29 December 2013

Author Interview: C.P. Lesley

This week, we're pleased to welcome author C.P. Lesley with her latest novel, THE GOLDEN LYNX. The author will offer a free copy of The Golden Lynx to a lucky blog visitor. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments for a chance to win. Here's the blurb.

Russia, 1534. Elite clans battle for control of the toddler who will become their first tsar, Ivan the Terrible. Amid the chaos and upheaval, a masked man mysteriously appears night after night to aid the desperate people.

Or is he a man?

Sixteen-year-old Nasan Kolychev is trapped in a loveless marriage. To escape her misery, she dons boys’ clothes and slips away under cover of night to help those in need. She never intends to do more than assist a few souls and give her life purpose. But before long, Nasan finds herself caught up in events that will decide the future of Russia.

And so, a girl who has become the greatest hero of her time must decide whether to save a baby destined to become the greatest villain of his.

**Author Interview with C. P. Lesley**

What makes 16th-century Russia a good setting for a novel?
From 1450 to 1600, Russia came roaring back after two centuries of domination by the descendants of Genghis Khan, known as the Tatars. The princes of Moscow took over the other Russian principalities and established the autocratic system that has provided the template for Russian power ever since. At the same time, Tatar rule fragmented, leading to the decline and, eventually, the conquest of the former conquerors. A situation rife with cultural conflict and power struggles is like mother’s milk to a novelist. At the time when I set my Legends of the Five Directions series, all that trouble was heightened by the enthroning of the three-year-old who would become known as Ivan the Terrible (ruled 1533–84). With no strong ruler to moderate the fierce competition among the great aristocratic clans, the normal consensus among the elite fractured.

As a writer, 16th-century Russia is also a natural fit for me. It’s a time and place I have spent decades studying but about which most people know little or nothing, so I thought it would be a fun way to put all that reading to good use.

How does Nasan, your heroine in The Golden Lynx, fit into this setting?
Nasan is a Tatar princess living in Kasimov, which was a Russian town given over to this or that Tatar prince—mostly to keep potential troublemakers in line. At sixteen, she is confronting the constraints imposed on women in most traditional societies. Her mother spends every minute preparing her for marriage—and as was typical at that time, her father, not Nasan, will decide whom she marries. But Nasan is a tomboy. She wants to emulate the heroines of legend she has read about in books. With her younger brother, she sneaks into the woods to practice archery and swordsmanship, until her younger brother dies in an ambush during one such excursion. To settle the interfamily feud that follows, Nasan’s father agrees to marry her into the family of her brother’s murderer. Her underlying desire to define the terms of her own life is threatened.

Can’t she just say no?
That’s her first instinct, but if she refuses the match, in effect she condemns every male member of her family to death. And because her community defines her clan as including the dead and the unborn, she risks being cast out for eternity if she refuses to cooperate. Her commitment to her family binds her. However admirable in itself, it is her main obstacle to achieving her goal.

Her second obstacle is her new husband, Daniil. So long as he is around, Nasan has to toe the line as defined by their two families. That creates a difficult situation for her, as the marriage thrusts her into an unfamiliar culture with a language she barely speaks and rules on the behavior of women every bit as restrictive as the society she has left behind. She has no friends: her mother-in-law criticizes and instructs her; her sister-in-law detests her; and Daniil seems more interested in the servant girls than he is in her.

So where does the Golden Lynx come in?
Without intending to, Daniil makes it possible for Nasan to solve her problem. His main goal is to prove that his own brother did not kill Nasan’s. When he takes off to discover what actually happened on the day of the murder, his absence frees Nasan to slip out of the house at night, dressed in boys’ clothes. As she helps one person after another, stories of her exploits spread throughout Moscow and beyond. People don’t know her name, so they call her the Golden Lynx because of the pendant she wears around her neck for good luck. After a while, she runs into the man who really did kill her younger brother, and her desire for revenge drives the rest of the story.

Is this a book about vengeance, then, or about self-realization?
Both. It’s a journey of self-discovery for Nasan and Daniil, a coming-of-age tale. But the novel’s underlying story problem addresses how different people respond to injury. Some characters endure and adapt; some forgive; some repay violence with violence; some seek revenge but in the end find the solution in justice rather than mindless response. I leave it to the readers to decide which reaction proves most rewarding.

Where is the series going from here?
I have a complete rough draft for The Winged Horse (2: East), which looks at life on the steppe through the story of Nasan’s older brother and his attempt to take over a nomadic horde. The big idea there is to explore the complicated family relationships established in a polygamous society, especially one where politics is governed by ties of kinship, real and imagined. The Swan Princess (3: North) returns to Russia, where Daniil goes missing on the Lithuanian front and Nasan sets off to find him, only to encounter several nasty characters from book 1. The Vermilion Bird (4: South) sees Nasan’s annoying sister-in-law, Maria, get her comeuppance; and The Shattered Drum (5: Center) rounds out the series with a resolution for Grusha, the servant girl whose interest in Daniil ratchets up the conflict in The Golden Lynx and The Swan Princess.

C. P. Lesley, a historian, is the author of The Not Exactly Scarlet Pimpernel and The Golden Lynx, both published by Five Directions Press in 2012. She is currently working on The Winged Horse, the first of four planned sequels to The Golden Lynx—a series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. When not writing, dancing, reading, or working, she hosts New Books in Historical Fiction.

You can find out more at Ms. Lesley’s website and blog. The website includes a link to her Amazon.com author page.