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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Author Interview with Robin Maxwell

Reading The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn was like stepping back in time and being able to take a look at Anne from a completely different perspective. Robin Maxwell is the fantastic writer who was able to bring all of the emotion and stories about Anne Boleyn together into this work. I had the great pleasure of getting to speak with Ms. Maxwell and to ask her some questions. She had some great responses and a sneak peak too. So without further adieu…

I noticed that you graduated with a degree in Occupational Therapy and had many other jobs before becoming a full time writer. How did you get started with writing? What made you change your focus in life?

If you would have asked my mother about that, she'd have told you I was a writer from the age of eight. At least, that's when she started collecting everything I wrote, from poems on birthday cards, to my first love story about Bernie the Bagel and Lottie Lox. I had tried my hand at acting in New York City in the mid-`70s, but by the time I moved to L.A. in `76, ideas were starting to flit in and out of my mind. I can date the moment I became a writer to the day I didn't let the odd idea flit OUT of my mind, and instead wrote it down on a scrap of paper. Then I found a manila folder, titled it "ideas" and put my scrap of paper in there. Soon it was full of ideas, some just a title, some a paragraph. It was when I realized that my ideas, fragmentary as they might be, were VALUABLE, deserving of being kept, that I can say that I became a writer.

The first thing I tried was the story of young woman with breast cancer who falls in love with her surgeon, a man named Dr. Finger. I never finished that. I went on to co-write a comedy sketch with a friend who'd worked on the second season of the Robin Williams sitcom "Mork and Mindy." It was called "Jewish Mother" and was about a 30-year-old Jesus living at home with his parents when the three "Wiseguys" who've been lost in the desert for quite some time, finally show up at "Mrs. of Nazareth's" door. I remember there was a joke about what she was cooking - "stuffed hump." I segued into writing comedy screenplays with a girlfriend, Billie Morton, and together we got our first studio deal in 1981 with a movie script for two legendary producers. It was called "Trouble in Toyland," and we're still trying to sell it as of last week. We worked for 15 years writing comedy for all the studios, though nothing of ours was ever produced. Funnily enough, Billie and I are still writing partners, though she now lives in Australia. One of our comedies written 20 years ago this year looks like it's finally going to be produced. And we are just now embarking on our first novel together. Meanwhile in 1985 one of my scripts was made into a Movie of the Week for CBS, called "Passions," and starred Joanne Woodward.

In 1995 I started writing SECRET DIARY OF ANNE BOLEYN (now in its 22nd printing!). This was based on a long, passionate fascination with the woman, whom I believed from my research was deeply misunderstood and horribly vilified. To this day, SECRET DIARY is the most sympathetic portrait of Anne in both literature and film. The rest, as they say, is history.

Do you have a routine when you write? A specific place or time of day?

No, I don't have a routine. Because I have to do so much research for my historical novels, I have to read, read, read - histories and biographies - and surf the web for material. I do that any old time of night or day. I do prefer to write in the morning, after I've eaten a good protein-laden breakfast (which switches my brain on). But I can write morning, noon or night. If the Muse wakes me in the middle of the night I drag myself out of bed and attend her. Once I'm awake I consider these very blessed moments of creativity. I also seem to get my best, most original ideas in that weird time of the morning just before I wake up and the moments just AFTER I wake up. Sometimes I'll only write for a few hours, but most times it's a full 8-hour day. And once in a while, if I'm on a roll, I'll go 12-14 hours.

You have written several books about Tudor England (Mademoiselle Boleyn, Virgin, The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, Wild Irish, To the Tower Born, and Queen’s Bastard). What about this time period drew you to it?

The simple answer is Anne Boleyn. But once I started writing about her (and doing the necessary research for SECRET DIARY) I was drawn into the characters of Henry VIII, his other wives and his children, especially Elizabeth I. It was just the most outrageous, colorful, passionate, absurd and bloody period in history. And it was in a language I knew. I sort of created an archaic form of English for Anne to write her first-person diary entries in. For the sections on Elizabeth, which were in third-person, it was much more classical in form. When it was time to write my second book, I became fascinated with the rumors (many of them) that Elizabeth and her lover, Robin Dudley, had had an illegitimate son, Arthur Dudley. I really had to scour the libraries (this was before the internet) to find out the facts of Arthur Dudley's life. The result, of course, was THE QUEEN'S BASTARD. Then I wanted to explore Elizabeth's youthful indiscretions with her step-father, Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour - VIRGIN. When I learned about Elizabeth's rival in the later part of her life and reign, the Irish pirate and "Mother of the Irish Rebellion" Grace O'Malley, I just had to write THE WILD IRISH. This is one of my favorite book, and perhaps the closest to being produced as a major motion picture. I adapted my own novel to a screenplay. So keep your fingers crossed!

I got fascinated with the earliest Tudor ancestors for TO THE TOWER BORN, my very original take on the mystery of the lost little princes in the Tower. And to round everything out nicely, three years ago I wrote about Anne Boleyn again, about her and her sister being brought up in the wild and rather lewd French court - MADEMOISELLE BOLEYN. Don't read this one if you're a prude.

Your most recently published book, Signora di Vinci takes place in Renaissance Italy. What about the Renaissance inspired you to move from Tudor England to this period of time and these characters?

I must say, I was nervous about leaving Tudor England, because it had been so rich and colorful. I couldn't imagine a time or place or characters that could top it. But I was so intrigued by the mind of Leonardo da Vinci that when I started researching him and his mother, Caterina (it's her voice and eyes through which readers explore the period) I found that Italy in the 15th century was every bit as fascinating as Tudor England, if not MORE, because this was where the Renaissance was born. In fact, the grandfather of one of my characters in SIGNORA DA VINCI, Lorenzo "The Magnificent" de' Medici's grandfather, Cosimo de' Medici, was the actual man without whom the Renaissance wouldn't have happened AT ALL. He was the one who spent his florins on sending scouts out all over the world to discover the lost manuscripts of ancient Greece and Rome and have them translated. Then he formed a society to study them -- The Platonic Academy. So the movers and shakers of Florence began reading the classics (which became the basis of Renaissance thought). They were toying with some very heretical material as far as the Christian church was concerned -- pagan stuff, Egyptian magic -- all burnable offenses. Put that together with Leonardo and his cross-dressing mother and the Shroud of Turin hoax, and you've got one helluva story. If you want to read some tidbits about these subjects, go to my website http://robinmaxwell.com (the SIGNORA DA VINCI page) and you'll find "Bonus Passport to the 15th Century" pages and you'll get a taste. I've also printed a fabulous recipe on the website that Caterina makes several times in the book -- "grape and olive compote."

Your new book, O, Juliet, comes out next year. What can you tell us about this book? Have you finished writing it yet?

It's finished, and it'll be published in February of 2010. It's the first time an historical fiction novel has ever been written about the Romeo and Juliet story -- the greatest love story ever told. I adored writing it, and because I decided to make both of my protagonists not only Dante freaks, but amateur poets themselves, I was forced to write poetry in both of their voices. Aaaiiigghh!

Here is the cover (it's actually a cover in two parts -- pull back the first flowery one, and you see the lovers. I'd be interested to know if your readers like the cover.

Their love was the stuff of legend. But the legend is only half the story...

Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father’s business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inspired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage into the great Medici dynasty, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that takes flight in the privacy of her bedchamber and on her garden balcony.

Her life and destiny are forever changed when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars.

Thank-you Ms. Maxwell for that delightfully detailed interview. What do you all think of the cover for O, Juliet? I think the flowers are beautiful and appropriate. Hope you all enjoyed it.

Robin Maxwell grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Tufts University School of Occupational Therapy, and practiced in that field for several years before moving to Hollywood to become a parrot tamer, casting director and finally a screenwriter. Working for the major studios and networks she wrote comedy, drama and even feature animation for Disney. Her credits include "Passions," a CBS movie of the week, starring Joanne Woodward.

But somewhere along the line, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and women "ahead of their time," became Maxwell's private obsession.

You can visit her at her website for more information at her works.

Copyright © 2009-2011 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. The cover art is beautiful! Juliet's story is so sad and at the same time so sweet. But I've always wondered, if they all been a little older, would the story end the same way? Romeo would not have to impetus and Juliet not so innocent. Since I loved Romeo and Juliet, I'll have to check this one out.

    Thanks for the great interview.

  2. I Love, Love, Love this interview! I am dying to read O Juliet. Maxwell is a great author and I love all that she's written so far. Thanks, this was terrific:)

  3. Hi Dottie. Robin Maxwell here. I just wanted you to know that, in fact, I did make the lovers older -- Juliet 18 and Romeo 25. In 1444, in Florence, those were the ages considered perfect for marriage. When Shakespeare wrote his version, late in the 16th century, 14 and 15 year old brides/grooms were more the norm. I, too, longed for two people with more mature emotions.

    And Ms. Lucy, thanks for the kind words about my other books. Hope you like this one.

  4. Wonderful interview! I've read most of her books and loved them all! I like what she said about when she knew she was a writer... it's one of those things that is difficult to legitimize until you actually have something published, but know in your heart you are (if that makes sense). Love the cover of O'Juliet and can't wait to read it!


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