Writing through a Wall of Fire: Robin Maxwell

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Fans and admirers of historical fiction writer, Robin Maxwell, recently gathered at the Studio City Branch Library. Rather than diving straight into a reading of her newest title, Signora Da Vinci, Maxwell decided to first talk about her life, art and family and how all three elements play a big part of her writing career.

It was 7/11 2006, what Maxwell calls her personal 9/11. She was at her home in the high desert of  California with her husband when they heard the fires were approaching their property. The two were inside deciding what to do when a helicopter dumped several gallons of water on their house.

Packing everything they had and their pets in two cars, they drove away from their house. As they were driving away from everything that was dear to them, the two- car cargo faced a solid wall of fire at the end of heir driveway.

For Maxwell this was a defining moment. One of her biggest fears was burning to death and here she was forced to confront a very legitimate fear. In short she had to summon up the courage, like all of the historic heroines she’s written about, and basically walk/drive through the wall of fire. It was either follow the man she loved OR risk being burned to death. Between all of these life or death decisions, she watched her life flicker by as she sat in front of raging flames slowly approaching her.

signoradavinci250Maxwell grew up in a very conflicting and stern household. “My mother said she would move mountains if they got in the way of what I wanted.” While her father, was a very dominant figure that made sure she grew up to be a ‘proper’ Jewish girl. As she was growing up, Maxwell was inexplicably drawn to the story of the Tudors, particularly to Ann Boleyn.

She developed an obsession with Ann Boleyn, which became the subject of her first novel, The Secret Diary of Ann Boleyn. Maxwell identified with Boleyn by way of Boleyn’s father, who was a cold-hearted servant to Henry the 8th. Boleyn stood up to her father and his decision of basically selling her to the King. Why? Because she wanted to marry for love, which was unheard of back then. For Maxwell, Boleyn was a source of inspiration to stand up for what she believed in. Maxwell did end up marrying for love, something that Boleyn could never have.

For her second novel, Maxwell delved into the life of Queen Elizabeth who had Henry the 8th mental astuteness and Boleyn’s tenacity. At the age of 25 she took the throne and defied every social norm that was expected of her. She did not marry a man and give all her royal powers to him, like she should have. Instead she brought religious tolerance to England and towards the end of her 44 years as queen she brought on a genocidal war against the people of Ireland. Which set her up against, head to head, with the mother of the Irish Rebellion, Grace O’Malley.

Grace O’Malley is said to be the author’s greatest inspiration. Brought up on her father’s pirate ships she managed the largest fleet in Ireland. Traveling to the far corners of the world. She had an element of mobility that Queen Elizabeth never had.

By writing about these courageous females that helped shape our history in a big way, you could say their strength rubbed off on the historical fiction author and gave her the guts to face her fears, drive through the wall of fire and follow the love her life.

Yet for her most recent title Signora Da Vinci, Maxwell explored the character of the mother of one the greatest men of the 20th century. There isn’t much that we know about Katherine Da Vincci, other than Leonardo was taken away from her the day after he was born. But Maxwell figured this mystery woman would do everything in her power even move mountains, for her child.

Perhaps the lesson that Maxwell unintentionally wanted the audience to take away from these stories about her life and of her characters is don’t let anything stand in the way of what you want. Only when you give up the things that you believe in and are true to you does your life end up in ashes.

For further information about events at the Studio City Library, log on to www.studiocitylibraryfriends.org

Atina Hartunian was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has also lived in Santa Cruz and while there she sold sea shells by the sea shore. She sold her business when she gave up on the dream of returning to the sea as a mermaid, like she was in her recent past life. Instead, she turned to books and writing for her solace. Atina Harunian’s articles have appeared in North Valley Community News,  The Armenian Reporter,  The Pasadena Weekly, as well as current urban development for Fourstory.org. She is also website content manager and freelance writer: www.atinahartunian.blogspot.com. For inquiries, comments, questions, or marine concern please e-mail her at ahartuni@hotmail.com

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Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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