Groundhog Day Approaches!

Before 1993, Groundhog Day was about a rodent and a weather prediction.  But the Bill Murray movie of the same name changed all that and today when we say “Groundhog Day” we mean—-something we need to go back and re-do, until we get it right.  Sort of a karma thing, only condensed into the same lifetime.

Here in Wisconsin (where we have our own local groundhog, Jimmy, in Sun Prairie, with the appropriate dawn ceremony), the traditional rite never held much suspense, because there’s always six more weeks of winter here.  What we hope for is only two more months of winter.

But the rewind button—how many do we have?  And it got me to wondering, if my characters could have had a Groundhog Day, what would they have changed?  Would Henry VIII have passed on his fourth and fifth wives?  Would Mary Queen of Scots have thought “Uh oh!” and fled to France instead of England?  Would Helen of Troy have decided, “Nope!” about running off with Paris?

These reckless moments are what give us some delicious history, but perhaps if they’d had the chance, my characters would have erased those decisions the second time around.   And my books wouldn’t have been nearly so interesting.

So…perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t have a real Groundhog Day opportunity,   except to watch Punxsutawney Phil.   Or our own lives might be duller.  Saner and kinder, maybe, but duller.

First Advance Reviews of “Elizabeth I”

I’m thrilled that early reviews of “Elizabeth I” have been so favorable!  Both Publishers Weekly and Booklist gave it  starred reviews. I’m posting them here as well as in the ‘book’ section of the website (under ‘praise & reviews’) so you can see them easily.  I’m so happy to share them with you.

*Elizabeth I
Margaret George
Personal and political conflicts among such larger-than-life historical figures as Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, and Will Shakespeare intertwine in George’s meticulously envisioned portrait of Elizabeth I during the last 25 years of her reign. Unlike most contemporary depictions of the Virgin Queen, this one is actually a virgin; she’s married to England, whose interests she pursues with shrewdness, courage, and wisdom borne of surviving the deaths of her family. Readers see the queen through her own eyes and those of her cousin, Lettice Knollys, wife of Elizabethan heartthrob Robert Dudley, aka the earl of Leicester. Elizabeth’s antithesis, thrice-married and much-bedded Lettice, is driven by passion and self-interest, easily evidenced by the story’s beginnings: it’s 1588, and Elizabeth meets the threat of the Spanish Armada head-on while Lettice calculates how her son might benefit. Like her heroine, George (The Autobiography of Henry VIII) possesses an eye for beauty and a knack for detail, creating a vibrant story that, for nearly 700 pages, enables readers to experience firsthand Elizabeth’s decisions, triumphs, and losses. Rather than turn Elizabeth I into a romantic heroine, George painstakingly reveals a monarch who defined an era. (Apr.)

Publisher’s Weekly-1/10/11

*Elizabeth I.
George, Margaret

Having already tackled Henry VIII (The Autobiography of Henry VIII, 1986) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, 1992), George now turns to Elizabeth I. Narrating her own story, Elizabeth is in late middle age, still formidable, but having hot flashes and keeping notes as a memory aid.  Robert Dudley, the love of her life, dies early on, and one by one she loses most of her other trusted councillors as well. Dudley’s ambitious and wayward stepson Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex, arrives at court and becomes her last great favorite. As she did in The Autobiography of Henry VIII, George adds an extra dimension by providing a second narrator; here it is Essex’s mother (and Dudley’s widow), Lettice Knollys. Banished from court because of an irregular marriage, Lettice conducts an adventurous sex life (one of her lovers is Will Shakespeare) and schemes to push Essex into power and restore the family fortunes. George’s mastery of period detail and her sure navigation through the rocky shoals of Elizabethan politics mean this lengthy novel never flags.

— Mary Ellen Quinn


High School Reunion

High School Reunion!  The very words conjure up competition, embarrassment, and nostalgia.  A few years ago,  Ralph Keyes  wrote in Is There Life After High School? that high school was the only common American tribal experience.  That may not be so true today, but for those of us old enough to be having double-digit reunions, it certainly was true in the past…our pasts.

And that’s what a reunion is all about—an eerie confluence of the past and the present.  If Heraclitus said you can never step in the same river twice, he had never been to a high school reunion.

Here are people with the same names but looking so different you need a name tag (complete with earlier yearbook photo) to know who they are.   Others look pretty much the same, with some modifications.  Some memories are razor sharp (I remember who my lab partner in Biology II was, and even that she sat on the right side of the bench) but others have vanished into smoke.  (“Remember when they took the door hinges off Mrs. Banks’ classroom door?”  “No.”)

But the overall feeling is of greeting your fellow survivors on a desert island.  By this time, most everyone there has had a lot of things thrown at them by life, and they’re still standing and even still smiling.  Different cliques have mellowed into a fellowship of comrades.  Ex-Jocks and ex-nerds can hang out together…and do.  Sometimes the jocks have turned into nerds, and vice versa.

I was made acutely aware of the passing of time.  I write about characters who have long ago passed from the scene, taking their eras with them.  But the same thing is happening to my own era.  I had a strange feeling that all of them should be frozen back in time, and if I went back there, they’d still be there, like “Back to the Future.”  But time doesn’t stand still—it’s a one way street.  And here they were, not captive in my yearbook (in black and white) but walking and talking and wearing different clothes, and in full spectrum color!

As someone who writes historical novels, I’m used to time traveling, but I never imagined it would happen to me, traveling within my own time bubble.  I never thought of my own past as genuine history.

One of the big surprises in reconnecting with my erstwhile classmates is how little we knew of one another back then.  Either we ourselves didn’t know our talents and interests, or else we were secretive and kept them to ourselves.

Everyone at the reunion now knew about my writing, but they assume that I started it pretty late in life (like Grandma Moses?).  When I was in high school I gave no indication that I was writing or had an interest in it.  I never submitted anything to the literary magazine, never entered a writing contest, and wasn’t selected for advanced placement English.  All the while I was writing one of my novels but only my very closest friends knew about that.  I wasn’t writing it to be put into a drawer, and I planned to submit it for publication when I got finished (and I did), but I wanted to keep in my own private project.  People were very surprised this time when I said I had always been writing, even when they first knew me.

Doubtless many others of my classmates were pursuing similar private projects.  Only much later, in reading their bios, is their ‘real selves’ revealed.  One person, a quiet fellow in my homeroom, became a well known photographer.  Another became U.S. Ambassador to Algeria.  (Boy, I’d like to know more on that story!)  Another person became a woodworker.  Another won an Olympic silver medal in tennis. Absolutely none of these things could have been predicted by what we knew about them at the time.

“Lord, we know what we are, but we know not what we may be,” says. Ophelia in Hamlet. I’ll say amen to that, brother.