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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Laurel Corona

After reading the wonderful Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona there were a couple burning questions that I just knew I had to ask. Below you will find the lovely interview with the author where she enlightens us with how she researched for her book as well as what is coming up next. Please welcome, Laurel Corona.


You are currently a professor at San Diego City College, how do you find time to research and write your books? Do you have a set routine?

I am fortunate in that many of the things I research are of use in my humanities classes, and in fact, the inspiration for all my fiction has come from the subjects I teach. One of the best things about being a community college professor is that we get long vacations but we aren’t under the obligation to “publish or perish,” as many academicians are. I don’t have to spend my time away from school producing scholarly work, which leaves me free to write whatever I want (or not to write at all) in my free time. I manage to write year-round though, because I am one of those obnoxious people who wakes up alert and ready to go by 6AM, so with my afternoon schedule of classes, I can put in a half day of writing before I have to think about getting ready for class. I try to have a good balance between writing and other activities (particularly exercise), and I find that really there is plenty of time in a day as long as none is wasted. I very rarely waste a minute.

We are told in The Odyssey that Odysseus and Penelope had a son, Telemachus. How did you come up with the story behind Penelope’s Daughter?

I decided I wanted to write a novel about The Odyssey from a female-centered point of view, but I didn’t like the character of Penelope. All she did in Homer, it seemed to me, was weave and weep. There was no way she was going to be my heroine, I was sure of that. I came up with the idea of a daughter as a way of being able to invent the heroine I wanted. As the story evolved, Penelope became very much a heroine in my eyes also, when I imagined how she really would have acted in that difficult and threatening situation. Interestingly, well into writing the book, I uncovered a story from another source contemporaneous with Homer, in which Odysseus and Penelope have another child, a second boy. I decided right then that I was completely vindicated in adding the daughter because Homer hadn’t included everything either.

You stayed very true to the story of The Odyssey, what was the most difficult part of the writing process? How did you balance what we already knew from Homer’s work with the story you wanted to tell?

I try in all my historical fiction to stay as close to the truth as I can, deviating only in details I consider so minor as to be irrelevant. I don’t want to misinform people and I want people to rely on what I say. So little information exists about the era of the Iliad and the Odyssey, that Homer became my best source for the story. I read and reread the Odyssey, and listened to it over and over in my car during the year or so I was writing the book. I thought about what the best parts were, and I knew they could only be in the book if I made Xanthe, the daughter, part of them. I tried to imagine for myself the things Homer wasn’t very interested in, such as the daily lives of women, and I used my research on Bronze Age Greece to add details to that. This book was actually less difficult to write than my other fiction so far, precisely because the available research is pretty scanty. It’s funny, sometimes when I ask a scholar a question and they say no one knows the answer, they apologize for not having been able to help. I always tell them that they were a great help, because when something is unknown, I am free to invent without worrying about being proven wrong.

I most enjoyed the segment of the story focusing on the time Xanthe spent with Helen of Troy. What made you decide to use Helen as a vehicle for Xanthe’s growth into a woman?

Many people tell me that is their favorite part of the book. I really loved writing it! As I read the Odyssey, I started doing the math on all the characters’ ages (Homer doesn’t seem to do this) and realized that when Odysseus’ son Telemachus comes to Sparta in search of information about his father, the youngest Helen could be was forty--and that would be if she had her daughter, Hermione, when she was thirteen (very possible in that time). I know that the legend says that Helen was Zeus’ child and therefore might have special qualities such as the ability not to age and therefore lose her great physical beauty, but since she is a mortal, that seems unlikely. At any rate, forty is quite old by the standards of the time.

I wondered what a woman who had lived such a tumultuous and interesting life would be like. As we all know, being a beautiful young woman is not enough to base a full life upon. I read a fabulous book, Helen of Troy, by historian Bettany Hughes, and learned that Helen was thought to have picked up great powers to cast spells and speak to (and for) the gods. Helen began to grow in my imagination into this absolutely marvelous woman, confident in herself, and loving her sexuality and her close connection to the goddess Orthia. With Xanthe spending her teens there, I decided her life would be guided by what Helen thought was right for any young woman--an introduction into sensual goddess worship and a sexual awakening.

Your next book, Finding Emilie, comes out in early 2011. What can you tell us about this next book?

It’s based on the real-life story of a brilliant mathematician and physicist, Emilie du Châtelet, who live in the era just before the French Revolution. She was quite a libertine in many respects, flaunting societal expectations for an aristocratic, married woman. One of the ways she defied expectations was her truly brilliant scientific work, and another was her tendency to have rather public love affairs, including a long one with her live-in lover, the philosopher, satirist and playwright Voltaire. At age forty-three she died a few days after giving birth to the child of yet another lover. The book imagines the life of that child, named Stanislas-Adélaïde but nicknamed Lili in my book, as she goes though life unaware of her mother’s story but desperately in need of that knowledge if she is to escape the terrible constraints on women in her society, and fulfill the destiny of living an equally passionate, intellectual, and fulfilling life. This is truly the most complex story I’ve written and also in many respects, the most exciting and dynamic. Look for it in May 2011, from Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books!


Thank you so much Laurel for answering these questions and we hope to see you again with Finding Emilie!






Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for a wonderfully informative interview.
    My first reaction after hearing about this book was "It is about time this story was looked at from the woman's point of view." As I have commented on other posts, for every man on an adventure or journey there is a family left behind to cope with everyday life and challenges on their own. I can understand how "liberating" a lack of information would be for an author in some instances. It certainly gives you a bit more freedom with you story.
    I look forward to reading this book.

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  2. LibraryPat - It is true that there is always a family left behind - and their story is almost never told!

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  3. Great post! The character in the Odyssey I've always been most drawn to is actually Penelope--thinking about how difficult her life must have been, living in a "man's world" without a man for all those years, yet remaining loyal to her husband. (I guess I read between Homer's lines quite a bit imagining Penelope...) And Xanthe sounds like a great character through whom readers can explore the women's side of the story!

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  4. Rowenna - I honestly don't remember anything about Penelope from Odyssey. But way to go for you to read between the lines! You will certainly enjoye it!

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