Monday, September 24, 2007

An Interview with Blythe Gifford

After many years in public relations, advertising, and marketing, Blythe Gifford stopped sublimating and returned to her first love, writing historical novels. Her latest release is THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER. It was inspired by a real person, the illegitimate daughter of an English king and his notorious mistress. The book has garnered four stars from Romantic Times magazine and four and a half from, Romance Junkies, and
Her first novel, THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN, was a double finalist in First Coast Romance Writers’ Beacon Contest, taking second in the Best First Book category and third in Best Historical.
Past president of Chicago North Romance Writers of America, she lives and works near Chicago’s lakefront.

Although many writers know they want to be a writer from an early age, was there something in particular that made you decide to pursue your dream?

Absolutely. I was laid off. And during a “transition,” the advice books recommend you assess your entire life. Well, when I made a list of what I wanted to do before I died, “write a book” was still on the list. I decided now would be a good time.

How long after you first started submitting did it take for you to have your first book accepted?

Ah! Trick question. After I started writing seriously, it took me about ten years to sell, but I didn’t start submitting right away. I guess it was two full manuscripts and about four years of submissions. The real break came when my manuscript was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart contest. That became my first book, THE KNAVE AND THE MAIDEN.

What attracts you to your time period?

In junior high school, I read Katherine, by Anya Seton. It’s the story of a lifelong love affair between Prince John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III, and Katherine Swynford. They had four children together and in a happily ever after moment, they finally married late in life. Their children were legitimized and in just a few generations, their descendents sat on the English throne. It sparked my interest in fourteenth century England and the royal family, particularly the behind-the-throne stories. I subsequently put together my own royal family tree, complete with all the mistresses and bastards I could find. THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER, carries a direct connection to that inspiration.

Beyond that, I like to write about turbulent times and the fourteenth century has it all: plagues, wars, political intrigue, religious and economic upheavals. My characters grapple with a changing world, just as we do. There’s always something coming to test their mettle.

When you are not writing what do you do?

I’m still juggling a consulting career, so a typical day is part writing (the morning) and part day job (afternoon) with exercise and errands thrown in the middle. In my day job, I work in a male dominated industry. Many times, I’ll be the only woman in the room with 20 men. It’s helped me to write men more realistically, I think. A few of them know I moonlight as a romance writer and they are fascinated.

What is the worst thing about being a writer?

So little is within your control. You have no influence over trends, editors, agents, or bookstores. But you do have one big power: to tell your own stories.

And the best thing?

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is better than a reader writing me that she loved the book. I sit in front of the computer and cry.

What is the biggest challenge you face when you are writing a book? The beginning, middle or end?

The biggest challenge is whatever part I am writing. Then, after it’s all done, I forget how hard it is and am foolishly optimistic enough to begin again thinking next time it will be easier. One of my biggest personal challenges is not to get distracted by the research. It is important to me to feel as if I can walk around in the skin of each character and that leads me to chase some down some interesting leads.

In THE HARLOT’S DAUGHTER, for example, my heroine wants to study astrology. I was so excited to find a picture and description of a fourteenth Kalendarium. It’s a beautiful, hand written list of all the positions of the planets, but the exciting thing for me was to discover that it was the size of a small table, not like the hardcover books of today. That detail made it very real to me.

What does your writing cave look like? (If you have a photo that would be great)

Oh, I wouldn’t dare share a photo! But I am fortunate to have a dedicated office with file cabinets and desk space and lots of bookshelves. (Lots of bookshelves, but not enough. I always end up with books on the floor.) One thing I do have near my computer a print illustrating a Paul McCartney quote: “It isn’t worth doing if you don’t’ have fun.” I believe that.

Where do you get your ideas?

I find history an endless source of inspiration. And whenever I’m stuck, I do some additional reading and I’m off again. I also have a file I call the “fish pond” where I stuff articles and odd ideas for someday. When I’m ready to start a new project, I can go fishing!

Can you tell us about your future books?

I have another medieval completed and am working on yet another, but until we are set and titled, I’m superstitious about saying too much more. Both are fourteenth century settings and, yes, revolve around royal bastards. I’d love to set some books in the United States in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. I have several stories ready for that “someday.”

Can you share a special recipe? Either one that your characters make in your latest book, or one you often make?

I’m not much of a cook. (Some famous writer once said he thought writers should eat the same thing every day.) I haven’t attempted medieval cuisine, but here’s my favorite recipe for salad dressing. I no longer buy bottled because this is so easy and good!

Basil Vinaigrette

Six Tablespoons of Basil Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you can use non-flavored, too.)
Two Tablespoons of Tarragon White Vinegan
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 Teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt, pepper, if you like

Frappe in the blender. A mini-size jar is perfect.
Makes ¾ cup. Serves about 6-8 side salads. Takes five minutes! It’s even better the second day, when the flavors have a chance to meld.

<Who are some of your favourite romance authors?

Most romance writers trace their roots either Jane Austen or Charlotte and Emily Bronte. I’m an Emily and Charlotte kinda girl, drawn to stories of deep passion and high drama. I read broadly, both within my genre and outside it, but these days, just keeping up with my friends’ books is a challenge. One romance I’ve read and loved this year is Crossroads CafĂ©, by Deborah Smith. Laura Kinsale, Penelope Williamson, Madeline Hunter and Megan Chance are among those on my keeper shelf.

I love to hear from readers! Visit my website at
Blythe's book The Harlot's Daughter is available to buy on eharlequin in both ebook and print editions.


Carol Townend said...

Hi Blythe!
Anya Seton was one of my favourite writers too, and the John of Gaunt one is great. Have you also read her 'Green Darkness'? It is based on a (real) grisly discovery in an English manor house. They were renovating behind some wooden panelling and came across a block-off room containing the skeleton of a young woman and her baby. The theory goes that she may have been walled up alive for committing a sin... The manor is called Ightham Mote. It's in Kent and it is utterly enchanting, you would not imagine for a moment something so ghastly happened there.
Oooh, this is a bit gruesome, sorry! But I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading you book.
Best wishes

Blythe Gifford said...

I have Green Darkness and Devil Water and I think everything she wrote on my keeper shelf! I didn't realize Green Darkness was based on Ingtham Mote. I studied that for The Harlot's Daughter as I constructed my housing.


SherryIsWriting said...

Hey, Blythe!
I'm looking forward to getting your Harlot's Daughter. The cover is excellent, they did a wonderful job.
Though I'm not a big history fan I always look forward to your books. You make the era come alive. Too bad you didn't teach my history classes way back then! But, you are much too young ;-)
Good luck with the book, the promo is enticing.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your blog. Love that you won't show a pic of your office. ;-) Looking forward to reading your book. I loved Anya Seton's book too and read it more than twice. :-)

Jeanmarie Hamilton

Beverly Long said...

Enjoyed the interview--you have in the past and you continue now to inspire me to be a better writer.

I'm looking forward to reading this one and many more.