I would like to welcome author Paula Paul to The Maiden’s Court today. Paula has recently released her novel Sins of the Empress about Catherine the Great and has stopped by to share with us how this novel came to be.
How Catherine Came to Me
Guest Post by Paula Paul, author of
Sins of the Empress
“Write a historical novel about a real woman,” an editor said. “Do you have anyone in mind?”
I was about to say no, that I would have to think about it, when I got a kind of creepy feeling on the back of my neck. I turned around in my office chair to face one of my many book shelves, and I saw the brown spine of an old book that had long ago lost its cover. On the spine was Catherine the Great. In the next second, those three words were coming out of my mouth. “Perfect!” the editor said. “Send me the first chapter when you get it written.”
I had read that old brown book a very long time ago when I was in my twenties and was asked to review it for a newspaper. Now, I could hardly remember it. She was the empress of Russia. That’s about all I could recall about the book except that she came from a country other than Russia. I couldn’t remember what country. By now I was asking myself why I’d made such an off-the-top-of-my-head suggestion.
The truth was, however, I knew why. It was because every time I saw that book on my shelf, usually when I was looking for something else or maybe trying to find a way to squeeze just one more book in somewhere, I would get an eerie feeling that Catherine was calling out to me to read more about her. That book had been so dull and tedious I had always been reluctant to tackle it again, though. Still, she’s been relentless in her urging, and now she had me trapped. I had no choice but to read about her again.
Dull and tedious? I don’t think so. Not Catherine. I found that out within seconds after I started reading articles about her on the Internet. Then I bought books. Lots of books, and the more I read, the more enthralled I became. I read books about her and about her lovers, about her family and about her enemies. I read her memoirs, and I read books that she had read. Some of them of those law books she read were pretty tough going. I even reread that old book on my shelf, and yes, it is still dull. I wonder what kind of review I gave it. It was so long ago I can’t remember.
By the time I’d finished my research, I knew her quite well, and I understood why she kept calling out to me to read more and finally to write about her. I felt she wanted me to tell a story of her soul, her feelings, her desires, and fears. Not just straight history.
She wanted me to try to interpret on the page how she felt when, as a young German princess brought to Russia to be married, her husband, although an adult, didn’t understand sex and brought toy soldiers to bed. She wanted me to allow readers to know her heartache when her children were taken away from her, to let readers smell the incense in the unfamiliar orthodox church she had to attend, to allow them to experience her despair when she was betrayed by the man she loved and experience the cold grip of fear when she was accused of murder.
It took me a year of hard work to write her story and then to rewrite it. Catherine was there through it all, giving me her approval or, all too often, her disapproval, making me write with more feeling. I was exhausted when I finished, and I didn’t want to hear from her or even think about her again.
But then the book was published, and I got my advance copy. I opened it, and read the first sentence.
All that I have ever done, I have done for love.
There she was, telling her story, inviting others to read it and to become as mesmerized by her as I was. I hope you will accept her invitation.
Copyright © 2012 by The Maiden’s Court