What got you first interested in historical fiction?
My mom was an avid, nay, obsessive fiction reader, and I reaped the benefits as a child, getting her books when she was done. I read Shogun by Clavell and Centennial by Michener, I read Ivanhoe and The Thorn Birds (alongside Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, of course). Later in life, we shared Alison Weir books, Pilgrim by Timothy Findlay, Sharan Newman's Catherine leVendeur mysteries, among so many others.
As a kid, two books that really stood out for me were by M.M. Kaye, Shadow of the Moon and Trade Winds. The former is a story of Kashmir and Afghanistan in the mid-19th century, the latter a story of life in Zanzibar in the 19th century, featuring a wonderfully named heroine, Hero Athena Hollis. I was so impressed by Trade Winds that I wrote Mollie Kaye a fan letter in 1986, when I was 15. To my great joy, and continuing glee, she wrote me back. I've carried this letter around in my Box of Special Things ever
since, and count it as one of the cooler events of my early life.
Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share?
Oleanna was inspired by the lives of my great-grandfather who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, and the two sisters he left behind on the farm on the banks of lake Jølster in western Norway.
One reader's family is also from the area around Jølster, and we've been trading family tree information and photos—we're most likely distantly related, which is pretty cool to discover.
Another reader, who lives near Jølster, has taken the time to look up Elisabeth and Oleanna (and other family members) in the Jølster bygdebok, which is a kind of local history book you find throughout Norway. Through this reader and her generosity, I learned that Oleanna herself was also interested in family history and genealogy.
Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
I have great hopes that we're heading toward more diversity in terms of era, location, and protagonist. I think there is a much wider range of reading interests than the stereotypical view of the genre, and I'm so pleased to see that starting to be played out across the landscape—a diversity of approaches in books not only in the independent and small press worlds, but from the "Big 6" and their imprints as well.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
“This is a novel of quiet depth that evokes strong imagery; it is a story that is stark and humble and at the same time, finely drawn. The awe-inspiring scenery, the backbreaking work, and, at the same time, the appeal of and sense of belonging the women feel for their home are brightly painted through the author’s judicious use of language. A beautiful story.” – Historical Novels Review
“This is a wonderfully quiet, beautiful, emotional novel of family, love, and identity. When this book ended, I contemplated flipping back to the start in order to begin again. I absolutely didn’t want to leave the characters I had come to like so much…There’s elegant restraint in how Rose articulates love and loss, passion and madness, the rhythm of farm life, the quietude of rural Norway…Even if you aren’t typically a
historical fiction fan, consider this novel — it’s a wonderful snapshot of a place and a time set in tradition but uprooted by enormous transition. A story of ordinary women, unique and astounding in their own way, that will charm and captivate.” – Unabridged Chick
“Oleanna is a fabulous character. She’s strong but personable and definitely the sort of character that you find yourself rooting for…Historical fiction lovers will eat this book up!” – A Bookish Affair