Christine Trent’s debut novel, The Queen’s Dollmaker, released on December 29th. Besides being a novelist creating historical tales with romantic elements, Christine is also an avid doll collector and fan of all things British. Her travels have taken her to England (many times), France, Spain, Italy and China. She lives in Maryland with her wonderful bookshelf-building husband and four precocious cats.
I was privileged to meet Christine while attending the 2008 RWA® Nationals held in San Francisco. I first interviewed her on September 3rd of that year. The following month she was back for one of my Saturday Special: She Sold! stories when Kensington bought her debut novel. She wrote a four-part series of articles for this blog in April 2009, which we called A Writer’s Tool Kit. Her informative how-to pieces deal with completing a manuscript, submitting a query letter, interpreting a rejection letter and getting from first sale to publication wisely.
Join me as we learn about more about Christine and her debut novel.
Christine’s Journey Begins
•Please recap for us how you got started writing and what led you to create your debut novel, The Queen’s Dollmaker.
Thanks, Keli, for having me back again. Meeting you was the highlight of my trip to San Francisco, and hopefully we’ll see each other again soon. To answer your question, I’ve always read and collected books. In fact, my poor husband spends most of his spare time building bookcases. I suppose I was moved to write after reading To Dance With Kings by British author Rosalind Laker. It was such a wonderfully sweeping historical tale, and I totally fell in love with it. As a lark, I thought, “Hey, why not try writing a book myself?” I didn’t get particularly serious about it until I got to the midway point of The Queen’s Dollmaker, at which point I then thought, “Hmm, I need to think about taking this to the next step.”
Writing about a dollmaker was inspired by my own doll collecting habits (my friends might call it an obsession, but what do they know?). And I’ve always been fascinated by French and English royal history, so pairing a dollmaker with Marie Antoinette seemed natural.
From First Sale to First Book
You received The Email followed by The Call from your editor at Kensington with news of your first sale in September 2008. That event changed your life in many ways, I’m sure.
•What have been the most exciting aspects of having sold your first book?
First, I’d say the wonderful support I’ve had from friends and family. Everyone rushed out to pre-order a copy, and I was flooded with congratulations on my release day. It was a great reminder that friends and family are the most important people in the world to us.
The second most exciting aspect has been the new world that opened up to me. I’ve met *so* many authors, bloggers, booksellers, and publishing folks that I didn’t know before, and they’ve all been very kind to me.
Can you tell that I’m a people person? 🙂
•What aspect of being a published author has surprised you?
The amount of time required for promotion. I thought I could start writing another book while casually promoting myself on blogs, social networking sites, and through the occasional book signing or two. <Pauses to laugh hysterically.> Lesson learned: you have to clear your plate for a few weeks after your book’s release in order to do a good job at promoting it to the widest audience possible. After all, you only have a fairly narrow window of time in which to get readers excited about it.
•When you sold, you didn’t have an agent, but now you do. What prompted you to seek representation after your earlier decision to go solo?
Finding my lovely agent was pure serendipity. As you noted, I finally sold without an agent to Kensington. But, earlier this year, I knew I was nearing the end of that contract and would need to consider finding an agent, a task I admit I dreaded after so much rejection the first time around. Coincidentally, at the same time I was helping out my local RWA chapter with setting up agent/editor appointments for our annual retreat. I ended up talking with one of the agents in connection with the retreat, one thing led to another, and next thing I knew I was signed up with my agent.
•What things, if any, would you have done differently in order to prepare for The Call had you known it was coming? What advice would you have for those of us awaiting our first sale?
I would have gotten my web site together sooner. It was a little embarrassing having my editor tell me that I needed to have a web site. And after I sold, it was a mad scramble to launch it. I was fortunate to find Rae Monet, of www.raemonetinc.com, who did a beautiful job in a short time, but it was very stressful coming up with so much content so quickly. I would advise any aspiring writer to get a web site done while waiting for a sale. Not only because it saves you from being frantic later, but because it shows potential editors and agents that you are a serious writer.
A Delightful Delivery
•When did you hold your book in your hands for the first time? What was your reaction to feeling the shiny new cover and smelling the ink on fresh pages?
I received a few galleys from the publisher several months before the book’s release. Although the cover was done a little differently (it was glossier than the final cover and had marketing information on it), it was essentially my book in my hands. I was pretty giggly for a couple of days. I shamelessly carried it everywhere with me, showing it to everyone from the checker at the grocery store to my doctor.
•Are you celebrating your release with a launch party?
Since my novel has a French setting, my husband and I went to dinner at a local French restaurant with a friend who read and edited my manuscript about a dozen times. I will be attending two different launch parties over the next month, as well as quite a few book signings in my region.
•Promotion is a vital part of the writing business. What are you doing to get the word out?
I’ve spent a lot of time on the historical fiction blogs. The bloggers are really wonderful to debut authors. I’ve had the opportunity to guest blog, be interviewed, and participate in book giveaways. Many of them have also reviewed my book on their blogs. If I am successful, it will be because of those great ladies in the historical fiction blogosphere!
A Warm Welcome
•What’s it like to be part of the Kensington family?
What’s great about Kensington is that it’s large enough to really get your book distributed well, yet it’s small enough that you feel the personal touch with them. Both my editor and her assistant are very accessible. In fact, even the president of the company, Steve Zacharias, is accessible. Here I am with him at the Kensington party at RWA in D.C.
•The Queen’s Dollmaker has begun to receive rave reviews, including your fantastic four stars from Romantic Times. Woohoo on that debut! What a way to launch your career as a published novelist. What are some of your favorite comments so far?
The comment that tickled me the most was by Lauren, at Marie Antionette’s Gossip Guide. She said that my heroine, Claudette, was a blond mix between Lizzy Bennet and Scarlett O’Hara. I loved that!
Also, the Romantic Times review equated me with Rosalind Laker, whose work I mentioned earlier. I was stunned to be associated with her style, since I adore her books. I’m not actually sure I deserved the grand comparison!
Christine’s Debut Novel . . . and Beyond
•Please tell us about The Queen’s Dollmaker.
On the brink of revolution, with a tide of hate turned against the decadent royal court, France is in turmoil—as is the life of one young woman forced to leave her beloved Paris. After a fire destroys her home and family, Claudette Laurent is struggling to survive in London. But one precious gift remains: her talent for creating exquisite dolls that Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France herself, cherishes. When the Queen requests a meeting, Claudette seizes the opportunity to promote her business, and to return home. . .
Amid the violence and unrest, Claudette befriends the Queen, who bears no resemblance to the figurehead rapidly becoming the scapegoat of the Revolution. But when Claudette herself is lured into a web of deadly political intrigue, it becomes clear that friendship with France’s most despised woman has grim consequences. Now, overshadowed by the specter of Madame Guillotine, the Queen’s dollmaker will face the ultimate test.
•Sounds like a captivating story, Christine, one I’m eager to read. Actually, I have my copy already and can’t wait to get to it. I’m curious, though. Since you write novels with strong romantic elements, there must be a special gentleman in Claudette’s life. I’m not after spoilers, of course, but what can you tell us about this aspect of your story?
Well, I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that there are actually two special gentlemen in Claudette’s life. But which one is right for her? Who really loves her, and who is a scoundrel? The Queen’s Dollmaker is a historical novel with strong romantic elements.
•Nice! I love a book where we don’t which man the heroine will choose. What can your readers look forward to next?
I’ve just wrapped up my second novel, tentatively titled The Wax Apprentice. This story follows the adventures of Marguerite du Georges, who inherits the shop from The Queen’s Dollmaker. After her young husband is killed in a riot, she abandons the doll shop and London to travel around the country as a waxworking apprentice to the great Madame Tussaud, who has moved her exhibition over from France. Marguerite’s new career nearly melts down when she assists the English crown in a scheme to create wax effigies of important political figures to fool Napoleon into thinking that England is negotiating treaties and alliances with other countries, when in fact something else entirely is happening. A French spy catches on to Marguerite’s game and Napoleon’s long grasp puts her in mortal danger.
Five Fun Facts About Christine
~ I love cats. I have four kitties, and three of them have been incorporated onto the front page of my web site. We’ve been adopting one approximately every other year, so I’m a little worried about what the house will look like in another ten years.
~ I’m a manic book collector. My mother-in-law was a librarian before she retired, so it should be no surprise to learn that my book collection is fully catalogued, arranged on the shelves by subject/author, and all of my hardbacks are covered in mylar book jackets.
~ It should also be of no surprise that I am a doll collector. I’ve been collecting since my first job as a travel coordinator on a government contract. The teams whose international trips I coordinated all brought me back dolls from their far-flung destinations. My collection spans everything from Barbie to African rag dolls.
~ I am a part-time college instructor for Johns Hopkins University. I teach project management for their engineering program.
~ I love to scrapbook. Right now I’m working on a family heritage scrapbook, and have completed upwards of 40 scrapbooks. I’ve also recently picked up beading, but I’m not sure I have time for it.
Christine’s Question for You
•It’s been wonderful to have you back, Christine. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. Now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors, so go for it.
I’d love for your readers to share with me what attracts them to a particular book. Is it the cover? A good review? A recommendation by another author you like? Do you need to read the first few pages? What makes you decide, “Ah, this is a book I must read”?
Christine has generously offered to give away an autographed copy of The Queen’s Dollmaker.
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Christine by midnight January 8 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On January 9, Christine will hold the drawing and leave a comment with the name of the winner. I’ll post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. And Christine is willing to mail a book to any country, so don’t let a non-U.S. address stop you. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to Christine’s winner ~ Quilt Lady!
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Christine
Visit her website ~ www.ChristineTrent.com