Hi! Today we’re celebrating the release of Jennifer McGowan’s debut, MAID OF SECRETS — which comes out tomorrow! — as we do with all new releases by the Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks team – by pelting Jenn with questions!
But first, let’s find out more about Jenn’s fabulous book:
Orphan Meg Fellowes makes her living picking pockets—until she steals from the wrong nobleman. Instead of rotting in prison like she expected, she’s whisked away to the court of Queen Elizabeth and pressed into royal service, where she joins four other remarkable girls in the Maids of Honor, the Queen’s secret society of protectors.
Meg’s natural abilities as a spy prove useful in this time of unrest. The Spanish Court is visiting, and with them come devious plots and hidden political motives. As threats to the kingdom begin to mount, Meg can’t deny her growing attraction to one of the dashing Spanish courtiers. But it’s hard to trust her heart in a place where royal formalities and masked balls hide the truth: Not everyone is who they appear to be. With danger lurking around every corner, can she stay alive—and protect the crown?
Note from Jess, who is posting this interview: I loved this book so much I blurbed it! I said: McGowan offers a tantalizing look at the spies, seductions, and secrets of Queen Elizabeth’s court. There are no damsels in distress here; Meg and her fellow Maids of Honor are a clever, winsome quintet!
Now for our questions:
J. Anderson Coats: If you were transported into your book, which scene would you most want to reenact?
Jenn: J, I would absolutely love to re-enact the scene where Meg gets captured by the Queen’s Men. It shows her spunk and fire, and racing around through the twisting streets of London is no mean feat! After that, it would have to be the scene where Rafe and Meg dance for the first time. I’d be curious to see if I got all of the steps of the Trenchmore correct!
Renee Collins: How do you make your story feel current and fresh, in spite it being set hundreds of years in the past?
Jenn: I did worry about this, Renee. I very much had in my mind that for this story to work, I needed to make it accessible to today’s readers. This meant that even though a lot of the language is more formal (in keeping with it being a historical romantic adventure), I tried to keep the pace fast and to have authentic interaction between the spies – who all range in ages between 15 and 18. I don’t think we have changed that much as people in the past 500 years in terms of our emotions and reactions, our desires and fears. So even though my spies have unique challenges consistent with the time period (like all that heavy clothing!), I wanted to show that these girls would be equally resourceful, resilient and ingenious in the halls of today’s high schools. Or that was my goal!
Laura Golden: MAID OF SECRETS is set in Elizabeth times. Have you always been interested in this era? What sparked that interest?
Jenn: Laura, yes!! I have loved Elizabethan England since I first started studying the time period in college, when it became a passion of mine. I have dozens of books on the era, and have watched just as many movies and miniseries on Elizabeth. I think what most intrigued me was how strong Elizabeth was in a time period where women were not generally able to wield a lot of power. She knew exactly what she wanted, and kept focused on her goal. As a result she’s one of the most memorable monarchs in history.
Katherine Longshore: Meg Fellowes is adamant that she wishes never to marry. How did you come to write such an atypical Tudor character? And how do you think her contemporaries would have viewed her if she had made her opinions known?
Jenn: GREAT Question, Katherine!! The opinions of Meg were culled after much reading I’d done on the plight of women at the time. With my twenty-first century sensibilities, I was aghast at how challenging it was to be a woman (particularly a married woman) in Elizabethan England. You had very few rights, and the quality of your husband’s care for you, while an expectation of the community, was largely a matter of whether or not your parents chose well in picking your mate. You were considered your husband’s property, and that was essentially that. I thought of Meg, with a life lived as a street performer and thief under the watchful eye of a doting grandfather, and how she would have a unique perspective on marriage and a woman’s place in “typical” Elizabethan society.
If she had shared her opinions widely, however, Meg would have been met with slack-jawed horror. 😉 Elizabethan England was a dangerous time for a woman alone. Meg, being surrounded by any entire troupe of friends, never felt alone… but her opinions would have likely been much different had she grown up without protection.
Jessica Spotswood: Your main character, Meg, is wonderful – loyal and brave and endlessly resourceful! How are you like Meg? How are you different?
Jenn: Thank you, Jessica! Well, I’m not nearly as resourceful as Meg, but I would have to say we share the same quirky sense of humor. I’m not side-splittingly funny, but I’ve been known to make wry observations that bring a smile to peoples’ faces. How we are different? Meg plunges ahead with a certainty that she’ll figure things out along the way. She is willing to take a chance or a gamble that something will work—and often it does. I tend to be a bit more hesitant… and as the saying goes, he who hesitates is lost. So I applaud her not only for her courage, but for her tendency to “just do it.”
Sharon Biggs Waller: What inspired you to write about spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court?
Jenn: This is such a small thing that turned out to be a big thing in the end, Sharon. During my endless (and happy) hours of research, I ran across a passage written by an Elizabethan-era courtier from the Continent. In a letter home, he commented on the fact that Queen Elizabeth’s advisors were a little perturbed by the fact that the Queen seemed to know things about the Court and the country that they didn’t understand how she’d learned. So it was not a far jump for me to imagine the Queen with her own special set of spies.
And who better to use as spies in such a male-dominated court? Why, the best and brightest of her unmarried Maids of Honor.
Cat Winters: Would you mind sharing one of your favorite MAID OF SECRETS lines with us?
Jenn: Cat, what a wonderful question. J I have to say I’m partial to the last line of the book, but I won’t share that here in case any readers here might want to wait until they read the book. So another section that I think shows a bit of Meg’s personality is this:
Because I was female, I was forbidden to play a true role as a Golden Rose actor before the crowd. Instead, I’d honed my theatre craft in the crowd.
I was a fine and laughing lady, a guileless merchant’s daughter, a scornful fishmonger’s wife. I mimicked those around me easily, be they farmers, freemen or fools. To a one, I smiled, nodded… then picked their pockets.
By all accounts, you could say I stole the show.
Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions! I sincerely appreciate it. For those who might want to win the book for free, please enter my giveaway!