Exotic locales, strong female characters key for Lafferty
Aspen author Linda Lafferty continues to entrance readers and intrigue critics with her richly detailed historical novels set in exotic locales.
First was “The Bloodletter’s Daughter” in 2012. In 17th century Prague — a mecca of art, science and culture — a bathhouse worker who yearns to study medicine is drawn into the orbit of the powerful and corrupt Hapsburg dynasty.
Most recent was January’s “House of Bathory,” featuring Elizabeth Báthory, the infamous Blood Countess, who in 17th century Slovakia tortures and kills her servants, then bathes in their blood in a desperate attempt to retain her youth.
Between those books was 2013’s “The Drowning Guard,” which tells of the cunning Ottoman princess Esma Sultan, who in 1826 Constantinople seduces Christian men only to have them drowned in the Bosphorus before morning.
“The Drowning Guard” won the Colorado Book Award for Historical Fiction this year, a critical high point to a heady few years in which Lafferty, a retired teacher, finally saw the fiction she wrote over the past three decades get published when an acquisitions editor she had worked with years prior tracked her down after being hired by Amazon’s publishing division.
Of her “overnight success,” Lafferty said: “Never give up. You never give up because the main thing, the journey, is to really enjoy your art.”
Lafferty took some time to share what she’s working on and how the exotic flavors of her novels waft over into her real life.
Laurena Mayne Davis: When we last spoke you had a three-book publication deal through Amazon. With those published, what’s next for you?
Linda Lafferty: I’m about to submit my manuscript (July 7) for “The Shepherdess of Sienna: A Novel of Tuscany.” It is the story of Virginia Tacci, who in 1581 at the age of 14 rode the famous Palio race through the streets of Siena — bareback in her long skirts. She remains a legend in Siena. The second storyline in the novel is the Medici family, who ruled Tuscany and lay siege to Siena in 1555. The two stories cross.
Mayne Davis: Congratulations on the Colorado Book Award for “The Drowning Guard.” After 30 years of writing fiction, which went unpublished, how do you feel about your success now?
Lafferty: I am thankful every day for my publisher taking a chance on me. My books are quirky and don’t fit the mold. I am equally thankful for readers. I read every review — good or bad.
Mayne Davis: You write strong, feminine characters who strain at their gender-defined roles. What characteristics must you have in your lead character?
Lafferty: My female protagonists always prove they have stronger characters than social mores dictate for women.
Mayne Davis: When you write about historical exotic locales, do you find the flavors, colors and other sensory details spilling over into your real life?
Lafferty: Absolutely! I think in flavors, sounds and tastes. It’s funny you should ask. My editor, who is awaiting the Tuscan manuscript, says her diet always changes when she reads one of my books. She said when she edited “The Bloodletter’s Daughter” she sought out sausages and caraway. I told her to get ready to drink a lot of good Tuscan wine with this next one!
Mayne Davis: What else would you like readers to know about “The Drowning Guard?”
Lafferty: “The Drowning Guard” was represented by three of the finest agencies out there: Marly Rusoff, Inkwell Management and finally Deborah Schneider at Gelfman/Schneider. No publisher would take a chance on it but those agents loved it. To me, that indicates what is wrong with the traditional publishing world — you have to be too much “like” someone else to sell a book. The big publishers won’t take a chance on something totally new.
I worked and reworked this manuscript with some of the agents in the business. It was strictly a labor of love. At one point, I had 14 history books laid out on my bed with sticky notes to write one chapter. Still I could not sell it, and agencies let me go because they simply could not sell my books, my style.
Then an editor at Amazon, Lindsay Guzzardo, took a chance on me. She bought all three of my books.