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.

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 3-9-2016 – now with more witches

Woodcut of witch:
Cover of a 1643 that likely inspired the spelling. Found on Pinterest.

Never thought I’d be a fan of a horror film but “The Witch” (or “VVitch”, as it’s appearing in most promo materials) is special: it is fantastically historically accurate (they even speak Shakespearean English throughout) and the horror is slow and subtle. Spoilers abound:

biweekly links 1-27-2016

“Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons” by George Pendle – recent review of a ten-year old book, and damn was Jack Parsons a strange bird! Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist by day and magician by night, Parsons “treated magic and rocketry as different sides of the same coin” – rather the same way the Renaissance natural philosophers saw no difference between science and magic. Putting on my to-read list.

In difficult times, many readers turn to historical fiction – a psychologist suggests “exploration of the sights, sounds, and events of past eras… help[s] us to imagine how to negotiate the strains of current real-life situations.” Includes reviews of some of her favorites (full disclosure: I’ve not read any of them).

John Dee: Scholar, Courtier, Magician [Video] – if you missed it on my Twitter or Facebook last week, this half hour sneak preview/interview with the curator is well worth seeing. Not only was Dee’s handwriting beautiful but he was a fair artist – check out his doodles.

XETB Plays the Music of John Dee – or music inspired by him, at any rate. Unavailable in my country due to licensing restrictions – can anyone get at it? What do you think?

A Little Bird Told Me: Aleister Crowley and Genesis P-Orridge in Occult Art Show – as ever, you can’t throw the word “occult” around without crashing into Crowley, but he’s not the dominant artist in the show. Some of the usual magic circles and talismans plus other esoteric symbolism.

Researchers confirm site of Salem witch hangings – discovered using witness accounts and modern aerial mapping, the site now overlooks a Walgreens, of all things.