22 July 2012

Guest Blog: Sherry Jones

This week, we're welcoming best-selling historical fiction author, Sherry Jones. Her latest title, FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS tells the history of four sisters in 13th-century Provence who became queens. Sherry is here to talk about the novel and offer a copy to a lucky winner. Here's the blurb:

Amid the lush valleys and fragrant wildflowers of Provence, Marguerite, Eléonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice have learned to charm, hunt, dance, and debate under the careful tutelage of their ambitious mother—and to abide by the countess’s motto: “Family comes first.”

With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite’s illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eléonore—independent and daring—is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.

Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite’s duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers—Provence itself.

From the treacherous courts of France and England, to the bloody tumult of the Crusades, Sherry Jones traces the extraordinary true story of four fascinating sisters whose passions, conquests, and progeny shaped the course of history.
Sherry Jones burst onto the international scene in 2008 with her controversial The Jewel of Medina, now published in 20 languages and a best-seller in seven countries. Her 2009 sequel, The Sword of Medina, won a silver medal in the IPPY awards and is an international best-seller, as well. Both books take place in seventh-century Arabia, and focus on the life of the Prophet Muhammad’s youngest and most beloved wife, A’isha.

In May, Jones published Four Sisters, All Queens (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books) to much acclaim. Translation rights have been sold in Serbia and Italy so far. Here we talk with the author about portraying important women from history whose lives have been overlooked.

Q&A with Sherry Jones
Your first two novels, The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, told the story of A’isha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad, in seventh century Arabia. Your new book, Four Sisters, All Queens, tells of four sisters in 13th century Provence who became queens of France, England, Germany, and Sicily. That’s quite a leap across time, space, and cultures. How do you choose the subjects for your novels?

I write about women in history whom I admire -- women whom I admire, or would like to befriend -- not about any particular time or place. I write about women’s history because we have been so marginalized by patriarchy that our stories often don’t get told. It was incredibly difficult for me to find information about Marguerite, the eldest sister in  Four Sisters, All Queens , for instance, although she was a heroine in the true sense, and married to one of France’s most famous kings – Saint Louis. These four sisters were celebrities during their time – like the Kardashians, but with class! ;) And yet we know almost nothing today about who they were, what they looked like, what their accomplishments were. By telling their stories, I honor them all.

Are you a feminist? Are your books feminist books?

It's said that every writer has one thing to write about -- one issue to explore. Women's struggle for self-empowerment in a man's world seems to be mine. I have never understood the notion that women are less intelligent, capable, or strong than men. As a woman, male superiority makes no sense to me at all. If women ran the world, it would be a much better place.

The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina are feminist books in that they show how the Prophet Muhammad honored women and, by giving them rights such as the right to inherit and the right to testify in court, he helped them achieve greater equality than they’d had before he came along.

Four Sisters, All Queens looks at the powerlessness of some of the world’s most powerful women. Three of the four married their husbands when they were just 12 years old. They were chosen – Beatrice, the youngest sister, was kidnapped and whisked away on the back of a horse – and were not asked. I know, don’t cry for me, right? We assume that they wanted to be married to kings. But the fact remains that they had no power to choose for themselves the men who would, in essence, command their lives. Once married, they were valued as baby factories and little more. And yet each of the sisters in my book does find a way to power – it’s just not the man’s way.

Tell us about the sisters in your new book. How do they compare to A’isha, the protagonist in The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina?

Each of these sisters is different from the others, with much different traits: Wit, laughter, passion, and shrewd intelligence in Marguerite, the eldest, who became Queen of France; boldness, loyalty to family, determination, and a love for literature and fashion in Eléonore, Queen of England; sweetness, piety, beauty, and a childlike naiveté in Sanchia, Queen of Germany; ambition, a wicked sense of humor, and a willingness to voice the truth even when it hurts in Beatrice, Queen of Sicily.

What they have in common with A’isha is this: living in patriarchy, each struggles for self determination. “Control your destiny, or it will control you,” is A’isha’s mantra. Married at nine to her father’s best friend, the Prophet of God, A’isha was a queen in her own right. She overcame the obstacles imposed by her culture to become the most famous and influential woman in Islam (something that never could have happened if he’d been a pedophilic, misogynist tyrant, IMHO). The sisters in Four Sisters, All Queens likewise must seek and find power for themselves in a culture that would deny it to them. How they succeed – and they do -- is what fascinates me.

You’ve also published a prequel to Four Sisters, All Queens. Tell us about it.

White Heart is the story of Blanche de Castille, Marguerite’s nefarious and controlling mother-in-law in Four Sisters, All Queens. I wanted to write a novella about her because she was truly an amazing woman, possibly the best queen France ever had and certainly the only woman to rule the kingdom alone, as she did while her son King Louis IX was still a boy. Because she is viewed through Marguerite’s eyes, she doesn’t get a fair shake in Four Sisters, All Queens. We are all complex, are we not? I love showing the “good” side of an “evil” character, and vice versa. White Heart shows how Blanche got to be the cold, hard woman we see in Four Sisters, All Queens.

What are you working on now?

Banish the Night is my working title for my novel, set for publication October 2013, about Heloise and Abelard, the famous 12th-century Parisian couple whose love affair ended tragically. My book focuses on Heloise, her attempt to live life on her own terms at a time when misogyny was on the rise, and the tragic consequences for her. But, of course, she rose above her sorrows to become one of the most prominent abbesses in the world. My heroines rock, every one of them.

To learn more about Sherry Jones and her work, visit her website at www.authorsherryjones.com.

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