Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Q&A with J.A. McLachlan, Author of The Sorrow Stone

Please join me in welcoming J.A. McLachlan to Let Them Read Books! J.A. is celebrating the release of her new historical fiction novel, The Sorrow Stone, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about the fascinating inspiration behind the story and the work that went into writing it. Read on and grab your ebook copy of The Sorrow Stone for just 99-cents for a limited time!

During the middle ages, a peasant's superstition held that a mother mourning the death of her child could "sell her sorrow" by selling a nail from her child's coffin to a peddler. 

Would you pay someone to bear your sorrow? 

Lady Celeste is overwhelmed with grief when her infant son dies. Desperate to find relief, she begs a passing peddler to buy her sorrow. Jean, the cynical peddler she meets, is nobody’s fool; he does not believe in superstitions and insists Celeste include the valuable ruby ring on her finger along with the nail in return for his coin. 

Jean and Celeste both find themselves changed by their transaction in ways neither of them anticipated. Jean finds that bearing another’s sorrow opens him to strange fits of compassion, a trait he can ill afford. Meanwhile Celeste learns that without her wedding ring her husband may set her aside, leaving her ruined. She determines to retrieve it before he finds out—without reclaiming her sorrow. But how will she find the peddler and convince him to give up the precious ruby ring?

If you like realistic medieval fiction with evocative prose, compelling characters and a unique story, you’ll love this incredible, introspective journey into the south of France in the 12th Century, based on an actual medieval belief. 

Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for Historical Fiction.

Welcome to Let Them Read Books! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.

Glad to be here, thank you for interviewing me.

I had never heard of the concept of "selling one's sorrow" before. How did you first learn about it, and what inspired you to make it the basis for a novel?

Many years ago I first heard the medieval folklore that it's based on at a talk by a midwife. She had researched historical birth practices and came across this belief: a woman grieving the death of her infant could relieve her sorrow by selling a nail from the child's coffin to a traveling peddler. This bit of folklore fascinated me. I wondered, what would happen if it worked? Even if the effect was purely psychological, because they believed it, how would it change a person to do such a thing? What effect would bearing a double load of sorrow have on the peddler? How would it change a woman to no longer be able to feel any sorrow? I really wanted to explore this in a story. But first I had to do research. Years of it.

Are your main characters, Celeste and Jean, based on any real-life historical figures?

No, they are invented characters, but I have worked hard to make them true to their period. I also reference the King of France and a few historical events which help place the story in time.

Celeste's story really brings home the plight of women in the 12th century. Did you find it challenging to present her in a way that modern women can relate to while still keeping her realistic for her time period?

Yes, that was very important to me. I wanted the story to be relevant today, but also historically realistic. Celeste is a bit forward-thinking for her time in terms of wanting more freedom than a woman normally had back then, but there are certainly historical women from the 12th Century who expressed similar opinions or led more independent lives. In fact, with so many men going off to fight in wars or in the crusades, women—wives—were often afforded much more responsibility and freedom to govern their husband's holdings than we think. And I believe certain emotions—love, grief, fear, hope, loss, guilt—and certain struggles—for freedom, control over one's life, some form of redemption, the desire to be happy—are timeless. They are just part of being human in any age.

Did you get to do any traveling as you researched this novel? Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?

To get the time period and setting for The Sorrow Stone right I went to the south of France, where my story takes place, and traveled the route Jean the peddler takes from Cluny, to Lyon, down to the Mediterranean and across to Marseilles. I talked to guides and historical interpreters all along the route to learn what vegetation was native to the area, what the weather was like, which towns and cities, cathedrals, castles and monasteries had existed there in the 12th Century, which trades were practiced in the region then. I wanted to be able to describe these places, to take my readers with me on Jean's and Lady Celeste's journeys in an authentic way.

I wasn't really surprised by anything, because I did a lot of online and library research before I went, but I did hear several new superstitions, most of which I didn't use in the novel because they would have distracted from the story, but which really reinforced how superstitious a time it was. Spirits, ghosts, demons, curses, magic—these were all very real to them and affected every aspect of their lives and the way they interpreted things that happened. I think my novel is very true to the way their minds worked.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book, and the most rewarding?

The most difficult aspect of this book was definitely portraying a woman who could not feel the emotion of sorrow, but still making her someone a reader could relate to and care about. In the first couple of drafts Celeste came across as very cold and unfeeling. Just what I wanted—except my early readers didn't like her and didn't want to read more. I had to find ways of making her sympathetic, such as by showing how she appeared to others, glimpses of her past personality in memories, and her alarm and confusion at the change taking place in her, to make her a more sympathetic and vulnerable character. With Jean, too, because he has this shell of cynicism, I had to show the reason for it and the other side to him. I loved him the moment I created him, and it surprised me that others didn't, until I did a better job of showing why he was the way he was.

The most rewarding aspect is when readers now tell me the book is "deeply moving" or "haunting" or "the characters have stayed with me" or "I couldn't put it down to make dinner for my family!" or that I've "really captured the time period so well" I love hearing feedback like those quotes from my readers. We write for our readers, after all; their praise and enjoyment of our story is our greatest reward.

What are you working on now?

I'm writing another historical fiction, an amazing story set in generally the same time period, also in Europe. This time the characters and the events are true, and that comes with its own challenges. It's the story of two people, one a former slave the other a fisherman's daughter, who rose to hold the highest positions at court. Honestly, no one would find it credible if it wasn't actually true.

Thanks, Jenny, for having me on Let Them Read Books. I hope your readers will enjoy The Sorrow Stone. As part of its launch celebration, it is available for 99-cents from October 4-10 on Amazon.

About the Author:

J. A. McLachlan is the author of a short story collection, CONNECTIONS (Pandora Press) and two College texts on Professional Ethics (Pearson-Prentice Hall). But science fiction is her first love, a genre she's been reading all her life. Walls of Wind was her first published SF novel. She has two young adult science fiction novels, The Occasional Diamond Thief and The Salarian Desert Game (EDGE SF&F Publishing). Visit her website to learn more about her and read excerpts from her books.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for interviewing me on your site! Those were great questions and I found it interesting to answer them!


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