Author Laurel A. Rockefeller
Laurel arrived on our radar for an interview when she sent us the first book from her catalog. We are so glad to be interviewing her as we love her books. We have done several reviews already and have more of her writing coming in the future.
Born, raised, and educated in Lincoln, Nebraska USA Laurel A. Rockefeller (Gaelic: Labhrais Eun Caraid) is the author of over twenty books published and self-published since August 2012 and in languages ranging from Welsh to Spanish to Chinese and everything in between. A dedicated scholar and biographical historian, Ms. Rockefeller is passionate about education and improving history literacy worldwide.
With her lyrical writing style, Laurel’s books are as beautiful to read as they are informative.
In her spare time, Laurel enjoys spending time with her cockatiels, travelling to historic places in both the United States and United Kingdom, and watching classic motion pictures and classic television series. Favourites: Star Trek, Doctor Who, original Battlestar Galactica, and Babylon 5.
Please allow us to introduce you to Laurel A. Rockefeller.
Interview Conducted by Very Sherry Terry.
TNR: Is being a biographical historian a gift or a curse?
Laurel: I think it is a little bit of both, actually. History is very political, especially when you explore the accomplishments of women or people of colour or some other group that has traditionally lacked wealth and influence. If “history is written by the winners” then my job as a biographical historian becomes sifting through the lies and distortions created by “winners” wanting to justify their actions to find the real story that is between the lines and amongst the lies.
That means I often come to conclusions that conflict with what other people believe or want to believe about people, places, and events. I’m often treading very controversial ideas and subjects. While that can be a lot of fun at times, I often receive push back on social media and in reviews of my biographies, some of it quite aggressive, when I challenge peoples’ assumptions about history and/or their cherished beliefs.
TNR: What do you think makes a good biography?
Laurel: A good biography should not re-hash the same tired ideas that a hundred other historians have put out there. In fact, I rarely read other people’s biographies if the said work is more than twenty pages long. I don’t want to repeat what other people have to say; I want to conduct my own research and come to my own conclusions. A good biography should do exactly that. It should make you think about a person, a place, a series of events in a new and different way.
TNR: I think you’ve got a good idea there. I trust your research and ideas. What are you currently working on and what is it about?
Laurel: I have two biographies I am currently working on. The tenth Legendary Women of World History biography is going to be “Margaret of Wessex: Mother, Saint, and Queen of Scots.” Born in exile in Hungary in 1046 to King Edward (the Exile) Ǣtheling and his wife Agatha, Margaret survived Duke William of Normandy’s October 1066 invasion of England to wed King Malcolm III (Máel Coluim Ceann Mhor) in 1069 in Edinburgh.
Interestingly, the actions for which Margaret is most praised as queen of Scots were the very ones that most undermined Scottish language (Gàidhlig) and culture. Her sons Edgar, Edmund, and David Canmore (Ceann Mhor Anglicizes to “Canmore”) and daughter Edith Matilda all possessed English, not gàidhlig, names. Margaret banished gàidhlig from the Church in favour of Latin which in turn dramatically influenced the use of gàidhlig across Scotland. Finally, she reformed the Scottish court to more continental European norms, an accomplishment shared with the much more famous Queen Mary Stuart.
My other work in progress steps outside of my comfort zone and branding as a biographer of inspiring women. “His Red Eminence, Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu” explores the life of Cardinal Richelieu, one of history’s most important diplomats and public servants whose service to King Louis XIII created the idea of a “national interest” and revolutionized how countries perceive themselves and interact with each other. Demonized by the very Republican (and therefore anti-monarchist) Alexandre Dumas in his novel “The Three Musketeers,” the real cardinal was a genuinely good man. My biography seeks to humanize Richelieu and show him for the kind, workaholic civil servant that he was.
TNR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched?
Laurel: One of the fun things about writing narrative history is the amount of fascinating and often very strange things I learn along the way. Each biography reveals something completely unexpected. For example, I always assumed that Pharaoh Cleopatra VII was in love with Marc Antony (she wasn’t). I thought that there was a single Great Library of Alexandria that burned down all at once (in fact, the library spanned several buildings across Alexandria with different buildings catching fire at different moments in time). But I think one of the weirdest, least expected things I learned recently about ancient Egypt is really how recent the “big names” of “ancient” Egypt lived. We associate those big names like Thutmose III and Nefertiti and Ramses and so forth with the pyramids of the Old Kingdom, but in truth these are all New Kingdom pharaohs who lived from about 1550 to 1075 BCE, more than a full millennium after the completion of the pyramids of Giza.
Another very strange, unexpected fact I learned working on “Cleopatra VII: Egypt’s Last Pharaoh:” the long-awaited “Battle of Armageddon” that many people assume is a future event has already been fought. It was fought in 1458 BCE when New Kingdom Pharaoh Thutmose III successfully invaded and conquered Canaan. This victory at Megiddo expanded Egyptian influence, culture, and dominion well beyond its original borders and established Thutmose III as an independent monarch from his step-mother, Queen Hatshepsut, who previously ruled in his name.
TNR: I happen to love history, and every time I read something you write, I learn new and interesting facts. Let me ask. Do you write with a specific reader in mind?
Laurel: I write the Legendary Women of World History Series to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, regardless of wealth, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, sex, and so forth. No matter who you are, these books are meant to make history come alive for you. On a practical level, I try to keep my content and language suitable to readers age eight and up. I vigorously avoid explicit content as much as history allows me to without sugar coating or distorting history through omission. These are books you really can share with your entire family with something new each time you read and re-read them. I’m very concise in my narratives which means no one can learn everything there is to learn from a given title reading it just once.
TNR: Great idea! Where do you see yourself in 10 years regarding published works?
Laurel: History really is limitless in its size and scope. I plan for the Legendary Women of World History Series to include no less than forty biographies though I do expect an eventual end to the series after the fortieth title. Given I’m looking to publish book ten somewhere between September, 2019 and March, 2020 which means that in ten years time the series will probably be complete or nearly complete with new adventures waiting for me either in another book series or perhaps a new career will find me in Scotland. I do have a television series I would like to work on and develop at some point. Perhaps in ten years, you will see my work being aired on iTV or the BBC!
TNR: I hope you are aired on TV. That would be awesome! What marketing strategies do you find most helpful? Any resources you would recommend to other authors or aspiring authors?
Laurel: I know a lot of writers hate Twitter, but I find Twitter to be my best resources for reaching out and finding readers. It helps that I’ve built a following of over 10,000 followers (done incrementally over the years), but you don’t need nearly as many followers to be successful using Twitter.
TNR: Ten thousand followers! I hope to one day have half of that, but it does take time, so I’ll keep plugging along. What you do think is an effective Twitter scheduling application.
Laurel: Hootsuite.com is a popular application and in fact was one I used for a long time, but personally I prefer Social Jukebox. With Social Jukebox you create topically-organized tweet banks called “jukeboxes.” The application then randomly sends out your tweets according to a schedule you set up in the system. It’s not a free tool like Hootsuite, but it is extremely effective because it randomizes your tweets for you (Hootsuite schedules manually) so that you never send the same tweet more often than once every three days. Completely eliminates the guesswork regarding when to send a specific tweet. I also love how easily I’m able to keep my tweets organized and how easily I’m able to maintain a proper balance between “buy my book” and informational and/or entertainment content. Remember that no one wants to be sold to, so it’s vital that less than 40% of your tweets be “buy my book.” Social jukebox gives me the control I need to market effectively on Twitter.
TNR: What do you think of “trailers” for books, and will you create one for your work?
Laurel: I have trailers for most of my books actually. What I find is little correlation between book sales and the trailers. The reason: people generally do not seek out advertisements on YouTube. If anything, it’s human nature to avoid them, regardless of where you present them. No one likes to be sold to. Book trailers are the ultimate hard sell, no matter what steps you take to soften the appearance of that.
TNR: I want to do book trailers too. Even though they get next to no exposure, I like the idea anyway. Now for a couple of personal questions. Which famous person (or author), living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Laurel: Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi! Specifically, I want to work with him on a number of creative projects, starting with the audio version of “Mary Queen of the Scots: The Forgotten Reign.” He absolutely has the perfect voice for telling Queen Mary’s story and by all accounts is a wonderful and well-liked professional. I also would very much like to collaborate with him as an illustrator on an educational children’s book series about cockatiels and their many adventures.
TNR: What is your favorite way to avoid writing?
Laurel: I love to play Facebook games (Star Trek Timelines), hang out on Twitter (the best way to reach me), watch DVDs (always up for Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Babylon 5), and of course, play with my beautiful cockatiels.
TNR: Birds are so funny and each has a distinct personality. Thank you so much for spending some time with us! I loved your answers and this was so much fun!
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A sample of Laurel’s catalog: