Q & A with Historical Novelist J.A. Coffey and a Give Away

HETAERA

Why do I write historical fiction?

I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, especially the gritty versions that illustrate human foibles.  The stories of women especially interested me, what their lives were like, their loves, their sexuality and their place in society.  Personally, I’m especially drawn to a theme of perseverance and redemption—women who faced adversity and overcame the odds.  Writing historical fiction is like pulling on a thread in a tapestry…you tug and see where the connections are.  From this, we can track historical records to determine some of the “where” and “what,” but the “why” is often left to speculation.  As an author, I seek to plausibly explain why and how certain events came to pass, based on my research and knowledge of human nature—to tell the story that history (or HERstory?) neglected.

 

How my research started:

My affinity for Greek and Egyptian subjects was honed by two sources—literature and art.  First, my Sicilian Papa, who would tell wondrous tales of Greek mythology and mythos.  He was an accomplished storyteller; I listened with rapt attention whenever he’d spout one on our little walks.  So, it was no surprise that I incorporated storytelling as an elementary art teacher. The subject for HETAERA was discovered when pulling a set of children’s books based on international Fairytales for a second grade arts integration project.  I read Shirley Climo’s The Egyptian Cinderella (she has an entire series on the subject).  Immediately, I was drawn to the story.  I felt I had to discover if this person actually lived, and how a Greek slave could end up as a queen.  So, I scoured more scholarly resources and discovered she was Thracian, not Greek and she was a contemporary of Sappho and Aesop (yes, THAT Aesop).  Lo and behold, Strabo and even Herodotus’ texts alluded to her and are described far more succinctly on the wiki website, here.  Although Herodotus is often discredited, I found it interesting that Doricha/Rhodopis was specifically mentioned.  If she never existed, why should he feel the need to write about her?  So, I grabbed the thread and started pulling.  Research for this first book took the better part of a year, before I felt ready to tackle the subject.

 

Secondly, I made an unofficial study of religions, while in my undergraduate coursework at Baylor University.  Time and time again, I was struck by similarities in deities and legends.  Being an art major, I found much inspiration in classical art and that led to my fascination.  For example, while visiting the Dallas Art Museum, I viewed a classic sculpture of a Babylonian queen who is the subject of my next book.  She is both demonized or deified, depending on the source.  Isn’t that just like our real life soap operas? Investigating the art and artifacts of ancient people is an eye-opening experience—everything from painted decorations to sexual aides were saved and housed in museums across the globe.  And the age of technology has them available for viewing with the click of a button!

 

How do I begin?

Quite often, my research is cyclical.  I start with a germ of a story element–the “Who”.  After I’ve exhausted references on the subject, I note their contemporaries, family connections, marriages, political factions, ruling classes…all details that are filed away to track down at a later date.  This leads to somewhat backwards research of specific places, time periods.  Often, the same person may be known by differing titles or alternately-spelled names (and sometimes names ARE titles!), which also creates some confusion and debate amongst scholars.  It’s the age-old question of “what to leave in, what to leave out”.  I try to represent my stories as honestly as I can, recognizing that it may be impossible to ever know “for sure”.  I must admit, it’s eerie how the voices in my head accurately represented a scene documented in some obscure research which I stumbled upon after writing!  I am often asked what was “real” and what was fictionalized.  The fact that the reader has a hard time discerning is high praise indeed.  In my own blog (J.A. Coffey.com), I offer some behind-the-scenes insight and discuss some of what were factually represented.

 

How did my writing develop?

I wish I could say that I was an instant prodigy, but sadly, my writing developed on a loooong learning curve!  I’ve been a lifelong avid reader, but the physical act of putting pen to paper was daunting.  I joined one of the most helpful writer’s organizations—Romance Writers of America.  I still owe them a huge debt of gratitude.  My first completed book was a fantasy romance—which nabbed me an agent, but I thought it was somewhat lacking.  It just didn’t feel like me.  Author Carol Shields said “Write the book you want to read—the one you cannot find.”  It seemed like other, much better authors had already written my romance story.  Repeatedly.

The voices in my head kept tapping my shoulder and speaking of a larger idea.  I realized I wanted to write historical fiction, my agent asked “do you know how to write a bigger book?”  Well, that was a good question to ask!  Could I?  I had the story bouncing in my head for some time before I felt I could accurately write it down.  Once I did, I experienced some successes early on.  HETAERA was selected as the winning entry in the Writer’s Weekend fiction contest (judged that year by Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden) and then as a Golden Heart Award finalist in Romance Writers of America’s brand new category of “Best Manuscript with Romantic Elements” for novels that did not fit the traditional mold of a romance novel, but had romantic elements that play a central part of the theme.  I couldn’t believe HETAERA was selected as a finalist that first year!  Though I ultimately lost out to a mainstream chick-lit novel, editor Mary Theresa Hussey (then with MIRA) later compared me favorably with Mary Renault—one of my favorite historical authors.  That was enough to keep me going!  Those early acknowledgements, along with the encouragement of other authors, editors, and agents led me to continue to pursue my dreams of being an author.  Writing each book is another learning curve, but I finally feel I’m getting it.  I hope I am!

 

You can find more about J.A. Coffey at www.JACoffey.com or on Twitter by following AuthorJACoffey or on Facebook at JA Coffey.

 

BIO

J.A. Coffey has been fascinated with mythos and legend for as long as she can remember.  She grew up in the Dustbowl of the Midwest–hence her flights of fancy.  Since then she’s lived in all parts of the country and traveled abroad.  She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and four large dogs.

J.A. holds a Bachelors Degree of Fine Art and a Masters Degree of Education in Educational Leadership.  A popular presenter and conference speaker, she tries to write through the lens of an artist.  When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found toiling in her raised bed gardens, painting, or “feathering her nest”.  She dreams of restoring a historic home.  A former RWA Golden Heart finalist in the “Best Manuscript with Romantic Elements” category, J.A. is currently working on a Young Adult urban fantasy series and her latest historical novel.

GIVEAWAY:

Win a free copy of HETAERA: Daughter of the Gods and a gorgeous bronze beaded collar necklace suitable for a goddess (US delivery only)! (total value: $100)  This show-stopping necklace is not for the faint at heart!  You will feel as lovely as a goddess.

Just leave a comment below to have your name entered into the drawing…

 

Necklace for March 25

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to “Q & A with Historical Novelist J.A. Coffey and a Give Away

  • Combining Egyptian history with mythology and you’ve got me already interested, and then you throw in a strong female character. That’s a book I won’t be able to put down. I can’t wait to read this book.

  • Julia Holloway
    7 years ago

    This was fascinating – the whole writing process. Will definitely add this book to my TBR list.

  • Thracian, not Greek. Nonetheless, Happy Greek Independence Day!

  • Danya- I hope you enjoy it as much I loved writing it. Keep in touch and be sure to let me know!

    Christy- You are so sweet! Both for hosting and for reading my work!

    Julia- (I love that name!) If your TBR pile looks anything like mine, I hope you will have time to give me a read soon!

    Liz–Ha, ha! I wondered if anyone would notice the dates coincided! I’ve just finished composing a blog post about the correlation of the Easter holiday to my current work-in-progress. I should’ve known fans of Christy’s work would be well-informed about such details as international holidays.

  • Fascinating subject; this definitely went on the ‘to read’ list. Best wishes for every success.

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