Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday linkfest

Bad news for all the googlers for Sarah Ferguson's Hartmoor who have been finding my blog through this earlier post. The Telegraph reports, per an announcement from the Duchess's literary collaborator Laura van Wormer, that plans for the "racy historical novel" have been postponed indefinitely; the co-authors are exploring their options.

Historical fiction readers have two more days to participate in Julianne Douglas's market research survey on what motivates you to purchase debut historical novels. Please jump over to Julianne's blog if you haven't already!

Publishers Weekly interviews Jo Graham about Hand of Isis, her new historical fantasy about Cleopatra's half-sister and handmaiden, Charmian.

In an interview for the Courier-Mail, Australia, Kate Morton enjoys exploring the early 20th century in fiction and discusses her first two books but says she doesn't write historical novels. Well, The House at Riverton (Australian title The Shifting Fog) certainly seemed like historical fiction to me... one of my top three reads for 2008, to be specific.

In another case of label avoidance, a reviewer from the Financial Times thinks Barry Unsworth's Land of Marvels doesn't really qualify as historical fiction, either, because "more than simply being set in history ... Unsworth’s fiction is often about history."

Some have the odd notion that historical novelists must be interested in the past only for its own sake, without concern for how history can shed light on the present or even the future. Not so.

Honolulu's Star-Bulletin talks to two novelists who flesh out historical tales, Paul Malmont (Jack London in Paradise) and Bill Riddle (Dead Downwind).

Cora Hamilton's I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend, a novel seen through the eyes of Austen's childhood friend Jenny Cooper, was acquired by Macmillan Children's Books. On the other hand, if you're weary of Jane Austen-inspired dramas, bite back against the trend.

The Toronto Star speaks to Susanna Kearsley about The Winter Sea and her opinions on romantic fiction.

We have links to four interviews with the four historical novelists in Quaestor2000's initial list. Alistair Forrest, a former Shropshire businessman, is interviewed by the Shropshire Star for the launch of his first historical novel, Libertas, set in Roman-era Spain. Then Jen Black has a lengthy interview in the Hexham Courant following the release of Far After Gold; Brian Sellers talks to the Wiltshire Times about his Anglo-Saxon novel The Whispering Bell; and Carla Nayland is interviewed on BBC Radio Suffolk about Paths of Exile, also set in Anglo-Saxon England (fast-forward to 23 minutes in; link expires next Tuesday). Give it a listen for some fascinating insights into the period.

The theme of this year's Key West Literary Seminar was historical fiction. Read an overview of the event, along with comments from presenters and attendees, from the Sun-Sentinel (Florida). Margaret Donsbach reported on the event at HistoricalNovels.Info - scroll down to the entries from Jan 22 and 20.

And the Book Depository is apparently doing quite well.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

RNA Romantic Novel of the Year announced

...and it's a historical novel. Julia Gregson's East of the Sun, a story about love, friendship and adventure in 1928 India, is the winner for 2009, as announced yesterday at the RNA's Awards Lunch in London. East of the Sun, a Richard & Judy Book Club pick during summer 2008, was published by Orion in 2008 and will appear from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster US in June (trade pb, $16).

On the shortlist were Cecelia Ahern's Thanks for the Memories, Lesley Downer's The Last Concubine (set in 1860s Japan), Linda Gillard's Star Gazing, Susanna Kearsley's Sophia's Secret (alt title The Winter Sea, timeslip/romantic suspense with a historical novelist as protagonist!), and Judith Lennox's Before the Storm (generational saga set in early 20th c Cornwall). More details on the shortlisted books at the Romantic Novelists' Association website.

For those unfamiliar with the award, "romantic novel" does not mean "romance novel." It is better described as a novel with romantic elements. Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl won the award in 2002, as did Rosamunde Pilcher's Coming Home in 1996, Reay Tannahill's Passing Glory in 1990, and Valerie Fitzgerald's Zemindar in 1982. See a list of all winners here.

Of the novels on the 2009 shortlist, only the Ahern and Gregson appear to have US publishers (or will; the Ahern is due out in April). Alas.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Winner of Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction announced

This prize announcement just came through from the source. You may remember the Langum Charitable Trust's decision to ban Random House's books from eligibility for their prizes following RH's cancellation of Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina. (If I read the conditions correctly, the ban would have been lifted following Beaufort Books' subsequent acquisition and publication of the novel.)

In any case, the winner of the 2008 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction is Kathleen Kent, for The Heretic's Daughter, a fictional retelling of the Salem witch trials from the viewpoint of Sarah Carrier, young daughter of one of the first victims. More details on The Heretic's Daughter at the publisher website (Little, Brown/Hachette).

Elisabeth Payne Rosen received an Honorable Mention for her Tennessee Civil War saga Hallam's War, and Jack Fuller a Director's Mention for his multi-period novel Abbeville. Both the Rosen and Fuller are published in hardcover by Unbridled Books; the paperback of Hallam's War will appear from Berkley in August.

It's nice to see some US-set historical novels earning accolades, and there are very few prizes dedicated to historical fiction, period. For more information on these titles, see the Langum Charitable Trust website. Congratulations to the winners and publishers.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Deals, with brief commentary

From Publishers Marketplace. Obvious typos have been corrected. If you see other errors in the listings, please leave a comment.

Co-author with her late aunt Mary Ann Shaffer of NYT bestselling THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY Annie Barrows' novel set in the 1930s inspired by her own family history, a love story set against the backdrop of a country under the siege of the Depression, but also a story about an oddball family and the effect they have on an exotic city girl from the east, sent by her father to take a job in the WPA, who rooms with a quirky family down south, to Susan Kamil for Dial Press, in a two-book deal, by Amy Rennert of the Amy Rennert Agency (world).

[I loved Guernsey and will be reading this one, too. I even bought people copies of Guernsey as Christmas gifts, the first time I've ever done this with a novel that the recipient didn't already have on a wish list.]

NYT bestselling author of THE TSARINA'S DAUGHTER Carolly Erickson's next two historical novels, the first featuring the rivalry between Bessie Blount and Anne Boleyn, again to Charles Spicer at St. Martin's, in a significant deal, by Heide Lange at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (world English).

[Bessie was the mother of Henry FitzRoy, whose birth proved that Henry VIII was capable of siring a healthy male heir. Thought she was out of the picture (married off elsewhere) by the time of Anne Boleyn's prominence at court, however?]

CASSANDRA AND JANE author Jill Pitkeathley's ENCHANTING ELIZA, the story of the Countess Eliza de Feuillide, Jane Austen's cousin whose life was much more intriguing and scandalous than Jane's own; told in the voices of those who knew her best, exploring some of the facts of Eliza's life and embellish upon them to illuminate the progressive and passionate woman who was a great influence on Jane's much-loved writing, to Stephanie Fraser at Harper, in a nice deal, for publication in April 2010 (World).

[I am not much of a Janeite, and so Cassandra and Jane surprised me; I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.]

Kelli Stanley's RICE BOWL, set in 1940 San Francisco, a defiant heroine Miranda Corbie, P.I., former Spanish Civil War nurse and ex-escort risks everything to investigate a hushed-up Chinatown murder, and exposes the destructive racial tensions between the Chinese-American and Japanese American communities, to Marcia Markland at Minotaur, in a two-book deal, for publication in 2010, by Kimberley Cameron at Reece Halsey North (NA).

[Kelli has also written Nox Dormienda, a mystery of ancient Rome, first in the Arcturus mystery series - a genre she terms "Roman noir." She moves to Minotaur with this new 1940s-set series.]

Cornelia Nixon's JARRETTSVILLE, set in Maryland days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Jarrettsville is a novel about the true love story of the author's ancestor, Martha Jane Cairnes, who murders her fiance in front of his Union cavalry militia, and is later acquitted despite fifty eye-witnesses to her crime, to Jack Shoemaker at Counterpoint, by Wendy Weil at the Wendy Weil Agency.

[Nixon, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Mills College, is the winner of numerous literary awards, including the Pushcart Prize in 1995 and 2003.]

Arliss Ryan's THE SHAKESPEARE CHRONICLES, a fictional autobiography of Anne Hathaway which presents her as author and co-author of many of Shakespeare's works, to Ellen Edwards at NAL, by Robert Guinsler at Sterling Lord Literistic.

[Shakespeare is hot right now; I'm in the midst of reading Karen Harper's Mistress Shakespeare for a NoveList writeup. I reviewed Ryan's The Kingsley House, a Midwestern family saga, for the HNR in 2000, and you can find the review online here, 3/4 way down the page. There are some formatting issues with those old reviews that I need to fix, but it's still readable.]

The Painter from Shanghai author Jennifer Cody Epstein's THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT, set between Japan and San Francisco in the wake of America's 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, about a young Japanese survivor and an American Army photographer - and about love and redemption found through dance, art and forgiveness, to Jill Bialosky at Norton, in a good deal, by Elizabeth Sheinkman at Curtis Brown UK (NA).

[Painter from Shanghai was an Editors' Choice for HNR last year.]

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday night roundup

I'm blogging while attempting to ignore the Super Bowl on the television behind me. Here we are in February already; January was a tough reading month for me, as I'd only found three novels worth pursuing to the very end.

The first was Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath, volume one of Sigrid Undset's trilogy (I'm saving the remainder for a later time). The second was Carla Kelly's Daughter of Fortune, her first novel, about a young woman's struggle for belonging and survival in the 17th-century Southwest. (It took me forever to purchase this book, because online booksellers kept sending me Allende's novel of the same title by mistake.) And the third, which I finished last night around 10pm, was John Harwood's The Seance, a superb Victorian ghost story about mesmerism, a decaying old mansion, a mysterious inheritance, and diaries that may hold the secret to a murder by occult means ... it reminded me quite a bit of Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.

I'm doing a longer writeup for my March NoveList column, but I'll say here that I highly recommend it. It's deliciously morbid without being grim, and the author clearly knows what he's doing. He'll quickly anticipate your thoughts about where the plot is leading, but the novel, just like the seances themselves, is all about deliberate, elegant deception.

Besides, you can't go wrong with these covers. Victorian stencil art (UK) or Julia Margaret Cameron (US), take your pick.

You may not have noticed I haven't said anything specific about the storyline or characters. That too is deliberate. I hope this blurb intrigues you enough to want to read it anyway.

In other news, many literary awards were announced at the American Library Association's midwinter conference last week. Among them were those presented by the Reading List Council, honoring the best in genre fiction in seven categories -- one of which is Historical Fiction. For 2009, the winner was The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara, with the following titles on the shortlist: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell; The Given Day by Dennis Lehane; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows; and The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss. (Source: RUSA blog and the fictionmags mailing list.) I've read both the Russell and the Shaffer/Barrows; both are well deserving of their place on the shortlist.