Guest Post by Lynn Cullen + Giveaway of Reign of Madness

Passages to the Past is pleased to welcome Lynn Cullen, author of Reign of Madness, to the blog today with a guest post and giveaway!

HISTORY AS A JIGSAW PUZZLE: Why I’m Hooked on History
Guest Post by Lynn Cullen 

Have you ever been hooked by a jigsaw puzzle? You start with fitting one piece to another. Then you put together a few more. Now you’re finding it hard to walk away. Each additional piece sucks you in deeper. Faster and faster you go, building one piece upon another, until soon you have to sit down and finish the whole thing, just for the satisfaction of completing the entire puzzle. 

Writing novels based on historical figures can be like this. 

When I thought I might write about the reportedly insane Spanish queen, Juana of Castile, I started with a biography, JUANA THE MAD: SOVEREIGNTY & DYNASTY IN RENAISSANCE EUROPE by Bethany Aram. Learning about a potential character for a novel from a reputable, penetrating biography is like finding all the edge pieces of a puzzle. When you put them together, they form the framework. 

Juana of Castile—Was she really mad?
Only after the framework is in place, can you start to fill in the rest. I began by reading biographies about many of the other persons in Juana’s life. In this case, I read extensively about her parents, Isabel and Fernando, the Spanish monarchs who sent Christopher Columbus on his voyages of discovery. That, in turn, led me to Columbus. Reading about him, I found out that he had a son near Juana’s age, Diego. Diego served as a page to Juana’s brother and then to her mother. Juana would have known who he was. Another puzzle piece! In fact, Diego became an important part of the book. 

Diego Columbus (Colón in Spanish) was a young man who had a lot to prove. He worshipped his father, even though his father left him for years at a time at a monastery when he was growing up. His father was driven by an insatiable desire for fame, gold, and power, not necessarily in that order. And prospects were looking up for Columbus when he received a warm welcome from Isabel after returning from his first voyage. By his second voyage, Columbus’s stock had fallen sharply. He became a laughingstock in Spain. The only “riches” he found in what he called the Indies were slaves, which infuriated Isabel, who from the start considered the New World inhabitants as subjects worthy of her love and protection. Christopher Columbus was soon called “The Lord of the Mosquitoes.” Diego spent the rest of his life trying to prove his father’s honor and to win back his father’s claims in the New World. 

How did this puzzle piece fit with Juana? She, too, was always trying to prove herself. She was the daughter of the most powerful woman in the world. Trying to find her own identity under such a strong and charismatic mother was a constant challenge. I imagined that Juana could identify with Diego. She knew what it was like to have to make sense of one’s life while living in a parent’s shadow. 

It follows that a lot of pieces would center around Isabel. I found that even though she was arguably the most powerful person in the world, her life was not as rosy as it seemed. Her marriage to Fernando was the talk of Europe—they were the Brangelina of their time. They plastered their symbols over every church, palace, and public building in Spain, as well as their motto that proclaimed, “We are Equal!” Which was hogwash. Their marriage was terribly unbalanced, with Isabel holding the bulk of the power. I wondered how such a proud man as Fernando would handle being Mr. Isabel. Not well, it turns out. He acted out by fathering at least 4 children out of wedlock, an act, I think, designed to get Isabel’s attention. It did. She was furious but there was nothing she could do about it. Fernando attacked her in one arena she could not control. 

Wedding portrait of Isabel and Fernando—“We are equal”
The final hole to be filled in the puzzle of my story of Juana had to do with her husband, Philip the Handsome, the Archduke of Austria. If you think a man with “handsome” as part of his name might be trouble, you’d be right. A more spoiled boy-man could not be imaginable. He treated Juana with disdain from the start, going so far as to be late—by six days—to their wedding. The original party animal, he spent more time with his hawks and mistresses than with his wife. Cavalier to all, especially to the Spanish, no wonder people immediately believed that someone had poisoned him when he died. 

Philip the Handsome—poisoned?
My job as a novelist was to fit all these pieces together. As in a jigsaw, the connections have to dovetail perfectly—a novelist can’t force them or the story will not be believable. Fortunately, in the case of REIGN OF MADNESS, I had a wealth of fascinating people from history to work with. And several trips to Spain and Belgium filled in the missing links. Once I put the pieces together, the puzzle of whether or not Juana was actually insane was neatly solved. And then the writing began. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

About Reign of Madness 

Paperback Publication Date:  May 1, 2012
Berkley Trade


From the author of The Creation of Eve comes a tale of love and madness, royal intrigue and marital betrayal, set during the Golden Age of Spain.

Juana of Castile, third child of the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando, grows up with no hope of inheriting her parents' crowns, but as a princess knows her duty: to further her family's ambitions through marriage. Yet stories of courtly love, and of her parents' own legendary romance, surround her. When she weds the Duke of Burgundy, a young man so beautiful that he is known as Philippe the Handsome, she dares to hope that she might have both love and crowns. He is caring, charming, and attracted to her-seemingly a perfect husband.

But what begins like a fairy tale ends quite differently.

When Queen Isabel dies, the crowns of Spain unexpectedly pass down to Juana, leaving her husband and her father hungering for the throne. Rumors fly that the young Queen has gone mad, driven insane by possessiveness. Who is to be believed? The King, beloved by his subjects? Or the Queen, unseen and unknown by her people?

One of the greatest cautionary tales in Spanish history comes to life as Lynn Cullen explores the controversial reign of Juana of Castile-also known as Juana the Mad. Sweeping, page-turning, and wholly entertaining, Reign of Madness is historical fiction at its richly satisfying best.

About Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen is the author of Reign of Madness which was added to the Best in the South selection by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and nominated for the Townsend Prize for fiction. Her previous novel The Creation of Eve, was named  among the best fiction books of 2010 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and an April 2010 Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection, and an ALA Best Book of 2008. An avid traveler and historian, Cullen lives in Atlanta.

For more information on Lynn Cullen and her novels, please visit her website.

Giveaway Information

- To enter, please leave a comment below and include your email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered in the giveaway).
- Giveaway is open to US ONLY.
- +5 additional entries become a follower of Passages to the Past. If you are already a follower you will automatically receive the bonus entries. 
- +3 additional entries join the Passages to the Past FB Page.
- +3 additional entries follow me on Twitter.
- +1 additional entry each, please help spread the word by blogging, posting on sidebar, tweeting or posting this giveaway on Facebook or Google+.  You can use the SHARE buttons below.
- Giveaway ends on May 15th.


  1. Awesome!!!!! I have been eyeing this one for awhile - ever since I read The Creation of Eve last year!!

    +5 +3 +3

    sidhekist at gmail dot com

  2. You don't need to enter me Amy - I loved this book when I read it last year. Great post - very interesting.

  3. Thank you for the interesting post!!
    I am a follower of this awesome blog!!


  4. Juana has always intrigued me, but I want to read this book so much I'm going to buy it for my Nook right now.

    Wonderfully informative post!

  5. Thank you for a very interesting post, and I always love it when there are also pictures. I'd love to read this novel. Thanks for the giveaway.

    +5 GFC follower

  6. Pretty painful circumstances. I'd love to read this. I'm a follower.

    nanze55 at hotmail dot com

  7. Oh, how I love anything about Juana...would love to win :)

  8. I love jigsaw puzzles and always have one going. I just put it on a big board on my lap while watching English mystery DVDs which are my favorite. I think that life is like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes, we try to match up two pieces only to find they don't fit together. This can be the same thing in our lives whether it's relationships with people or even employment. However, when two pieces do match, there is a feeling of satisfaction. As more pieces match, it's like a tree growing larger and larger where it's planted as it puts out roots.

    Juana sounds like one of those pieces of a puzzle that has an unusual cut and one has to really search hard to find a match. I look forward to reading about her and seeing how the pieces of her life come together.

    +5 = Follower of PTTP
    +3 = Follow PTTP on FB

  9. I've been waiting for this book- thanks for the giveaway!

    I'm a follower as well.

  10. Thanks for another great giveaway! Please enter me!
    rexmoy (at) gmail (dot) com

  11. Great post! I really enjoyed this book and I love that this post addresses how she put the different characters' stories together.

  12. lovely post, i really enjoyed this book! no need to enter me, i've read this one :)

  13. thanks for all the goodies you giveaway. just retweeted about it:!/wordsandpeace/status/198081251599585280
    and I am eligible for all the other entries. Emma @ Words And Peace
    ehc16e at yahoo dot com

  14. Looking forward to this insightful book!

    cowgirlsue (at) gmail dot (com)
    Am a follower of this blog, EofA.
    Am follower of Facebook page as well.

  15. This sounds like a very good story, and one that I was not aware of. Thanks for the information and the chance to win a copy.


  16. I follow PttP by email: carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

    and on Twitter: @carlrscott

    I am also a member of the Facebook group: Carl Scott

    and I tweeted the giveaway:!/carlrscott/status/198109535536291841

    That's all for now, thanks!

  17. I'd love to win! I'm a follower of the blog, on FB and Twitter!

  18. Juana sounds like a very interesting personage - I wonder if she was truly mad or just made out to be that way?

    I'd love to win!

    I am a GFC Follower

  19. I don't think I've read any historical fiction about Juana before. All I know is that I would be very disappointed if my legacy through history was being crazy.

    - I'm a GFC, FB and Twitter follower.
    - I tweeted!

  20. +5 a follower - griperang
    +3 member of FB Page. Angela Holland
    +3 follower on Twitter. @griperang
    +1 blogging
    +1 tweeting
    +1 posting on Facebook
    +1 Google+. Angela Holland

    Thank you for the chance to win

    griperang at embarqmail dot com

  21. Beautifully stated, Lynn! I like your writing in this post as much as your writing in your novels.

    Isn't our life in general like the construction of a jigsaw puzzle? At least I find that I am constantly in search of the pieces that would make everything fit together. The neat thing about fiction is that we can accomplish that, just as you did in "Reign of Madness".

  22. Would love to win :)
    - Kyrsta

  23. Thank you again for inviting me to guest post, Amy. I enjoyed everyone's comments. Connie--you are so right. Life is one giant jigsaw puzzle! How satisfying when the pieces come together.

  24. I would enjoy reading this. Thanks for the chance.
    :)Jeanne B. T.

  25. +3 - Joined Passages to the Past FB page @Jeanne Bates Tennant.
    :)Jeanne B. T.

  26. +3 - Twitter follower @momma8385
    :)Jeanne B. T.

  27. +5 GFC follower @Jeanne
    :)Jeanne B. T.

  28. +1 - Tweeted about giveaway @momma8385 -!/momma8385/status/198261348604452864
    :)Jeanne B. T.

  29. I would love to win a copy of this book!

    slkenn79 at gmail dot com

    I subscribe to your blog, follow you on twitter and am part of your Facebook group.

  30. No need to enter me as I have a copy of this one, but just needed to gush to everyone that this book made my top 10 of 2011 -- I adored it! Loved this guest post too -- can't wait for Ms Cullen's next book!

  31. Loved her first book The Creation of Eve and would really like to add this one to my collection.

    I follow by email, GFC, on Facebook and Twitter.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  32. This one sounds great ... I would love to win it !n Lynda

  33. Ooohhh Amy - another fabulous giveaway! Please sign me up!

    +3 FB Follower
    +5 PTTP Follower

    tiger_fan_1997 AT yahoo DOT com

  34. When I read about her in Jean Plaidy's "Katherine of Aragon," I wanted to learn more about Juana.
    +5 I follow via GFC
    +3 I am in the facebook group
    +3 I follow on twitter

  35. This sounds like a book I think I'd really enjoy. And I'm a follower



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