Before I start this review, I want to congratulate Michelle on the greatest and most beautiful creation she has ever shared with the world. Her name is Collete and she was born February of 2015. What a joy it was to see her and her mom, both glowing with life, just as I had finished the final pages of Michelle’s spellbinding story of her other love, India. I wish you and your family much happiness in the years to come. May the warmth of the sun and the kind love that you have found in your adopted country bring you peace and contentment as you watch your daughter grow in health and beauty.
A native of southern California, Michelle attended Pomona College, then earned a Masters Degree from the Claremont Graduate University. During her six years as a public high school teacher, she used her summers to travel around the world, and it was her experiences as a volunteer on archaeological digs that inspired her to write historical fiction.
In 2012 Michelle was married in India, inspiring her seventh book, Rebel Queen, which is set in the East. Her hobbies include hiking, traveling, and archaeology. She is also fascinated by archaeogenetics, particularly since her children's heritages are so mixed. But above all these things, Michelle is passionate about reading, and can often be found with her nose in a good book. A frequent traveler, she currently resides with her husband, son, and daughter in the US.
Q: This novel, much like your international bestseller Nefertiti, recounts a story based on the real life of long-dead queen from antiquity. What draws you to characters like Rani Lakshmi and Nefertiti?
A: The characters from history who jump out at me are often women who managed to carve powerful roles for themselves in societies where women weren’t typically allowed positions of power or authority. They are also the ones who have lived through some sort of revolution and managed to weather it. Revolution is fascinating to me, whether it’s cultural, religious, or political. In Rebel Queen, the people of India are growing tired of England’s physical and political encroachment on their land. As they begin to voice their displeasure, however, England responds by tightening its grip, and once the people of India take up arms, England sees it as a revolution and acts accordingly, sending in an army to suppress what they see as a “rebellion”. Whenever a rebellion or revolution occurs in a society, new leaders emerge who are often tremendously charismatic or in some other way very interesting. In this case, one of those leaders was Rani Lakshmi.
A: I was drawn to Sita because her position in society was so unique. Here was a woman raised in purdah (where women are veiled and confined to their house) who became a part of the queen’s Durga Dal, an elite fighting force made entirely of women. What must that have been like? Women at that time were raised to believe that their place in society was at home–that to step outside the home was dangerous not only to their physical wellbeing, but to their moral and spiritual wellbeing, too. How would a woman like that feel to suddenly shed her veil and step outside? Would she adapt, or would she flee back to what was familiar to her? I wanted to explore all of these emotions, and I couldn’t have done that with any other character but Sita, who is definitely my favorite, yes.
Q: Along similar lines, what was the research process like for Rebel Queen?
A: With each of my novels, the research always begins in the country where the novel takes place. In this case, it was India. Because I married an Indian man, the research for this novel was considerably easier than it would have been without someone to translate Hindi documents for me or take me on a tour of various sites within India. As with each novel, the research involved a lot of traveling and reading, which for me is one of the best parts about writing historical fiction.
A: Yes, I would definitely consider it a pre-colonial novel, since England didn’t actually take over India until after Rani Lakshmi’s death. I think many people, myself included, hear the word colonization and immediately think of Africa. It wasn’t until I was married in India and began touring some of India’s historic sites that I began to think about England’s presence there and what life must have been like under British rule.
Q: The Boston Globe has said that your “artful storytelling skills bring(s)...to vivid life...ancient history.” Do you feel called to certain time periods or characters from history? How do you choose the setting for your novels?
A: Actually, I don’t feel called to certain periods in history. But I do feel called by certain stories, whether they’re set in Egypt, or Rome, or India. So far in my career, each of the books I’ve written have been inspired by various trips I’ve taken. In the case of Nefertiti, it was an archaeological dig in Israel, followed by a trip to Egypt. In the case of Cleopatra’s Daughter, it was a trip to Rome. And in the case of Rebel Queen, it was my marriage and subsequent tour of India.