When it comes to defining historical fiction, there seems to be two schools of thought.
Laura Andersen, author of the alternate-history Boleyn trilogy, classifies them as the straightforward, traditional “purist” route and the “twisted history” route.
For Andersen, who has a bachelor's degree in English with an emphasis in British history from Brigham Young University, her journey into the twisted history of the Tudors in 16th-century England began with the question — “What if Anne Boleyn had not miscarried her son and survived?”
Inspired by the idea, Andersen decided to write the story. She finished “The Boleyn King” in 2005, which also happened to be the year that the Historical Novel Society held its first North American conference in Salt Lake City, where she was living at the time.
“It was the first conference that I had ever been to, and I went by myself,” Andersen said in an interview with the Deseret News. “I was very nervous, and by the time I got there I was already extra nervous because they were having pitch sessions and one of the agents that I had signed a pitch with had sent me an email before the conference declining to meet with me on the basis of what my story was because, she said, ‘It’s not historical fiction.’ ”
It was not the only time Andersen would hear that her story was not considered historical fiction during the conference, and she said she left the conference feeling a little discouraged.
Five years later, in 2010, after eight years of trying, Andersen signed with an agent on a late Victorian-era novel about a female doctor. When the book did not sell, Andersen sent her agent the original manuscript of “The Boleyn King.”
Two or three weeks later, Andersen got the call that her book was going to auction — a stark contrast from her Victorian novel that failed to sell after a year of trying.
“The Boleyn King,” which was originally a large single manuscript, was soon sold in a three-book deal.
“I’m very much of the belief, in terms of genre and categories, the goal should never be to narrow things down. It should always be to open it up because you always want more readers,” Andersen said. “I say see what is working and include whatever might broaden the audience. The ones that I encounter on message boards are those who seem determined to narrow the definition. They seem to be the old guard — maybe with a sense that they don’t want it polluted. But you see that in every genre.”
But criticism from traditional historical fiction readers and editors aside, Andersen’s approach to historical fiction earned “The Boleyn King” the title of Best Historical Fiction of 2013 by the Romantic Times.
Andersen admits that writing twisted and alternate history gets her out of doing as much research as the more traditional historical fiction writers do.
“Writing alternate history, obviously I’m not tied to specific events, although I have fun playing with it,” Andersen said. “But I always say, I’m not a historian, I’m a storyteller. I get the story down and I make notes in the manuscript as I go to come back and get the details. So I tend to write the story and fill in the research that I need as I go.”
“The Boleyn Reckoning" (Ballentine Books, $15, 391 pages), the final book in the Boleyn trilogy and released in July, has elements of history that, no matter how twisted Andersen’s history got, she couldn’t bring herself to alter. There was never a time, Andersen said, when she could imagine someone other than Elizabeth Tudor as queen.
“I don’t care how many alternate universes there are, I can’t envision an alternate universe in which Elizabeth does not become queen of England,” Andersen said. “So the end of the book is Elizabeth’s coronation.”
By the time Andersen was finished with "The Boleyn Reckoning," she found that editors had other things they wanted her to alter.
“I had several editors that were concerned that the ending as a stand-alone was too bleak,” Andersen said with a laugh. “They wanted, not necessarily a happier ending, but one that could leave room for some hope.”
Andersen, who is often teased by her husband for liking books in which everyone dies, admits that almost all her characters died in the original ending, which she thought was slightly more realistic. Andersen wanted to make sure that her ending still portrayed all the correct consequences.
“I believe there are consequences for our actions, and making sure that the consequences were not skipped over, or the price paid was not ignored, while still leaving room for some grace and hope,” Andersen said.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Andersen believes that her faith directly influences her writing.
“I can’t imagine that anyone’s writing is not influenced by who they are,” Andersen said. “I hope that in my fiction, people see what I believe, which is I hope I write with generosity and compassion for all people and their points of view. I believe that no one is born evil. I believe that everyone can be redeemed if they wish, and I believe that choices have consequences. I hope that informs how I write.”
Andersen has another Tudor series in the works that she says will be her last in the Tudor era.
"I'm not doing any other Tudor books because it makes me nervous," Andersen said of writing more novels about the well-represented historical figures. "I'm interested in history in general, not just the Tudors."
Hikari Loftus is a graduate of the University of Utah.