Joining me today is author, Carol Anne Douglas, and she’s talking to me about her Arthurian legend that has a somewhat different twist. Thank you, Carol Anne, for taking the time to chat to me. Please sit down, get comfortable and let’s begin.
About Carol Anne Douglas
Carol Anne Douglas lives in books, except when she is in the woods or by the river. She worked for many years as a magazine editor and now is a full-time writer. She has also taught Women’s Studies at George Washington University. She lives in Washington, DC.
What’s the name of the book you’re here to talk about?
Lancelot: Her Story
Tell us a bit about your book
A young girl sees a man rape and murder her mother. She grabs a stick and puts out his eye. Her father raises her as a boy so she will be safe from men’s attacks. She drills and drills until she becomes a great fighter – Lancelot. She wants to save women, and she does.
Lancelot hears about King Arthur, a just king across the sea, and journeys to work in his service. She vows to serve him, but she fears that Arthur and his men will discover that she is a woman and send her away. Lancelot is shocked that she is greatly attracted to the king’s wife, Guinevere.
Guinevere is a strong woman who would have preferred to be a queen in her own right, not through marriage.
Saxons attack Arthur’s kingdom, and Lancelot finds out that fighting a war is far different from saving women in single combat. The bloody combat devastates her.
Give us an insight into your main character. What makes them unique?
Lancelot’s parents were deeply religious Christians, and she became religious also. She learned at an early age to take life seriously. She believed that life offered nothing to her but the choice to be pious and fight evil. She was lonely.
But she always loved nature. She thinks that moss is lovelier than marble.
When she comes to Camelot, she falls in love with Queen Guinevere. The knowledge that she loves a woman stuns Lancelot. She believes that Guinevere would be disgusted if she knew.
Fighting in a war makes Lancelot miserable. She hates it, but she does it well. Her only comfort is being able to save the lives of other British soldiers.
Lancelot will always be serious, but she does learn to jest. And to be happy when she finds reciprocal love. But she will always feel guilty for wrongs she has done. She wants above all to do the right thing. However, she does also like the praise she gets for being such a skilled warrior. She is proud of her reputation for being good and doesn’t want to lose it.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Working for 35 years on the editorial staff of the feminist periodical off our backs.
Have you always liked to write?
Yes, I’ve wanted to write books ever since I was old enough to read them. I’ve always enjoyed writing.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read. Read. And read.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I’d like to be a forest ranger or other naturalist.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
I sometimes read them. I don’t respond. I brood about the bad ones.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
What are you working on now?
I’ve completed a second volume about Lancelot, Lancelot and Guinevere.
Also, I’ve been working on a young adult fantasy in which the main character is a high school acting student who has magical powers. She winds up in Shakespeare’s world and finds both delight and danger there.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
Lancelot has descended into madness and does not recognize Gawaine, her best friend.
The next morning, Lancelot saw the man who pretended to be Gawaine enter the room again.
“How are you today, Lance?” he asked.
“You mock me!” she cried, not moving from her chair. She tried to hold back tears. “You call me Lance as if you were Gawaine, and even try to make your voice sound like his. But your mimicry is flawed. I can tell that the voice is not the same.”
“Can you?” he asked. This time his voice shook, quite unlike Gawaine’s.
But perhaps this man was not an enemy, even if he belonged to the enchanted world. His voice sounded kind, if not familiar. She would risk entreating him. “Do you know where Gawaine is? Do you ever see him?”
The man choked. “Yes, I must say that I do.”
“I don’t know how many years have gone by since I have been under this spell,” Lancelot said. “Please ask him not to forget me, even if I never see him again.”
The red-bearded man–at least, he seemed to be red-bearded–sucked in his breath. “Gawaine could never forget Lancelot,” he said, making the words sound like a promise. “Gawaine cares more about Lancelot than about anyone else in the world.”
“False!” Lancelot cried at this unconvincing double. “Gawaine cares more about his mother than about anyone else. You don’t even know him.”
The man smiled slightly, not unlike Gawaine, though Gawaine’s smile was wider. “Why, when a man says he cares more about someone than about anyone else in the world, his mother is generally excepted. That’s understood.”
“You are too much like Gawaine, yet not enough.” She groaned, trying not to look at him and be fooled.
“Why, what do you think of Gawaine?” the stranger asked.
“He is the best of friends–as you must know if you’ve been sent to perplex me,” Lancelot said, unable to keep from looking at the seemingly well-known face. The eyes were not merry like Gawaine’s. “But it disgusts me that he has used and hurt so many women.”
“Gods!” the man exclaimed, just as if he were Gawaine himself.
“Stop imitating him! I can bear it no longer!” Lancelot exclaimed, turning away.
“Lance, you know I’m Gawaine. You’d never say such a thing about Gawaine to anyone else.”
She covered her face with her hands. “I never criticize Gawaine to other people. But I don’t know whether you’re Gawaine. You’re like him, and yet not. And I can’t bear the uncertainty. Please, go away.”
“If you wish. I pray that the spell cast on you will end.” He turned to leave.
“Wait.” She looked up. “There are two King Arthurs, one who is a great and generous leader and another who conjures up false grails. There are two Guineveres, one who loves me and one who is married to Arthur and who is above all the queen. And there are two Gawaines, the man he is with me and the man he is with most women. Which is true?”
His face, generally unwrinkled, furrowed with added years of age. “The true Gawaine is the man he is with you. With many women, he has often been foolish and arrogant.”
That seemed a good answer, but not enough to convince her. “Am I truly Lancelot?” she asked him.
The seemingly red-bearded man choked. “Yes, you are Lancelot. Never doubt that.”
She didn’t think he would lie about that. “Yes, I am Lancelot,” she said. “But how can I be Lancelot if I am locked in a room?”
“Do you want me to take you out of the room? I will, gladly.”
Lancelot looked at the door and wondered what was on the other side. “No, I am under a spell. I cannot leave this room.”
“As you wish,” he said, but he sighed.
How has your environment or upbringing impacted your writing?
I was raised Catholic and went to a private convent school for grade school and high school. I like to say that that experience gave me a feeling for the Medieval World.
I have been involved in the feminist movement for most of my adult life. That helped me find my voice as a writer. I was on the editorial staff of the feminist periodical off our backs for 35 years and wrote more than 200 book reviews and many other essays, and had the opportunity to interview many feminist writers and activists, including women from France, Germany, India, and Costa Rica.
What’s something you’re really good at that few people know about?
Playing hide and seek.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
I’ve long felt compelled to write about the Arthurian legends, and they are categorized as fantasy, so that is why I chose fantasy. I didn’t expect to write any more fantasy, but I love Shakespeare, and the story of a girl who goes to Shakespeare’s world came into my head, and I needed to write it.
It’s difficult for me to write in the present day without writing about my own life, which I don’t want to do. I think it’s unfair to expose the people I know to the world that way. In fantasy, it’s much easier to make up characters.
I also write essays and plays. I’ve written a feature-length play about actors playing in a version of Hamlet, but it’s not a fantasy.
What would the main character in your book have to say about you?
Lancelot would say:
It astonishes me that she can wear pants though everyone knows she’s a woman. But she’s too clumsy to be a good sword fighter.
She has a strange box that captures images of deer and foxes. I wish I could have one.
I don’t understand why she enjoys reading so much, but Guinevere does also.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
I especially enjoy writing about characters who jest, such as Gawaine, and Drian, a harper who is a woman disguised as a man.
When you’re writing, do you listen to music or do you need silence?
I prefer silence.
Who are your favourite authors, and why?
There are many. Of course Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night. Brilliant beyond description. I love Dostoyevsky, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf. Dostoyevsky because he illuminated parts of the human soul or character that other writers hadn’t. Jane Austen because she used her wit so effectively. Her books are a refuge in difficult times. Eliot, Bronte, and Woolf because they so beautifully describe women’s condition. Orlando is my favorite Woolf novel and one of my favorite novels ever because it shows the world from a man’s perspective and then the perspective of a man becoming a woman. Its way of skipping through the centuries fascinates me.
Contemporary writers I particularly enjoy are Edward P. Jones, who has written two brilliant short story collections about African-American life in the District of Columbia (Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children) and The Known World, a novel about a black freedman who owns slaves. Jones writes beautifully and has deep compassion for all his characters. I think he’s as fine a writer as Ralph Ellison, whose book The Invisible Man is like Dostoyevsky updated, showing the world from an African-American man’s eyes. Another author who writes beautifully is Marilyn Robinson, especially Housekeeping, in which she shows the disconnect between love and housekeeping and asks the question: What is nurturing?
Kamila Shamsie, a Pakistani writer, has written books full of depth and brilliance. She tackles ambitious subjects. I think her novel Broken Verses, which is about the Pakistani government’s suppression of progressive intellectuals, is one of the best novels I’ve read. She is able to convincingly depict a poet who really sounds like a poet, which I think few prose authors can do. Her novel Burnt Shadows tackles the subject of the U.S. atomic bomb attacks, which few authors do. It is about a Japanese woman who survived the bombing of Nagasaki and comes to India. Then India undergoes partition, the split into two countries. The book is full of penetrating studies of Indian, Pakistani, American, and English characters as well as the Japanese woman.
There are so many other authors whose books take me to worlds I haven’t experienced and illuminated those worlds for me. Toni Morrison (especially Beloved), Linda Hogan, and Chimamanda Adichie are high on that list. Viet Thahn Ngyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a fascinating story of a Vietnamese man who belongs to the Viet Cong but is a spy infiltrating the Saigon government.
I enjoy Ann Patchett’s novels, particularly Bel Canto, and Barbara Kingsolver’s, especially The Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna. They tackle significant political subjects and do with well-developed characters.
Jeanette Winterson’s novel Oranges Are the Only Fruit and her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, the unvarnished version of the same story of her upbringing by a fundamentalist mother who has her exorcised, are brilliantly written: Her wit in writing about such painful subjects is amazing. Emma Donoghue ‘s Room is book that makes a painful subject bearable because the captured mother so movingly fosters her son’s development.
Among Arthurian writers, of course I like Malory, T.H. White, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. I also very much enjoyed Sharan Newman’s novels about Guinevere, Gillian Bradshaw’s books, and the novels of Faye Sampson, a British writer that are unfortunately hard to find. All are atmospheric with emphasis on character development as well as plot. I don’t like books that glorify blood and gore or that have an extremely masculinist point of view.
I don’t read many other fantasy-sci/fi books. My favorite are Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. Suzy McKee Charnas’s Motherlines is the dystopia I found the most engrossing. I also liked Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow for its unusual twist of having the Vatican back exploration of other planets.
I love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. I found them totally absorbing. I enjoy their whimsy as well as their story. None of the other middle grade-YA novels I’ve read have that deft touch of whimsy. But I do find Suzanne’s Hunger Games books compelling: She found a way to painlessly teach young people about exploitation.
I’ve also been deeply influenced by writers of feminist theory like Adrienne Rich, Mary Daly, Audre Lorde, and Marilyn Frye. They helped me find my place in the world.
I could go on forever about the books I enjoy. For the past year, I’ve been reading books written by and about women from the Islamic world, such as novelists Elif Shafak (Turkish) and Nadia Hashimi (Afghan-American) so I can understand it better. I recommend Shafak’s Honor Killing and Hafisi’s When the Moon Is Low, which is about Afghan refugees.
What’s the best thing about being an indie author?
Knowing my books won’t be remaindered.
Available formats: ebook and paperback