Lisa Binion: Does writing historical fiction make you feel like a detective? Do you find it exciting to dig deep into history and fine out answers to possible mysteries?
Lynn Cullen: Yes, sometimes, I do feel like a detective! I take all the facts and examine them to see if a legend is actually true. That's why it's really important to go to the places where scenes are set, to talk to the local people. I was so happy to find Carlos Adeva, an artist who has a shop filled with Juana-centered work in Tordesillas. It was early on in my Juana research, and I was so happy when he confirmed my theory that Juana was definitely not insane but smart and strong. He told me another, good legend about her--that she went into labor for her son Carlos while dancing at a party, and gave birth to him in the palace privy. Carlos had to pantomime this story as I don't speak Spanish well and he doesn't speak English. You can imagine how that looked. Good thing he got his English-speaking wife on the phone!
Lisa Binion: I can't imagine giving birth in a privy. That would be wild. About how long does it take you to write one of your historical novels, including time spent on research, rough drafts, rewriting, etc.?
Lynn Cullen: I wrote Reign of Madness over the course of about three years, with breaks to travel or to work on my previous novel, or to work on the next one. I'm always having to start and stop, which I hate. I spent much of last summer and fall working on a revision, during which I was mostly blissfully uninterrupted. You'll note that there are a lot of birds in Reign of Madness--that's because I sat outside with my laptop during much of that time!
Lisa Binion: How old were you when you first began to write? How many books have you written and how many of them were historical fiction? Have you ever written anything that wasn't historical fiction? If so, what was it? By the way, you write some fantastic historical fiction.
Lynn Cullen: Thank you. I love to write it. I can't remember when I wasn't writing. I always knew that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I just didn't know what kind. I stumbled into writing children's books when my kids were young. I read the middle-grade novels in their school library where I volunteered and decided that they would be fun to write. I ended up writing fourteen children's books, from picture books to young adult. But even most of my children's books had a historical aspect to them. Not that I think of my books as fictionalized biographies. I think of them as novels set in history. The history, as much as I love it, isn't my main focus. My characters and how they struggle with the human condition are what interest me most.
Lisa Binion: You do a great job. Are you currently working on another novel? Earlier you mentioned Judith Leyster, a Dutch painter who lived in the 1600s. Could that be who your next novel is going to focus on?
Lynn Cullen: I'm working on a book about Judith Leyster and her relationship with Rembrandt. She was the first woman in the world to have her own painting workshop. She gave up painting soon after she married. I want to know why! I'm also enchanted with the excesses of the House of Burgundy, of which Philippe was the son of the last duchess. I'll work on both and see which wins!
Lisa Binion: Has your family always been supportive of your writing?
Lynn Cullen: My family has been great, always supportive. I've been at this for over twenty years, so they're very patient, too.
Lisa Binion: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Lynn Cullen: You have to be persistent and always open to ways of bettering yourself, always open to learning and improving. Publishing is not usually a get-rich quick scheme. It takes years to learn your craft. But if it's in your blood, don't give up.
Lisa, fantastic questions! Thank you for this opportunity to discuss shop with you, and for the air time on BellaOnline. I really appreciate your support and interest.and have enjoyed getting to know you. I hope we can stay in touch!