In honor of the June 1st publication of the Silk and Song trade paperback edition, here’s the December 2017 interview the wonderful Sharon Kay Penman did for Silk and Song on her blog.
I am delighted to welcome one of my favorite writers to my blog. My Facebook friends and readers know how much I love Dana Stabenow’s superb Kate Shugak Alaskan mystery series. Dana’s books have it all—suspense and surprises and colorful locales and fascinating characters, leavened with lots of humor. Dana is remarkably versatile, for in addition to her acclaimed Kate Shugak series, she has another series set in Alaska, a number of riveting stand-alone thrillers, and she has made a highly successful foray into the world of historical fiction with her Silk and Song saga. In her trilogy about Johanna, the grand-daughter of the celebrated Marco Polo, she introduces readers to an unfamiliar and exotic world, taking us from Cambaluc, today’s Beijing, to the legendary lagoon city of Venice, fabled Queen of the Adriatic. I cannot imagine anyone reading that last sentence without wanting to read the books, too, and Dana’s British publisher, Head of Zeus, has made that easy for new readers, publishing an omnibus edition which contains all three of the Silk and Song novels: Everything under the Heavens, By the Shores of the Middle Sea, and The Land Beyond. Now, without further delay, I’ll let Dana speak for herself.
Where did the idea for Silk and Song come from?
I read The Adventures of Marco Polo and by his own account he loved
the ladies. He was all over eastern Asia for twenty years in service to Kublai Khan
and he had to have scattered some seed around. I wondered what happened to those kids. Silk and Song is the story of one of them.
What did you do in the way of research?
One of the joys of writing is research. It can also be the perfect excuse for travel (if you need one). I went to China in 2005 specifically to do research for Silk and Song. Trips to Turkey and Morocco also found their way into the books. I spent a week in Venice, another in Paris, and a third in London. Only Venice made it into the book. That’s one thing about research; inevitably you only use about 10 percent of what you research in the work.
I also read fa-aaar too much in the way of historical studies. After a while you wonder what on earth historians are thinking, because they all contradict each other, and the farther back in time you go the worse they get.
Why a female protagonist?
Whenever I’m asked that question I’m tempted to say “Why not?” and leave it at that, but seriously folks.
At about the same time as I was reading Marco, I stumbled across a Book of Days (basically a daily diary) in a bookstore. It was illustrated with drawings from medieval manuscripts, and each illustration featured a medieval woman doing a job—a baker, a shoemaker, a carpenter, a stone mason (yes, really!). And then I read Margery Kempe’s autobiography. Those two works thoroughly disabused me of the notion, A, that medieval women only worked in the home, and, B, that in the Middle Ages nobody ever traveled a mile from their homes. Both of which notions teachers had worked hard to beat into my head in high school.
I determined from the beginning that the child was going to be a girl, and that she was going to have a real job. And of course coming from China she could wear pants. Heh.
Why publish the books separately at first?
No one wanted me to write Silk and Song. For sure no one wanted me to publish it.
“We don’t want to have to re-invent the Stabenow brand,” quoth my editor, and suggested I write another five Kate Shugak novels instead. So I wrote SAS anyway and self-published it in the US in three e and TP volumes.
And then lightning struck! My UK publisher, Nic Cheatham at Head of Zeus
read it and loved it and now he’s publishing it in a single volume in the most beautiful edition that has ever had my name spelled correctly on the cover (gold leaf on the title! squee!).
After Silk and Song I wrote the 21st Kate Shugak novel, Less Than a Treason.
Now I’m working on what I hope will be the first of a series of novels set in
Alexandria in the time of Cleopatra featuring Cleopatra’s fixer, job title the Eye of Isis.
And then follows the 22nd Kate Shugak novel.