April 25, 2012

Guest Post: Robert Parry, author of Virgin and the Crab

Welcoming author Robert Parry today in honor of the 3rd Birthday of his debut novel, Virgin and the Crab!

HISTORICAL FICTION – A Writer’s Perspective on Celebrating the 3rd Birthday of his Debut Novel

Once upon a time, in the days before the interenet and the advent of so much of the passionate discussion that we now encounter online, the work of the writer of historical fiction was relatively easy. One simply got hold of a biography or two, looked up a few facts and figures, dates and places, and hey-presto! The author could then just let his or her imagination run riot and delight everyone with yet another story about their chosen heroes, all those kings and queens of bygone days and all their legendary exploits! 

Now, however, it is all so different. Now every possible item of information about every prominent historical figure is scrutinised and picked to pieces by whole armies of avid enthusiasts. Do you think you know where Queen Elizabeth was located on such and such a date, who she was with, or even what she might have been eating for dinner? It’s all out there … somewhere. And it changes quite often, too. So if you are not content with one version of events, you can always find an alternative point of view, supported by this or that document or state paper or erudite thesis from prominent scholars or TV personalities who all insist they have the right answer. There also seems to be a clear trend - away from information written down by people who actually lived at the time (unreliable – what did they know, anyway!) towards the discovery of more and more unromantic counter-assertions that seek to ‘put the record straight’ or ‘explode the myths.’ There are even a number of historians who have become novelists themselves! The whole genre has moved up a notch. Or has it?

The question is, should writers of historical fiction now be quaking in their boots at the prospect of any new venture they plan? Should they pepper their pages with footnotes and provide appendices explaining why they chose to write what they did, and the sources they used – a little apologetic perhaps just in case they might have drifted too far into the realms of speculation or untruth? Should they? No, of course not. That’s why, whenever I sit at my desk and reach for the keyboard, I console myself with the recollection that literature, be it good bad or indifferent, is a branch of the arts. And whenever the day comes when artists begin to worry about what they write or whether it conforms to some external standard of conduct, or version of ‘truth’ as perceived at the time, then it probably ceases to be art at all - and then we are all in big trouble. 

Well, all this might sound terribly irresponsible, and anarchic, and there are certainly many people who would disagree. But my assertion is this: it is every bit as interesting for writers and readers of historical fiction to speculate on what their characters might have been thinking about, dreaming about and imagining for themselves, as it is to describe what they actually did. This approach provides us with a number of possible insights into the past, insights that can reveal how the world we live in today might have been formed and, ultimately, why we are who we are, and why we think the way we do. And that, I believe, is important.

Thanks to Michelle for her continued support of this novel and for hosting this article here today. ‘Virgin and the Crab’ is named after the astrological signs of the two main characters: Virgo (the Virgin) for Elizabeth Tudor, and Cancer (the Crab) for her illustrious mentor John Dee. It is set in a period of twelve short years (1547 to 1559) in which England saw no less than two kings and three queens upon the throne in rapid succession. As you can imagine, there certainly was a lot of research needed in the making of it. But it’s not a history book, and the sub-title should serve as a suitable health warning: ‘Sketches Fables and Mysteries from the Early Life of John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor.’ In other words it is all rather theatrical; dramatic and full of fantasy, dreams and speculation. 

To celebrate it’s 3rd Birthday there is a giveaway contest taking place over at The True Book Addict. Good luck, if you enter. 

My website is on: http://robertparry.wordpress.com
And looking forward, perhaps, to meeting you on my Facebook page, too, sometime: https://www.facebook.com/RobertParry.author

April 14, 2012

Read-A-Long Wrap Up Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

Welcome to the Wrap Up Discussion Post for HF-Connection's first Read-A-Long! If you didn't officially sign up for the read-a-long, you are still welcome to chime in with your thoughts. The original post with the schedule can be found here.**

IF you were able to follow the schedule, you should have finished the chunky novel by now. So no holds barred.. go forth with spewing your thoughts!!

Obviously there can be spoilers now, so if you have not finished reading this, please go back to the previous discussion posts to find where you fit with your reading schedule.

I did want to take a moment to thank all of you who tried to keep up with the read-a-long... we appreciate the participation very much. I do understand a hectic schedule, so if you haven't finished by now please just remember to come back here to comment with your thoughts or with the link to your blog. I saw one post from another blogger with her thoughts of Forever Amber at Fiction State of Mind, which you can read here.

Marie's Thoughts:
I finished! I posted a review on my blog a few days ago, which can be found here. Overall, I am very happy I carved so much time out of my busy reading and reviewing schedule to fit this huge novel in. I was told that the pages would go by fast, that I should not be daunted by the page count of this one.. and they were right. I was almost as obsessed with Forever Amber as much as Amber was obsessed with Bruce Carlton. ALMOST!! I did get annoyed with Amber, with her shallowness and her lack of dimension. I had to force myself to get over her flawed character traits over and over again, and simply focus on the overall storyline of the magnificent Restoration era.

The amount of supporting characters that came in and out of Amber's life were so intriguing.. the nurses who came to 'help' during Bruce's illness.. one being pushed out of a window... I was rolling with evil laughter at some points. My goodness, what a tale this author spun! The Count who tried to poison Amber, and instead ended up killing his son.. and then Amber killing the Count... what madness!

I read how some readers were really annoyed at how similar the theme was to the classic Gone With The Wind. Were you put off by this resemblance? It really didn't matter to me, but it did cross my mind, especially during the heated conversations between Bruce and Amber. It was glaringly similar at those moments, but I was easily able to move on and not let that bother me.

Michelle's Thoughts:
Unfortunately, I'm not finished with the book yet.  I've been sick for a week and sleeping has been more my forte lately than reading.  I will finish this weekend and come back and post my final thoughts.

April 10, 2012

Empress of the Seven Hills Giveaway and Guest Post by Kate Quinn

Titled as Empress of Rome in UK
Due in UK July 2012

US Cover
Empress of the Seven Hills will be available April 12, 2012.. see end of the post for the book giveaway information!
SYNOPSIS: From the national bestselling author of Daughters of Rome and Mistress of Rome comes a tale of love, power, and intrigue spanning the wilds of the Empire to the seven hills of Rome.

Powerful, prosperous, and expanding ever farther into the untamed world, the Roman Empire has reached its zenith under the rule of the beloved Emperor Trajan. But neither Trajan nor his reign can last forever...
Brash and headstrong, Vix is a celebrated ex-gladiator returned to Rome to make his fortune. The sinuous, elusive Sabina is a senator's daughter who craves adventure. Sometimes lovers, sometimes enemies, Vix and Sabina are united by their devotion to Trajan. But others are already maneuvering in the shadows. Trajan's ambitious Empress has her own plans for Sabina. And the aristocratic Hadrian-the Empress's ruthless protégé and Vix's mortal enemy-has ambitions he confesses to no one, ambitions rooted in a secret prophecy.
When Trajan falls, the hardened soldier, the enigmatic empress, the adventurous girl, and the scheming politician will all be caught in a deadly whirlwind of desire and death that may seal their fates, and that of the entire Roman Empire...

Please welcome to HF-Connection author Kate Quinn, on her blog tour for Empress of the Seven Hills:

Sometimes I fantasize about quitting historical fiction and writing young adult instead. This usually happens when I am wrestling mightily with some historical figure who is sauntering through my latest book as a character, and I am faced with one of the following dilemmas:

1. How to make my character likeable even when they have some historically-accurate-but-distasteful opinions from their time period such as “Hey, I think slavery's just fine, want to go out and shop for a masseuse?”

2. How to ramp up the story's suspense for a historical figure when the reader already knows, thanks to Wikipedia, the history books, or the latest Showtime TV sensation, exactly what happened to them.

This is generally when I think about going into YA. In YA, I muse, I will no longer have these problems. My characters will all be modern and made-up, not longer meticulously documented historical figures with Wikipedia entries that I must fact-check for every detail of their lives. Sure, I'll have to plop them my YA characters down in some dystopian horrorland or, even worse, high school. But at least I won't have to figure out how to make their marriage to a 40-years-older man into a palatable romance, or explain away their historical fondness for bear-baitings.

That's the headache with making historical figures into book characters. You must work within the given facts: birth dates, marriage dates, death dates, and everything in between. You must re-interpret the character without twisting them out of all recognition: no turning Julius Caesar into a pacifist rather than a warrior. You must find out a way to make their less savory traits – a king's tolerance for brutal border expansion, a mother who marries her daughters off at twelve – into something a modern audience can relate to. And you must figure out a way to ramp up the tension in your story, even though everybody on the planet already knows, when picking up your Anne Boleyn book, exactly where Anne will end up in the last chapter and how she ended up eight inches shorter.

Making historical figures into book characters is a process I enjoy hugely, despite my occasional head-banging urge to relocate to YA. Knowing the facts about a historical figure is rather like having a skeleton standing in the room: it's up to me to put flesh on the bones. My latest novel set in ancient Rome abounds in historical figures: Emperor Trajan, his wife Empress Plotina, and her protégé and adopted son Hadrian. Some of these characters were easy to flesh out – according to all my research Emperor Trajan was likeable and easy-going, a hearty man's man beloved by almost everyone. Hadrian was harder to pin down; a brilliant scholar and visionary world traveler who wasn't always a nice guy to his friends. Plotina comes across the centuries as a prim-and-proper woman, the very model of one of those political wives who sits behind her man on the campaign platform and smiles for the cameras – but one or two odd rumors have descended through the centuries about Plotina, enough for me to mold her into a splendid tooth-gnashing villainess.

One of the most crucial things to keep in mind when writing historical characters is that they are products of their own time, not ours. An upper-class Roman woman from the era of Empress of the Seven Hills owned slaves, submitted to her arranged marriage, was ruled over by an all-powerful emperor, went to the arena to watch both animals and human beings slaughtered for entertainment, and accepted all of these things as the natural course of life. If I make my heroine more politically correct – if she thinks the gladiatorial games are cruel and unjust, rails against her arranged marriage, and believes people deserve to govern themselves rather than submit to a despot – then I no longer have a historically authentic heroine. I have a 21st century feminist in a dress on rent from the Spartacus: Blood and Sand wardrobe department, running around a paper-mache mock-up of ancient Rome.

But still . . . another equally important thing to keep in mind is that people are still people. Human beings are subject to the same desires and hopes and feelings, no matter where or when we are born. Love, friendship, ambition, revenge, hope – some human emotions are so universal that they drive us all, from Emperor Trajan and Empress Plotina of the Roman Empire, to the readers devouring books about them in the 21st century. My heroine in Empress of the Seven Hills might accept her arranged marriage, but she still yearns to find real love just as much as any modern girl who secretly tears up at the end of The Notebook. My hero, when dumped by his girlfriend for the second time, has exactly the same impulse as most modern guys: he goes out, gets hammered, and feels sorry for himself. The only difference is that he goes to a Gallic tavern with cold mead and dice games, rather than a sports bar with Bud Lite on tap and a Steelers game on the flat-screen.

In the end, that's why I love writing historical fiction. It's deeply satisfying to strip away the differences, the strangenesses about these people who lived in the past, and make them relatable to readers today. If I can make you wish you had Emperor Trajan for a boss even though he was a ruthless conqueror, then I feel I've won. If you want my heroine for your BFF even though she owns slaves, then I've really won. It's the fun part of my job.

Besides, if I really did give up historical fiction and start writing YA, I'd have to write about dystopian horror-scapes or God forbid, high school. Which I think might be even worse in the long run than writing about arena executions, arranged marriages, and slavery combined.

To enter for your chance to win Empress of the Seven Hills, please be a follower of HF-Connection and comment here with your email address.

Preferences will be made to those who twitter and facebook the link to this post.
USA residents only, and giveaway will end on 4/21/12. The winner has 24 hours to respond via email with their mailing address. Good Luck!
Visit Kate Quinn's guest post from her last release
Visit Kate Quinn's site to learn about the entire Rome series.

April 07, 2012

Week Three: Forever Amber Read-a-Long

Welcome to the Discussion Post for HF-Connection's first Read-A-Long! If you didn't officially sign up for the read-a-long, you are still welcome to chime in with your thoughts. The original post with the schedule can be found here.**

Week Three (April 1 - 7)--Part V through Chapter 69 (end)

Week Four (April 8 - 14)--A week for catch-up and final thoughts


Marie's thoughts: In reading through part V of the book currently, there doesn't seem to be as much excitement for me as the first half.. there are only so many times Amber can get a man and use and abuse him. The fact that Amber is still shallow and self-centered, therefore without any dimension at all... it just gets old. Which is why there is more focus on the other themes of the book: political unrest, Barbara Palmer, the Duke of Buckingham.
I would have like to see Amber show a heart, such as when she was nursing Bruce Carlton (but was that only for her own benefit anyway?). She has two children that are so in the background, and I kept wishing she would go back to her roots and find her Aunt and Uncle, and perhaps learn a little something about her parentage.

Michelle's thoughts:  I am still behind.  I was on vacation last week...visiting family in Michigan and I thought I would have more time to read to get caught up, but that wasn't the case.  I should have known. I'll try to finish it this weekend and post my thoughts in the comments.

How is everyone else doing?  Don't forget, this week is for catching up, if you're behind, and we will post final thoughts next weekend.