I posted yesterday on the first day of The Raucous Royals book blog tour about how much we loved this book at our house—especially my 11-year-old who isn't a big history buff. Today I am excited to be able to present an interview with Carlyn Beccia, author and illustrator of this wonderful book. Isn't she adorable? I'm quite sure I'd love to have coffee with her; perhaps she'll be doing a book-signing out my way sometime! And then maybe we could go get a pigeon-blood facial together...
Read on to learn a bit more about Ms. Beccia and The Raucous Royals:
Carlyn Beccia: I have a daughter too. She is now 1 years old and is already exhibiting her royal stature in our household. I went into labor with her on November 16th…I had JUST finished the book. My doctor thought I was a bit nutty when I told her that the baby had to wait until November 17th to be born because that was the day that Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England. So you could say that I get a little too excited about the royals sometimes.
SWR: Could you tell us a little about what inspired you to write this book?
CB: Sure. I hated history as a kid. I know everyone says that but I REALLY hated history. I once got my 5th grade history teacher so mad that she told me, “I was going to hell in a handbasket.” I asked her – “what is a handbasket? And why would someone go to hell in one?” I was honestly curious.
She sent me to the principal for being fresh.
It was not until after college that I realized handbaskets collected the heads of the guillotined royals during the French Revolution. I thought…if only my teacher had told me this juicy tidbit of history, instead of cursing me out, then she might have got me to listen to her lecture on the French Revolution. Instead, all I remembered were the rumors: Marie Antoinette said let them eat cake. Napoleon was short. Anne Boleyn had six fingers. Catherine the Great had a thing for horses. I completely missed the real people behind the rumors. All those court intrigues, love scandals, murders and follies committed – those are the stories that I wanted to tell in The Raucous Royals. Too many text books leave the juicy details out. Readers need to learn about the blood-stained handbaskets too. I believe that history’s less heroic moments can be taught in a responsible way.
SWR: You are quoted as saying on the book jacket that one "discovery led to another rumor, and then another." Were there other rumors you discovered along the way that you did not include in this book?
CB: Yes, so many royals did not make the cut. I continue to debunk rumors and myth on the blog.
I am featuring Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, this month. Catherine was believed to have a talent for poisoning people. It was rumored that she had a cabinet full of poisoned rouge, poisoned apples and poisoned gloves that hurried many enemies to a painful death. It is true that Catherine had some strange things in her cabinet. She was big advocate of using pigeon blood to improve her complexion and she kept a vile of goat’s blood and the metals from her alchemy charts handy, but she didn’t have any poisons.
She also hung out with some dubious soothsayers, seers and astrologers. She was friends with Nostradamus whose quatrains supposedly predicted the death of her husband, Henri II. She also employed the Ruggieri Brothers who were known for their expertise in the Black Arts.
In one legend, Cosimo de Ruggieri brought Catherine before an enchanted mirror in a magic chamber of the Chateau of Chaumont. He told Catherine that the number of times her sons’ faces circled the mirror would foretell the length of their rule. Her oldest son, Francis II, circled the mirror one time. Next, Charles IX’s face appeared and his face circled 14 times. He was followed by Catherine’s favorite son, Henri III, whose face circled 15 turns. But then Catherine’s sons disappeared from the mirror and Henri Prince of Navarre suddenly appeared. He was son of Antoine de Bourbon (a Bourbon prince and of a different family). His face circled the mirror 22 times. All of this came true. The Valois line (Catherine’s family) died out with Henri III and they each reigned for the number of times predicted in the magic mirror.
This tale makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up! Who couldn’t resist repeating it? Forget Snow White. Meet the real evil step-mother… We can imagine how these stories of Catherine as a sorceress earned her the reputation as the “The Black Queen.” We have to remember that predicting a king’s death was treason in the 16th century.
SWR: I think the debunking that most surprised me was that Louis XIV really did bathe regularly! I remember reading a history book to my children just two years ago that he only bathed a few times in his life! Why do we get so mixed up? Why do these myths continue, in spite of evidence to the contrary? Do we as humans just thrive on exaggeration and aberration?
CB: That’s a really good point. I wanted this rumor to be true! It certainly makes for a better story. I think it is human nature to only repeat the shocking stuff.
SWR: Which rumor that turned out to be false surprised you the most?
CB: I was convinced that Richard III killed his nephews and no one was going to tell me any differently. He was guilty and that was it. But as I dug deeper and deeper, I found there was simply not enough evidence to convict him. Readers will have to weigh the evidence and come to their own conclusions, but I personally think he was innocent.
SWR: How did you do your research for the book? How long did it take you to write the book?
CB: I started researching The Raucous Royals in 2005. It took about 2 1⁄2 years to research, write and illustrate.
SWR: You say on page 14 that "a rumor usually starts small and grows." I found it very appropriate for this age group (or for any age group, really!) to see how damaging to a person's reputation that a bit of exaggeration can be. Did you intend for your book, in any way, to be a cautionary tale?
CB: Yes, but I hate heavy-handed lessons. I do hope that the message is subtle. Rumors obviously spread much more quickly today. And I see students relying way too much on the Internet to do their research. That’s why I made sure to include some tips on how to research a rumor in the back of the book.
SWR: My daughter and I were wondering if you have thought about writing a similar book about United States presidents and/or leaders. Have you come across any good fodder for such a book?
CB: I have thought about it. There are certainly tons of examples of Presidents behaving less than presidential, but you won’t see me writing a book pointing out Lincoln’s flaws. There is something about presidential follies and scandals that does not sit well with me…especially in our celebrity focused culture. We need our heroes. We already don’t have enough of them. I am the type of person that gets teary eyes when I hear the National anthem! My dad was a big army guy and he really instilled a sense of pride in all things American. I know that is grossly hypocritical to say it is ok to poke fun at royals, and not our presidents, but I guess I am a typical conceited American in that respect. So although I would love to see that kind of book out there and would endorse it 100%, I am not the right person to write it. My writing style is too sarcastic for the subject to come off in a respectful manner.
What I would like to do is take the supposed worst presidents in history and give them a positive make-over. I am reading a fascinating book right now, called An American Lion about Andrew Jackson. I always had a low opinion of Jackson due to how he dealt with the Cherokees. But again, the truth is more complicated.
SWR: How much time do you spend daily working on writing projects? What can we look forward to next?
CB: I spend more time researching then writing. The writing is actually pretty quick.
My next book is called, I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat (title pending) and will be released in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin. The book features the most bizarre and grossest cures doctors have used throughout history - leeches, maggots, ground up mummies, unicorn horns and occasional frog slime. I am presently practicing painting blood stains on aged paper. Fun stuff!
I appreciated Carlyn's great interview, and I can hardly wait to read her next book! I can already say for sure that my youngest son will devour it!
Stay tuned tomorrow for a final wrap-up of The Raucous Royals, and check out more interviews at other stops on
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