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Tuesday, October 11, 2016


THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE INTERVIEW of my prior post about The Tattooed Queen and The Tattooed Witch trilogy, which I began with my editor, Lorina Stephens, of Five Rivers Publishing. The Tattooed Queen will be released December 1st, 2016.

Lorina (LJS): You deal with the horrors of the slave trade in this novel. What was the reasoning for exploring that dark stain on history?

Susan (SJM): In 1550, slavery in the New World was big business and a horrific fact of life. There is no ‘story’ during this time, that doesn’t include this part of New World history. The slavery was encompassing. Not only were black people from Western Africa captured and imprisoned, but the indigenous tribes were forced to work, only to be wiped out by smallpox, syphilis, or other terrible diseases. Indigent whites who populated the jails of Europe, or those who roamed (gypsies), were also caught, shipped, and forced into servitude. It’s important to remember the sins of the past so we fight them as they occur today, and to thwart them in the future.

LJS: Was there an element of this particular story you found a challenge? Or did the story unfold relatively organically?

SJM: Mostly organically, but there were challenges. I think the biggest one I had to deal with, mainly in The Tattooed Seer and The Tattooed Queen, was plot. I had The Tattooed Witch’s story line mostly decided upon, and I knew some of the highlights I wanted to cover in the second two books. I also knew how the trilogy would arch and end, but as for actually getting to points a, b, c, and d, there was a lot of ‘fill’ I hadn’t worked out. For The Tattooed Seer, the geography and remnant cultures in Spain after the racial cleansing in 1492 offered ideas – Jews in hiding (the Olivares), Moslems appearing to embrace the state faith (the al-Ma’din’s), etc. Both the history and the geography led to some interesting research and helped fill those gaps.

The other challenge was the research, especially for The Tattooed Queen. I’m a prairie girl. When I started The Tattooed Queen, I knew next to nothing about sailing, about historical ships – galleys, naos, and what have you, how they were constructed, manned, how long a trip to the New World took from Spain, where the likely ports of call would be along the way, how they were victualed, where poor women passengers might have to sleep – all that. The same goes for piracy and voodoo. I had to learn these things, and go over a number of aspects several times to make sure I had the details right. (Next time, I’ll keep much better notes!) This meant a great deal of reading in order to prepare, as well as checking and double-checking things as they came up along the way. But that’s what a historical writer does, and I enjoyed doing it. I don’t think after researching and writing The Tattooed Queen, that any attempt at a historical novel will daunt me.

LJS: You’ve based the cultural construct of The Tribe on the Roma people. What is it about that culture that attracted you?

SJM: This trilogy had its earliest beginnings in my own family history. My relatives on my mother’s side used to tell a story about how the family was kicked out of Spain. Supposedly, we were nobility and didn’t get along with the king. I questioned the story which started me on this path – who were the people who were forced out of Spain? Of course, that’s pretty obvious to anyone who has a basic understanding of European history. In 1492, Isabel and Ferdinand ousted the Moors from their last stronghold in Granada, unifying the country under a Catholic monarchy. In that same year, all Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism or to leave. Anyone caught practising the Jewish faith after that was termed a heretic and dealt with by the Church. Moslems were treated a little better, allowed to stay for some time afterwards, but eventually, they were also forced to leave or convert. Even as conversos or moriscos (converted Jews or Moslems), these groups were looked upon with suspicion. As for the gypsies, they were disparaged because they roamed. The first wave is mentioned to have appeared in Barcelona in 1492 - not the best year for them to arrive. It’s more than likely my family were Jews forced to convert, because we were also – according to the family mythos – well off. (If you were accused of heresy, the Church could confiscate your property without recourse. Many people chose to leave before such charges arose.) We eventually left Spain for Eastern Europe, where we settled in Austria, near the Ukrainian border. One of my relatives, Ivan Franko (Franco, in Spanish, which happens to be a converso surname), became a poet-laureate of the Ukraine. As well as his books, he wrote many supportive essays about the Roma people – a strange thing for him to do considering how maligned they were. It’s hard to say what my family’s original roots actually were. I’ve always felt an affinity for both Jewish and gypsy (Roma in eastern Europe/Caló in southern Spain - Andalucía) cultures.

LJS: What’s next for Susan MacGregor?

SJM: A new book, potentially a brand new series. I’m already doing the research and getting excited about it. I don’t want to say too much because I believe in jinxes, having jinxed myself before with talking about projects prematurely. But I will say this. It will likely be a historical fantasy set in England around 1910. In tone, it will be much lighter than the trilogy. I’m hoping it’ll be a lot of fun. We’ll see. It may be that my dark side will win out and the book won’t be the amusing jaunt I've planned after all.

Either way, it’s bound to be a challenge. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

- Susan.


  1. Anonymous9:48 AM

    You are already planning a new series? Does your inspiration come in dreams? Does your brain ever turn off? For what it is worth, the more dark side the better.
    Cousin J

  2. Hi, J. Yes, a new series, and yes, the inspiration for this 'crystallised' in a dream. I'd been doing some research, following what was drawing me, and woke up one morning with the name of an imaginary English village in my head. Spent the rest of the morning in the flow and writing notes about character and plot. Pretty happy about that, as it's the first time it's ever happened to me. :-) As for my brain turning off, it might get distracted, but never completely shuts down. :-) Thanks for writing! I'd like to talk further - can you find me on FB? Hope all is well with you! Love, S.