LIBBIE HAWKER: DAUGHTER OF SAND AND STONE IS ABOUT REAL WOMAN SURROUNDED BY MYTH AND LEGEND
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
If you like historical fiction, Libbie Hawker is a perfect choice for something fresh. Her new novel Daughter of Sand and Stone is set for release on December 1. “Surprisingly good fiction”, “An author to watch,” are just few of the comments by the readers of the book. It’s not by coincidence that this is interview #300 at Land of Books.
With a great pleasure we welcome our next guest Libbie Hawker.
– Libbie, what is your book Daughter of Sand and Stone about?
–Daughter of Sand and Stone is about Zenobia, a woman who ruled ancient Palmyra (in modern-day Syria) during the third century C.E. Very few facts are known about Zenobia’s life, but she has been surrounded by myth and legend for a very long time!
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I enjoy writing about little-known or mythologized women from history, and Zenobia’s reputation as a warrior queen captured my attention. As I researched her life, it became clear that her true personality and accomplishments had been hidden behind a façade made by the men who controlled the political landscape of her time (and after her time.) Historical records have turned her into “the perfect woman,” totally devoted to the men in her life and uninterested in sex. I thought she must have had much more self-interest in that—after all, she captured and held a major portion of the Roman Empire. I believed her true personality had been subsumed by the personality historians wanted her to have.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– There are very few concrete facts about Zenobia. There’s a lot of legend, but so little that we can comfortably call truth. That left me a lot of freedom to invent aspects of her life, but it also left me very little guidance in reconstructing her true life, personality, and political career. It was daunting!
– Tell us something more about your main character Zenobia? Are her traits close to someone from your real life?
– Her personality isn’t based on anybody I know in my own life. I tried to make her a product of her time and circumstances. She was raised in a high-status family in one of the richest cities in the world (that much is true, not something I made up) so I figured that could justify a certain haughtiness to the character’s personality. But I also tried to temper that pride and arrogance with rational thought. My Zenobia is a shrewd thinker who loves the city of Palmyra at least as much as she loves herself. Everything she does is for the well-being of the people she leads first and for her own benefit second.
And I gave her that self-interested, haughty personality on purpose, to stand as a counterpoint to all the legends about Zenobia that paint her as perfectly obedient, flawlessly moral, and sexually chaste. I just don’t think she could really have been so sweet and innocent. She took over a vast chunk of the Roman Empire! No sweet, innocent lady would do something so daring and dangerous.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– I wrote up the outline for this book back in June or July of 2014, so I had its structure all worked out at that time. I intended to self-publish it, but that fall I sold another of my books to Lake Union Publishing, and they wanted Daughter of Sand and Stone, too.
I am a fairly fast writer, and once I have a book outlined it doesn’t take me long to complete it, so I was able to write the majority of this book in about three weeks. I write most of my books quickly. The difficult part for me is fitting the plot and characters together in the outine; fleshing out the scenes has always gone fast and smooth for me. Most of my novels are written in three to six weeks; that’s just how I work best!
– What the readers will find in yours The-She King series?
– The She-King series is about the political and family life of Hatshepsut, the most successful female Pharaoh of ancient Egypt. It’s a four-book series that spans from her mother’s life (and Hatshepsut’s earliest years) through Hatshepsut’s death about fifty years later, and extends into the beginning of the reign of Thutmose III, who was Hatshepsut’s stepson and her successor on the throne. There’s a lot of adventure and romance in that series, along with the most factual representation of Hatshepsut’s life and times that I could manage. I’m happy to say that The She-King has been very popular with readers! I published the first book in that series a little more than four years ago, and I still hear often from readers who’ve recently discovered it.
– Give us some insight about Tidewater?
– Tidewater is about Pocahontas, John Smith, and the establishment of the Jamestown colony in the territory of the Powhatan Confederation. It’s another of my books about little-known or misrepresented women from history. In North America and (to a lesser extent) the U.K., everybody has this particular idea about Pocahontas and John Smith. We think their story was a big romance—that Pocahontas was in love with Smith. Nothing could be further from the truth! She was a child of eleven years when she first met Smith, and she had a rich and fascinating life of her own that had nothing to do with her friendship with Smith. I wanted to show her life as it probably was, not tell another version of the same old myth.
Tidewater explores the arrival and settling of the colony from three perspectives: those of Pocahontas, Smith, and Opechancanough, a chief who was Pocahontas’s uncle and who is considered an important figure to indigenous people all over North America, and especially to the Algonquian people. I think it’s my best book so far.
– Who are you?
– That’s a surprisingly tough question! How does a person describe herself in a few sentences? I am a full-time writer, I’m tall and I wear glasses, I’m 35 years old, and my husband and I love all our nieces and nephews but don’t want any children of our own.
– What are your writing habits?
– I write five days a week for about six or seven hours per day. Sometimes, if I’ve got a really tight deadline, I write even longer. I’ve been known to do 15-hour days before, but I don’t like that. Nobody likes working for 15 hours per day, even if they really love their job!
– Are you satisfied by the sales of your books?
– Yes, very much! I’ve been able to leave my other jobs behind and write full-time, so I can’t complain.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I stay in touch with my mailing list and run regular promotions via mailers and social media.
– When we will see your next novel and would you unveil something more about it?
– I have two future releases I know about for sure. (Since I write fairly fast, sometimes a book pops out of me unexpectedly.) In March I’m releasing the last volume in a new Egyptian series. It’s called Eater of Hearts. And in June I have another book coming from Lake Union Publishing called Mercer Girls. It’s about a real-life mail-order bride scheme in early Seattle.
– In your historical fiction books how close do you stay to the real facts and do you have your own rules in passing the border between fiction and non-fiction?
– I always try to stay as close to true history as I can, but I’ll break that rule if making a change to history will make for a really exciting story. But for the most part, my historical fiction stays on the factual path.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– I’d ask myself… who are your favorite authors? And I’d have to answer… Hilary Mantel, William T. Vollmann, and Vladimir Nabokov.