Saturday, June 30, 2007

Me but not me

I found it amusing but a little strange to discover via the HNS Online Newsletter that there's a new historical novel, Owen Sheers' Resistance, whose protagonist has the same name as me. (Or that I had. Lewis is my maiden name.)

Maybe I should read it to learn what I was doing in Wales back in 1944? At least it got a good review...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Photos from the HNS conference

... are now online at Kodak Gallery. Enjoy the show. (Click on View Slideshow - you don't have to sign in.) I'll be linking these up to the HNS website later tonight.

Photos by Chris Cevasco, Richard Scott, Mark Johnson, Nancy Castaldo, and Val Perry's husband Mike. Captions by me. There are a bunch of people whose names I didn't know, so if you recognize any of them (or if you're one of them), let me know and I'll make the corrections.

Anyone else who took photos and is willing to have them added to the gallery, please get in touch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The mysterious Lady Kate

While scanning through Waterstone's list of historical novels this morning (with thanks to Kieron for making me look at their site again), I noticed what looks like a new historical novel from Pamela Hill: Lady Kate, from United Writers Publications, a subsidy publisher from Cornwall. I'm wondering if this is the same Pamela Hill who wrote many historicals, mostly for Robert Hale, starting in the 1950s. Her novel Flaming Janet (aka The King's Vixen) about Janet Kennedy, a mistress of Scotland's James IV, is one of my favorites, despite the silly title - which may have been pretty risque back in 1954, who knows. I own nearly everything she wrote.

What intrigues me is that the subject of Lady Kate is very much typical of Hill. Per Amazon UK (Waterstone's doesn't have a description) it's about Lady Katherine Gordon, wife of Perkin Warbeck and several other men besides - I don't know much about her later life. Unfortunately, the Tudor lady on the jacket art appears to be sporting a five o'clock shadow.

Even curiouser, Fantastic Fiction not only has Lady Kate grouped with older Hill novels, but it lists several newer ones too, mostly from United Writers. One is about Shakespeare's supposed journeys in Scotland, which is also in keeping with her usual subjects. I wonder why she's not with Robert Hale any longer, and why I hadn't heard about these additional novels before.

Has anyone else read her? Many of her older novels were published in the USA. And you can read more here (from a previous blog entry) about her novel Countess Isabel.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What my library catalog can do, but Amazon can't

Amazon UK, that is. And neither can Book Depository, Good Book Guide, or Waterstone's online...

Why do they make it impossible to search for books by publication date, or to sort results by "newest first"? I'm writing up my publishing column for August's HNR, the section listing interesting historical novels that will be in stores within the next 3-6 months. Normally I use Amazon UK for this. The advanced search page lets you sort by date, but after you view the first screen's worth of search results, it switches to the usual "sort by bestselling status" arrangement.

This functionality used to be there, but it's not any longer. Other versions of Amazon can do it, though. What I ended up doing to get a list of UK-published historical novels coming out in 2007 is searching for English-language historical fiction, which seems to cover UK as well as US, though it doesn't appear comprehensive.

Maybe only librarians look for this sort of thing, but this annoys me. Grumble.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Two historical novels to watch for

You know it's going to be a weird day when you stagger up the steps to the post office, a huge bin of packages in both hands, and the postal clerk greets you by asking if you can tell there's a dead mouse somewhere under the counter. (No, I couldn't.)

Then we traded dead mouse stories. We have three cats and live out in the country, what can I say.

But on to book news. Gillian Bradshaw has a new Roman-era novel, Dark North, out this month. If you haven't heard about it, don't be surprised. Severn House is a hardcover library publisher, so you won't be seeing it in bookstores. I know about it mainly because a Bradshaw fan wrote in via the HNS website. Amazon has it for sale, but the date is wrong - it's June, not September, and if you plan to get a copy, I suggest ordering sooner rather than later. I had to wait six months to get her earlier Alchemy of Fire because it sold out fast, but they did a 2nd printing.

According to the blurb, it's set in Roman Britain circa 208 AD, and deals with an African cavalry scout who gets involved in imperial intrigue after he saves the life of a beautiful attendant to Empress Julia Domna (wife of Septimius Severus, who's on a mission to conquer Scotland). There aren't many novels set around this period of history, I don't believe.

Also, Valerie Anand has a new historical novel forthcoming this November, from Mira. The House of Lanyon, per information I found on a Harlequin blog, is a multigenerational story set in 15th century England. The small print on the cover says "The Exmoor Saga," which makes me think it's first in a series. I never really followed her Elizabethan mystery series (written as Fiona Buckley), but if this is anything like her Bridges Over Time series - one of my favorites - it will be something to look forward to. It's the first novel she's written under her own name in over ten years. This would go on my Christmas list, but I have a feeling I'll be buying it before then. Great cover, too. The UK publication date (also Mira) is April 2008, per an editor there.

My report on Willocks' The Religion, as promised - I'll be doing a full writeup in my next NoveList column (November; August is already turned in), but I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite its having possibly more gory scenes than any other historical novel I've read. Now that says something.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More notes from the conference

I realize you may be tired of hearing about the conference, but there are more links I just have to post, because unlike me, some people in the audience actually took notes and reported back, on their blogs, in great detail.

Suzanne Adair, author of the Revolutionary War mystery Paper Woman and a member of Mary Sharratt's "rewriting the role of women" panel, kept a travel diary of sorts, and if you want to know what C.C. Humphreys, Irene Goodman, our invited editors, and Diana Gabaldon talked about in their sessions, read her blog. The conference-related entries are on June 8 and 9. This is the most comprehensive writeup I've seen so far, given that, of course, it was impossible for any one person to attend everything.

At History Hoydens (a blog I need to add to my sidebar) novelist Amanda Elyot discusses the differences between historical fiction and historical romance, along with reader expectations of each. Excellent genre analysis, although I'm not so sure about the "French" thing. I haven't seen all that many historical romances set in France, yet in historical fiction, I can name quite a few recent and successful novels - those of Susan Carroll, Sandra Gulland, Maggie Anton, Debra Finerman, Susan Vreeland - although (hmm) most of their novels, with perhaps the exception of Anton (about the daughters of the medieval Jewish scholar Rashi, who I don't think many mainstream audiences have heard of, yet) their novels have so-called "marquee names" in them. Such as Catherine de Medici, Josephine Bonaparte ...

Also, imho, if you're writing literary historical fiction, the editorial preferences for historical fiction expressed in this blog entry (and which do exist) are not nearly so firm. I haven't yet started my "literary fiction" chapter, but I know from my own observations that in terms of setting, time period, and fictional vs. historical characters, they're all over the place. (Sorry, I got sidetracked, but my upcoming book will be all about this stuff.) Anyway, both this entry and the lengthy comment trail are well worth reading, along with her earlier summary of Cindy Vallar and James L. Nelson's "Bringing Pirates to Life" session. The same holds true for Elyot's own novel Too Great a Lady about Emma Hamilton, which I reviewed for HNR's May issue.

Last but not least, conference attendee Anne Beggs did a funny writeup of the "Writing Love Scenes: How Much Sex is Too Much" panel (and if you went to the panel because of the catchy title, you can thank me, because I made it up - one of the hidden contributions I made to this conference). Apparently this panel was a big hit, although I missed it because I was at Tamara Mazzei's very informative panel on publishing options.

And here I intended this to be a short post, just a few links here and there, because I have to pack up review books tonight.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The conference committee

There'll be more photos forthcoming on the HNS website later, but here we are - the HNS conference board of directors, hanging out in the Desmond hotel courtyard just before the Friday night banquet. From left to right: Carol Anne Germain (hotel liaison), Claire Morris (publicity coordinator) standing behind Jane Kessler (bookseller liaison), Trudi Jacobson (program chair), me (treasurer), Nancy Castaldo (secretary), Jerry Burke (local coordinator), Val Perry (volunteer coordinator), Alana White (editor/agent liaison). Click on the photo for a larger version. Ann Chamberlin, past chair, was attending her son's graduation and arrived at the conference on Saturday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My living room, post-conference

I'm back in the land of corn, soybeans, and bugs, and mostly unpacked, although my mind is still back east, in NYC and Albany. The photo above partly explains why. It shows a portion of the books and galleys I found waiting for me when I returned home. Some are ones I shipped from BEA, while others arrived while I was gone. Most will be going out for review for HNR's November issue, though others will wait for February's, if they're 2008 publications. I've got an equal number of books that I picked up for myself, and a similar number for the library, though those are still on shelves in my office.

I dread the trip to the post office, and I don't think I have enough jiffy bags, either.

Because I'm nosy and a fan of Google Alerts, I found these reports of people's HNS conference experiences online today:

One member of the latter group posted a copy of the handout from my own presentation (attached to post #8), which I think is pretty cool. However, as a slight correction, none of us are agents - we're all librarians - and we didn't run out of time before the end. But this and the other handouts she posted are decent writeups, and I'm glad to see them, as there were so many sessions I didn't get to see myself.

I guess there are a couple other things I brought back from Albany, namely a sore throat and bad cold. Not sure who to blame for this, though.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

BEA/HNS conference trip, day 11

After two years of planning and preparation, it's hard to believe the Albany conference is over. It was a pretty intense three days, and it's hard to describe (and record) everything that happened since Thursday, though I'll try to write up my own experiences, at least briefly.

I didn't get to nearly as many panels and workshops as I'd have liked, as I was too busy getting people settled in / answering questions / whatever, but those that I did get to went very well, at least it seemed to me. My own panel ("the best new historical fiction: what to read and why") was slotted second on Saturday morning, and we nearly filled the room, despite being scheduled opposite Stephanie Cowell/Judith Lindbergh/Lyn Cote (in one room) and Irene Goodman (in the other). Two fellow librarians and I "booktalked" around 35 of our favorite historical novels from the last two years, telling the audience what they were about and why we enjoyed them; a slideshow of book covers accompanied the talk. We went in chronological order by the novels' settings, and finished exactly on time. I even got a few laughs, which was gratifying if occasionally surprising. I have the habit of unintentionally making double entendres, though if people thought I was being funny on purpose, I'll take credit for it.

I didn't make it to Chris Humphreys' panel first thing Saturday morning, or anything scheduled opposite for that matter, though apparently he did such a great job that his novels sold out at the bookseller room right afterward. He also had a huge line at the group book-signing that afternoon. Mary Sharratt's panel on "rewriting the role of women" was also a favorite, with all the panelists sharing their perspectives on writing about historical women, both fictional and real. And lots of people were taking notes during the "publishing continuum" panel run by Tamara Mazzei, Nancy Attwell, and Patricia Wynn during the final timeslot this morning at 10:30.

I didn't attend the "writing love scenes" panel, but I heard much laughter coming through the walls.

Note to self to stop making snarky comments about BEA in LA next year (only in relation to the weather, mind you, as I've never complained about the show itself), as there's a chance I'll end up going after all. It's fairly easy to convince me to go to book events.

Probably the best part of this conference was meeting so many people I've known only over email and/or this blog. Karen Mercury and I hung out at the Saturday evening dinner, I got to meet many authors, HNS members and reviewers for the first time, and I reconnected with other people I haven't seen since Salt Lake City. Since the conference was on the east coast, many HNS members from the UK and Europe made it over; I had some nice conversations with a historical fiction fan from Dublin, and a few others who were based in London. And, hey, I even sold seven books - and got to sign two of them. The Salt Lake City bookseller was convinced they wouldn't sell and only ordered three of them, which sold out immediately. This time, the bookseller (Blackwood and Brouwer out of Kinderhook, NY) ordered ten.

Mark didn't go to the conference per se, although he volunteered to chauffeur some of our guests of honor to/from the train station in Rensselaer. He picked up Irene Goodman on the 4pm train Friday from NYC and promptly got stuck in Albany rush-hour traffic on the way back to the Desmond, but I understand the people in the back seat (other conference goers also en route to the hotel) kept everyone entertained.

Oh, and the food at the Desmond was delicious - no "rubber chicken" or "rolled stuffed hamster" there (that's Mark's phrase to describe typical conference fare, normally chicken cordon bleu or some such). In her keynote, Diana Gabaldon mentioned it was the best food she'd ever had at a conference. I'll be curious to hear what other attendees thought, about this or any other aspect of the conference, pro or con. Any attendees reading this who didn't fill out a feedback form, my address is on the top if you want to mail it back to me, or just email me your thoughts if/when you get around to it. We really do take all comments/suggestions seriously, and we used a number of the ideas on the Salt Lake feedback sheets to plan the program for this one.

I came back from the conference energized, eager to start working again on v.2 of my book, though I'm sorry it'll be another two years until the next conference in North America. We'd do these conferences every year if they weren't so much work, and if we weren't obliged to rotate locales around the continent (which means choosing a new hotel). The good news is, though, that we've had many expressions of interest from people interested in helping with the next event, and after we decompress a little, we'll start evaluating our options. And maybe Mark and I will head to York (England) next April, where I understand the next HNS conference will be.

Conference photos forthcoming, eventually.

We're in Newington, Connecticut tonight and most of tomorrow, heading back to Indy and Charleston tomorrow night.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

BEA/HNS conference trip, day 7

I did absolutely nothing useful today, aside from answering about a dozen conference-related emails. Instead, we drove south on Rte. 9 toward the Connecticut shoreline, heading to our favorite used bookstore in the area, the Niantic Book Barn. If you want more info on it, I blogged about this place last December when we were here last.

Even better, this time we took photos. Take a look.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

BEA/HNS conference trip, day 6

Today was my half-day workshop on readers' advisory for historical fiction at the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System up in Whately/Deerfield. Judging by what attendees told me, it went pretty well. I thought so, too. Things I learned:

- I am, indeed, capable of talking about historical novels for a three-hour period (with a short break in between). Who knew? Seriously - this is the longest workshop I've done, and I was relieved that I had enough material. In fact, I skipped over a few minor things I'd thought about covering.

- People really are reading the pieces I write for NoveList, HNS, and such. Again, who knew? I get very little feedback, besides from my editor. The conference organizer had acquired and xeroxed nearly every article I'd written in the past year and distributed copies to the 20 or so attendees. This was a nice surprise, and flattering, too.

- Half-day workshops aren't all that much more work than ones that last an hour. They're just longer. Refueling with carbs midway through does help.

I had a number of good questions, and the audience was interested and responsive - it makes things go so much better when they are. (The hardest workshop I've ever taught was to a class of freshman English students who didn't say a word the entire time - they didn't even put fingers to keyboards during the hands-on portion. Talk about awkward.)

That said, with BEA and this workshop within two days of one another, I admit I'm tired. I have one day of downtime before we leave for Albany, and I'll be taking advantage of it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

BEA/HNS conference trip, days 4 and 5

The good news is... nobody had broken into my box in the mailroom overnight, so yesterday morning we sealed it up (after acquiring a few more ARCs in the exhibit hall) and mailed it off. There wasn't all that much going on at BEA on Sunday - a few people I meant to talk to had left already - so we took the shuttle back to the hotel, hung around a bit, and found lunch.

We didn't stay for Tracy Chevalier's LongPen signing at 1:30, though I did see this technology demoed earlier that weekend, as Margaret Atwood signed several books remotely (via video and computerized pen) on the Saturday afternoon.

I guess the bad news is that this is it for BEA for me for another two years - it's in LA in 2008, and I really have no desire to go to southern California in the summer. New York at close to 90 degrees and humid was enough. ALA is also in California next year (Anaheim), and I don't plan on attending that either, so 2008 may be the year we finally make it back to Europe for vacation.

On the train ride back to Hartford, I began reading Tim Willocks' The Religion, which is very good. I'm up to p.100. I wasn't sure it was my type of book, but after finding that I've enjoyed more than a few books I didn't think I would, I'm redefining what "my type of book" is. It's an epic adventure about the siege of Malta, first in a forthcoming trilogy, and begins with a very violent scene - I'm sure there will be more of these to come - but it's extremely well written.

I have no real plans for today other than laundry and thinking about tomorrow's workshop, though I've already prepared about as much as I can for that.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

BEA/HNS conference trip, days two and three

Longest. Post. Ever. You're warned. And please excuse the fact that I'm not italicizing titles now, I'm on a laptop without a mouse and it's a real pain...

It's around 7pm in NYC, we’re back in the hotel after dinner, and we may end up staying in – Mark’s watching the Red Sox game, and my legs don’t want to move after walking around almost continuously for two days straight. Mostly on concrete. Ow.

It’s been a pretty good show so far, despite the fact that some loser rifled through one of our boxes in the mailroom yesterday and stole copies of everything I’d taken two of. For historical fiction I want to read, I try to take one for myself and one to send out for review, as it’s lots easier (and more timely) to grab copies at BEA than to request them from publishers later. If I end up getting another copy in the mail later on, I pass it along to one of the other HNS people, typically. But now that I’ve gotten that complaint out of the way…

As with last year, many of the big fall titles (those being pushed heavily by publishers at their booths) seem to be historical novels. That said, I haven’t seen any huge promotions such as was done with Jed Rubenfeld’s The Interpretation of Murder in 2006. But those galleys that were piled fairly high at booths included: Jennifer Donnelly’s The Winter Rose (from Hyperion next winter; new publisher, as I remember the galleys for The Tea Rose given away by St. Martin’s Press at their booth a few years ago); Andromeda Romano-Lax’s The Spanish Bow; Erika Mailman’s The Witch’s Trinity; Ronan Bennett’s Zugzwang; Andrea Barrett’s The Air We Breathe; and Gail Tsukiyama’s Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

I went to a bunch of signings, and got copies of new/forthcoming titles from (in no particular order) Clare Clark (The Nature of Monsters), Anita Amirrezvani (The Blood of Flowers), William Martin (The Lost Constitution), Deanna Raybourn (Silent in the Sanctuary), Patricia O’Brien (Harriet and Isabella), Marie Bostwick (River’s Edge), Frank Delaney (Tipperary), Peter Melman (Landsman), and Wilbur Smith (The Quest). I hadn’t known Wilbur Smith would be there, he wasn’t in the program, but my curiosity was piqued after seeing more than few people walk by with brand-new hardcovers, and that doesn’t usually happen unless the author’s there doing a signing. So I went by the St. Martin’s Press booth (it helps to know who’s publishing what, at times) and what do you know, there he was, and there weren’t even many people in line.

Funny – the woman in front of me for the Tipperary signing was trying to get other people to join her in line by calling out: “It’s the author of Angela’s Ashes! Come on over!” Um, no, it wasn’t, but Delaney’s Ireland was a good read, and I hope she wasn’t disappointed that the author was another Irish guy named Frank.

I know I went to more signings than these, but the books aren’t in front of me anymore – two boxes are already heading back home via UPS, and another box is waiting in the mail room for Mark to come back with me and help mail out tomorrow, first thing. (If I find out that anyone’s stolen stuff from my box overnight, I won’t be a happy camper.) The library will be receiving a bunch of books from today’s loot, needless to say. Any relevant hardcovers that weren’t for HNS, they’ll get, and the ARCs of contemporary fiction will go in the staff break room for giveaways. Ditto for any extra tote bags.

Signings I didn’t manage to get to, because the lines were way too long – Rebecca Stott’s Ghostwalk, Pete Hamill’s North River, Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, Lisa See’s Peony in Love. I kind of expect to find a hardcover of the latter once I get home, but I’ll have to get copies of the rest elsewhere, later. Stott and McEwan were sharing a signing line – maybe a good marketing strategy for her, because everyone waiting for McEwan (merely a few hundred people) got her book, too. I wanted her book more than his, but I ended up with neither.

I stopped and talked to a bunch of people at their booths, including two of my editors (at Booklist and Information Today), publicists I know over email, a couple friends who work in publishing. Here’s a serendipitous event, though: I almost literally ran into an old friend from college, someone I haven’t seen for about five years, while we were walking in opposite directions down one publisher’s booth. I had no idea she was in publishing. She’d told me that she had just recommended my book to a historical fiction fan who was at one of the booths, and then she happened to see me there. Weird.

Last night we went out to the Strand after hitting Mitali East down in the Village (great Indian place we went to two years ago). I ended up buying a copy of Tim Willocks’ The Religion. The publisher’s blurb says it “revivifies historical fiction” and that such a novel hasn’t been seen since the days of James Clavell… well, I didn’t honestly think historical fiction was dead before this novel appeared, but the reviews have been very good.

By around noon today, I was getting tired of wandering around booths and attending signings, so went to two programs, one on the mainstreaming of fantasy and science fiction, and the other, a “book buzz” panel on debut fiction in which five editors talked about the novels they’d really like to see do well. (I didn’t get into Nancy Pearl’s “book buzz for librarians” panel – BEA had scheduled this in a smallish meeting room, and there wasn’t even room on the floor. I opted for the debut fiction panel instead.)

The fantasy/SF one mostly concentrated on SF, and while all the material was interesting, I can’t say I learned all that much new, although I did note some titles/authors unfamiliar to me. David Weber, who writes military-based SF, noted that he’s had an idea for a while to write a series of historical novels, a sort of family saga set around the American Revolution – someone will probably show up and correct me if I got this wrong – but doubted he’d ever be able to write it, because he’s too busy writing his current series. There was a brief discussion about the reasons why so many SF writers started out as medievalists, and how many of them are also Georgette Heyer fans. That’s the limit of the “historical” content of this program (and probably the main interest of readers here, so I’ll move along shortly). The one bookseller on the panel – didn’t get his name – had some nice insights into the difficulties of selling SF to non-SF readers, as well. For the debut fiction panel, only one of the novels “buzzed” was historical: Pamela Thompson’s Every Past Thing, from Unbridled Books, out in September.

The plan for tomorrow is: go back to the exhibit hall early on, see what galleys are on offer, mail another box or two out, make a couple final rounds, and then head back to the hotel before lunch. Our train back to Hartford leaves tomorrow afternoon. Then, a day off back in Connecticut before my presentation at the Western Mass. Library System on Tuesday morning.