biweekly links 7-26-2017

Notorious look at 16th century: check this out! An amateur (!) builder spent 10 years (!) researching and building a replica of a Portuguese caravel. This is the kind of insanely dedicated experiential archaeology I lurve. To my eternal regret I can’t find a website or blog chronicling the building process, but the ship’s Wikipedia page has some information. To find out where it docks next check out its Twitter and Facebook page.

Photo of ship Susan Constant at sunset
Reproduction of the “Susan Constant” at the Jamestown Settlement, no less impressive though it wasn’t made by a single man in his backyard. Author’s own.

A $70 ‘Worry Stone’ and Other Bizarre Spiritual Products You Can Buy Online: I used to have a worry stone – can’t imagine where it got off to but it’s nice to know I can replace it from the comfort of my keyboard. For serious high rollers you can get an “orgon [sic] accumulator” starting at $2000.

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk: One of many articles about the movie, but I think covers history vs. fiction the best. As a former stickler for historical accuracy at all costs, writing The Book has humbled me to the real difficulties of hammering historical events into a compelling narrative. Nolan’s aim was to “put you on that beach” and I think he did so admirably, while sticking astonishingly close to the facts. Not included: why Germany stopped their attack or the fate of those left behind.

Will: 5 ways ‘The Two Gentlemen’ twists history: from painstaking historical accuracy we go to flamboyant liberty with the facts, or at least the image. I’ve not seen “Will” (yet?) but I can’t hammer it’s “punk rock Elizabethan” aesthetic too hard – I love artful anachronisms – but opinions differ.

historical fiction: where the boys aren’t(?)

Evidently I’m writing a fantasy novel.

This is news to me.

via GIPHY

So how did this happen?

Of all the sessions I attended at the HNS conference last week, the one about male protagonists was the most surprising. As far back as 2015 I’d heard murmurings that my choice of a male protagonist was unusual but I didn’t realize just how unusual.

Industry logic goes like this: historical fiction is written primarily by and for women. Women prefer to read from the points of view of other women. Hence, a female protagonist is all but required in order to market a book as “historical fiction”*. Hence, having Edward Kelley as my protagonist creates a hurdle to publication, at least in this genre.

Of course, historical fictions with male protagonists do exist, though they’re often marketed as something else. This results in oddities like “Wolf Hall” being shelved in literary (even though Hilary Mantel clearly thinks of herself as a historical fiction writer) and books from the POV of a male spy having women on the covers to meet reader expectations.

Which makes little sense because readers don’t actually expect this. Anecdotes aren’t data but the panel attendees–men and women alike–enjoyed reading male protagonists and want to see more of them. Authors enjoy writing them, even though some editors warn them off (!).

The trope persists due to a risk-averse publishing industry based on what I suspect are very old stats. This does a disservice to readers and authors alike in terms of publishability and findability.

Interestingly, fantasy/sci-fi has the opposite problem. Which led to my asking whether I should pitch the Work in Progress as fantasy, given my male protagonist and fantastical elements. The panelists replied with a resounding “yes”.

So, shall I pitch as fantasy and betray the sisterhood/fall under histfic readers’ radar, or pitch as historical fiction and possibly never publish at all? It’s a conundrum. Fortunately, I find this funny as well as frustrating.

I invite readers to share their favorite genre-bending media (not just books! Movie, tv, comic, game, etc. recs are all welcome!), particularly historical fiction not marketed as such. How did you find it? Did you have trouble finding it?

*Not that historical fiction can’t be about men: it often is, just through the eyes of the women around them. The notion is that women don’t mind reading about men, they just don’t want to walk in their shoes.

bonus linkage!

Because I’m short of time this week:

How ‘The White Princess’ Went Against the Norm and Featured People of Color in Tudor England: “Because when you’re making a show about people who have been excluded from history-as women have-it would be entirely hypocritical to exclude other groups of people who have also been excluded from history.” Indeed. Related: People of Color in European Art History Tumblr; “Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe” exhibition catalog.

Mantel to give Reith Lectures on historical fiction: Given Mantel’s controversial statements about the tension between history and fiction I’ll be interested to listen to these once they’re available online. I’m thoroughly impressed by both of her Thomas Cromwell novels, so I admit personal bias.

After 500 Years, Dürer’s Art Still Engraved on Mathematicians’ Minds: And here I was thinking he was “just” an artist. The medieval mind associated the melancholic personality with creativity and intelligence (see this blog’s title); here’s a breakdown of the symbolism in Melencholia I.

Engraving of Melancholy sitting among mathematical and scientific instruments. For symbolic breakdown, see the second link!
Dürer’s Melencholia I, 1515, via Tumblr

biweekly links 2-22-2017

Photo of gunmetal gray statue of an empty hooded cloak
Anna Chromý’s “Il Commendatore” sculpture, Prague. Legend has it that if you toss a coin in the empty hood your enemies can never find you. Author’s own.

Icelandic Magic, Witchcraft, and Sorcery and the Tragic Case of Jón Rögnvaldsson: For some reason the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft is all over my Google alerts this week. This article addresses the unusually masculine world of Icelandic sorcery, with references at the end.

Want to Unlock the Secrets of the Occult? Art History Holds Answer regards the newly published The Occult, Witchcraft and Magic: An Illustrated History, though the book’s Amazon UK entry has more illustrations than the article.

The duties of an Elizabethan Lady-in-Waiting: useful to me as Jane Dee served Elizabeth I’s lady-in-waiting Lady Howard of Effingham (yes, servants had servants, and so on down the line) before she married John Dee.

Will This App Turn More Readers On to Serialized Fiction?: yes, there’s an app for this too! Radish‘s most popular author writes historical romance. Will be very curious to see how this develops.

biweekly links 1-11-2016

Why the Technology in ‘Rogue One’ Is So Old-Fashioned: can science fiction be historical? Arguably yes, if it’s based on 40-year-old source material. The author notes that most tech in Rogue One is based on that of the original 1977 Star Wars – which was heavily based on a combination of medieval and WWII imagery. A lovely example on how science fiction can be nostalgic even while looking to the future (or a galaxy far, far away).

World War II infantry man runs towards Star Wars Stormtrooper in black and white aged image
One of a thrillingly geeky set of WWII-Star Wars mash-ups at GeekTyrant.com. Yes, I’m a life-long Warsie. Come at me!

Germany: chemical odors lead police to failed alchemist:  leaching gold out of old cell phones might be lucrative but don’t try this at home!

A provocative play over race relations in Elizabethan England will be performed at various theatres in Somerset next year: “Nzingabeth!” claims to be a “fictitious musical meeting between Elizabeth I of England and the proud African Queen Ana Nzinga.” Given that it claims to address heavy topics like race, gender, and politics this could be an intriguing take or a complete disaster. Kinda wish it were opening nearer me.

WATCH: Fight nearly breaks out after soccer player uses witchcraft to score goal: laugh if you will, but evidently spells are still taken seriously in Rwanda. The player did score his goal. Maybe the ritual gave him an extra boost of confidence?

 

last to the party

I’m not the best at keeping up with trends. Maybe it’s age, maybe I’m just perpetually up to my ears in my own peculiar interests, but I don’t always know what’s happening in pop culture at large, even in my own bailiwick.

Take “Hamilton”. I first became vaguely aware of the play only because a fellow writer mentioned it on Facebook. At the time I chalked up her enthusiasm to her subject matter (historical fiction set in 18th century America), but it didn’t take long before half the people I knew were swooning over the soundtrack. Had I heard it? Wasn’t it awesome?

And I hadn’t. A musical about a founding father sounded like an interesting trick to me but then, I’m a history nerd. Alas, I’m a lazy/distracted history nerd and didn’t go much beyond Googling the play. Rationalizing that I couldn’t get much out of a soundtrack to something I’d never seen (and wasn’t likely ever to be able to!) I wandered off into other things.

Then a friend played the opening “Alexander Hamilton” track for me. Hip hop and history – I like it! I mused aloud that putting historical fact to modern music would make it relatable and memorable.

It wasn’t until this past summer that my husband caught the bug, and at his urging I finally downloaded the soundtrack for the Jamestown roadtrip.

Um, damn.

Every single track an earworm, memorable even on first hearing! Funny too – I didn’t know this was a comedy. Wait, it’s not – oh poor Eliza! Is this one about the Federalist Papers? Did this guy seriously just make dry political legalese cool?

I think I get it, finally. I’m not a “foaming-at-the-mouth-best-thing-since-sliced-bread” fan but I’m all in favor of translating history to appeal to modern audiences and “Hamilton” does this flawlessly. The new PBS making-of special is excellent, including not just performances but Miranda’s writing process: how he decided what to keep, cut, fictionalize, and compress from the historical record to tell a good story. Even the actors researched their characters, to the point of going to historic sites and collections [envy!]

So, I reckon I got there in the end. Anyone have something new to recommend?

 

biweekly links 9-7-2016

Mixed bag this week:

historic fiction through a side door

I’m getting critiques back about the first 50 pages of my second draft. Responses are mostly positive: definitely still needs work but it’s evidently it’s a compelling read.

Most of my critique partners aren’t historical fiction enthusiasts so I find their input valuable re: possible cross-genre appeal. One even said that though she’s not a history buff she’d read my book for the alchemy and magic alone.

I never thought I read historical fiction as a child, at least in the “pure” Dorothy Dunnett/Philippa Gregory/Margaret George mold. I preferred “real history” (I cringe at my childhood snobbiness). But after this discussion it occurred to me: I was reading histfic all along. I just found it in other genres.

Take Anne Rice. I was a teenage goth so of course I read and reread her Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series. Rice typically falls on the horror/fantasy but Lestat and co. survive through pre-revolutionary France and antebellum New Orleans; the Mayfair family moves from England through to the Caribbean and thence to the New World over five centuries.

Anne Rice shelfie
My carefully preserved Anne Rice novels from yonks ago. Many hours spent in line to get them signed.

Octavia Butler’s Kindred also stuck with me. Time travel puts this sobering read squarely in the sci-fi box but Butler’s nuanced depiction of slavery in the American south suggests painstaking research of the type associated with the best historical fiction.

Kage Baker’s Company series goes everywhen: Tudor England (Baker taught Elizabethan English as a second language and it shows) to 17th century Spanish California to the 19th century old west and elsewhere…with time-traveling, historical-artifact-saving cyborgs.

More histfic with scifi/paranormal elements:

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series goes without saying.

Sarah Waters’ 19th century spiritualists in Affinity  and post-WWII haunted house in The Little Stranger

M. J. Rose’s Seduction is a fictional account of Victor Hugo’s seances in search of his daughter’s ghost. Witch of Painted Sorrows involves fin de siècle Parisian occultism and possession.

Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy has it all: witches, vampires, werewolves, and time travel

The Witch Who Came in From the Cold: John LeCarre-style Cold War spies…with witches

The Voynich Manuscript motivates the antagonist in Linda Lafferty’s The Bloodletter’s Daughter (and oh hey – someone over at CipherMysteries made up a huge list of novels revolving around Voynich)

Chelsea Quinn Harbor’s Saint Germain series – the vampire St. Germain through multiple time periods

Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series – mixes Victorian vampires and Jack the Ripper

The quality and success of all of these genre mash-ups reassure me that there’s a place for my hybrid WIP someday.

Please share your own favorites in the comments!

 

 

biweekly links 4-20-2016

scan of front page
Scan of Meric Casaubon’s “true and faithful account…of the Platonick philosophy” from Cornell’s Digital Witchcraft Collection

this is what going mad felt like

The Historical Novel Project(TM) is creating a number of writing challenges that are above my pay grade, but it’s not the believable characterization, compression/abbreviation of real historical events or the need for creating an accurate world that intimidates me.

I think the hardest thing I’m going to have to describe is the mental state of a character who is slowly developing visual/auditory hallucinations through a combination of stress and overwork. I need to sell his slow decline to a modern reading audience while:

  • limiting myself to 16th century vernacular, as they didn’t have a vocabulary for mental illness the way we do
  • convincing the reader that the character does not realize he’s going mad – he thinks these visions are real
  • making it clear that there is no “voice of sanity” – everyone around him believes his visions are real too, and some actively encourage them
  • that in the context of the time/place this assumption makes sense.

This requires a huge amount of research. Not that I mind, but it’s hard to find sources for exactly the situation I’m trying to convey.

At the suggestion of my new historian acquaintance, I got a copy of highlights from The Anatomy of Melancholy, to get some idea of what language 16th/17th century people used to describe mental/emotional distress. I’ve also picked up Carl Jung’s Red Book, because though he does use modern psychiatric language it’s the only documentation I can find by someone who realized he was having a psychotic break but chose to interact with his hallucinations.

It’s also revealing the need for a lot of context about the mindset of the late Renaissance, when the scientific method was just being developed and a lot of superstition (such as the belief that it was possible and expected to talk to spirits) was still accepted as fact.

I’ve got my narrative work cut out for me.