Saturday, November 29, 2008

Announcements, announcements

At long last, registration for the next Historical Novel Society conference is open. It will be held June 12-14, 2009, at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg, Illinois, in Chicago's northwestern suburbs.

Julianne posted about it on Writing the Renaissance last week, but I've been so busy lately processing registrations and fixing up the website that I neglected to announce this on my own blog! In less than a week, we already have over thirty people signed up. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in person.

Three other librarians and readers' advisors (two of whom are my editors) and I will be presenting a session on some of the best historical novels we've read since the last conference. Alas, it's scheduled opposite two other programs that sound really interesting, so I hope people who attend (or are speaking at) one of the others will report back.

Also, while scanning my publisher's website, I noticed that not only do I have a publication date and price for Historical Fiction II: A Guide to the Genre, my forthcoming reference book, but it has a cover - and it's headless! Publication will be March 30, 2009. The copyedited manuscript arrives within two weeks, so I'll be proofreading over the holidays.

Finally, some recent historical novel deals from Publishers Marketplace. Additional information, added by me, is indicated in brackets below.

Fiona Mountain's LADY OF THE BUTTERFLIES, a sweeping historical novel -- with love triangles, armed rebellion, and murder by poison -- based on the life of Lady Eleanor Glanville, a 17th century naturalist and butterfly collector, to Rachel Kahan at Putnam, for publication in 2010, by Jane Kirby at Random House UK (US).

[Fiona Mountain has a website, with a short paragraph describing the new novel. I haven't read either of her mysteries, but highly recommend her earlier Isabella, a sweeping love story about Fletcher Christian and his cousin Isabella Curwen, and the untold reasons behind the mutiny on the Bounty. Has anyone else read it?]

Kate Quinn's BLOOD FOR BLOOD, an epic novel of ancient Rome, pitched as Bernard Cornwell for women, in which a slave girl falls in love with the greatest gladiator of the time, all culminating in a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor Domitian, to Jackie Cantor at Berkley, for publication in 2010, by Pam Strickler (NA).

Vanitha Sankaran's WATERMARK, set in 1320 in Narbonne, France, when church-controlled parchment made paper making a near-heresy, told by a young albino mute woman, the literate daughter of a papermaker imprisoned when the Inquisition finds her using paper to write troubadour poetry about courtly love, to Lucia Macro at Avon, by Marly Rusoff at Marly Rusoff & Associates (NA).

[The author's website has an excerpt of her upcoming novel, which will be on my TBR as soon as it appears.]

Kathryn Wagner's DANCING FOR DEGAS, the story of Degas and his ballerina muse; in the tradition of Girl with a Pearl Earring, showing the opulence of late 19th century Paris, as told through the eyes of a young Parisian ballerina, to Caitlin Alexander at Bantam Dell, in a very nice deal, for publication in Spring 2010, by Kirsten Manges at Kirsten Manges Literary (NA).

Ron Rash's THE INNOCENTS, set during World War I, about a deserter taken in by a young Appalachian woman who knows nothing of his past, to Lee Boudreaux at Ecco, in a good deal, by Marly Rusoff at Marly Rusoff & Associates (NA).

Janet Woods's HEARTS OF GOLD, the story of a girl abandoned on the Australian goldfields, and of the man who rescued her, to Amanda Stewart at Severn House, in a nice deal, for publication in April 2009, by Pat Hornsey at International Scripts.

[Woods has written many romantic sagas; her website is here.]

Ghostwalk author Rebecca Stott's THE CORAL THIEF, set in 1815 Paris about a group of radical philosopher-thieves on a mission to reclaim art and paintings stolen by Napoleon, to Cindy Spiegel at Spiegel & Grau, for publication in fall 2009, by Emma Sweeney.

[Author's website here, with information on her first novel, Ghostwalk.]

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yes, we're back to looking at cover art again

What can I say, the topic fascinates me. I was at the B&N in Champaign last weekend, scanning the new book displays up front, and noticed that some historical novels published in hardcover last year were recently released in trade paperback (or mass market in the case of House of Lanyon), with new cover designs. Some of the changes are slight, but others are completely different. You'll notice that women were added to three of them.

The "before" is on the left, the "after" on the right.

Which do you prefer? Would the paperback covers make you take a second look at these books?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tacky Tuesday

While going through my bookshelves last weekend, I found another bunch of vintage historical novels whose covers (and blurbs) are the epitome of tackiness.

I don't think anything can quite match the tackiness of the first batch, though. Has anyone actually read any of these?

"To restore the honor of Rome and of his own family, Severus Varus left the decadent life of Rome... his only hope was to join the barbarians."

From the back cover: "Violence, desire, and royal intrigue! With the clash of swords and the thrust of spears, The Purple Quest builds to an exciting climax in the city of Tyre and aboard the ships that for five hundred years had carried the Phoenicians to the farthest corners of the ancient world..."

"Godiva... beautiful but unhappy. Tom was a cautious man -- he never meant to spy..."

"Jezebel, whose bewitching beauty was a deadly weapon, would stop at nothing to further her greed for power. One man among many who came under her spell was Prince Michael of Judah."

"The tumult of battle and the decadent luxuries of harem life are all vividly recreated in this lusty novel of 16th century Turkey."

"Barbaric Greeks storm the walls of the great city, hungry for the wealth of the rich and highly cultured Trojan civilization."

"A magnificent, ringing novel of the days when lusty Northmen raped and plundered the civilized world."

"Unholy love! Amid the soft, scented corruption of the royal court, the mighty Cardinal Richelieu had held himself aloof... but when this steel-nerved man beheld the young Queen Anne, his body betrayed him, and for the first time his brilliant mind became a servant to his lust."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Guest post from Jeri Westerson

Today Jeri Westerson, author of the medieval mystery Veil of Lies, is stopping by on her blog tour to speak about the appeal of history and historical fiction. Welcome, Jeri!

Veil of Lies is a November release from St. Martin's Minotaur; it was named an Editors' Choice title in November's Historical Novels Review. Jeri's blog is Getting Medieval.

Enthralled By History

Why are we enthralled by history? What makes those long-ago days so intriguing? For some, it started with an inspiring teacher who knew how to involve their students in the times and places in the past (alternately, I hear from people who said how much they hated history because their teachers were so dull). I was lucky. I grew up with the stuff at home.

My mother was a dedicated Anglophile, and my father was after a medieval history degree to teach before he was waylaid by those new-fangled inventions called the computer. Needless to say, anything I wanted to know about England in the middle ages was at my fingertips. Our bookshelves at home were better than Google. They groaned with the classics of historical fiction: Thomas B. Costain, Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, Norah Lofts, Mary Stewart. But there was also Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales. In fact, we had a children's version of The Canterbury Tales and I have the book still! And my mother played a record album with an actor reciting some of the stories in Middle English. I was possibly the only kindergartner in South Central Los Angeles in the 60's—anywhere?—who could recite the first few lines of the Prologue in Middle English.

Such was my life. And history was always a part of it. I enjoyed looking back at the past and finding the threads that lead to how we shape our lives today, how something so distant could have such an impact centuries later. And it always amazes me how political leaders fail to learn from the past—even the recent past. Maybe they had lousy history teachers.

Many of us are in the enviable position of loving historical fiction. And now—thanks to pioneers like Ellis Peters with her Brother Cadfael series—we can also enjoy our history blended with mystery. I remember the first time I discovered this. It was in the early nineties and I was in an independent bookshop which, sadly, is no longer there. All they stocked were mysteries (and this was the first time I had seen that. I have since learned that there are many such bookshops all over the United States devoted solely to mysteries) and I had a yearning to read a medieval mystery, wondering if such a thing existed. Did it! There was Ellis Peters and many other authors as well. I discovered something wonderful. It was historical fiction but it had the added benefit of being a mystery!

I love immersing myself in a different place and time. The smell of the streets of London, the smokiness from hearths, the raw smells of butchered meats hanging in open stalls, the sharp tang of young wine, the dank odors of the Thames whispering on its rocky banks.

What was it like? What did the people think about in their daily lives?

How did they deal with murder?

But talking about the "Middle Ages" as one unit can be a bit deceiving. Which part are we focusing on? Depending on where we turn our eye, we concentrate on completely different experiences. Generally, when speaking of the "medieval period", scholars distinguish that portion of history from 500 to 1500 A.D. (Incidentally, no historian of any repute would be caught dead calling those earlier years the "Dark Ages." They were called the "Early Middle Ages.") As you can see, that is a tremendous span of time beginning from the fall of the Roman Empire and finishing with the dawn of what we call the Renaissance. Technology, clothing and hair styles, mores, customs, languages—a host of experiences—went through immense changes in that timeframe of one thousand years. What then do most people re-imagine as the "Middle Ages"?

I think King Arthur has a lot to do with our romantic imagery of this period. Tournaments, shining armor, flapping banners, long gowns with pointy sleeves, conical hats with transparent veils, honor, chivalry, courtly love. And yet, the historic Arthur—if ever there was one—appeared far earlier than this version of the middle ages that most diners of the Medieval Times dinner theatre are seeking. The period we're thinking of would be considered the "High Middle Ages"—the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Once the barbarian invasions ceased, Europe settled in and—despite the occasional forays into one's neighbors' domains—country borders took form and the idea of nation-states was burgeoning, along with a rise of artistic and intellectual ventures not seen before. It was an intense period of religious ideology blending with everyday life; it was the start of the crusades, forging a Eurocentric set of principles and beliefs that would march through the centuries, influencing our religious and nationalistic ethics to this very day.

The "Late Middle Ages"—the period I like to write about—was truly the dawn of national identity. In England, the language of the court was English (where before it had been French, the language of the Normans). The 14th century was the time of Chaucer, where even the popular literature was in Middle English, our precursor to modern English. It was the time of the aftermath of the Plague (some forty years prior to the action of the story), tournaments, battles, a boy king who, at the end of the century, is deposed and murdered.

Falling in love with history is usually a lifelong obsession. I know there are the minority of historical fiction readers who only concentrate on one period of time. But the majority won't turn their nose up at an Egyptian novel and sneer at a Roman story. No, we history lovers love it all, whether it's the foreignness of the setting as in Simon Levack's Aztec mysteries, or a story of ancient Japan as in I.J. Parker's mystery series, or something in the western European tradition that we find familiar. My particular brand of mystery is a medieval noir called VEIL OF LIES. My protagonist, Crispin Guest, is a disgraced knight turned detective on the mean streets of 14th century London. Not only do I get to immerse myself in all the intricacies of England in the 1300s, but I also derive a bit of the style from the noir and hard-boiled novels of the 1930s and '40s. What's not to like about that?

You can read the first chapter of VEIL OF LIES at my website