Author Interview with Laurel Corona, author of Penelope's Daughter

Passages to the Past is pleased to bring you an interview with Laurel Corona, author of the fabulous new novel Penelope's Daughter

When did your fascination with Greek mythology begin?

Is there any child who doesn’t love Greek myths? I’ve never met one—or too many adults for that matter! What fascinates me is not the myths but what real women were like in the ancient world—what they did and thought, and how they saw themselves.

I read on your website that you had a discussion with your partner over the idea that maybe Odysseus and Penelope really did have a daughter, but being a girl she was too insignificant for Homer to mention. You said this spurred your decision to write Penelope's Daughter. Have you finally convinced him?

I think he’s adjusted to it! My point was that women play such a narrow role in Homer. Usually they enter the tale only when they are causing trouble for men, so even when they’re there, it’s still really about the men. So if we’re half the population and we’re not part of the story, it must be because we were doing things that didn’t make the cut. Like quietly living functional lives, maybe?

When we went to Greece to research the book, we set a challenge that would decide the issue. When we’d sit down for coffee or raki, we’d ask local people what they thought of the idea of Penelope having a daughter. I remember one cafe owner looking curious, and asking “did she?” as if maybe he’d been sleeping in school that day. A few others shrugged their shoulders and said, “Why not?” Our favorite reaction, though, came from a bar owner who leaned in, dead serious and asked, “Is it his?” When I reassured him that Odysseus was indeed the father, he leaned back and said, “Oh, okay,” and that was the end of it. Somehow after that, messing with Homer just wasn’t an issue anymore!

How did you research for Penelope's Daughter?

This book was different from any of my others because there really wasn’t all that much research I could do. Very little is known about the era in which the Homeric legends would have taken place—if indeed there is any literal truth to them at all. They fall between the Mycenaean Era and Classical Greece, which was centered in Athens. A great deal of scholarship about Athenian and contemporaneous Spartan society exists but I realized that Helen and Penelope’s world was not anything like either, and it isn’t clear how closely it would have related to the older, vanished Mycenaean world either. I took most of the books back to the library and read the Odyssey again and again and fashioned the story mostly from that.

Your next book, Finding Emilie is about the daughter of Emilie du Châtelet, a physician, writer and mathematician from 18th century France. How were you inspired to write her story and what can we look forward to?

I first heard of Emilie watching a DVD, “Einstein’s Big Idea,” based on David Bodanis’ book E=MC2. She was one of the scientists whose story was featured there. I did a little research on her and discovered a phenomenal woman—a brilliant intellectual and dedicated scientist, yes, but also a flamboyant and controversial noblewoman who rocked the rather starchy world of pre-Revolution France.

Emilie du Châtelet
Here’s a great quotation from her: “Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. It may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one."
Emilie dazzled me, and I wanted to bring her to the attention of readers by writing a novel centered around her.

Finding Emilie, which is due out in May 2011, had a title change from the original name of The Laws of Motion. Why the change?

That was tough for me. I based the whole novel around what I think is the rather poetic resonance in human life of Newton’s three laws of motion, stated in his great work the Principia, which Emilie translated from Latin. Things in motion and things at rest do seem to stay as they are, for example, and actions do cause equal and opposite reactions. When the book was discussed in-house, however, the marketing people didn’t like the title. To be honest I’m still not completely clear why, but I think perhaps it sounded too dry and academic. Although I had a difficult time understanding why it wasn’t obvious that The Laws of Motion just HAD to be the name of the book, eventually we all came up with something that seemed to please everyone.

Finding Emilie really is a good title for many reasons. Though Emilie du Châtelet is the real person around whom the novel is based, she is dead already at the time the novel opens. The reader “finds” Emilie over the course of the book, through the vignettes from her life story that open each chapter as well as the comments that other characters make about her. The main character in the book is the daughter that Emilie died shortly after giving birth to, and the reader knows that the key to the daughter’s happiness and success in life will be finding Emilie for herself.

When you were little you created a newspaper for your family which included reviews of books you read. Is it surreal to now have others reviewing your books? 

Not as long as the reviewer likes them! Seriously, it is always a little scary to put one’s work out into the world, but I have been fortunate to get mostly a very positive response. There’s nothing like getting a review that puts its finger right on what I was trying to accomplish, like the one in Booklist for Penelope’s Daughter. “In Corona’s tale, women turn a tragedy into opportunity, finding a way to thrive in a world full of men. Penelope’s Daughter provides new insight into the lives of Homer’s women while giving voice to the inventiveness, creativity, and ingenuity of all those left behind.” Wow! That’s just spot-on how I wanted the book to be viewed. On the other hand, it is a bit disconcerting when reviewers are negative because they think a book should be something it was never meant to be. For example, I got a less than stellar Amazon review for The Four Seasons from some reader who complained that the husband and wife didn’t fight enough. I felt like saying, “Don’t read my books anymore, because I’m not interested in relationships like that, and you probably won’t like anything I write.”

What is it about the Historical Fiction genre that appeals to you?

I really wear two hats, one as a professor of Humanities and the other as a novelist. I love historical fiction because it lets me be both a teacher and a storyteller. I gravitate toward “smart reads.” I am not at all interested in books about bad dates or office politics, because at the end I don’t feel I’ve used my time any better than I would if I’d watched sit-coms all evening. I want to learn something when I read, but I also want to lose myself in a compelling story. I hope to attract readers who feel the same way. Historical fiction is perfect for writers with that goal.

What are you currently reading? 

Of course the thing I read over and over again is my own work in progress, novel number four, which focuses on Jewish life in Spain and Portugal at the time of Henry the Navigator and Ferdinand and Isabella. Beyond that, I mostly listen to audiobooks because after long hours of writing, reading isn’t very relaxing. I’ll jog or work out and get the latest installment of a good book at the same time. Currently, it’s Helen of Troy, by Margaret George. Next up: Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran and Sweetsmoke by David Fuller.

I'd like to thank Laurel Corona for stopping by Passages to the's been a pleasure!

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If you'd like to win your very own copy of Penelope's Daughter, Passages to the Past has your chance!  I've got 1 copy available for a giveaway for US and Canada peeps.  

Click HERE to enter the giveaway!  You can also earn +1 additional entries for commenting on this interview.

If you'd like to read my review of Penelope's Daughter, click HERE.

Thanks all, I hope you enjoyed the Author Interview with Laurel Corona!!



  1. Great interview.
    I must say I liked that Laws of Motion title, too bad it got changed

  2. I have to agree with Laurel's point about negative reviews that are not based on the premise of the book or are from some other outside expectation. I have seen too many people give bad reviews because of things that had nothing to do with the story or writing - like "the book took too long to arrive at my house" - are you kidding?! If it is a negative review because you actually didn't like the story and/or how it was written - that is justified, but if it is for some other ridiculous reason - come on!

    Thanks for the interview! As always, great questions!

  3. I really enjoyed this interview, and I am eagerly looking forward to both books as a result.

    I remember having a large book of Greek myths as a child -- I can still see the cover, it was a yellowish-orange background with Pegasus in the foreground I think...can't recall the name, but I think it is still around.

  4. Great interview -- I love the idea that she had a family newspaper with book reviews.

  5. Wonderful interview! Interesting to read about how Ms Corona came to the story -- and I love that she polled folks about the idea of Odysseus having a daughter! In many ways, I'm reminded of Madeleine L'Engle's Many Waters (I think that's the title), about Noah, featuring notably his daughters -- characters that are also forgotten v easily.

    I am especially excited about Finding Emilie -- I know only a little about her, but she would make a great heroine!

  6. Hi everyone--thanks for all your support! It was fun to read your comments!

  7. Thanks for the interesting and informative interview.

    I look forward to reading this book.


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