Elizabeth Loupas, Author of THE SECOND DUCHESS – Part II of Interview and Giveaway

If you’re joining us today, I’m interviewing a historical novelist who has earned rave reviews for her debut. It features the glittering court of Ferrara, and the type of intrigue one might expect whenever the Medicis and Borgias mix. (Find Part I here. You can also find a helpful Q&A on conflict Elizabeth did with me on Writer Unboxed here.)

Jan: You’ve had some exciting news in the last week, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth: Yes. It’s now confirmed that The Second Duchess will be one of several books featured in a Barnes and Noble/Nookcolor sweepstakes built around the new Showtime miniseries The Borgias. Television commercials promoting the sweepstakes — win a fabulous trip to Rome! — will run nationally at the beginning of Showtime shows throughout the months of April and May. In addition, Barnes and Noble will promote the sweepstakes with in-store endcaps, which will also feature The Second Duchess.

Congratulations. I hope this brings you many more readers. Now, back to our regular programming. :)

A theme within The Second Duchess is that Barbara’s curiosity – or her “disquisitiveness”, as termed by Alfonso – comes with a steep cost. In a way, her quest for the truth seems emblematic of the battle I associate with the Renaissance: that of intellectualism and science versus the Church. Any thoughts on that?  

Well, it was certainly not conscious on my part! But it’s true that the story takes place in the midst of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, and the rise of Humanism. Barbara was fortunate enough, because of her birth and position, to receive a good education. I think her semi-monastic upbringing, mostly secluded from her father’s and brother’s Imperial courts, contributed to her general character trait of curiosity. So much was going on, so close and yet so far away! As a girl, particularly a girl who was given books like Il Cortegiano, she was endlessly curious about the court she was allowed so little access to. The cookie you can’t reach is always the most delicious!

Another strong element in Barbara’s “disquisitiveness,” though, is her pride. She doesn’t set out to learn the truth about the first duchess out of sheer curiosity or willfulness. Her Habsburg pride — and the pride of the Habsburgs is legendary — is deeply wounded by Alfonso’s way of going about convincing her (I won’t go into detail so as not to spoil the story!) to stop asking questions. She is humiliated and frightened. She determines to learn the truth about Lucrezia’s death partly to strike back at Alfonso for his arrogance and cruelty, and partly to gain information she can hold over his head to prevent him from humiliating her again. I would say she is determined to blackmail him, but the word “blackmail” wasn’t in general use at the time.

You are the first cousin thirteen times removed of Bessie Blount, Henry VIII’s mistress. The fact that you know that and I don’t know my family tree back more than two generations implies certain things to me. So! If I were to survey your life through anthropologic eyes, what other clues would I find that you’d grow up to be a historical novelist? Precisely how does a parent “grow” one, anyway? ;)

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Elizabeth Loupas, Author of THE SECOND DUCHESS – Part I of Interview and Giveaway

I’ll admit to a wee bit of trepidation when I decided to interview Elizabeth Loupas for her debut novel, The Second Duchess, released March 1, 2011 by Penguin/NAL and soon available in Germany, through Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek.  Despite a tag line which makes it sound intriguing and accessible — that it’s The Other Boleyn Girl meets Rebecca — it’s historical fiction. My pointy brain never embraced high school social studies.

Then there are the reviews. The blurb page alone is already more than a page long, beginning with Deanna Raybourn who said: “Utterly mesmerizing, captivating from the first page. Thick with shadowy court intrigues and lush period detail, The Second Duchess is a Renaissance masterpiece come to life.”

Monica E. Spence of the Historical Novel Society gives it her blessing thusly: “Have you ever read a book that you wish you had written? Have you ever read a book that you wish did not end? For me, The Second Duchess is that book.”

I could go on, but let’s finish with Publisher’s Weekly who called it a “winning debut” and said of Elizabeth’s heroine and hero: “…Readers will warm immediately to the clever, intelligent Barbara, while the demanding, sometimes brutal, Alfonso makes an intriguing man of mystery.

Jan: Elizabeth, on what promises to be a triumphant beginning to your career as a historical novelist, welcome to Tartitude! I’m looking forward to plumbing the depths of your mind.

Set the stage for us, will you? What is the premise for The Second Duchess? 

We find ourselves in sixteenth-century Ferrara, a walled river city already ancient, renowned for music and art, architecture and learning, chivalric festivals and royal ambitions. Alfonso II d’Este, the fifth duke of Ferrara, is taking a new wife with enormous pomp and splendor. No one dares accuse him in the mysterious death of his first wife — and his new bride, Barbara of Austria, daughter and sister of Holy Roman Emperors, has vowed she will ask no questions.

But what second wife can ever resist asking questions about the first?

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