Today, I have an amazing interview with author Rebecca Hazell that I found so incredibly interesting. I hope you take a few moments to read, or at least bookmark for later. There is a lot of thoughtful and insightful information, plus we had a lot of fun! Be sure to come back by the blog on Monday, when I’ll have a review of The Grip of God and a giveaway!
Hi Rebecca, thank you so much for coming by Oh, for the Hook of a Book today to chat with me about your books and your most interesting life! What has been new and noteworthy for you recently?
Rebecca: Thanks so much for inviting me! It’s been an interesting and challenging few months: a solo art show, our son involved in a serious car accident (still gives me shivers when I think about it), and a lovely visit to San Francisco that meant first getting through the blizzard in Portland, Oregon. Other than that, life goes on as usual.
Erin: It’s still snowing/sleeting rain here where I am, so I’m going to put on some hot chocolate. Would you like a hot drink? What’s your choice?
Rebecca: I love hot chocolate, too.
Erin: Wonderful, let’s have a seat and I’ll get started. I’m anxious to learn about you! Let’s show off the cover of The Grip of God first….
Q: On your website, you describe the first book, The Grip of God, in your series as “set in the 13th Century during the time of the Mongol invasions, the story chronicles an adventure akin to a character from the Game of Thrones, but with the feminine sensibilities of Jane Austen.” Can you explain this further to the prospective reader? Both seem like such different characteristics!
A: Jane Austen is my favorite author, because she was both insightful and had a sense of perspective about her times. Many of her heroines had to quietly endure suffering based on lack of money, love, or opportunity, but they had a certain bravery that ennobled them. (She also had a great sense of humor!) My heroine, Sofia, has those qualities, though less sense of humor, because her life is utterly different from the gentler world that Jane portrayed. Sofia must face the loss of her entire world when the Mongols invade her homeland. But she manages not to lose heart or become bitter, qualities Jane both portrayed and embodied. The Game of Thrones element is that that series portrays a world of continual war, bitter politics, and personal uncertainty, exactly the kind of world that Sofia must face. I think the contrast of the two, the personal integrity of an Austen, played against the backdrop of a Game of Thrones world, is quite intriguing.
Q: I’ve always been interested in Mongolian history, but haven’t come across many books featuring women of the time period. How did you find your inspiration for this book?
A: You’re right: women were truly chattel in that era, and only remarkable women broke that mold and made it into history books. My inspiration was inexplicable: the story seemed to leap out and seize me when I was in my early twenties. My husband tells me that I told him the basic plot on our third date. It haunted me for years, and one day in the 1990’s I decided it was high time to get the story told.
Erin: How exciting you did!!
Q: How extensive was your research? Were you able to find an abundance of materials on women of this time period or did you have to creatively come up with it all on your own? Explain in either or both regard, please.
A: My research took about 15 years, off and on; for the entire trilogy I read at least a hundred books. Thank you, university libraries! The internet became a wonderful resource, but also I lucked into situations like going to Disney World with my family and discovering a traveling exhibit on the Mongols, including an amazing collection of artifacts like clothing, armor, weapons, saddles, even eating pouches with chopsticks and napkins! I was taking notes like crazy while my family went on the Disney rides.
Erin: How exciting!!
As to creating things from my imagination, I couldn’t get away with that. Even when I did make up a detail like a blue vial of rosewater, it usually turned out that I would find that very item in a museum somewhere! It got a little spooky. Overall, everything is as historically accurate as I could make it, which was my intention. History is stranger than fiction, so why try to change it?
Researching how the women would have lived was a challenge. I just didn’t give up, even using books written in languages I don’t speak, but which had great pictures. I haunted museums whenever we traveled, looking at scraps of textiles and how they were used, for instance. I read not only histories but also books about how life was lived, and when I couldn’t find out directly, I used modern sources on traditional cultures and extrapolated back in time. This was often necessary where the Mongols had destroyed just about everything in their path: not much left for posterity to study! And I had the great good fortune of visiting Kiev, or Kyiv as the Ukrainians call it, and visiting the very places I wrote about.
Q: How would you describe women of the Mongol period? How are they different or the same from other women of the 13th century? How did the gender progress as time moved on?
A: Interesting question. Sofia is, of course, not a Mongol but a minor princess of the doomed principality of Kievan Rus’, the forerunner of both Ukraine and Russia. So much of the book shows her contrasting her memories and assumptions with those of the Mongols, who thought very differently about things, including the role of women. In Rus’, noblewomen were losing ground in terms of independence because they were thought to need protecting during this war-torn period. After the Mongol invasions, they were kept isolated in their homes, almost like being in a harem. This was also the time when serfdom arose, where peasants were bound to the land by force, kind of like a protection racket. They ran away a lot, so I imagine women peasants ran away along with their men.
Women of Sofia’s rank were political pawns who were expected to marry for family and/or political gain, not for love—though mutual love may have arisen. Mongol women of lower ranks had a lot of independence and authority to run their households, but Mongol noblewomen were used in the same way as in Rus’ or other European countries, to bind families or tribes in alliances. I think Mongol women overall may have had more freedom than European women had.
Erin: I think that sounds pretty accurate. It’s all so very interesting.
Q: Do you describe your book as biographical historical fiction, historical fiction, or historical fantasy? And why? What type of reader would enjoy your book the most?
A: I think of my book as serious historical fiction but with a romantic orientation because I believe that everyone craves love, even when it seems like love is last on the list of priorities. And so much serious historical fiction seems to be about how selfish people were, when the world simply couldn’t have survived if no one offered kindness or insight to each other. I think women (and men!) who are curious and want to learn more about the world, past and present, would enjoy this book. It has so much resonance with modern times: how we are still trying to find ways to work with others who don’t share our points of view, for instance.
Q: I believe I saw that there are other books in this series as well. Are they already published, coming soon, or are you still writing them? If not available, when will they be available?
A: All three books are written, and the second one, Solomon’s Bride, will hopefully be out within a month. It’s set in Iran and the Crusader states, where Sofia runs into more trouble. And the third novel, Consolamentum, will be out by April or May, fingers crossed.
Q: I was really delighted to see your non-fiction children’s books on heroes and heroines and women writers! I have three school-aged children and I think these books look fantastic in regards to teaching them history and life lessons. Especially the women writers, since I’m a writer, but more so because my 10 year old daughter enjoys writing. How did you decide who to feature in your books? Why is this important for young readers?
A: I loved writing those books. I drew up long lists of people for each one and then found those who covered several bases, so to speak: time periods, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, etc. It was hard leaving so many great people out, and I’d like to write a second volume of heroines and heroes. No more heroic children, though. I cried buckets writing that book, though it was a great success in many ways. Lots of people told me it made them cry, too.
And writing about women writers was truly inspiring because those authors had to work so hard, because historically, women were so marginalized. I think it’s important for girls to know that they will face obstacles in life but that they will grow stronger from meeting them with courage and creativity.
Q: Your art is very beautiful, as well as peaceful and comforting. I’d love to see more of your work. When did you start painting? Can you tell us a little about your art?
A: I started my art career drawing on the walls of our home at around age two. Art is hard work, but for me it highlights what is wonderful about this world, so that is what I seek to capture. I had to set it aside while finishing the novels, but am now getting excited about exploring it again. I am very illustration-oriented, but would like to do some more mysterious, surreal pieces, kind of like illustrations for fairy tales but ones that were never written.
Q: I really like your book cover of The Grip of God, as well as what I’ve seen of the others on your website. Did you design them?
A: Yes, my daughter and I designed that one, but not Solomon’s Bride. We also designed Consolamentum, which is still not finalized.
Q: What other women in history do you admire? Who would you choose to write about if given the chance?
A: Thanks for asking this! I admire Hatshepsut, the first great woman in history, who usurped the throne of Egypt and ruled as a pharaoh for many years, bringing peace and harmony to her subjects and rearing her ‘legitimate’ nephew to take over. I also admire Queen Tamar of Georgia, who was a great leader for her people in the thirteenth century despite nearly getting invaded by the Mongols. It was said of her reign that peasants lived like nobles and nobles lived like kings.
And I admire Christine de Pisan, who was such an eloquent defender of women in the 14th/15th centuries. And then there was Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a representative to the newly formed United Nations. She almost singlehandedly got representatives of enemy nations to sit down, put their differences aside, and write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was so brilliant, tough, and full of heart!
Erin: Hatshepsut is a favorite of mine, as are most Egyptian women. My two oldest children are part-Egyptian, but even before them, I have always been a huge fan of Egyptian history. I think it is still selling, even though some publishers don’t, but there is still so much left to write and explore. Their spirituality amazes me.
And as for Eleanor Roosevelt, I concur!! She is an ancestor of mine, on my mom’s side!! Nice to hear you say those things about her, I admire her as well.
Q: Do you have plans for any other books in the future?
A: Yes, I’d like to write something about how people have created societies that were based on some vision of mutual good. Ancient Egypt comes to mind, as well as what we call Byzantium, and there are several others that worked so well for a thousand years. We could learn a lot from them.
Erin: My goodness, I’d say so. There is drama in every society, but yet some more tranquil than others, and unified.
But I’d also like to write about a couple of medieval queens (my ancestors, yet!) who were rivals and not very pleasant people. Skullduggery and nastiness galore; they make Game of Thrones look tame! They’d make great reading, though.
Erin: Now I’m curious about your ancestors!!
Q: Where can readers connect with you?
A: They can go to my website and email me from there. I always answer and am glad to connect with them.
Q: Please let readers know where and when they can find your book series!
A: At present, Amazon.com and its affiliates, or they can order through their local bookstores. I root for the latter, and feel very supported by the two bookstores in the town where I live. And libraries may be willing to order copies; my library bought books directly from me.
Erin: Thank you so very much for speaking with me today. I hope to follow your art and your writing. Best wishes to you for the success of your series!
Rebecca: Thank you, Erin. I’d love to come back and visit you again. You not only ask great questions, you make great hot chocolate!
Erin: I look forward to it!
Grip of God, Synopsis~
Rebecca Hazell’s The Grip of God, the first novel in an epic historical trilogy, is available on amazon.comand its affiliates and by special order through your local bookstore. The saga’s heroine, Sofia, is a young princess of Kievan Rus. Clear eyed and intelligent, she recounts her capture in battle and life of slavery to a young army captain in the Mongol hordes that are flooding Europe. Not only is her life shattered, it is haunted by a prophecy that catalyzes bitter rivalries in her new master’s powerful family. She must learn to survive in a world of total war, always seeking the love she once took for granted.
Sofia’s story is based on actual historical events that determine her destiny. Readers will delight in this very personal and engaging tale from a time that set the stage for many of the conflicts of today’s world.
Praise for the trilogy
“How deftly and compellingly Hazell takes the reader with her into that mysterious and exotic world, and makes it all seem so very close to hand!” – Peter Conradi, Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Literature and author of Iris Murdoch: A Life, and of A Very English Hero.
“I enjoyed watching her morph from a spoiled sheltered princess with slaves of her own, into a tough, savvy survivor, with a new awareness of social injustice. The book is action packed. I couldn’t put it down.” — from a review on Amazon.com.
“I got completely caught up in the characters and story and always looked forward to getting back to them. What a fully fleshed and fascinating world you developed and it was wondrous to learn so much about that time and the Mongol culture. Your gifts come out in your lush descriptions of place and objects. All very vivid and colorful.” –author Dede Crane Gaston
The novel is available both in paperback and Kindle versions and through your local bookstore by special order. The subsequent two novels in the trilogy are scheduled for publication later this year.
Author Rebecca Hazell, Biography~
Rebecca Hazell is a an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.
She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.
Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.
Monday, February 17
Review at Must Read Faster
Tuesday, February 18
Guest post/giveaway at Must Read Faster
Friday, February 21
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Monday, February 24
Review/giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, February 26
Review at A Rose in the City
Thursday, February 27
Review at Book Drunkard
Friday, February 28
Guest Post at Book Drunkard
Monday, March 3
Review at She is Too Fond of Books
Thursday, March 6
Review at Celticlady’s Reviews
Friday, March 7
Review at Historical Fiction Obsession
Monday, March 10
Guest post/review at Lost in Books
Tuesday, March 11
Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, March 12
Review at The True Book Addict
Thursday, March 13
Review/giveaway at Create with Joy
Friday, March 14
Guest post/giveaway at HF Book Muse- News
Guest post/giveaway/review at Le Vanity Victorienne