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Person of the Week
Loretta Goldberg: Playing the Espionage Game
Historical fiction author Loretta Goldberg found many of the same social concerns in Elizabethan England as she sees in modern life when researching for her novel The Reversible Mask. (Photo courtesy of Loretta Goldberg)
Loretta Goldberg sees connections between what appear to be very dissimilar careers. She started out as a serious concert pianist, coming to the United States from her native Australia on a Fulbright Scholarship to study with noted pianist Claudio Arrau.
When she realized something very basic—that she could not earn a living as a pianist—she altered her professional trajectory dramatically: She became an insurance agent and financial planner.
After several decades, she gave that up to write historical fiction.
“You can’t be a part-time financial advisor,” she says.
Her first novel, The Reversible Mask, came out at the end of 2018, and Loretta has been making local appearances to talk about it. She has already spoken at R.J. Julia Booksellers and the Ivoryton Library and was scheduled for a talk in Chester, now postponed until multi-person gatherings once again are approved by health and government authorities.
The Reversible Mask is a tale of intrigue, spies, and even double agents, set not like many modern thrillers during the Cold War or the complicated deceptions of Middle East diplomacy, but 500 years earlier, in the England of Queen Elizabeth I.
Still, Loretta sees many parallels between that time and this. There was an information revolution in Tudor England started by the invention of the printing press similar to the information revolution of our time brought about by computers, the Internet, and the world of social media.
“Innovation can be a terrifying thing; people felt the world was out of control, similar to what many people feel today,” Loretta says.
She also sees similarities that go to the essence of human nature, dealing with the problems that difficult choices create regardless of the century. Loretta’s main character, Edward Latham, has to choose between his loyalty to his country, Protestant England under Queen Elizabeth I, or his loyalty to his own religion, Catholicism. Latham’s character is loosely based on a real spy, Sir Anthony Standen, who faced the same choices.
“There are always choices and consequences from them,” Loretta says. “I hope that will draw people into the story.”
Queen Elizabeth I fascinates Loretta.
“On a primal level, she was an attractive woman with strong passions and libido who died a virgin queen. That’s already dramatic,” she has told one interviewer.
But Loretta was interested in more than Elizabeth’s romantic life. She was fascinated by Elizabeth’s skill as a politician, particularly in her use of her chief strategic weapon: delay. Elizabeth loved to put things off.
“She was a spectacular procrastinator” Loretta says.
Loretta’s interest in Elizabethan England far predates the writing of The Reversible Mask. She remembers as a child thinking about what the great Elizabethan seaman Sir Francis Drake would have thought about the rush-hour traffic jams in her native Melbourne. At the University of Melbourne, she studied both music and English literature, focusing on 16th- and 17th-century writers, so she was familiar the cadences of the language that the people in her novel use.
When she won a Fulbright, she did not know she was settling permanently in the United States but fell in love with New York City. She and her life partner Jane Southern, a retired educator, now live at Chester Village West but Loretta also spends time in New York City.
Research on her novel, Loretta says, took some 10 years. She describes it as “accretive,” adding that she is “fascinated by factoids.” Among the factoids that she investigated was mail delivery. It was very common for spies like her character to send information in coded letters, but getting them to intended recipients could be a time-consuming project.
Writing the book took an additional four years, but not sitting at a writing table. Standing, actually. Loretta used an elevated desk when she worked.
She received encouragement for her manuscript at a workshop of the Historical Novel Society, an organization in which she was already active, when a published writer complimented her on the small section of the book she had submitted and urged her to persevere in getting it published. She marketed it herself, without a literary agent, finding a publisher that specialized in the 16th-century history.
The contract specified that Loretta had to publicize the book herself on social media, an area about which she knew little. She did what many another person has: She asked a younger person, the daughter of a friend.
When she gave a talk at the Ivoryton Library, she dressed in an Elizabethan outfit, but doubts she will do it again unless specially requested. The headdress, in particular, she says, was uncomfortable.
“I’d rather just go as Loretta,” she explains.
Still, she loves making appearances and she does something she learned from her days as a concert pianist: She practices her presentations beforehand. She accompanies her talk with a video that uses sound, an experience that always presents challenges.
“The technology in each place is an adventure, all different,” she notes. “Keeps the heart pumping.”
Every time she reads an excerpt, Loretta adds, she thinks of ways she could improve it, and she will have more chances to do that for her hero Edward Latham. She already has two more sequels planned to chronicle his adventures.
The Reversible Mask by Loretta Goldberg is available on Amazon on through Goldberg’s website LorettaGoldberg.com. Readers who send a proof of purchase to Loretta@lorettagoldberg.com can receive a 8.5” x 11” glossy fantasy map chronicling Latham’s adventures.