Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Two new historical blogs

A welcome to the historical blogosphere goes out to these folks:

Favorite PASTimes - six authors "sharing their insights on writing, reading, viewing and researching historical fiction."

Word Wenches - seven of my favorite romance and historical writers "plotting in the present, writing about the past...and improvising the rest. " This blog's been up for a month, but I just came across it yesterday, via one of the author's signature files on RRA-L.

The next bit isn't HF-related, but since it's such a great photo (credit goes to my husband) I wanted to share something we saw in our backyard earlier tonight:

It's turning into a real wildlife sanctuary - we've got raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and the usual birds (including hummingbirds) out there on a regular basis. The cats love it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Romantic Times' new review format

My monthly Romantic Times e-newsletter just arrived, and Carol Stacy, the publisher, refers readers to the RT blog to see the new review format they're adopting as of the September issue. The reviewers will be putting their opinion up front, in bold, with the plot summary provided afterward. I suppose it's good for consistency's sake, and it forces reviewers to provide adequate amounts of both plot and commentary, but the format looks weird to me - almost like it's backwards. The plot summary feels like an afterthought, even though it's longer. It doesn't allow for much creativity on the reviewer's part, either.

When you're reading reviews, do you scan the entire review first to see what the reviewer's opinion was, or do you read the whole thing through as written? What do you think of this format?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Other Boleyn Girl, the Movie

The Book Standard recently reported that Natalie Portman and Eric Bana are in final negotiations to star in Columbia Pictures' film based on Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. Portman will play Anne; there's no mention of the actress who'll play Mary. Bana will portray Henry VIII, but the photo on the Book Standard site doesn't exactly call him to mind, does it?

Maybe, if I'm lucky, the theater in the next town over will show it. Most of what they get are action flicks, and I think the last movie I saw there was Chicago. Or maybe even the last Star Wars movie, which also featured Portman.

As an addendum to my last post - I should have added that one thing that reviewing has taught me is the value of perseverance. After p.100 of that slow-to-start historical novel, my interest picked up considerably, and I zipped through it over the weekend. Finished it an hour ago and wrote the review in 15 minutes, which is some kind of record. Well worth reading. Apologies for being enigmatic about the author/title, but since I'm reviewing it for another publication I'd rather have that review speak for itself (and not be google-able by the masses). Anyone intensely curious about it in the meantime is welcome to email me :)

Friday, June 23, 2006

The downside of reviewing

Tonight we're celebrating the return of our digital camera from a near-death experience (the CCD wasn't working, but now it's back to normal, thanks to Sony and UPS). This is me, 10pm on a typically exciting Friday night here in middle America. I'm about 75 pages into my current review book, the latest literary masterpiece by Big Unnamed Historical Novelist. Sad to say, not a damned thing has happened so far.

Were this review book something I snagged for myself for the HNR, at this point I'd be writing up an enticing description for the next review book list in my hopeful attempt to pawn it off on some unsuspecting soul. Heh. Such is not the case, however. This particular novel is mine, all mine, all 400-odd pages of it.

Oh, and the big black oil spill just behind me is our 22-lb male cat, Max, who (he doesn't want me to say this) had an "accident" all over one of my new books this afternoon. Fortunately, dust jackets are waterproof and easily cleaned.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

My current reading life

I talk a lot about reviewing because most of the books I've read lately are ones I've written about for some publication or other, this blog included. In fact, before this past weekend, the last time I read a book which I didn't review in any form was back in early March. That novel was Ann Elizabeth Cree's The Venetian's Mistress - a Regency-style romance with some gothic elements thrown in, but set in Italy rather than England. It's a Harlequin Historical from 2006, and the only reason I didn't review it was because I neglected to do so right after finishing it, which is a necessity these days. I tend to forget little details if I wait too long (learned this the hard way).

And now that I've mentioned this novel, does it count as a book I've written about? Nah, two lines isn't a review, and besides, I don't remember what I read before that one...

Not that I'm complaining; I've read some terrific books over the past three months. Margaret George's Helen of Troy is one (the 600-page tome I carted around on my New England vacation); Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale another; Mary Sharratt's The Vanishing Point another (in preparation for an interview, not a review per se). Sebastian Faulks' Human Traces is one I wouldn't likely have picked up on my own, but I'm glad I read it. Not to mention Eve Trevaskis' Piers Gaveston novel, which would have sat unread on my shelves for another five years, otherwise...

The problem, though (if indeed it is a problem): After a long stint of very concentrated reading, I don't think I'm capable of reading a novel without pen and paper nearby. On Saturday and Sunday, I found myself with some time when no deadlines were immediately looming, so I picked up a newish historical romance set in the post-Civil War South. But while reading, phrases kept forming in my mind, ones I might possibly want to use in a review. I was tempted to write down character inconsistencies, details on the 21st century dialogue, the author's emphasis on accurate detail despite her characters' modern speech... but I didn't. And it kind of frustrates me that I didn't.

The end result: I'm much more critical of a reader than I used to be. At the same time, I don't think I'm enjoying the books any less. Even more, when I write about books, I find that details on the plot, character, writing style, etc., stay in my memory a lot longer than they would otherwise.

Now, back to my latest pile of review books - three more to go...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Publishing trends, bodice-ripping, and an encore of Devotion

Yesterday, Galleycat made some snarky comments about a post made by sf/f novelist Katherine Kerr on her blog about recent publishing trends in historical fiction:

According to my agents (US, UK, and European), what’s really selling well right now are historical novels that center around a historical personage of the second order, that is, someone real who sat just outside the spotlight ... Publishers, sheep that they are, are looking for more of the same.

This is something we've all been discussing recently; you may want to take a look at the comments on both blogs (especially one on Kerr's blog: "Most often than not, historical fiction gets filed into some bodice ripping section in one’s mind"). Ahem.

To my mind, while it's true that this type of historical novel has been around for ages, it has really become popular in the last 5-7 years. Girl with a Pearl Earring was one of the first examples; The Other Boleyn Girl was another. What Galleycat doesn't mention about the other Mary Boleyn novel they discuss, Karen Harper's The Last Boleyn, is that it's a re-release of a 1983 historical romance; publishers wouldn't normally bring older romances back into print as mainstream historical novels if not for reader demand for novels of this type. That sounds like a publishing trend to me. The summer 2006 catalog for Berkley, which I've got at home, echoes Kerr's comment to some extent (as far as it affects women in the British and French royal courts) in their ad for Susan Holloway Scott's upcoming novel Duchess, which is about Sarah Churchill.

Also, since not everyone goes back to read older blog posts, I wanted to point out some comments that Julia Oliver sent me over email about her upcoming novel Devotion.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Reviews of historical fiction, Part II

Continuing the topic of historical fiction reviewing, here are 5 of my pet peeves, in no particular order.

1 - Spoilers. I admit it, I take spoilers personally (probably a weakness on my part). I consider myself a potential reader for many novels whose reviews I read, and if there's something there that destroys rather than enhances my future reading experience, I get upset. In cases when I'm unlikely to read a novel myself, I put myself in the shoes of potential readers and guess what their reaction would be.

An example - I once received a review of a 20th century war novel that said the brilliant, heroic protagonist would die in a fiery plane crash on the very last page. Sometimes these things are foreshadowed in the novel's introduction, but this one wasn't. Most spoilers are not so blatantly obvious, but it's always better to blur the details. In this case, it would've been better to say that the dramatic finale would shock readers, or something similar. The reviews in Kirkus occasionally give away major plot developments, so I'm wary about reading them if I think I might read the book later on.

With historical fiction, well-known historical facts aren't spoilers... people generally know what happened to Anne Boleyn, the Donner Party, etc. With lesser-known or fictional characters, I'm much more careful.

(Sometimes, I admit, I do sneak peeks at a novel's ending, either because I'm curious or because I'm bored and want a reason to keep reading. But that's my decision.)

2 - Overly pedantic reviews. One reader's historically sensitive review (see previous post, point #3) is another reader's pedantry; historical inaccuracies that bother one person may not bother another. It depends on the reader's own historical background, how forgiving s/he is toward errors, and how big the errors are. As I've said, I appreciate reviews that point out major historical blunders, ones big enough to draw a reader out of the story. (Insert disclaimers here about the many different ways history can be interpreted, the presence of authors' notes that explain how an author diverged from history, etc., etc.)

But with regard to errors in particular, let's not go too far, especially in reviews restricted by length. I don't expect reviewers to read with a specialized dictionary in hand, in the hopes of catching the author in a mistake. Pomposity in reviews often has me siding with the poor beleaguered author.

3 - Too much personal information, either about the reviewer or the author. Again, most reviews have limited space. It's helpful for readers to know, for example, that Innocent Traitor is Alison Weir's first work of fiction after writing many historical biographies. It's not as helpful to know that Joe Author retired from his longtime insurance job and discovered a 2nd career as a novelist while living on his houseboat in the Florida Keys.

4 - Reviewers with an axe to grind, or other obvious mismatches between reviewers and books. The New York Times (as well as other broadsheets) knows that the former often results in entertaining reviews. And so it does. But as a reviews editor, I try to avoid these situations - when I know about them, that is. I don't want to send feminist biblical reimaginings to reviewers who are religious purists, because I want the book to get a fair reading. The Booklist Online blog - take a look at the June 8th entry - has a really interesting piece on the art of matching books to reviewers.

5. - Reviews that demonstrate that the reviewer didn't "get" the book. I'm continually surprised, for instance, at the number of reviews from Publishers Weekly that review mainstream historical novels as if they were historical romances. Examples (which lead to the Amazon pages with the PW reviews): James C. Martin's Push Not the River and Anne Easter Smith's A Rose for the Crown. Both have romantic elements but are not genre romances. The overall review of the latter wasn't bad, but no novel about Richard III's relationship with his mistress will have a happily-ever-after ending; is this any big shock? The PNTR review got several other facts wrong, including the author's gender (noted by bracketed text in the Amazon version).

OK, whining mode off. Questions: what bugs you in reviews of historical fiction? Would the factors I listed above be turnoffs for you as well?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Guest Blog: C.W. Gortner

[Novelist and Renaissance expert C.W. Gortner was kind enough to accept my invitation to write a historical fiction-related essay for this blog. I hope you enjoy his article! --slj]

Histo-Romance: The New Hybrid?

The good news – no, the great news!— is that historical fiction is booming. The genre has experienced a revival in the last five years that is nothing short of stupendous. Every major publishing house and many smaller and/or independent presses are issuing new titles, and there seems to be an increasing awareness among readers that historical fiction can offer both an entertaining and informative reading experience that transports us to other eras and places, while still honoring our need for emotional fulfillment. For many authors, myself included, this is fantastic news. I can recall the “drought years” of the mid-80s and 90s, when attempting to get agent representation, much less submission to editors, of an historical fiction book was a daunting task, at best. Though represented by renowned agents who had previously sold successful historical novels, of my four manuscripts that were circulated to acquisition editors in New York during these years, not one was bought. Many of my rejection letters were full of praise for the writing, the story, etc., and all carried the same dreaded caveat: “Unfortunately, we feel historical fiction is not doing well at this time . . .” It was enough to make me want to put away the proverbial quill and take up knitting! Perseverance became a lodestone that kept me writing even as I saw the dream of becoming published dwindle with each passing year. The consolidation of houses and loss of independent imprints, the quest for the next blockbuster book, seemed to have sounded the death-knell on a genre that had its break-out books, but mostly sold well in the mid-list arena. Several of my author friends either couldn’t get their options picked up or were switching genres; others held on by the skin of past successes, riding out what promised to be a long and bleak period. There were a few authors who survived and indeed thrived; Margaret George’s epics continued to appear, and Sharon Kay Penman thrilled readers with her marvelous evocations of the medieval world. But, by and large, these were exceptions.

Then came Philippa Gregory and the unexpected success of The Other Boleyn Girl. Originally issued in trade paperback in the United States, it did overwhelmingly well. Ms Gregory went on to pen several more hits, graduating to hardcover with The Virgin’s Lover and getting hardcover re-issues of her other two Tudor-themed novels. Sarah Dunant’s Birth of Venus burst onto the scene, as well, garnishing rave reviews and becoming a bestseller: suddenly, historical fiction was back in vogue! It seemed as if overnight, titles sprouted like flowers after a warm rain, as many publishers decided to test the moribund historical market once more. Devotees of the genre like me, who had resorted to combing used bookstores and shipping in UK titles at an exorbitant cost to satisfy my thirst, were now faced with an assortment of titles to choose from. I even snagged a publisher for my historical mystery / adventure novel, which every major NY house had rejected years before. Granted I was published by a tiny independent that has since stopped contracting authors under its royalty paying arm, but without the boon I might not have even found that! Historical fiction was everywhere. It was good to be alive.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this resurrection coincided to a certain degree with the crumbling of the historical romance empire. The staple of supermarket chains, with the heavily muscled hero in some form of costume and gorgeous heroine in semi-dishabille, had begun to lose market share; I heard from three romance-writer acquaintances that their publishers were scaling back on traditional romance, and branching out instead into the alternative “paranormal romance” area (thanks, in great part, to the phenomenal success of Laurell K. Hamilton’s books) and they, the writers, were now scrambling to produce more commercially viable titles. I’ve never been a romance reader. I must confess, however, that in the Drought Years I succumbed to a few books by Rosalind Laker, mainly because she set her tales in historical periods and I could take the strong romantic element, because she had done her research. I therefore greeted with some trepidation the news that traditional historical romance might be slipping into the same dark tunnel we had seen occur with historical fiction.

Then I began to notice an interesting development. While books like Birth of Venus were being hailed as literary first, historical only second, some publishers began to re-issue previously published and often older historical novels (Jean Plaidy’s profuse collection, Katherine by Anya Seton) and re-package previous historical romance titles with the new cover styles and thematic back cover text of “straight” historical fiction. At first, I was taken aback. I had always drawn an invisible division for myself as both a reader and as a writer: I read historical fiction. I write historical fiction. Time and place, character and history, are paramount to me in both experiences. While there could be, indeed sometimes must be, an element of romance (as people do fall in love), it was not the driving central theme of my work or reading: I wanted the fictional recreation of history to be front and center. Now, I faced books marketed as historical fiction that had been published previously as historical romance and I had to question my own bias. If it is a novel and there’s a historical element to the story, is it then historical fiction by definition? Or does a romantic plot line that dominates even the history and, indeed, in some cases, subverts it in order to exalt the hero and heroine’s love interest, classify itself by its very nature as romantic fiction? And who was I to make the distinction, anyway?

Still, the hybrid I’ve come to call “histo-romance” perturbed me. First, I knew that re-packaged titles meant that new voices to the scene, untested historical novelists with unique tales to tell, would have less of a chance at being heard, as it’s always easier and more profitable to bank on something with a track record. Re-issuing a novelist’s older romance titles if she/he had shown success in another genre, such as, say, historical mystery, would attract readers. I also knew of talented authors whose options had been dropped because of this phenomenon, or been told by their editors to add “more sex and/or romance” to their stories to appeal to the demographic the publisher aimed toward.

Books are precious commodities today. The cost of publishing, the shrinking pool of readers we keep hearing about, the sheer choices people can make today as to where to spend their entertainment dollars, have made the competition for readers more fierce than it has ever been. Successful books are rare; successful authors struggle to get there and to stay there, and while the resurgence in historical fiction is a blessing to fans like me, I do wonder where it will lead in the end. Are we experiencing a true boon, or a fabrication that only allows certain types of books? Is the distinction between historical fiction and historical romance blurring, while the division between historical fiction and literary historical novels widening? Is there still a place for that marvelous new novel that brings alive a time and a place we rarely hear about, and does not necessarily conform to a pre-assigned publishers’ marketing niche?

I don’t have answers to the questions, and perhaps, in the final say, it’s all good for readers – providing we continue to have access to the fresh voices, fresh stories, and fresh approaches that have, for as long as its been in existence, both revitalized and distinguished the tradition of historical fiction.

C.W. Gortner is the author of the Tudor adventure novel The Secret Lion and the forthcoming The Last Queen, about Juana the Mad of Castile. He reviews regularly for The Historical Novels Review. Visit him at:

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Reviews of historical fiction, Part I

I've been thinking about a recent post from Miss Snark's blog for the past week or so. An author wrote in about a book "review" that was basically a regurgitation of the back cover copy, and questioned whether s/he should complain to the book review venue about it. Before I get onto the main topic of this post, I have a couple things to say. There's a four-letter word for "reviews" such as this, and that is L-A-M-E. Or "lazy," or any synonym you prefer to use. These aren't reviews, and any author looking for a serious critique of his/her work would do better to avoid that outlet next time.

I agree that it's pointless to complain about them, though. Authors who submit their own books for review should investigate what a publication's (or site's) reviews are like before sending anything in. You should know what you're gonna get, and complaining about it after the fact only makes you look silly. Also, these mentions, however lame they are from a literary standpoint, can benefit you in the long run. These so-called "reviews" are useful publicity if they can get the word out to places that wouldn't ordinarily carry any info about your book. Example: my first book (written under my former name) boasts one five-star Amazon review that consists of little other than some reworded back-cover blurb plus some positive comments. I think it's three sentences long. But 4 out of 4 Amazon shoppers considered it a helpful review, and so it was, because the publisher's own blurb appears nowhere on the Amazon page. So while I'd hesitate to call it a review, I ain't complainin'.

Anyway, that blog post and its comments got me thinking about the elements of a good historical novel review. So, I pulled my thoughts together and came up with 5 things I like to see (why 5? because I couldn't think of 10 off the top of my head) in reviews of historical fiction. Some apply to historical fiction specifically; others cover reviews of fiction in general. If you write, read, or edit reviews, I hope y'all will take time to comment.

1 - The time and place of the novel's setting. I'm talking specific years or decades, as appropriate - whatever info the author provides. There are times where it's hard to be too specific (the prehistoric era, for instance). Also, stating well-recognized historical periods often suffices: the Napoleonic Era, Civil War (in the case of HNR, I make sure it's obvious whether it's English or U.S.), and so forth. Ditto for the specific geographical locale. On the other hand, reviews that give a novel's setting as "19th century America" aren't all that helpful, because 1805 New Hampshire is as different from 1865 Virginia as it is from 1899 San Francisco.

2 - A nice balance between plot description and critical commentary. Both of these are integral to reviews, and there should be a good balance between them. Reviews that go on for 250+ words and conclude with a bland sentence like "Great story, I loved it" aren't useful to me. (I see these a lot on Amazon.) I don't need to know a point-by-point description of the plot, or the names of all the secondary characters, no matter how interesting and quirky they were. Especially if there's a limited amount of space to work with. On the other hand, I've seen reviews in which the reviewer was so intent on getting her point across that the plot of the novel was completely lost.

3 - Comments on historical accuracy, if and only if the reviewer is qualified to provide them. I like reviews that assure me that an author's work is historically accurate, as well as those that point out major historical blunders. However, the absence of such reassurances doesn't necessarily signify anything to me, other than that maybe the reviewer doesn't feel qualified to judge. (If I only reviewed novels for which I was an expert on the period, I'd rarely review anything... just don't get a royal family tree wrong, or I may call you on it :) I would much rather have a reviewer fail to comment on accuracy than do so and be wrong.

4 - Information on the author's writing style, characterizations, or other elements that stand out. There's a lot more to historical novels than time, place, and storyline, and I like seeing these other elements discussed in reviews. For example, things such as pacing (is it fast or leisurely?), tone (bleak, upbeat, melodramatic?), language (straightforward, lyrical, use of slang?), as well as anything else that characterized the novel (did it have multiple plotlines or alternating chapters? were there any characters whose portrayals were especially effective?). Of course, there's rarely enough space to cover all of this, but info on any of these factors will help me decide whether I might like a book - even if the reviewer didn't. Or vice versa!

Aside: These characteristics are called appeal factors in the library readers' advisory community, and I've learned a lot more about them since I started writing author "readalike" articles for the NoveList database. Reviews in Booklist and Library Journal, which are written for librarians, include this sort of info so that librarians will know how to recommend novels to readers. Not all reviews are like this, but I like seeing some descriptive details.

5 - The reviewer's honest opinion, presented in a way that will help other readers decide whether they like the book or not. This goes along with #2 and #4. In the end, what I really want to know is: what did the reviewer think and why? This should be obvious from the review. "Reviews" without opinions aren't reviews; they're plot summaries, abstracts, or book reports (or maybe they're repeats of the back cover copy!).

Oh and BTW, I'm deliberately excluding many of the basics, namely that reviews should be well written, of the appropriate length, with correct grammar and punctuation... and they should present the novel accurately. Now, do all the above in 300 words or less! (For Booklist you'd have to do all this within 175 words or less… what can I say, I like a challenge.)

Questions: As readers, what do you like to see in reviews of historical fiction? As reviewers, what do you try to include? As authors, what do you expect?

Coming soon: Part II, my personal pet peeves.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Today's rambles

I haven't posted much lately because I've spent the last three days either working (that's what they pay me to do, after all), reading (four books to finish & review before the end of June), sending May's reviews from HNR along with letters to publicists (I'm working from a mock-up of the issue because the darn thing still isn't back from the printer after 6 weeks), and packing up review books to mail. I even took this morning off, in the hopes that I might finish Jane Harris's The Observations, the fifth and final book I promised I'd cover for my NoveList column. (No such luck. I finished it this evening instead.)

Instead, because I felt guilty about letting the piles of review books just sit there, I started packing, taping, and labeling the jiffy bags, but I only got halfway done before lunchtime, and I had to get to work for my afternoon reference desk shift. Then when I came home at 4pm, $60 poorer after my post office jaunt, I commenced wrapping the remaining 20 packages only to run out of both jiffy bags and tape. This means a trip to Walmart or Staples tomorrow to get more rolls of tape, yet another trip to the post office with my overstuffed mailing bin before they close at noon, and plenty of dirty looks from the people behind me in line. I am used to this.

Anyway, such is my life at the moment - plus, the campus decided to do some kind of unannounced maintenance to the email server this afternoon. This is my guess, because they never tell us anything, and I'm usually the first person on campus who notices because I'm obsessed with email. Anyway, things have been mighty quiet on that front all day.

In any case, back to books. Thanks to Mary for her recommendation of The Observations, which was fabulous - the narrator's voice was a hoot! I'd also like to put in a good word for Mary's own novel, The Vanishing Point, which I had the pleasure of reading in galley form prior to doing an interview with her for the August issue of HNR. It's a June publication, a Mariner trade paperback (gorgeous cover, too). I grew up in New England and love the colonial period, but the 17th century Maryland setting was completely new to me. It's a superb novel I highly recommend, and I'm sorry I'll miss seeing her on her living history tour. Hope it goes well, Mary!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A recent historical fiction webliography

Speaking For the Dead: The June "Mystery Strumpet" column for Bookslut is at once a meditation on the meaning of Memorial Day and a look at recent historical novels (literary thrillers, mostly) about historical characters from the not-so-distant past. Edgar Allan Poe, anyone?

Fact Is Invading Fiction: More on Poe & Co from Slate.

You'll only be able to catch a snippet of this letter to the editor from Salem News (MA) without paying, but its second paragraph might provoke a chuckle or two.

A recent interview with Alan Furst, author of numerous "moody, sophisticated historical spy novels," in the Raleigh News & Observer.

An interview with Sarah Waters, author of "lesbo Victorian romps" (her words), from the Guardian.

A USA Today piece on Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, a literary romance set in a Depression-era traveling circus (which I continue to misremember as "Like Water for Elephants," a la Laura Esquivel).

Pirate success: Helen Hollick's latest novel, Sea Witch, a swashbuckling pirate adventure that she decided to self-publish after it failed to find a print publisher.

The Gale Group's Five Star imprint, which publishes hardcover fiction mostly for the library market, is having a huge 50% off sale. Lots of historical fiction to choose from here. I'm going shopping.

Finally, pardon a little BSP, but Greenwood Press (my publisher) is offering a 20% discount on their titles (including my book) if you use code #F935 at checkout (

Monday, June 05, 2006

In which I briefly report on The Thirteenth Tale

I'm happy to report back on Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, which I spent Friday night and most of Saturday reading. After which I got something to eat (because I delayed lunch to finish it), sat down, and read most of it again - prompting an odd look and some questions from my husband ("Didn't you already finish that?"). I rarely read books twice, but in this case, there's a good reason for it. Ah, more vague, enigmatic comments about the novel, my apologies ...

I'll be including a summary and review in my quarterly "What We're Reading" column for NoveList (a public library database), which will be published in August. Because my editor's going on vacation, I had to list my 5 picks for the column ahead of time, and because I told her Thirteenth Tale was going to be one of the books I covered, it locked me into reading it sooner rather than later. I'm glad I did.

The book's website gives a better plot description than you'll find on the back of the ARC, and because I'll be talking about it in detail elsewhere, I'll say no more, other than that for me, the hype was warranted. On that £800,000 deal, though - I've read other great novels that weren't valued nearly so highly by publishers, but I do hope The Thirteenth Tale does well. It's a wonderful story. As for whether it's historical or not, my original question: no, not really. A fair amount of the plot takes place 60 years in the past, but you won't find any real historical detail in those scenes, just a gothic strangeness that suits the novel perfectly. In short, it works.

Friday, June 02, 2006

More upcoming historical novel deals

Here are some other forthcoming books - only these will be in print well over a year from now, most likely, rather than this fall.

First, it looks like Pauline Gedge is returning to Egyptian historical fiction... when was her last novel published - five, six years ago? There's no news about a US edition of these, but that may be forthcoming.

Canadian rights to Pauline Gedge's THE KING'S MAN, Volumes 1 & 2, when an accident leaves a man to all appearances dead, and his subsequent return to life leaves him both feared by those who once loved him, and in possession of a special gift, he becomes a seer and a healer, summoned by the Pharaoh himself, to Helen Reeves at Penguin Canada, in a very nice deal, by Bella Pomer.
Then we have Nest's Irish counterpart (sorry, couldn't resist), novelized by Western Australian writer Jules Watson.

Jules Watson's THE SWAN MAIDEN, about Deirdre, the "Irish Helen of Troy," whose beauty ignited a bloody war between two medieval Irish kingdoms, to Anne Groell at Bantam Spectra, in a very nice deal, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (NA).
I'd always thought Deirdre of the Sorrows (I assume this is the story it's based on) was part of an ancient Irish myth, rather than anything medieval, but what do I know. It's also interesting to me that Watson's novels are marketed as fantasy in the USA. Is this true overseas? The White Mare, which I loved, is the first book in a trilogy set in Celtic Britain at the time of the Roman invasion, and I recall that the fantasy aspects were minimal. Problem is, historical fiction fans don't always look in bookstores' fantasy sections for reading material, so this novel may have passed them by... but maybe they sell better as fantasy. My guess. The author's website has more about her upcoming series of books.

Finally, since good things come in threes and all that:

Jeanne Kalogridis's THE BLOODIEST QUEEN, the story of Catherine de Medici, the Italian princess who became Queen of France during an era of brutal religious wars, to Charles Spicer at St. Martin's, in a good deal, in a two-book deal, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency (NA).
Kalogridis has a novel about the woman depicted in Leonardo's Mona Lisa coming out this fall, and I still haven't read The Borgia Bride, so it may be a while until I get to this one. But I'm sure I'll buy it anyway.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Some upcoming smaller press picks

Happy June, everyone. Where does the time go?

I've been blogging a lot about the "big" historical novels for late 2006, so I thought I'd focus this entry on some forthcoming titles from smaller presses. While these novels may not have the big marketing/publicity push that their counterparts from major publishers have, they look equally intriguing. These are all in my TBR pile - I got copies of these at BEA, one to send for review and one to keep for myself.

Devotion by Julia Oliver (University of Georgia Press, October) is a short biographical novel about Varina "Winnie" Davis, youngest child of Jefferson Davis, former President of the Confederacy. She's described on the back cover as a modern woman, an "ambivalent torchbearer of the South's Lost Cause" who didn't really buy into the celebrity that surrounded her. Great cover.

I got sucked into Yvette Christianse's Unconfessed (Other Press, November) based on the first few pages, but forced myself to put it down so that I could finish up my latest review book. It's narrated by Sila van den Kaap, slave of a Dutchman in the Cape Colony of South Africa in the 1820s, who details why she was condemned for murder and sentenced to a lengthy term on Robben Island. It's based on 19th century South African court records, and the author is a native South African now living in New York City.

Finally, Markus Orths' Catalina (Toby Press, October) recounts the true story of Catalina d'Erauso, a 17th century Spanish woman who disguised herself as her brother, left the convent (where she had become a nun in order to receive an education), and explored the world - traveling to New Spain, Chile, and Peru. Toby Press has published a small number of historical novels originally appearing in the German language, to their credit. This looks to be on the literary side, with a "warts and all" approach to its subject, so I'm not sure what my final impression will be, but it looks interesting enough.