Thursday, August 30, 2007
Members of the Fiction_L listserv have been compiling a list of butchered book titles that library patrons have asked librarians about.
If that's not enough, here's more.
Beverage alert on these. Enjoy.
In fall 2005, the editor of Bookmarks Magazine asked me to write an article for them on a historical fiction-related topic. While following their usual format of short recommendations on a variety of titles, I selected 20 benchmark historical novels and described why they were important for the genre. Then I provided several "readalike" novels for the original 20. It was an excellent writing exercise, given that each book summary had to conform to a certain length (short!). When the article appeared, I was surprised and pleased to see it was published as the cover story for the Jan/Feb 2006 issue.
The article has, by far, the most gorgeous layout of anything I've ever written, though I'm afraid the link at the bottom of this post doesn't really convey this. Hard to do, in HTML format. But the cover of the issue gives some indication. I've since learned, via a letter to the editor in Bookmarks' Jul/Aug 2007 issue, that their "historical fiction" issue sold out almost immediately. I was happy to hear this, but felt bad at the same time. A woman desperately wanted to buy it but couldn't. If I'd had any spare copies left, I'd have offered to send her one.
In his response, the editor promised to put the article online as soon as possible. This afternoon, I got notified via Googlealerts that he'd done so.
Coming up with 20 books out of the thousands of historical novels ever published was great fun, and a challenge. I did my best to ensure that as many subgenres and time periods were represented as possible, to show the genre's diversity. Do you agree with my picks? What else would you have included?
Anyhow, please read on, if you so choose:
Masters of the Past: Twenty Classic Historical Novels and Their Legacy
Monday, August 27, 2007
Um... I was nine years old in the 1970s. Can't say I wore anything like the bell-bottom denims, embroidered tunic, or knitted hat sported by these fashionable young ladies, however. I think I was a bit too young for that; they're dressed more like sophisticated versions of my teenage babysitters than like me. No doubt the styles are meant to resemble those of young adults, unless things were different in San Francisco. Instead, I'm having not-so-fond recollections of Jordache jeans, feathered hair a la Farrah Fawcett, barrettes, and turtlenecks with vests. On the other hand, the red plaid top and dark green jeans do look pretty familiar.
With regard to the NYT piece, I also remember the bicentennial, watching news about the Vietnam War on my friend's parents' TV, and Carter's election to the presidency (which we learned about during 2nd grade recess). My hair was nowhere near long enough to roll up with orange juice cans, though. That practice is actually news to me.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
The weeded titles fall into one of three categories: histories about places/periods I'm not really interested in, fantasy or science fiction that's either too science-y or part of a lengthy series I've given up on, and contemporary fiction/memoir. Plus some out of date reference books.
I've deleted them all from Librarything and Readerware, and a few people on Paperbackswap will be getting items from their wish lists soon. The library will also be getting three large bags of donations. I wish I could say the deaccessioning opened up space on my shelves, but all it did was let me move some books off the floor.
Finally, thanks to Rachel, I now realize why so many people have been googling "sarah johnson data entry" and reaching this blog. I know my name's not exactly unusual, but I hadn't realized it also belonged to a spammer running a make-money-fast scheme. (Though I'm guessing in this case, it's not associated with a real-life person.)
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
The new line seems geared towards women's fiction initially, but Bantam Dell publishes a fair number of historicals, so I wonder if we'll be seeing some of them here too.
Simultaneous publication in both formats is common in the UK, but not in the US.
Given the choice, and given identical content, would you purchase a $13.99(ish) trade paperback over a $7.99 mass market one? Remember, also, that Amazon discounts most trade paperbacks to $10-something, while mass markets usually get no discount at all.
I admit I'd probably pony up the extra $2ish for the trade size...
Monday, August 20, 2007
I was going to comment on each of these, but on second thought, I'll just list them.
Piers Gaveston portrait
wife birthday things to do
marie antoinette from a marxist view
when did castle building stop and why
tim johnson illinois womanizer
book tour for samurai
historical novels not bloody
past tense of the word eat
nobody got sacked for buying IBM
In other news...
- I saw Becoming Jane last Friday while on a family vacation back in Connecticut. As expected, beautiful costumes and scenery, but the movie's first half was quite slow, and while the rest was entertaining, I can't say I believed it for a minute.
- The state of Illinois is on its 20th day without a budget. I supposedly will get paid in August, but after that, nobody knows.
- On the plane back, I finished reading a novel that was written in 1779, which means, just maybe, that one of my 2007 reading resolutions is fulfilled. Now I have to go and write the review, fulfilling yet another of them.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The size of my library is seriously out of control, but sometimes books just show up on the doorstep, looking for a home, and who am I to turn them down?
Things are progressing nicely with "historical thrillers," and I'm expecting that it'll be a longer chapter than in the previous edition, just like with mysteries. So many new titles have appeared in the last four years. Fortunately, other chapters should be considerably shorter than the originals. I don't expect or want another 800-page book, and I don't think my publisher does, either.
I've heard rumors that copies of HNR's 10th anniversary issue have made their way across the Atlantic to some UK subscribers. If you're one of them, please let me know what you think. US residents can expect theirs within a week or two. Because of the vagaries of the US Postal Service, airmail (or, as they say now, First Class International) takes considerably less time than Periodicals Rate.
Monday, August 13, 2007
From the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles: an article on what they term "Jewish pulp fiction," aka novels about Biblical figures. It's a different angle on the topic, and the editors' comments are interesting to read. However, there are a few errors in content and spelling, plus some insulting remarks ("Jewish pulp fiction, ranging in quality from a Regency Romance to commercial literary fiction") that make me suspect the author's never read a Regency. And, ugh, Fabio.
In an interview with Dear Author, Pocket's Lauren McKenna talks mostly about their fall romance releases, but reveals that they're looking to add more historical fiction to their line:
Q: What should we be on the look out for in the future (i.e., changes in Pocket’s line, new line launches, ebook initiatives).
A: Pocket will be looking to expand our trade and hard cover lists in the areas of women’s fiction and historical fiction.
Bernard Cornwell is appearing in A Midsummer Night's Dream on Cape Cod.
Out of Oregon, an interview with Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank, a novel about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress, Mamah Cheney, which is being billed as one of this fall's big books.
From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: Jeffrey Marshall, archivist and special collections librarian at the University of Vermont, explains how he found mention of the 1830 abortion scandal that turned into his novel The Inquest.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Maureen Peters is an extremely prolific Welsh novelist. Under her real name, she writes mostly about royalty, though lately she's been writing Victorian gothic romances. As Catherine Darby (her best known pseudonym), she's written many gothic novels, mostly historical, from a variety of eras. I own nearly all her books though am missing a significant few. Peters is a strong storyteller, concentrating on the interpersonal relationships of royals and nobles. She can create a regal atmosphere using prose and dialogue alone, so much that you nearly forget that apart from descriptions of clothing (which I can't judge the accuracy of), there's almost no real historical detail. Her accuracy, with regard to people, locales, and events, is OK in places but far off in others, and in A Song for Marguerite, there are some genealogical mistakes - but more on that later.
When I stopped by my Robert Hale bookcase yesterday, this title popped out at me - and I couldn't resist reviewing it because I know Edward II has his online fans. It's also short; you can read it in an hour or two. Unfortunately for poor Marguerite, but fortunately for you ladies, A Song for Marguerite deals far more with the Edward II-Piers Gaveston relationship than it does with this little-known queen.
We first glimpse Marguerite as a ten-year-old princess living at the court of her brother, Philip IV of France. She knows she's plain and can never compete in the beauty department with her older sister, Blanche. When the English king's brother Edmund, called the "English duke" (what is he duke of? I believe he's the Earl of Lancaster), pays a visit to France to discuss a possible treaty, he tries to arrange Edward I's marriage to one of the royal daughters, probably Blanche, on condition that Gascony be part of her dower. Nothing happens in this regard for about five years (dates are very vague), at which point the Queen Mother decides that the bride will be Marguerite, not Blanche, who's already been promised to Austria. And a good thing for Marguerite, for she prefers an older, more stable man for a husband, even if he's over sixty, and is simply glad to marry at all. She also longs to live in England.
The basic historical story follows: Edward I and Marguerite are happy together, though he treats her more like a cosseted child than a wife. As Edward grows older, he becomes more condescending, waxing on about his adored first wife, Eleanor of Castile, and making it clear to Marguerite that she doesn't measure up in the brains department. Marguerite, though sweet and kind, remains remarkably naive throughout. To her credit, she goes out of her way to befriend her stepson, Ned, as well as his constant companion, Piers Gaveston, and defends their friendship almost to the point of absurdity; she refuses to believe anything improper about them.
Piers Gaveston is easily the most compelling character. He's very charismatic, and people are naturally drawn to him, even Edward I, who reluctantly makes him leave court when it becomes obvious he's a bad influence. Marguerite, too respectful of her much older husband to show her true self with him, can relax around Piers and open up to him about political matters and the royal court. One scene at Woodstock, where Marguerite and her children rest before she's summoned north to join the king in Scotland, is particularly revelatory. Much of an age, the two speak frankly about her marriage and laugh about Henry II and Rosamund Clifford, whose ghost was said to haunt the estate. To Marguerite, Piers jokingly reveals his cynicism about true love, using the earlier royal pair as an example: "'If Henry the Second were to haunt every chamber where he laid a woman,' says Piers, 'he'd have precious little time to spend in Heaven.'" Piers makes humorous asides such as this throughout the novel.
Ned appears as a blond, muscular youth who, to his father's dismay, prefers to spend his time on pursuits suitable for peasants - rowing, swimming, and, yes, thatching. And young Isabella, Marguerite's niece, is described as a beautiful, charming child who turns into a gorgeous young woman. She grows up in truth once she realizes Ned's true feelings toward Gaveston. The scene where she tries to explain the reasons behind her unhappy marriage to her very naive yet older aunt is both touching and sad.
Now to the genealogical mistakes. When puzzling out relationships between characters, Peters occasionally mixes up Marguerite's sister-in-law, Jeanne of Navarre, Queen of France (called by the English equivalent Jane for some odd reason), and her mother, Marie of Brabant, the queen dowager. For example, it's not Marie's mother who married Edmund of Lancaster as his second wife, but Jeanne's mother. Peters repeats this incorrect fact several times. Gaveston also never consummates his marriage or has children; wrong. And the historical background - well, it's lightly sketched, to put it mildly. Edward I does go on campaign to Scotland, and all sorts of nasty things get done to William Wallace (off-screen), but Marguerite doesn't like politics, so we don't see much else.
This is undoubtedly more screen-time than this brief novel deserves, but as the saying goes, if I'd had more time, I'd have made it shorter. It's a smooth, easy read that gives insight into some members of Edward II's circle, and completists will probably want to read it, though be on the alert for historical errors. There are more that I haven't mentioned, and probably others still that I didn't pick up on.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I wonder if you can talk about the dialogue and speech patterns you created for Emma and the other Bethelites, because they feel very natural for people of their history and background.
Thank you for that! I didn't want to use dialect as I think it can detract from the flow of the story. I decided I'd use a few German words and phrases and focus on sentence structure. Many of those phrases I heard often from my own grandmother and great aunts and uncles. (Gee, you might even be able to see it my structure here!)
We see the Mennonites settling western Canada then, for example. And this is when the Hueterittes, Shakers, Inspirationalists and others formed in the US, the early 1830s. But these groups discovered that there is a delicate balance between isolation and engagement. Faith communities today have similar struggles, really. Most of the communities needed economic interaction with their neighbors to survive. Some of the religious groups sought new recruits from the larger society but others simply wanted to be left to live in peace and support their families.
There is some evidence that Emma's grandfather, father and uncles might have been part of a group in Bavaria who petitioned the emperor about reforms and were banished as a result of this perceived disloyalty and challenge. They didn't see themselves as disloyal people. When they came under attack by their government, they fled. But they were accustomed to being followers, so it seems likely they'd seek another strong leader to follow who kept the faith, so to speak, but who didn't get caught up in rules and regulations. They found this person in George Rapp in Pennsylvania.
Do you have a preference for writing about historical as opposed to fictional characters, or do you go with whatever stories inspire you?
Joyce Carol Oates in a lecture I heard said one of the things a good story should do is to be a witness to voices that would otherwise not be heard. I'm drawn to actual historical people, often those whose stories have been overlooked in my mind. Women in particular. Native women, for example. Or in this instance a woman involved in a male-dominated religious community. But certain events also capture me. I'm always wanting to answer, "How did that happen?" or "What was she trying to do that got her there?" and then finally "What does her story have to say to a woman/man/community of today?"
What do you hope readers will take away with them after finishing your novels?
That living in communities of all kinds requires the ability to change, to know when to stand firm and when to be flexible. That life is filled with challenge and uncertainty, and it's a mark of our character how we allow others to help us find new direction in a time of trial. That all of us need to have our voices heard. That grief has many siblings, and loss must be honored and witnessed to or it will hold us hostage. That engagement with community enriches the soul and contributes to the larger world even if all desires of one's heart are never fully met. That doing the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process is worthy work that has been going on especially for women for generations.
I once spoke to a group of second graders asking how they'd describe the word "powerful." To me it means being able to set a goal and then gather resources in order to achieve it. I think most of my stories are about how people did that back then, how ordinary people did that and what they have to teach us about doing that today. But the kids said things like "rich" or "strong" was what powerful meant. Then this one boy sitting quietly in the front said "Oh no. Powerful is when you want to quit but you keep going." I hope my readers find within themselves that kind of power through my stories.
Thank you, Jane - this has been fascinating!
To recap, A Clearing in the Wild was published by WaterBrook Press ($13.99, 370pp, 1578567343) in 2006, and A Tendering in the Storm ($13.99, 383pp, 9781578567355) in April 2007. Visit Jane's website at http://www.jkbooks.com/ and her blog, http://www.janekirkpatrick.blogspot.com/, for more information.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I contacted the author of the quilting book to find out where she got some of her information as a place to start. She sent me to the Aurora Colony. But the society was in a huge remodeling project, and it wasn't convenient to have me explore their archives then, so I pursued the Bethel angle. I located articles written about the colony, some in German, that my local librarian helped me get a translation of. I made contacts in Bethel, Missouri, found there was a historical society there as well, and posted on some genealogy sites that I was seeking information. That led me to Willapa Bay in Washington State, where the scouts of which Emma was a part first settled.
Did you find the research process for this series any more challenging than for your other novels, given that the Bethelites were a German-speaking community?
Because the community lasted for more than twenty years and were the only communal society to really survive that long in the West, there were several non-fiction books that included sections about them. Some of these were written in German but had been translated into English already. When I located some descendants, I learned that they had many letters, in German, that they'd slowly been translating. There was a great day when we had a huge dining room table of some of the translated letters lying around. I happened to pick one up, read it and discover it was signed by Emma herself! Her great-nephew hadn't realized he had that letter... he'd been looking for letters from his great-grandfather. But overall, their German-speaking was less of an issue than researching my Tender Ties series based on the life of Marie Dorion, a Native American woman! Now that research had its challenges!
A book written in the late 1800s, in English, about several colonies included some of these tidbits. Another descendant wrote about the Bethel Colony as recent as the 1990s included a few more. I was fascinated that they celebrated Christmas so early in the morning or that they etched eggs with great beauty for Easter or other occasions such as births! And because their musical instruments were so unusual, the state historical society had done an article some years back about those. There were actual letters from the leader, too, that identified some of the traditions. Websites about German-speaking people offered up clues. I had German friends who own a B&B and taught me about German dishes and traditions.
I wanted a way to tell about the trials of both women as wives of leaders and their challenges in two different sites. Since the story was being told through Emma's eyes, I couldn't put her 150 miles away in order to share what was happening in that offshoot colony in Oregon while she was in Washington Territory. And since some of the tension came from the reluctance of the Missourians to sell the property back there and join the leader in Oregon, I needed a way for Emma and Louisa Keil to know about that and used the epistolary format for that from Emma's sister, Catherine. In the draft, I actually had many more letters from Catherine, but my editors suggested we cut some of them back.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
On this slow Sunday morning, we're expecting another day of 90 degrees, which means I'll probably be out on the porch most of the day, alternately reading and trying not to fall asleep, though we may go up to Champaign later.
I haven't posted any reviews in a while, and these books deserve longer writeups, but I figured short takes were better than nothing. Most of the other recent reads on my sidebar will appear in a future NoveList column.
Molly Brown, Invitation to a Funeral (St. Martin's, 1999, c1995). Restoration playwright Aphra Behn takes the stage as amateur detective. She scours all of London to discover the murderers of two brothers who kindly arranged a funeral for her father, who died aboard a ship en route to Surinam with her and her mother fourteen years earlier. This madcap adventure presents a who's-who of Restoration England, for nearly everyone of importance (Nell Gwyn, Samuel Pepys, Louise de Keroualle, and of course the rakish Earl of Rochester) makes an appearance, save Charles II himself. Brown has a gift for comedy: Aphra tries and fails to teach a beautiful empty-headed thespian how to act, and Louise de Keroualle, publicly on a hunger strike in despair over the loss of the king's affections, secretly raids the royal kitchens after dark. Great fun. This appears to be Brown's only novel. What ever happened to her?
Marjorie Eccles, The Shape of Sand (St. Martin's, 2006). In 1946, while her family's former country estate of Charnley is being renovated for new owners, construction workers uncover letters and a diary belonging to Harriet Jardine's mother, Beatrice, who disappeared after a house party in 1910. Harriet and her two sisters, teenagers at the time, believed the gossip that Beatrice ran off with her half-Egyptian lover, whom she'd met on a visit to Egypt seven years earlier. The truth is none so simple, as the sisters learn when workers uncover a mummified woman's body behind Charnley's walls. Scenes shift between the postwar and Edwardian periods, with glimpses of Egypt as seen through Beatrice's journal. Readers expecting a traditional mystery may find it moves at a languorous pace, and there is no formal detective, just a gradual uncovering of the mystery. Yet it's a gripping character study that makes you wonder how well it's possible to know someone.
Melanie Gifford, The Gallows Girl (Piatkus, 2006). I bought this novel from Book Depository purely based on the blurb, as I'd heard nothing about it elsewhere. This is a shame, because despite having no "marquee names," it's an atmospheric story with a completely unpredictable plot. In 18th-century Hampshire, Isaac and Harriet Curtis run a coaching inn, Green Gallows, along a major thoroughfare to London. They raise their elder daughter, Lucy, to be a lady, hoping to find her a rich husband, while they treat their other daughter, Rachel, more like a servant. Fifteen-year-old Rachel has always loved working the stable yard, and ignores her unkempt appearance, though can't help feeling jealous of the attention Lucy receives. When rumors of a new toll road reach Green Gallows, Isaac fears for their livelihood and takes action, selling off Lucy into marriage to an odious, wealthy older man. And that's only the beginning. Most remarkably, though the setting rarely leaves Hampshire early on, it never feels claustrophobic, and it introduced me to a richly described world of financial struggles amongst the rising middle classes in small-town Georgian England. This dark, suspenseful novel of power, obsession, and revenge is also a very unusual coming-of-age story.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Philippa Gregory LIVE will feature a live simulcast streamed through the Internet of Gregory speaking to an audience in London. She will discuss her historical research; writing process; her latest novel, The Boleyn Inheritance; the upcoming major motion picture based on The Other Boleyn Girl; her next novel, The Other Queen; and much more. Throughout the one-and-a-half-hour long event, online attendees will have the opportunity to ask Philippa their own questions and interact with other fans and book clubs.You can sign up at http://www.philippagregorylive.com/ and get a reminder in your email with login directions when the date draws closer. I vaguely recall that this is a weekend date I signed up to work the reference desk; I hope I'm wrong.
From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books comes this article by Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant's Girl, on the vagaries of genre classification. Her novel was nominated for a Quill (it received a starred review from Publishers Weekly) in the romance category, and the PW review called it "historical romance at its finest," yet it's not really a romance by definition. The novel itself - not to mention its title and cover art - have gone through several iterations, mainstream to romance to mainstream again, before final publication.
And then we have the UK cover, which keeps the same title yet shows an embracing couple from the WWII years; decidedly more romantic, which may have helped it become a bestseller there. I can't help but remember the frilly, sentimental UK cover of Michael Wallner's April in Paris, which features another embracing couple. Yet if readers pick up that novel expecting a traditional romance (rather than a fairly dark thriller with a love story on the side), they'll be quite surprised.
Finally, something every household needs: possessed books. Amuse your friends, scare your enemies. (And your cats.)
I'd never gotten around to reading her novels, though I own copies of them all. Her obituary is in the Houston Chronicle.
Things may be quiet around here as I try to get my historical mystery chapter completed (I'm almost done, and it's - sigh - quite long), but I'll be posting the first part of my interview with Jane Kirkpatrick next Monday.