Interview with Judith Stoleson

What was your early life like and how did it influence your writing?
I grew up a city girl in Chicago. My father died when I was four so my mother went to work as a secretary. That meant I spent a lot of time alone. To keep me out of trouble, I was allowed to go to the movies three times a week. Sometimes, when I didn't have the dime for admission, the manager would let me pick up candy bar wrappers and other scraps outside the theater in lieu of a ticket. Watching those amazing stories on the big screen sparked my imagination--Cary Grant chasing a leopard in "Bringing up Baby," Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and Spencer Tracy struggling to survive an ocean storm in "Captains Courageous." At that time I didn't do any writing but pretended to be the characters I'd seen at home. Those movies stirred emotions that stayed with me and helped me create my own stories as I grew older.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I came to writing through genealogy. I wanted to learn about those who came before me, to try and view their world through their eyes, to show how history shaped the person and the person shaped history. Among those from the past was a whaler out of Nantucket, a soldier suffering through the cold of Valley Forge, a Quaker abolitionist teaching slaves to read, a Civil War soldier dying of dysentery, a Welsh coal miner, and a Swedish dressmaker. Out of all this came my first book Through the Generations. But the ancestor that interested me the most was Sir William Coffin who served in the Court of Henry VIII. I visited his manor house in Devon, England, read letters he had written archived at Oxford, and studied books on the Tudor Period; until I began to feel that he was working through me to tell his story. From that exhilarating and humbling experience came my second book, The King's Man.
What do you like to read for pleasure?
I enjoy historic novels from I, Claudius to Wuthering Heights, to Gone with the Wind. Biographies are another favorite. Right now, I'm reading the story of Barbara Stanwyck's life and the early days of movie making. My all-time-favorite is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
The King's Man is loosely based on the life of Sir William Coffin. Our local library's website has access to the White Pages which is a compilation of home addresses throughout the United States. I typed in the last name "Coffin" and various first names and sent a letter to each person listed. In it I explained their ancestral connection through the Coffin line, included an image of the book cover, a blurb describing the book, a favorable review, and concluded with how the novel could be found on Smashwords outlets if they were interested. It brought a good response and sales. On Google Plus, I wrote little essays about Tudor beliefs and customs and connected it to The King's Man including a URL to the book page on Smashwords.
Do you have a current review?
This review was published on my Amazon website for The King's Man
A Book Worth Reading by L. Caine on September 25, 2015

This is an interesting and well-written historical novel on the first years of Henry VIII's reign. Having read quite a lot over the years about this time period, I felt the author made it more 'real' with her development of a main character who was part of Henry's staff and, therefore, viewed the situation from a different slant. Henry was not a particularly lovable character, for sure, but the author helps us understand his actions a bit more clearly.
I especially liked the author's descriptions of learning to joust and then jousting for the king. Had not ever read anything about that before. It was a difficult sport!!!
Clearly the author did extensive research on the reign of Henry VIII and I enjoyed how she gently nudged historical facts into the novel. It was most interesting to read her descriptions of the ongoing power struggle between Henry and the Holy Catholic Church in Rome.
A book worth reading.
What is your writing process?
With The King's Man I knew about certain events that occurred in Sir William Coffin's life; where he was born (I visited his manor house in England.); his approximate birth and death dates; his interests--falconry, jousting, and court politics. I also was aware of a dispute between Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII over his marriage to Margaret Vernon and his appointment as Anne Boleyn's Master-of-the-Horse, which meant he was responsible for her safety when she was out-of-doors. These and other happenings formed the outline of my book. My task was to use these facts to make a living, breathing person out of him with faults and ideals, successes and failures as he struggled to survive the tumultuous years of the king's reign. I devote an hour a day to writing. But when a problem develops, I am always thinking about it in the back of my mind and often go back to the manuscript and try different solutions until I'm satisfied with the outcome. Afterwards my husband proofreads the copy and makes suggestions for improvements. Writer's workshops are also helpful in giving me another point-of-view.
What interesting items did you turn up in your research for The King's Man?
Criminal occupations were called by different names in Tudor times. Some of these types can be found in The King's Man.
Foister=pickpocket
Hookers=thieves who stole clothing by pulling them through an open window with a hooked stick like a shepherd's staff.
Priggers=horse thieves
Cut-purse= one who by the dexterity of his knife withdraws money and makes the victim's purse bottomless
Cloyer=one who threatens to expose a thief to the authorities if he isn't given a percentage of each haul.
Doxies=female companions of common rogues
How did the upper class dress in Tudor Times?
Clothing was meant to reflect a person's class in society. Each man knew his place, believed it was foreordained in heaven and that his clothes should reflect it. Sumptuary Laws were passed which fined those who did not follow the rules. A rich person could wear satin and damask. None but gentlemen wore imported furs. No one but members of the royal family were allowed to wear cloth of gold or purple, Jewelry was symbolic. When the king gave a ring as a gift to a counselor or courtier, it was a sign that he did not wish this favored person to be arrested except by his express orders.
A problem occurred when domestic servants wore cast-off clothes of their masters or tailors sometimes made garments for themselves in the styles of the gentlemen they dressed. Wearing outfits not of your class made them suspect as thieves.
What was life like for Tudor nuns?
Most nuns lived in purity and dignity fulfilling their religious vows. Nunneries were also havens for superfluous daughters or "homes of rest" for ladies of a certain age who were widows or spinsters. Eight nunneries in 1520 were closed because of dissolute behavior of the religious women of the house by reason of the vicinity of Cambridge University. No further explanation was given.
Some nuns retired from the world and became anchorites. They were required to take a rite of consecration similar to a funeral. They remained in their cells studying and praying. They spoke only through a window. Many people went to them for advice in their troubles, a cure for diseases or simply a blessing. Some asked for a prophesy as too whether they should set out on a long journey or if she would pray for their dying friends and relations in the belief that it would speed them to heaven.
What customs were involved with royal marriages?
In Tudor times the night of a royal marriage might not be as romantic as the bridal couple would want. The marriage often was arranged for political reasons between foreign countries and the newly-weds would be strangers. On the wedding night the new bride was undressed by her ladies and put to bed. The groom would arrive, be undressed by his attendants and take his place beside her. The officiating priest then entered the chamber and blessed the bed to protect the couple from the dangers of impotency and infertility by sanctifying and sprinkling them with holy water.
Appointed officials eavesdropped at their door to confirm that the marriage had been consummated with the possibility of a pregnancy as laid out in diplomatic agreements.
Published 2016-04-15.
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Books by This Author

The King's Man
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 132,230. Language: English. Published: January 23, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Historical » Renaissance
At sixteen Robert Graves set off for London to serve newly-crowned Henry VIII. Life at court provided him with enough jousting to keep him fit, dicing and cards to keep him poor, and pretty maidens to keep him merry. For twenty-five years he gave his love and loyalty to his king until the beheadings began. These dark cruel times awoke Robert to what it really meant to be a King's Man.