conversation.
Corrie Ten Boom- the spinster, watchmaker who stood against the Nazi regime by hiding Jewish people in the home that she shared with her elderly father and unmarried sister. They were caught and of her household, she alone survived a brutal concentration camp. But the lessons of forgiveness and freedom she walked away with are unbelievable.
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
Though I write under Dotta, I was born MacLeod of MacLeod, so I would definitely chose my ancestral home of Dunvegan Castle, on the Isle of Skye. It's the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and has been with the clan for 800 years.
I've only seen it in pictures and one of my dreams is to visit it in person. There's a Clan Parliament every four years, which Clansfolk from all over the world gather. It's on my bucket list!
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you'd like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
What a fabulous question!
I'm going to pick writers who have fantastic craft and equally amazing personalities. The former, because it would be amazing to talk out ideas and learn from them, The latter, because I tend to be reserved and hold back from asking the questions from tour guides and locals that I'd really want to ask.
One would be Liz Curtis Higgs! She's a NYT bestseller who writes fantastic Scottish Historicals. I know from reading her books she's well-versed in all sorts of lovely facts and customs of times gone by. Furthermore, she's an amazing public speaker and it would be fun watching her interact with others, as few leave conversations with her unchanged.
The second would be Tasha Alexander! She's also a NYT bestseller and has an amazing Lady Emily Series that blends the best of mystery and Victorian historical fiction together. I've also met her, and can honestly say she's one of the most generous, kind souls I've met.
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
I'd have a hard time picking which one would be more dashing, as I tend to be drawn more to the moody, Byronic hero over a powerful, rich king.
But I definitely know which court has me visiting it time and again—Henry the VIII's. The complexities that rippled out from that court into the common lives of men, questions about the church's authority, of what constitutes marriage, and whether one should stand up for their beliefs, bow quietly, or seize power—when a mad man sits on the throne is so intriguing.
That was a court where your actions defined you—there's no hiding from history what sort of a person you were.
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?
I've been biased since childhood when I read "Katherine of Aragon: The Wife of Henry VIII", by Jean Plaidy (Victoria Holt.)
She wrote Katherine's plight so well—at least to an impressionable, young mind—that I enthusiastically took up her side of the debate. I don't think she refused to cooperate with Henry in a bid to keep power, I believe she could not violate her principles.
Talk about a woman of incredible strength, stubbornness and dignity.
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
It's English for me. In my childhood I read so many stories about Britain by British writers that there was scarcely time to pay attention to what happened at other courts in other countries.
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
My favorite novel—ever—is "Jane Eyre", by Charlotte Bronte. I read it in my teens and was stunned by the passion and fire of that story.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden is another book I've read multiple times. His craft is stunning and he writes a historical rendering of Gion District in Japan that is unforgettable and makes you feel as though the characters live and breathe.
"Gone With the Wind" is another novel that I've dog-eared. The selfish, temperamental, ruthless, yet vulnerable Scarlett is a study, indeed. I love how Margaret Mitchell does not fear to write Rhett and Scarlet as they are—bad motives and greed included.
10. Tea or coffee when writing?
I write as early in the morning as possible, therefore it's nearly impossible to begin without a mug of hot coffee nearby.
When I write in the evenings, however, I've gotten use to having hot beverages on hand—so I usually make caffeine-free organic tea. (Peppermint ;-)
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