In her “Guinevere’s Tale” trilogy (Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and Mistress of Legend), Nicole Evelina turns the image of Camelot’s queen on its head and allows this iconic figure to tell her story in her own words. Below, the author discusses the importance of a character who is often associated with themes of adultery and betrayal, the research required to rework a legend, and how to avoid rookie mistakes in self-publishing.
LJ: What drew you to Guinevere, and why did you want to expand on her representation in literature?
NE: I grew up watching the musical Camelot with my dad, and with my mom, reading versions of Arthurian legend, so I’ve loved the character of Guinevere since I was a little girl. She was one of my mythical heroes, like Cinderella or Snow White are to some girls.
As I got older and read more of the stories, I realized that most don’t give Guinevere a fair shake. The final straw for me was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. I loved that book (it changed my life in many ways), but I hated [the author’s] weak version of Guinevere. Around the same time, I read Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which made me wonder about Guinevere’s life before and after Arthur—something literature barely touches upon.
You can count on one hand what tradition tells us about Guinevere; no one’s identity should be reduced to a handful of incidents. I decided to write the Guinevere I hadn’t seen yet—one who is intelligent, strong, and a worthy equal to Arthur—and tell her whole story, allowing the reader to experience her life through her own eyes. Guinevere had a childhood, a family, and dreams for her future. She was a queen and may or may not have been a mother. As for her infamous affair [with her husband’s chief knight, Lancelot], every situation has a context that is important to understanding it. Guinevere had reasons for acting as she did, and she didn’t do it in a vacuum. The medieval tale of her ending her days in a convent is convenient and moral, but we all know life is messy and usually doesn’t end tied up in a nice bow.
Giving her a chance to tell the story was the best way I could think of to vindicate the wrongs done to her by history. As Guinevere says in the prologue to [the first book,] Daughter of Destiny: “I deserve to be able to bear witness before being condemned by men who never saw my face. Grieve with me, grieve for me, but do not believe the lies which time would sell. All I ask is that mankind listen to my words, and then judge me on their merit.”
There is a wealth of published material related to King Arthur. What was your research process like?
In a word: long! I spent about 15 years doing research for the first two books in the trilogy and am currently doing research for the final one.
This process has included consulting nearly 100 books about Arthurian legend, Celtic history and culture, the Druid faith, plus military history and strategy, and watching about half a dozen television specials on those topics. I was fortunate to take two trips to England, one entirely dedicated to the places of Arthurian legend in the south and west of the country. There is something about being in the same place [where] your characters would have walked that really brings a story to life. Plus, during my second trip, I spent some time with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Bradley research [her novel]. Their advice was instrumental to my books, and I fully admit to geeking out over both of them, especially with George.
Do you have a favorite iteration of the Arthurian legends?
The Mists of Avalon is the one I go back to time and time again. For the character of Isolde, I really recommend the first book in Rosalind Miles’ trilogy, Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle—at least until I publish my own book on Isolde, which I’m hoping to write later this year!
Can you give readers a teaser for the final book in the trilogy, Mistress of Legend?
Mistress of Legend follows the last third of Guinevere’s life, from the time she is rescued from the stake by Lancelot through the battle of Camlann to the fall of Camelot and beyond. In my version, the queen does not end her days in a convent. Guinevere has always felt the pull of her roots as a Votadini noble, so when she is freed from the restraints that bind her to Camelot, she goes in search of her heritage in her mother’s ancestral homeland—the area we today call southern Scotland. What awaits her there is not the respite from politics she desired but rather a challenge greater than she has ever faced. War with the Saxons looms, and some of the Votadini see her, rather than the current chieftainess, as their rightful leader. With no desire to be the cause of a civil war, she must find a way to appease without angering their ruler and lead them into battle against an enemy that threatens to not only take over their land but obliterate their culture and people as well.
Why did you decide against traditional publishing?
It began as a matter of timing. I had just amicably parted ways with my agent when I finished what would become my fourth book, Madame Presidentess. Because it is biographical historical fiction about Victoria Woodhull, the first woman who ran for U.S. president in 1872, I wanted to make sure it was published before the 2016 election. It wasn’t certain yet that Hillary Clinton would get the nomination, but I had a feeling she would. I was running out of time to get it published traditionally, so I decided to do it on my own because I knew I could do it faster. While I was at it, I released the other three books I had sitting on the shelf as well.
As I learned more, I found that I liked the control indie publishing gave me over all aspects of my career, from my book cover and marketing to setting my own publication schedule. I am certainly not opposed to publishing traditionally in the future, but being an indie [author] has made me very happy so far.
What are the major pitfalls authors can fall into when self-publishing?
There is a lot to learn, especially in the beginning, so it would be easy to fall down the rabbit hole of research and never actually publish for fear of not doing it right. It can also be scary because you are in essence opening your own business, so there are local, state, and federal laws to take into consideration. There’s also the possibility of spending too much money on marketing, or at least not spending it in ways that give you a solid return on investment in terms of sales or exposure. Marketing can also be a time suck for writers when what we should be doing is producing the next book, which is the best marketing tactic you can employ. I’m still trying to find the balance there.
What have been the biggest advantages for you?
I like knowing that I will not be dropped from an agent or publishing house if a book has poor sales. I am free to write the stories I choose, without the influence of an outside agenda or ideas of what will sell. I love knowing that my covers actually have something to do with what’s inside the book. Plus the support of the indie author community cannot be underestimated. That has been the biggest positive surprise. So many authors are willing to work together and share what they have learned, rather than view one another as the competition.
What are you working on now?
I’m rewriting Mistress of Legend, which I hope to publish this year. I’m also working on a nonfiction book that traces the evolution of the character of Guinevere from her Celtic roots all the way through my novels. There are a few theses and dissertations that trace her changing nature from her origins through material written in the early 1990s, but they are hard to find, sometimes highly academic, and don’t cover recent history. I’m hoping my book makes the information accessible to the average reader, and I’m excited to cover titles that have come out in the last 20 years. After those two are done, I’m going to write Isolde and Morgan le Fay’s stories, as well as a novella that ties to my contemporary romantic comedy, Been Searching for You.