biweekly links 6-29-2016

Short one this week as I was out-of-town (wasn’t doing book research, but inadvertently found some anyway!) Enjoy:

The Fool card from the Rider Waite tarot deck
The Fool from the Rider-Waite tarot, courtesy Wikipedia.

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 6-15-2016

going there – the importance of (quality) sex scenes

When writing about Dee and Kelley’s time together it is impossible to avoid the infamous “crossmatching” incident. The “spirits” hold out the promise of great secrets if they agree to share everything in common – including their wives. After much angsty soul-searching, they agree, and even wrote up a pact outlining their commitment to the act (I could not make this up!)

Sure, it’s attention-getting for salaciousness alone, but in the context of the WIP it’s a major plot point. Are the “spirits” good or evil? How far – and why – are Dee and Kelley willing to go to achieve their ambitions? How far – and why – are Jane Dee and Joanna Kelley willing to compromise themselves for their husbands’ mad schemes? And what are the repercussions?

So of course I have to include it.

I’ve been asked whether I’m really going to “go there”. Wouldn’t a “fade to black” be more tasteful? Don’t you worry about putting off potential readers? Aren’t you afraid of the narrative minefield erotica poses?

No, no, and yes. Which is why I’m taking a class on writing love scenes.

The excellent essay Show Me, Don’t Tell Me – Unless it’s Sex over at Remittance Girl’s blog (which I highly recommend – not safe for work, so be smart) explores some of the reasons why writers shy away from sex scenes: societal hang-ups about sex, the impression that sex scenes are automatically porn, the fear that sex is so commercialized that sex scenes won’t elicit a real response in the reader – just a memory of the latest tv ad.

All of which are valid concerns. But for me, in this case, omission would represent a narrative “flinch” of the kind I’ve always abhorred. Telling the reader about it after the fact would be like telling the aftermath of a fight after putting away the swords: I’d sacrifice all the emotional punch. I also imagine the “pulling back” of telling after a novel of close 3rd person showing would jar the reader right out of the story.

Ultimately good sex scenes aren’t about tab A into slot B but are about emotions, in all their messy glory. I’d cheat my readers if I left out such a rich opportunity for character development.

Will explicit content put off some readers? Yes, most likely, but not all books are for all people and I’m fine with that. However, I don’t want to drown the right readers with purple prose, hence the class.

I’m setting aside rewrites for the next 2 weeks to focus on learning – a break in momentum, but a worthy one.



biweekly links 6-1-2016

Welcome to June! For your perusal this week:

    • Think history’s all boring dates? Try social history – a former history class-hater turned historical fiction writer because of her love for the ‘real lives behind boring dates and wars’. I never disliked the big names but the food, clothing, hygiene, tools, and other minutiae of every day life provides a sense of place and time that larger events just don’t.
    • New research maps in unique detail the devastation of the Black Death on medieval England – Over two thousand square meters of plague burial pits excavated between 2005 and 2014 reveal such a sharp drop in pottery fragments that they estimate the “population of England remained somewhere between 35 and 55 per cent below its pre-Black Death level well into the sixteenth century”. The article links to the University of Lincoln’s announcement and it links to the original paper, which is, alas, password protected.
    • Call to save nude Tudor murals on old brothel site – renovation of a former clothing shop in Buckingham UK reveals murals with “lots of naked people in them and…several explicit images” dating from the 1570s-80s. Only one rather tame image at the link, though I suppose the curious could always try contacting the professor quoted in the article.
    • Work from 1616 is ‘the first ever science fiction novel’ – I’ve never thought of the Rosicrucian text “The Chymical Wedding” as proto-science fiction, but given that it’s about alchemy and adventure and flying women, I can see it. But is it really the first? The article cites works by Kepler and More as possibilities. What do you think?
    • Margaret Cavendish, the long-ignored godmother of science fiction, gets her due in Margaret the First – “The Blazing World” is novel in 17th century literature for including alternative worlds and talking animals, but it seems the author was at least as interesting as her story. Privately ambitious but publicly apologetic for it, this review suggests a tale of female frustration at dreams thwarted that’s maddening in its familiarity – and therefore looks like a cracking good read.
The Description of a new World, called The Blazing-World, written by the Thrice Noble, Righteous, and Excellent Princesse the Duchess of Newcastle.
Cover of Cavendish’s “The Blazing World”, courtesy Wikipedia