Interview: Laurel Corona

by Yon Walls

 

Map Maker's Daughter

Hi Laurel,

I’m so glad I get the chance to talk to you about your book, The Mapmaker’s Daughter. I was so glad to have discovered your book as I was looking to add some new titles to my summer reading list. Actually, for some reason…probably because of my love of travel in the summer, I seek out historical fiction that often captures place – some place I’ve never traveled too, or specifically experienced within a specific time in history. It’s exciting for me as a reader and romantic.

Can you tell us about your book… what’s it’s about?

Thanks for inviting me!  The Mapmaker’s Daughter is about the last generations of Jews in Spain before their expulsion by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.  It’s told from the point of view of the 66- year-old matriarch of a prominent Jewish family, and  it traces her life through this tumultuous era, focusing on the world of women.

How did you find your topic?

From the time I started writing historical fiction, about ten years ago now, I always knew I wanted to write this book.  I waited until now because I would have one chance to tell this story, and I wanted to be as good a novelist as I could before I tried.  It really is the book of my heart.

Not many people know about the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, or if they do, they know little more than that it happened.  I wanted to honor the Jewish culture of Iberia for its intellectual, artistic, scientific, and philosophical achievements, and I wanted to honor some of those who had led it through those difficult times.  I wanted to tell the story of the horrors of the Inquisition and the persecutions of the Jews not for the gruesomeness of it, but to show how a great people endured and even managed to thrive, largely, I believe, through the strength of women to hold communities together. 

Is there a character in your book that seems closer to you…. was easier to write because you know parts of the character more personally?

All my female characters carry a little of me in them, and of course my protagonist, Amalia, is the closest to me because writing in someone’s voice is inherently very intimate.  In first person narrative the author is both subordinated to another’s voice, and self-revelatory at the same time.  Amalia’s journey parallels my own in some respects, as she chooses to come out from hiding and claim her Jewish identity, just as I have done. 

For me the scenes that are the most pleasurable to write are ones where women interact with the kind of easy intimacy that characterizes us when are among ourselves, and the hardest ones emotionally are when my protagonists are outside that cocoon of safety interacting in the larger, often hostile world.

Tell us a little about your writer’ process… what’s it like to write a novel for you?

Well, historical fiction has the added dimension of immense research.  It’s important to understand the culture and history I am writing about, to put together a plausible story that is consistent with the facts.  A criticism the entire genre gets is that it is difficult to know what is true and what is invented, but all the historical novelists I know take very seriously the ethical obligation not to misinform the reader. 

It takes months of research to figure out how to move a fictional protagonist through a thicket of history and culture, but in doing that, a plot emerges,  as do the real and invented characters who will be needed to tell the story.  I have charts and timelines to help me keep track of real and invented events and people, but once I have that groundwork laid, I just start to write.  The first draft is for getting to know the characters, which I do largely through dialogue and interior monologue.  I save the details for subsequent drafts, then I keep layering and layering, draft after countless draft, until I just can’t think of anything more I can do.  Then it is ready to share with other eyes, after which I revise again until it is really finished.

What kind of books do you like and do they usually inspire your writing process?

I am an audiobook fanatic.  I don’t actually read that much, especially when I am writing, because my eyes and brain are too tired of that kind of activity.  Audiobooks (almost all novels of various genres) get me out of the house to exercise or take care of the errands that get pushed aside when the creative juices are flowing.  

What do you believe is the core theme of your book?

The core themes of all my books are really two:  that our choices define who we are as individuals, and that women’s stories, though often quiet and anonymous, have shaped more of the world than we will ever know.

Do you think this is a good time for new women writers in light of the Indie and Traditional Publishing Industries?

I am pleased to see other possibilities besides the “get an agent who gets you a publisher” model, but I still think new novelists without strong means to market their works are far better off trying the traditional route first, then exploring the other alternatives only if that isn’t working for them.

What kind of books would you like to read more of…. fiction books that is?

Though baby boomer women like myself enjoy a wide variety of books, there is a dearth of fiction about us.  I’d like to see more books with protagonists who are over fifty and still enjoying rich lives, with the dilemmas tied to things that are real to us–aging, grown children, retirement, changing marital status and other relationships, aging parents, deaths of friends, etc..

Are you working on a new project—a new book? If so, tell can you us about it.

I recently retired from my position as a Professor of Humanities at San Diego City College, and I decided that it was too simplistic to say “gee, now I will have a lot more time to write.”  I felt burdened by that, when I really wanted to feel free to reinvent myself.  I decided to retire from writing also, at least for now, while I see what this new stage of life feels like and what I want to do.  I imagine I will eventually return to writing fiction, but who knows in what genre.  I will have to wait and see.

Yon Walls

SpicyLetter,

Senior Editor, 2014

—–

Laurel Corona, Author of Until Our Last Breath and The Four Seasons

Laurel Corona Author Bio:

Laurel Corona is the author of 5 novels. She’s been an avid reader since the start of elementary school and as a young student wrote a weekly column about the lives of her dolls called, Aunt Elsie’s Page in the Oakland Tribune. She has taught as a full-time English and Humanities Professor at San Diego City College and has won numerous awards for her books. She loves to learn, plays tennis, is a novice golfer and intrepid traveler.

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