Margaret is no longer blogging at this time, but you can enjoy some of her terrific posts through the years.

Blog Tour Under Way!

I’ve had the most wonderful April, with ELIZABETH I’s publication on April 5, followed by an in-person national tour that took me to Dallas, Chicago, the West Coast, and Washington DC, as well as nearby places in Wisconsin.  I loved meeting my readers—some of whom had traveled quite a distance to get there, a very humbling experience for a speaker.  (I hope I wasn’t boring, after all that effort they took to get there.)

Now I embark on my first-ever Blog Tour.  I am posting it here so you can access these ‘tour stops’ as they go along.

Monday, May 2

Book reviewed at Book Drunkard

Interviewed at Pump Up Your Book

Tuesday, May 3

Book reviewed at The Book Connection

Book reviewed at One Day At A Time

Wednesday, May 4

Book reviewed at Slice of Life

Thursday, May 5

Book reviewed at Life in Review

Friday, May 6

Book spotlighted at Books, Products and More!

Book reviewed at Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog

Monday, May 9

Book reviewed and guest blogging at Always With a Book

Tuesday, May 10

Book reviewed at Bippity, Boppity Book

Wednesday, May 11

Book reviewed at CelticLady’s Reviews

Thursday, May 12

Book reviewed at Tanzanite’s Castle Full of Books

Friday, May 13

Guest blogging at Tanzanite’s Castle Full of Books

Book reviewed at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Monday, May 16

Book reviewed at Bags, Books and Bon Jovi

Tuesday, May 17

Book reviewed at Lynn’s Corner

Wednesday, May 18

Book reviewed at By the Book

Thursday, May 19

Book reviewed at Rundpinne

Friday, May 20

Book reviewed at History and Women

Interviewed at The Hot Author Report

Monday, May 23

Interviewed at Paperback Writer

Book reviewed at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24

Guest blogging and giveaway at Acting Balanced

Wednesday, May 25

Book reviewed at Acting Balanced

Thursday, May 26

Guest blogging at Thoughts in Progress

Friday, May 27

Guest blogging at Lori’s Reading Corner

Book reviewed at Peeking Between the Pages

“A Christmas Carol” on my mind

One of my first reviewers has likened “Elizabeth I” to “A Christmas Carol” in its plot structure.  I wasn’t consciously doing it, but those who saw my holiday post about my affection for Ebenezer Scrooge and my ritual of seeing “A Christmas Carol” every year will know it must have invaded my very thinking pattern!  Here is the first paragraph of the review, which appeared in the Dallas Literature Examiner on 3/29.  The astute reviewer was Marie Burton.  Thanks, Marie!

Book Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

Elizabeth I: A Novel (April 5, 2011 Viking) reads very much like the Dickens’ favorite A Christmas Carol. We

see through the aged Elizabeth’s eyes the ghosts of the past from her parents to her favorites who flit in and

out of her consciousness; the present with the younger courtiers who no longer have anything of value to

Elizabeth except their looks; the future of England because of course this Virgin Queen left no heir for England.

The decisions of the past and the present and how they affect the future of England are also an underlying

theme for Elizabeth as she struggles to maintain her hold on the country that she married for richer or for

poorer. The Spanish Armada was always a threat, and even though she was able to defeat it in 1589, by the

time Spain had rebuilt its forces to strike again, Elizabeth’s most trusted advisors and the strongest fighters

and nobles had withered away.

Ten Surprises About Elizabeth Tudor

Since it is only a week until my “Elizabeth I” will be published, now is the time to tell you some things I discovered or confirmed while  writing the novel!

She was a virgin. In spite of endless wishful thinking and plays, novels, and movies to the contrary, there’s no evidence the Virgin Queen was anything but.  Had she not been what she publically claimed to be and based her image on, she would have had her power and authority and veracity stripped from her in an instant.

She was the last English monarch to be purely English. She was followed by the Scottish Stuarts, and then the German Hanoverians, and so on.  Even the present royal family had to change its name from Saxe-Cobur-Gotha to Windsor to sound less German in 1917.

She was a local monarch. She didn’t travel very far from London—she never got  as far north as York  and she never crossed over into Europe.

She didn’t hang out with Shakespeare or attend his plays at the Globe. It’s a lovely scene in “Shakespeare in Love”, but the queen did not attend the public theater.  Instead, the theater came to her.  Plays were presented at court.  She met Shakespeare and reputedly liked the character of Falstaff, but she didn’t pal around with him.

She knew she was getting old. She did keep mirrors in her rooms and wasn’t afraid to look in them.  The official portraits, though, were executed according to approved images.  They were not expected to be true likenesses, any more than the portrait of the present queen on money reflects her exact image.  Although it’s updated from time to time, it’s always younger than she is.

She admired her father and praised him often. Since he executed her mother, and ignored her for most of her life, you would expect her to hate him.  Why she didn’t is another mystery of her psychology.

She never tried to rehabilitate her mother’s reputation. Unlike King James, who quickly ordered his mother Mary Queen of Scots to be taken from her obscure grave in Peterborough and reburied in a magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth did nothing to comment, one way or the other, on Anne Boleyn and her innocence or lack of it.  She preferred to let sleeping dogs lie.

Elizabeth had hair. She wasn’t bald and she didn’t shave her head.  Her hair thinned and turned gray, but she still had a head of hair.

Elizabeth wasn’t religious. She seemed to have a spiritual sort of humility but one historian observed that when Elizabeth was most troubled, she turned to the classics rather than to the scriptures for consolation.

Elizabeth was the last Tudor. Not only did she have no children, but there were no surviving collateral cousins, legitimate or illegitimate.  She was truly the end of the line.

Visiting the Queen

When the Queen is away from London in the summer, she opens the state rooms of Buckingham Palace to the public.  Of course, Buckingham Palace is much more recent than Elizabeth’s day, but it’s one of the very few working palaces left in the world, so it was a fascinating glimpse into that world. I am sure the formality must have increased a great deal since Tudor times.  In the dining room, the polished table can seat around 40, and there are rulers to mark off precisely the spacing between place settings, and all the things within the place setting—the outer knives and forks, and so on.  I can’t imagine an Elizabethan table, even a state one, set to such protocol.  Portraits of ancestors—most of them life sized—loomed on the walls.  In some ways it must be a crushing burden.  Or do you just get used to it?  Or, even, learn to ignore it?

The build up of layers of perfection, protocol, and preciseness must imbue the eventual encounter with Her Majesty almost overwhelming, which is, presumably, the point.  Yet, like Elizabeth the First, this Elizabeth is also known for being good at chatting with people and for a common touch.  However, her ‘handlers’ probably don’t let her out as much as Elizabeth Tudor.

A Wake With No Flowers

I attended a wake yesterday.  I was just one of many; the mortuary was crowded.  The corpse was laid out for all to see.  But there was no eulogy, no flowers, no whiskey, and no music.  There was, however, plenty of plunder as the corpse was stripped.

I refer to my local Borders store.  Just two days after its closing was announced, people with sandwich boards were standing on street corners with signs saying ‘Everything must go!’  The parking lot was full.  The store had feeling of rush and bustle and the checkout line was an hour long.  No one seemed sad about it, just pleased to get 20% off on the books, and 40% off on other items.

I’ve heard people say that it was a nice neighborhood gathering place.  The same was said about our travel store that just closed after 125 years—the owner said they could not stay in business as merely a showroom or gathering place.  Neither could Borders, neither can any store.   They are keeping the Borders on the other side of town, but it will focus heavily on toys and puzzles and such.  Behold the new phenomenon: a bookstore that doesn’t feature books!

At the local level, you don’t see the corporate decisions or other things that can sink a franchise, you only see a familiar friend that’s deserting you.  Already the vultures are circling for the building.  Among the contestants for it are a dental clinic, and a medical building.  It’s a loss for me—I don’t like to hang out in either of those types of buildings unless I have to.

So as I took my turn and waited in line, all my bookstore experiences flashed before my eyes, like a drowning man.  Like many writers, my memories of bookstores are long, meaningful, and many.  As a child, I loved the bookstore/school supply store downtown (when all such stores were downtown).  It was called Denison’s, and therein were books and all the new notebooks and binders and Crayola sets a fifth grader would need. I saved up my money to buy a book about cats, I remember.  I also got “The Big Book of Horses” and “King of the Wind”, which I still have.  Later on there were college bookstores, and little bookstores in England, and Chapters Literary Bookstore in Washington DC and Canterbury Books in Madison, and many others that cheered me.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched the procession at Borders, that I was witnessing the end of an era, like Rhett and Scarlett watching the last of the Confederate troops leaving Atlanta.  I don’t think it’s so much a contest between ebooks and print books, or online vs. brick and mortar, as it is the loss of a platform upon which to meet books.  I certainly can, and do, order books from Amazon, and appreciate the ease and ability to do so.  But I have to know about a book before I can order it—I have to know it exists.  It seems the avenues for meeting new books is getting slimmer and slimmer.

So, I have a bulging bag of books from Borders that I’m reluctant to unpack.  That’s my old world sitting there.

The wake will proceed until only the casket is left, and that will probably be for sale as well.

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.

The Ebenezer Scrooge Fan Club

Ebenezer Scrooge has figured large in my life. He was my Man — my idol — for a good while in my formative years. I came by him naturally, and I acquired the nickname “Scrooge” all on my own. I can’t say it was before I’d heard the story, because Scrooge is impossible to escape in our culture. He’s everywhere, from Scrooge McDuck to pizza ads: “Feast like Santa, spend like Scrooge.”

But I was the five-times great niece of “Hard Money” Scott, and his blood surely ran in my veins and his mindset in my brain. “Hard Money” was a trader in South Carolina in the 1700s, who showed up at auctions brandishing cash and vanquishing rivals that needed to pay on credit — and who always demanded payment in ‘hard money on the barrelhead.’ Yes, indeed, Uncle Hard Money was an inspiration: a real-life Scrooge for me to emulate.

I got started on my career early. The Christmas when I was six was probably the best Christmas I ever had, gift-wise. I got not only a train set (little girls weren’t supposed to want one, but I wanted one madly), but a 20” blue bicycle with a speedometer! Never mind that I couldn’t ride a bike yet — I’d learn. Oh, I was so proud of that bike and its nifty speedometer…I came close to idol worship with that bike.

Then — disaster! My dad was a Foreign Service officer, and he was assigned to a Middle Eastern country where I couldn’t ride my bike, so we had to leave it in the States. He promised he’d buy me a new one when we returned, with the money he earned from selling this one now. He reckoned it would fetch $75. The promise was vague, so I made him write out a promissory note — I can still see it in my mind, written in block letters on a page from a yellow legal tablet:

“I, Scott George, agree to pay the bearer seventy-five (75) dollars on demand. Signed, ______” Then followed his signature.

I carefully folded it up and put it in my Scottish plaid purse (how fitting). I kept it for three years and then produced it, holding him to his word. He just shook his head and muttered, “Okay, Miss Scrooge!” He seemed in awe of my filing capabilities and elephant–like memory, as well as my flinty pursuit of a debt.

By that time, I had read “A Christmas Carol” and knew the story. I knew I was supposed to dislike Scrooge, but I kept thinking he had a point about a lot of things. And Tiny Tim — that child was so saccharine and schmaltzy. I just couldn’t identify with him or the long-suffering Bob Cratchit. Every Christmas I’d re-read the story, enjoying all the little details that are left out in shorter versions. Really, that story became my Christmas. I even made my parents cook a goose one time, and I wanted to play parlor games, like Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in the story. (That lasted only one season. The goose was greasy and coated the oven with goose-fat, and parlor games were considered dorky, even back then. Oh well.)

After I grew up and got married and had my own child, it was time for her to be introduced to Scrooge! We started going to the annual production of “A Christmas Carol” at the Children’s Theater, and that became our entrenched family tradition. Every year we’d return, to my husband’s good-natured groaning about it. We knew all the lines by heart: “You wish to be anonymous?” “I wish to be left alone!” “Another idol has displaced me — a golden one.” “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it, link by link and yard by yard.” “Business! Mankind was my business!”

And then a funny thing happened. What I saw every year in “A Christmas Carol” changed, depending on where I was in life and what my concerns were. It had much to teach me. One year, it made me think of how different Scrooge and I were: If I was old and there wasn’t much time left, I would have sunk into depression once I’d realized that I’d wasted huge amounts of my life, but it didn’t seem to bother Scrooge. Better late than never, he seemed to feel. Was he Zen, just living in the moment?

Another year, it caused me to examine the chain that I was forging. What were the links made of? And how encased was I in them? The cleaning woman, Mrs. Dilber — she was invisible to Scrooge. How many helpful people in my life were invisible to me? She literally took the shirt off his back after he was dead and sold it to a peddler, saying, “He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead! Ha ha ha!” What would people do when I died? A dreary thought, but Christmas is a time of ghosts. Attending “A Christmas Carol” became a yearly examination of my conscience, making me feel like a desert monk.

And, gradually, I began to see that Scrooge was not so cool after all. The man was truly miserable. My idol had not only feet of clay, but they were turning blue from lack of circulation! And Tiny Tim — really, he wasn’t so bad. (Although I do still wonder what exactly was wrong with him.) Bob Cratchit — well, I wonder how many cheery people there are like him, who make the drudgery of offices bearable for their office-mates? Surely the world needs more Bob Cratchits.

Since then, I’ve made the pilgrimage to visit the Holy Grail, a manuscript copy of “A Christmas Carol” in the Morgan Library, to pay homage to that miracle of a book. We’ve attended productions of “A Christmas Carol” in many guises, including a gay Scrooge, a musical Scrooge, and this year, we’re going to the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. to see it. What will I find in it this time?

But surely the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten — perhaps topping even the blue bike? — was my husband’s gift of a fully annotated version of “A Christmas Carol.” Being Jewish, Christmas isn’t exactly his holiday, but his knowing what it means to me is what makes his gift so special. And isn’t that one of the story’s messages — to appreciate and celebrate what’s unusual in each person? Now I can delve into minutiae about the story to my heart’s content. And I’m about ready to haul it out again for this season’s stint!

I would sign off with, “God bless us every one,” but I haven’t gone that far yet.

My Henry VIII Lecture at the Folger Shakespeare Library on November 29

This fall, the renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is focusing on the life of Henry VIII. There’s an exhibit, “Vivat Rex!” (“Long Live the King!”) with original manuscripts, art, artifacts, and jewelry from the notorious king’s reign on display.  And there’s a production of the rarely-performed “Henry VIII” by Shakespeare, in the Elizabethan theater. I’m deeply honored to have been invited to give a lecture in the theater on November 29, at 7:30 pm, on the life and times of Henry VIII.  Afterwards there will be a reception in the Great Hall, surrounded by Tudor artifacts on display for the exhibit.

It’s been 500 years since Henry VIII came to the throne as a seventeen year old and proceeded to rewrite English history.  As an outsized character he has no equal.  Not only was he genuinely outsized, but his marriage history is as varied and scandalous as Elizabeth Taylor’s—more so, as none of Elizabeth’s husbands went to the block. But he’s so much more than a tabloid item.  He remade England politically, breaking the iron grip of the Pope in Rome and putting his country on a stand-alone basis, going its way apart from Continental Europe.  (A course it still pursues, in spite of being in the EU.  It has not embraced the Euro and sticks with the pound.)  He also founded the English navy (and we know what that led to, the domination of the seas and the British Empire), dissolved the monasteries and redistributed the wealth, accidently creating a powerful middle class; made Parliament his instrument, but in so doing gave it special political power it had not possessed (and we know what that led to, to: a Parliamentary democracy).

Historians aren’t sure whether Henry VIII was a bad man and a good king; a bad man and bad king; or a good man gone wrong.  His psychology continues to fascinate.  I’ll be putting forward the various theories and then telling you which one I believe in.  I’ll also be reading selections from The Autobiography of Henry VIII to illustrate my ideas, and some from my forthcoming (April 2011) Elizabeth I.

I hope you’ll be able to come if you are in the area. You can purchase tickets through the Folger on its website, www.folger.edu, and then check “what’s on.”