I am over the top happy to announce that I am interviewing THE award winning Laurel A Rockefeller. I have so many fascinating things to share with you. Grab a beverage and a snack, this interview is full of great stuff.
His Red Eminence by Laurel won the Godiva Book Award for 2019, and more than one book has been picked for Book Of The Month at The Naked Reviewers.
I absolutely love her Women of History Series, and reviewing books over at The Naked Reviewers gives me the opportunity to read Laurel’s books for free when she submits them for reviews. She hasn’t let me down yet. Narrative Historical Fiction is her thing, and her books are great material as study aids for homeschooling or just for fun. Laurel has a wonderful talent for making Social Studies fun to learn.
At the end of the interview, I will share links to the reviews I’ve done on Laurel A Rockefeller’s work over on The Naked Reviewers. Then I will share links to her catalog and following up with links to her activity and textbooks.
Born, raised, and educated in Lincoln, Nebraska USA Laurel A. Rockefeller is an author of over twenty books published and self-published since August 2012 and in languages ranging from Welsh to Spanish to Chinese and everything in between. A dedicated scholar and biographical historian, Ms. Rockefeller is passionate about education and improving history literacy worldwide. With her lyrical writing style, Laurel’s books are as beautiful to read as they are informative. In her spare time, Laurel enjoys spending time with her cockatiels, travelling to historic places in both the United States and the United Kingdom, and watching classic motion pictures and classic television series. Favourites: Star Trek, Doctor Who, original Battlestar Galactica, and Babylon 5. Winner of the “Godiva Book Award” for 2019, Laurel is a proud supporter of Foster Parrots Ltd., The Arbor Day Foundation, and Health in Harmony.
Laurel is always publishing new books. Please stalk her social media for new releases and information with good pictures of her birds. Facebook, Twitter, Website, Amazon, Youtube, Pinterest, and Soundcloud.
Please allow me to introduce, Laurel A Rockefeller…
Me: It’s so great you stopped by to share a bit of yourself with us! Let’s get right to the questions. How long on average does it take you to write a narrative history book?
Laurel: That varies considerably. I wrote “Boudicca” in about three weeks. I wrote “His Red Eminence” in just under 2 months (despite Eminence being over 400 pages and my longest book to date). Sometimes it’s a matter of focus –like my obsession with my cardinal in 2019. Sometimes it’s about inspiration. Most of the time it is about how long the research takes, how well I already know from formal education the specific time and places involved, and how long it takes for me to reconstruct each historical person’s personality from available data. I was pre-counseling in university –both psychology and history majors—which gives me the skills to rebuild personalities pretty accurately and discern motivations for actions.
Lately it’s taken me an average of eight to sixteen months to write a biography. I expect the next two books, both of them about women religious leaders from Germany/Holy Roman Empire, to take at least a year on each, simply because my formal education on medieval Germany was thin at best in favor of England, France, and the United States.
Me: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in narrative history writing as far as content?
Laurel: Women are grossly underrepresented in not only formal education but also in both primary and secondary history sources. Nearly everything we’ve been taught has focused on men, especially rich straight men of noble birth from England. That makes it much harder to find reliable data about, especially as data thins by moving backward in time. Most of the source material that does exist is heavily sexist against women, especially my subjects because I pick women who tend to go against the status quo in the first place.
Fortunately, my university required us to take “the historian’s craft” to graduate with a major in history. The course focused on how to sort out source biases and find the truth that perhaps the men writing at the time about specific women were unwilling to say directly about them. I am so very thankful for my teachers who helped me learn how to spot bias and how to deal with it. I think that refined training has greatly enhanced the quality of my work and made me a very reliable source of information about the people explored in my books.
Me: Your detail to the history is superb. You have a great way of putting me in the era. When did you decide to become a narrative history/biography writer?
Laurel: March 2014. That is when I casually asked people to name five or ten women from across history who made a difference in our world. Women’s History Month was just starting up and I was curious which women most people thought were the most important historically.
The response of essentially “I don’t know of any women from history” shocked and infuriated me. Yeah, I get that not everyone is the sort of history geek I’ve always been (along with my love of physics and astronomy), but to not know the names of even FIVE was simply too much. It upset me that people didn’t know even the basics for women like they know for men. No “1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” sort of memes in their heads where the subject was a woman, not even the most infamous women.
Rather than staying angry, I decided to do something about it. I thought about my top ten list – which included Catherine de Valois because “Henry V” was still at that time my favourite play by William Shakespeare. I don’t know why I picked Boudicca, to be honest, but she instinctively just came to me as the first one to research and write about. Roughly three weeks later and drawing upon both Tacitus and the wealth of archaeological data that seemed to come into my email box via different science-focused newsletters I received at the time, “Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” was finished and published –though without appendices I added later when I brought the book into Welsh.
Soon after I decided to explore the idea of putting my books to audio format and luckily found Richard Mann only a day or two after he first joined ACX to narrate books. It was a match made in heaven and I’m pleased to say that as of April, 2020 we have published four Legendary Women of World History biographies to Audible together and with a contract for a fifth for 2021.
Little did I guess that both decisions—first to write Boudicca and second to put Boudicca to Audible—would transform my career. Even as my “Peers of Beinan” science fiction series languished in obscurity, Boudicca and then Catherine de Valois (published that summer) were selling quite well. It was a clear sign that it was time to switch from social science fiction and become a biographical historian, a move that has created ten Legendary Women of World History biographies along with Godiva award-winner “His Red Eminence.”
Me: How interesting. What are you currently working on and what is it about?
Laurel: I have two biographies I will be starting on this summer, both German history and both about religious women. Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179) was a prioress, then abbess famous for her mystical visions, her medical expertise, and her scientific research in a time when pursuit of all of these put one in mortal danger for heresy. Katharina von Bora (1499 – 1152) was the nun who married Martin Luther in June, 1525, becoming the first lady of the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Both women fascinate me for being ahead of their times and risking much in pursuit of both secular and religious truths. They were trail blazing pioneers whose stories deserve to be told. I intend to discover their stories and teach them to you.
Me: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
Laurel: The Timelines for my books are, by their very nature, a form of outline. As I research, I collect the facts that become the skeleton of the narrative and write them into the timeline. I do this because firstly I have no better memory for dates and historical facts than my readers (these can always be looked up) and secondly, each timeline helps me keep the chronology straight in my head.
That established, I’m also very organic in terms of how I research. I will read something, find a noteworthy detail, and then end up looking up that detail—either to fact check the detail or to learn more about it. In looking for the answers to questions I usually find myself asking even more questions. Hence the research is very organic. Narrative history is perhaps a very odd fusion all around between traditional, academic history we all love or love to hate in school and historical fiction where authors have more liberty to run fast and loose with the facts in the interest of storytelling. Therefore I’m really both orderly and chaotic at the same time, structured and inspirational. It may be an odd way to work, yet it would seem it works very effectively for me.
Me: I find with writing historical romance that my story develops around the research. It’s become my favorite part of writing. Let me ask, how do you choose the next biography subject?
Laurel: I usually discover someone interesting I want to cover in a biography by researching and writing the current one. Usually a topic of interest comes up as I work that I find I want to explore in greater detail. That is perhaps why you find overlaps in the books as I will refer to other ladies (previously explored and future subjects) along the way. Boudicca in particular seems to get quite a few mentions in later books—not only because she is the second most ancient subject (after Cleopatra VII) in the series to date, but also because she ruled over a Brythonic nation, it is natural for English women and men to mention her story.
Me: Where do you see publishing going in the future?
Laurel: I think paperbacks are going to continue to make a strong comeback, especially as they are more disaster resilient; you don’t need electricity or an internet connection to enjoy them. Digital format will continue to remain strong for traveling as clearly it’s easier to take 10 eBooks with you in a carryon bag than it is 10 paperbacks. But it really depends on the person and depends on the book. I do see traditional publishing fading in favor of self-publishing. Print-on-demand has really made traditional publishing obsolete. We no longer need to print 10,000 copies at a time. We no longer need huge warehouses to store and distribute books. Technology has equalized independent authors and big publishing houses, taking away all the practical advantages of the old publishing house system.
Me: For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hardback books?
Laurel: For my own reading for fun, I prefer paperback books so I can read those just before bed, after I’ve turned off all my devices. When I’m reading for my research, I prefer digital content that I can easily copy/paste into my appendices or into a sort of scratch paper space in my book for information I need to reference immediately. These pasted over paragraphs from sources (for example, I might find three paragraphs detailing the contents of a treaty) help me both remember information and organize it so I can summarize and present properly in the dramatized scenes.
Me: Where do you see yourself in 10 years regarding published works?
Laurel: In ten years I hope to be either finished with the Legendary Women of World History Series (my plan is for about 40 to 50 books before I call it final) or nearly finished with the series. As much as I love this work, I have dozens of other creative projects I would like to tackle and complete before I die. For example, I would like to write or write for as part of a team a hit television series. My university training as a writer is actually in screenwriting and writing for live theatre. I would really love to return to that after I finish these biographies. I’m hoping 10 years is enough time to accomplish that.
For the most part, I prefer self-publishing and I don’t see myself accepting a contract from a Big 5 publisher in terms of writing my biographies. Given the right offer I definitely am open to writing content for the BBC in ten years and I can see myself writing or being involved with BBC or ITV projects. It rather depends on what develops.
Me: You can do it all, I believe that. Do you think that giving books away free works and why?
Laurel: As much as I hate to say it, giving away books for free sounds great and people like you for it, but in terms of a marketing strategy that generates revenue, it doesn’t work. Despite what we’ve been told, in my experience giving away a book (such as the first book in a series) doesn’t translate to people purchasing the next book or other books in the series. So many authors are using this strategy that a sort of “why purchase it” culture has emerged. Nor does really any sort of promotional give away usually generate income.
For example, in the spring of 2019 I gave a DVD boxed set of “The Musketeers” (the series that inspired me to write “His Red Eminence”) as part of a month long blog tour promoting “His Red Eminence.” In the three months following the blog tour and all my new-release giveaways, I did not see an increase of book sales for Eminence. Instead what worked was sending out my tweets telling people interesting facts they learn when they read “Eminence.” Instead of generating income, the giveaways (books or other promotional items) were simply a component to the overall advertising cost of the blog tour.
Me: Very interesting statistics. Thank you for sharing this information. Do you read your reviews?
Laurel: Yes, always. In the better reviews there is constructive information I use to make each book better. For example, on one audio review of “Empress Wu Zetian” the reviewer remarked that a particular detail was not particularly clear –something readily remedied by creating a pdf supplement for the audio book with the appendices that, for practical reasons, are not recorded as part of my audio books. That made a huge difference, especially as I personally sent the reviewer (as lass on an audio book group on Facebook) the pdf for the book. But if not for the criticism in the review, I wouldn’t have thought of making a supplement for that specific book. Pdf supplements for audio books are simply that new of a feature.
Me: What is your best marketing tip?
Laurel: I like to refer authors to Social Jukebox. It’s a twitter scheduling service that costs most authors about $200 per year. With social jukebox you create organized groups of tweets (called jukeboxes) which are then randomly sent out in accordance with twitter rules and best marketing practices. It saves me thousands of hours per year. I create a tweet ONCE and then let the application handle the sending. If you want to market on twitter, it’s the best tool around.
4. Great advice! Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? What was it about?
Laurel: The first novel I ever wrote was Christian fan fiction for ThunderCats. I wrote about seven novels as a teen growing up in the 1980s. All fan fiction. I even built a machine I designed for the ThunderCats in my books out of clay in my high school pottery class. In hindsight, I wish I had taken that with me when I went to university and when I moved out east. I’m certain it’s now broken in a hundred pieces in a landfill a few miles from the house I lived in at the time. One of those great regrets, especially as it was a decent piece of clay sculpture.
Me: Aww, how sad. How about a couple of personal questions? Which famous person (or author), living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Laurel: Being a historian I’m always researching and learning about real people. For a living person, I would love to meet Peter Capaldi (to whom His Red Eminence is dedicated) and talk with him – about Doctor Who, about playing Cardinal Armand-Jean du Plessis in “The Musketeers,” and about history of course.
For a historical person, I would love to meet Armand (du Plessis) and Anne (Rochefeuille) and see how well I communicated their stories. Anne is family to me so I would love to learn more about my family history before we left France.
Me: If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
I’ve always wanted to go bird watching in Australia to see the wild budgies and cockatiels. Just part of my passion for these birds. I love cockatoos and I want to see them in the wild. Of course the danger of going to Australia is how hard it would be for me to leave. I envy people getting to see wild cockatoos every day!
Thanks so much for taking the time to give us a peek into your writing and your life. I had a blast!
Take a gander at Laurel’s extensive catalog. The covers below are links to the book reviews by The Naked Reviewers.
Laurel has a huge catalog and all of her books come in several different languages.
The rest of the book covers are affiliate links that will take you to a retailer (Amazon) for more information. If you happen to purchase the book by using one of the links below, I will earn a small commission from the retailer.
Check out Laurel’s textbooks and activity books. These are so great. Laurel’s books are fun to read (did I say that already), and before you know it, you’ve learned a thing or two. Her books are perfect additions to any study material.
Student Teacher Editions