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Monday, March 8, 2010

You Just Can't Write This Stuff...

A few years ago I picked up a book in my search for inspiration for my stories. It's called A Treasury of Royal Scandals, written by Michael Farquhar. Now, I'm not usually one for non-fiction reading, but really, this book was hard to put down. It's a collection of true stories of history's most insane and bizarre rulers.

However, there was one story that really stood out to me. One that, no matter how much time passes between readings, I will never forget. It is the story of Juana la Loca, or Joanna the Mad. She was the daughter of the famed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the same king and queen that sent Columbus sailing the ocean blue. But while Ferdinand and Isabella seemed to wield a fair amount of control over their subjects (they oversaw the Spanish Inquisition, after all!), their daughter was another story.

Joanna was obsessed with her husband, Philip, aka, Philip the Handsome. It was an arranged marriage, of course, and, having been brought up in a strict Catholic home (okay, castle), Joanna lost her virginity to her new husband. Apparently, the sex was fantastic, and this is how Joanna became obsessed. Her hubby, however, had no loyalty to the marriage bed, and this started Joanna's deep, dark spiral to madness.

I won't go into too much more detail, but I do have to share my favorite part of Joanna's story, about the night she truly went off the deep end...

"Barefoot, half-dressed, and raving, Joanna ran out of the castle where she was lodged, wailing in agony. Though the November night was freezing, she refused warm clothing and ignored desperate pleas to come back inside. Dressed only in her flimsy nightgown, she stayed out in the cold for thirty-six hours, clinging to the castle gates and hurling obscene insults at anyone who dared approach her."

Can you imagine?And her story doesn't end there. Wait till you hear about when Philip died! Such a sad and tragic story!

I will admit, I've used Joanna as inspiration for a character in my second book, though that character is already dead by the time the story begins. I thought the actual writing of the story might be a bit much for a light Regency romance. Even at that, I toned the story down quite a bit. I had to! I think most people, if they read Joanna's full story in a book of fiction, would say, "That was over the top!" or "That author took it too far!"

What about you? Do you have a favorite true story from history that has inspired a scene or a character in your own writing? Did you have to tone down the story for fear it wouldn't seem believable in a work of fiction?


  1. Great blog, Jerrica! No,I haven't written any characters like that, but I have written scenes based on real events where readers have told me, "that could never happen." Then you have to make that painful decision to either delete, tone it down, or worst of all, explain.

  2. Great story! I've read a bit about her before, but now I'm curious to learn more. What happened when her husband died?

    And I'm very curious about the character in your book . . .

  3. I've read A Treasury of Royal Scandals and know how Joanna died. Yes, totally over the top but all too true! Amazing what history shows us and what people think is actually true.

    I've used aspects of people I know or have read about in my characters, I admit. Sometimes they're too perfect not to!

  4. Ooh, Jerrica, that sounds like a great resource book. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for non-fiction. When I'm doing research for my writing, I have to be careful not to spend so much time reading the research that I find that I don't actually get around to writing. I'm particularly fond of the books Allison Weir has written around many of the kings and queens of England. She also wrote a spectacular biography of Mary Queen of Scots. I think I'll have to look up this Treasury of Royal Scandals. Sounds like something I'd really enjoy. That said, no, I haven't written any characters based around these accounts that I've read. That may change, but as of yet, nothing has struck me as something I would put into a story.

  5. As Mark Twain said, "Truth is stranger than fiction." I enjoy reading some non-fiction as well, because the stories can be facinating and serve as inspiration. I haven't based a character on anyone in history, but I have the inspiration for a plot. However, I'm not sure regency readers will believe it, so I don't know if I will write it or not. I'd probably have lots of explaining to do. :)

  6. Yes. I read a memoir written by the daughter of a Russian Prime Minister killed by terrorists in 1911. He was killed in Kiev. His train was delayed for unknown reasons and she wrote that it was as if God didn't want him to go. That started a whole 'what if' thing in my head. I also read the ads for women in New York and New England to come to Seattle for husbands. I also read the editorials opposing that idea and warning young women of the 'evils' that would await them. Many came and married. I know I have to do something with that.

  7. Gail, I think that's always been my fear with using too much of the real story in my books. Perceived anachronisms will get you every time! LOL!

    Sarah, don't get too excited. LOL! The character is loosely based and doesn't play a huge role, other than to say how the hero ended up with two children to raise :)

    Isabel, I agree. Sometimes, a real life character can't be ignored!

    Catherine, I'll have to check out Alison Weir...thanks for the recommendation!

    Samantha, I'd love to know your idea! But I know what you mean - see my statement to Gail. LOL!

    Molly, very interesting inspirations for plot ideas! I love when an idea sparks the "What if." :)

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

  8. Fasicnating blog. You've got my brain cells churning away. I love anything historical

  9. Glad I could get your brain cells churning, Jean! Wish I could get my own churning! LOL! Thanks for stopping by!

  10. I love true historical characters that were over the top... The one I like the most was Chevalier D'Eon, who acted as a spy for French King Louis XV... D'Eon dressed as a woman most of the time to the point that when he died, the doctor exclaimed, my God, she's a man!

  11. I have seen so many stories coming from experiences of friends that I know nobody would ever believe. My great, great grandfather was the result of an over-zealous king. I've often thought it might be something to start off one of my stories - interesting subject.

  12. Oh, great post!

    I have used Lord Dashwood and his Hell-fire club as inspiration for a character or two. The stories the walls in that club could tell if they could talk!

  13. Truth really is stranger than fiction. I am always inspired by history and incorporate lots of true tales into my stories. (Though as an author, I take full literary license!)

  14. I have a similar book. I think she wa actually in it. Doomed queens in history.

    My favorite part of writing is the research! I love Cleopatra, Ann Boelyn, Queen Elizabeth I, so many strong women. I'm researching oracles now. They are so fascinating!
    Great blog!

  15. Great post! I get a good deal of inspiration from stories of real people from the past. My favorite story is one about King George III. He was in one of his dark spells, and this became obvious to all as he started talking to trees! This story can be read in a very twisted version in my own book.