Thursday, September 08, 2011

GILTY Pleasure: An interview with Author Katy Longshore

Today I'm thrilled to host Katy Longshore, whose debut novel GILT will be published by Viking next fall.  I asked Katy if she'd mind talking a little about writing historical fiction for the YA market and she was kind enough to agree.  Personally, I'm in awe of authors who write historical fiction, so I was curious to see how one balances fact with fiction, and Katy has some excellent advice on the topic!

1.  Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired GILT?

Ultimately, I was inspired by history. I know that sounds self-evident and probably a bit prosaic, but it’s true. I’ve been fascinated by the Renaissance for years – the explosion of art, science, and humanist thinking. But I hadn’t really equated it with the Tudors
until about ten years ago (I’m nothing if not a little obtuse). But having been raised by a
staunch feminist, I’m especially interested in the stories of women in history, so I started
reading about Henry VIII’s wives. What prompted these six women to marry such a

The further I read, the more I realized how ill-treated Catherine Howard, especially,
has been by history and historians. Historical accounts record that she wore a new
gown almost every day, Henry showered her with jewels, she participated in countless
parties, banquets and dances during her time as queen, she couldn’t read or write very
well and was convicted of a treasonous affair. Oh, and she was young. Probably a
teenager. From this information, historians over the years have extrapolated that she
was promiscuous, frivolous, ignorant and witless. An airheaded, fashion-obsessed slut. I
wanted to present a different interpretation.

2. What was your research process like for working on this novel?

Fun! I start with reading, which I love to do, anyway. I read first for story – events,
intentions and outcomes. Then I often read again for details – those telling little tidbits
of information, such as how Christina, the Duchess of Milan, once said of Henry that
she would like “not to be wife to such a husband that either putteth away or killeth his
wives.” These details don’t always make it into a novel, but provide good background
and inspiration for the process.

I’m also very fortunate that my father-in-law still lives in England, so we try to visit
once a year. While there, I can tour the sites made famous by the Tudors, and the ones
featured in my books. For GILT, I wandered the rooms of Hampton Court Palace,
including the “haunted gallery” down which Catherine’s ghost has been reported to run,
screaming for Henry. And the Tower of London, where Catherine (and her cousin, Anne
Boleyn, before her) was executed. I like to get a sense of place, to capture just a hint of
how my characters’ world would have looked, sounded and smelled.

3. Working on historical YA means walking a fine line between accuracy and
storytelling, what's your best tips for navigating this process?

Don’t sacrifice story for history, and don’t sacrifice history for story.

It is a fine line, and the balance on that line is different for everyone. But I look at it this
way: If I wanted to give an exact retelling of events, I would be a historian. I would
write non-fiction. Because I am a fiction writer, I have a little wiggle room. I can use
poetic license. But only to a certain extent. Perhaps I can (and did) delete a character
from my story – even one that others might see as essential – if that character isn’t
present throughout the entire narrative and doesn’t move the story forward. But I refuse
to change major historical characters and events for the sake of simplicity. If Henry VIII
had two sisters, he had two sisters, and I can’t change that.

But I also feel that it’s a small price to pay to be as historically thorough as possible.
If I can place my characters in time and setting, why not? Why write a scene in
Greenwich when it happened at Windsor? Sure, I’ve had to scramble to repair historical
inaccuracies. But they’re not irreparable. And to me, they make the story that much
more believable.

4. I hear that selling historical YA can be tough. Did you and your agent encounter
issues with this while you were on submission?

This is an excellent question. One to which I don’t have the most definitive answer. I
know that when I was looking for an agent, I got a good number of rejections based on my query alone. But I also got requests for fulls. So I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t necessarily my query that was the problem, but the word “historical”.  I’d been hearing for years that “historicals don’t sell.” But it’s what I wrote. You can’t turn away the muse when she comes.

I feel very fortunate that I received an offer of representation from Catherine Drayton, an
amazingly gifted agent, who took on me and my manuscript, suggested I add a little more
romance and give my protagonist a backbone and then bestowed a brilliant title: GILT.

Catherine helped me to see the commercial appeal of what I’d written, while not
detracting from the novel I’d been inspired to write, and I’m grateful to have found that
balance. I think historical novels are still probably tough to sell, but I think the appeal is
growing. More people are beginning to see that “historical” doesn’t mean “boring,” and
that a carefully constructed historical world can be just as engaging as a futuristic one.

5. Care to give us a hint at what your next project is about? Another historical novel

Yes! GILT actually sold as part of a three-book series to Viking – all set in the court
of Henry VIII. However, Book Two takes place several years earlier than GILT (even
before Catherine Howard’s birth), giving me the opportunity to write a much younger and
sexier Henry. It makes court life that much more inspiring.

6.  How  can readers keep up with you and your projects?

Twitter:!/kalongshore (@KALongshore)
Website coming soon

Thanks Katy, and look for GILT next fall!  And I think I can speak for many of us that we're looking forward to some sexy, young Henry VIII in book two.


  1. I had the privilege of reading GILT at an early stage. What a fabulous book with so much heart. I LOVE this book. Great interview!

  2. Great interview. I'm so excited to read GILT and its sequels! The Tower of London was one of my favorite UK sites to visit and I'm excited to read about what it was really like when it was in use not as a tourist attraction.

  3. Love the sound of this book & love the title! I'm sort of new to historicals, but this sounds like one I will really enjoy! And a sequel with a sexier Henry? Sign me up!

  4. Yeah, I heard that, too - "historicals don't sell." If something is awesome, it will sell. And GILT sounds awesome - I can't wait to read it!

  5. Thank you for the closer look at Gilt. It sounds great.

  6. Great interview! Katy, I love your response about not sacrificing story for history, and not sacrificing history for story.

  7. Super interview, Katy! You're a real pro. And I can tell readers, gobble this one down and be ready for the second in the series to be if not as dazzling, or more, than the first! Sneak preview! Shhhh...

  8. GILT sounds incredible, Katy -- and I was very interested in hearing more about the challenges of writing historical fiction. Writing seems hard enough without dealing with the particular challenges of your genre. "Don’t sacrifice story for history, and don’t sacrifice history for story," could be -- in broad terms -- great advice for those incorporating autobiographical elements into their fiction, as well.

  9. Wow! Thanks for all the encouragement, everybody! I hope GILT lives up to all your expectations (and the title!). And thanks, especially, to Gen, for having me visit, and for asking such fabulous questions.