Friday, March 12, 2010

Contest winner, and about that photo

I'm pleased to announce the winner of the Fairest Portion of the Globe contest: Sue, who named Eleanor Roosevelt as her favorite female historical character. Congratulations, Sue! I'll be in touch shortly, and I hope you'll enjoy the novel as much as I did. A big thanks to Mary and Liz Clare (aka Frances Hunter) for providing such an excellent guest post and offering the giveaway, and thanks also to everyone who entered. I enjoyed reading all of your comments as well as your heroine picks!

My current read is Dana Hand's Deep Creek, and I hope to have a review posted within the next week. After that, I'll be settling in with David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, set in Japan in 1799, since I've got a tight deadline to make. Somewhere in there, the remainder of the reviews for May's Historical Novels Review will be arriving... good thing I plan to take time off next week while the students are gone.

You may have noticed this blog has a new header image, my minor concession to a redesign as part of the whole blogiversary thing (I don't have time now to do more). A couple visitors have commented positively on it (thanks!). I got into a conversation with another reader earlier today that got me thinking about why exactly I went with this picture, and since it fits in with my approach to the genre and my feelings about cover art in general, I thought I'd elaborate.

The image is an actual photo, one taken by my husband two years ago. The Lincoln Log Cabin historic site, a living history village seven miles from here, is meant to re-create pioneer life in rural Illinois circa 1845. It's situated on the site where Thomas and Sarah Bush Lincoln, father and stepmother of the President, lived and worked. The cabin is a replica of the original, which was lost following its appearance at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (My local hospital is named after Mrs. Lincoln. The main drag through town, route 16, is otherwise known as Lincoln Avenue. There's a pretty tacky 70' Lincoln statue a little further east that has a small resort built around it; we've played mini-golf there a few times. You really can't avoid Lincoln here...)

The site's one of those local attractions where you always bring out-of-town visitors. It sits on a large expanse of prairie, along with many other buildings. The costumed volunteers always stay in character, sticking to their 1840s viewpoint if you ask them questions. The site was briefly closed during our esteemed former governor's tenure, due to a budget shortfall, but it's back open and will hopefully stay that way. If you ever find yourself passing through the area, it's definitely worth an hour or two of your time. Other photos from our visit are scattered throughout this post, and yes, that is a real live, very unhappy sheep being sheared further up. The header photo has been sepia-tinted, thanks to Photoshop, to match the Blogger-supplied background.

I'm rambling, but I do have a point to make. When it came time to choose an image to feature up-front on the blog, I knew that I wanted it to reflect American history, in particular something with a personal connection. Since I'm from New England originally, I tried at first to find a colonial American painting to adapt, but nothing worked well — but we found a recent photo of the Lincoln cabin site that did.

So many other historical fiction blogs emphasize European or British history, and I enjoy both the sites and the novels covered there. I have an enormous collection of obscure royalty novels, for instance. That said, I deliberately went for something different. The same holds true for the settings and subjects I prefer most; I'll read just about anything that's historical (gruesome war stories excepted) but, given the choice, I'll go for less familiar settings and subjects every time. The eclectic nature of my reading choices is what you'll see represented on the blog.

Similarly, when it came time to fill out the marketing questionnaire for the first Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, I put down that I didn't want it to have the "royal woman" look. Not because these covers aren't beautiful and attention-grabbing — they are — but because I didn't want to misrepresent the contents. I wanted something attractive yet atypical, preferably something which would appeal to readers of both genders, and the designers listened.

Long story short— it is a local image, but it was also my attempt to provide a broader perspective of historical fiction — something other than what everyone's used to seeing on book covers. And here you all thought it was just a nice old-timey photo :)

(One nice thing about sepia toning the original photo, shown above: the park worker in the bright red shirt is no longer so obvious!)


  1. I like the new look! Very nice.

  2. Thanks, glad you like it!

  3. I love the new picture, and the reasons behind it. You're so right about historical lit blogs being skewed toward English history - we need to be reminded that we in the US have a rich history, too -literary and visual!

    Happy Blogiversary

  4. I really like it. It evokes an era you feel strongly about and it's different. It also fits the blog itself, both in tone and color. Plus, as others have mentioned, yours is one of the few blogs that continues to offer us reviews of books about other, less covered periods in history, and that is very important.