I often hear the question: “How much of what you write in your historical novels is actually true?”*
A lot. At the beginning stages of a book, I sit down with all the reliable recorded information that I can find about my hero. I write a timeline of notable events in the woman’s life, then study up on the most important people in her life and how they interacted with her.
Then I meditate on those things, and using those events and people, come up with a dramatic overlay of a plot with a strong theme and gradually-building conflict. It’s usually pretty easy to spot the most crucial moment in my protagonist’s life, and the big pay-off centers around that moment. In most cases, I focus on a particularly dramatic time in my character’s life; right now, with THE BLOODIEST QUEEN, I’m tackling Catherine de’ Medici’s entire earthly existence.