My post in WD appeared Sept 6, 2013
A few years ago, when I was first trying to figure out how to get my debut novel A Murder at Rosamund's Gate published, I came across Writer's Digest. Full of advice for the fledgling writer and published author alike, Writer's Digest gave me some great insights into what I needed to do to polish my manuscript and write a compelling cover letter. (I mean, tell me it's not important to know "How to see your work through an agent or publisher's eyes?" or, "Knowing when to stop: Expectations for a satisfying ending.")So I really appreciated the opportunity to write a guest post, "How to write historical fiction: 7 tips on accuracy and authenticity" for Writer's Digest. In this post, I talk about the tensions I've experienced as a historian-turned-novelist, while writing historical fiction. I also try to offer a few strategies that have worked for me in reconciling these tensions. Check it out! And while you're there, try out the daily writing prompt! Although I have to giggle, because today the prompt is: "You are a local news reporter for a failing network. Your boss tells you to ramp up the news by getting “creative” and constructing your own stories. What’s the first fake news story you create and broadcast on air?"
Fake News! Totally fun! Accuracy Shmackeracy! If you do take up the challenge, will you post it here too? I'd love to see it!
Folly in Print, (London, 1667) Wing / 436:03
I had to laugh when I came across this tract by John Raymond, 17th century author of Folly in Print, or A Book of Rymes (1667).
Right away, on the first page, he lets the readers know it really isn't his fault if you don't like his book:
"Whoever buyes this Book will say,
There's so much Money thrown away:
The Author thinks you are to blame,
To buy a Book without a Name;
And to say truth, it is so bad,
A worse is no where to be had."
Next, Raymond then explains to his readers that if they believe what the bookseller says (or sings, as was often the case), it's their own fault if they find they don't like the book after all.
"... in Books, where for money or exchange, we take our choice, and in our own Election please our selves;
Men's judgments, as their appetites are very different, the Market's free to buy or cheapen: who buyes upon the sellers word, may be deceived,
who chooseth ill deceives himself."
Can you imagine if authors could still add this type of caveat emptor today? Madness!
But I'm sure there are many authors today--especially those stung by hurtful reviews--who might wish they could say something like this to their readers:
I doe not promise for my Book nor say 'tis good, but here's variety and each man (of his own pallat) is the certain judge:
it may please some, to them 'tis good,
by whom dislik'd, to them as bad.
You might like my book, you might not. To each her own!
But what do you think? Have you ever felt deceived about a book?
Today, I read an interesting article in the Chicago Tribune by John Warner--"The sting of a bad end." In it, Warner draws on the work by psychologist and Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman to probe the pain we feel as readers when a book (or worse, a series) we love ends badly. Paraphrasing Kahneman's theory, Warner writes "...we have 'two selves': our 'experiencing' self and our 'remembering' self. Our experiencing self is just that, the part of us that's present while something is occurring. In Kahneman's formulation, that's the one who would answer the question, 'How are you liking the book?' Our remembering self is the one who answers "How did you like the book?'"
Apparently, our memory of an experience is tempered by our perception of how the experience ends. So we could love every moment of a book, but if we don't like the ending, then we forget we enjoyed reading the rest of the book. (This is all part of a complex decision-making process--take this fun quiz to learn more about how you make decisions!)As a reader, I can relate to this feeling of intense disappointment when a book doesn't end as I had hoped. A beautifully wrought story should end, well, beautifully. And if doesn't? Well, there's a strong chance I won't read it again (and I'm someone who rereads books frequently). (Of course, maybe I wasn't in the right moment in life to appreciate the ending, but that's another story.)Warner ends with a plea: "On behalf of authors everywhere, I'm hoping we can add a little perspective and ask everyone to tell their remembering selves to remember their experiencing self, because the truth is that writing a good and fully satisfying ending is really, really hard."
I agree with this. Absolutely. Completely. But I think there's an answering plea from readers to writers. Don't rush the ending! Be true to your characters! Care about your readers! How about you? Do you judge a book by how it ends?
Some exciting news... A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is available for pre-order at Amazon and eventually where all books are sold.
Mark your calendars...the book will be released April 16, 2013.All-knowing Amazon also informs me of the specs:
This also makes me realize that I only have EIGHT MONTHS to plan...how should I celebrate the realization of a dream?
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (April 16, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250007909
- ISBN-13: 978-1250007902
- Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
the murder may have happened here
If you have a few minutes, check out the great entries by my colleagues: Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown (Touchstone, 2012) (she's also worked for all kinds of publications like Rolling Stone, In Style magazine, and Entertainment Weekly)... ...and Sam Thomas, an early modern historian specializing in midwifery. Sam's first novel, A Midwife's Tale (Minotaur/St. Martin's) is due out in early 2013.
The wall through Qalquilya
The first time I read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying I was fascinated by the fifteen or so perspectives on the same event: the death of Addie, the sickly matriarch of a poor Southern family. From time to time, I've seen this done in TV shows (such as Star Trek, House, and Leverage) and a few films (if I'm remembering correctly, 2 Days in the Valley, Pulp Fiction).
There's a challenge, however, to acknowledging multiple perspectives of an event, to recognizing the value of competing narratives, even when multiple points of view can do much to advance a story.
Recently, I've been thinking a lot about competing narratives, as I've traveled throughout Palestine and Israel as part of a higher education-related initiative I've been involved with through my "day" job.
Last year, on my first trip to this highly-fraught region, my team was invited by several of our new colleagues--professors from a large Palestinian university-- to visit their communities. We found their families and neighbors to be warm, friendly--and extremely welcoming to strangers who could barely speak ten words of Arabic altogether.
On one occasion, we visited Qalquilya, one of the communities divided by the Wall ("security fence"), and a town at the forefront of the troubles in the West Bank. Designed to separate the Palestinians in the West Bank from the rest of Israel, the Wall certainly now stands as a palpable symbol of the overwhelming distrust, fear, anger and sadness that has kept these peoples apart.
Our colleague showed us around this town where she'd grown up, pointing out the small plot of land where her family still managed to grow vegetables. Under the hot sun, we sat beside the Wall, sipping mint lemonade, watching her neighbors shear sheep and her little niece kick a ball among the trash and compost. I remember this little girl asking me "What was it like, beyond the Wall?" As a Palestinian, she had no ready means for a visa that would allow her to see what was beyond the Wall for herself.
Last week, on my follow-up visit, my group was able to take a trip to Haifa-- a city on the Mediterranean decidedly not within the West Bank. (The irony of being a foreigner--we could travel anywhere we wanted). Along the way, as we drove along the well-maintained Israeli highway, many tour buses passed us. I could see the tourists inside taking pictures of the Wall which, from our current vantage point, looked exactly like the walls you might see around a maximum security prison. I have no doubt the Wall looked scary and ominous. (Indeed, I met an American on the plane ride home who whispered to me how he had seen the Wall, with the air of someone who had braved something unimaginable.)
The next moment, though, our tour guide mentioned that we had just passed Qalquilya--I was shocked. And profoundly disturbed. We could see the Wall, but nothing of the humanity within. Somewhere in there, my colleagues' little niece was playing. Or maybe she was staring at the Wall, still wondering who was out there, and why she was locked inside.
I won't pretend to understand the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian relations. But clearly, there is more than one "true" narrative. I believe that writers of all types, whether of fiction or non-fiction, would do well to consider an event from more than one perspective. Few writers wield Faulkner's skill of course, to imagine the same event from 15 separate angles. And I'm not sure I've been brave enough to try. But questioning what is known, questioning one's beliefs, and seeking different takes on a subject, is crucial--for writers, and certainly for critically-thinking human beings.
What do you think? Have you seen instances where using multiple perspectives has worked well? How?
I can't tell you how excited I am to see the cover of my first novel!!!
A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.
I think the artists at Minotaur captured the essence of my story beautifully.
The opening (and closing) images of my novel are of Lucy standing at a door.
There are some other clues about the story tucked away here, but you'll have to read the book to discover them for yourselves!!!
Esther Biddle, Quaker, 1660
This weekend I had the fun of seeing my first guest blog "Prophecy and Polemic— The Earliest Quaker Women" posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors website. There, I discuss why Quaker women were so political and how they differed in one particular way from most other women at the time--even members of other non-conformist sects (such as the Diggers, the Ranters, the Levelers etc). And oh! how they expressed themselves...
Dressing in sack-cloth
"Running naked as a sign"
Refusing to bow to authority
But that wasn't all...
Quaker women were different because they wrote. And they wrote. And they wrote. And they wrote.
In fact, as a group, Quaker women wrote 220 tracts before 1700, more than any other women. Petitions, broad-sides, chapbooks--all carrying admonitions to King, Parliament and clergy to recognize sinful acts, accounts of injustices and cruelties to their members, and pleas to release their religious brethren from prisons and authorize non-conformist worship in England, and the American colonies.
I've always respected the bravery and creativity shown by the earliest Quakers, in their attempt to get their message heard. I've often thought how hard that must have been for them to write these open pieces. They were not just challenging Parliament, Magistrates, Churchmen and the King: they were challenging convention and the very heart of patriarchy, often risking public ridicule, shaming, abuses and imprisonment.Taking the mantles of Old Testament prophets, mid-seventeenth century Quaker women wrote openly about the social wrongs they perceived around them, especially those caused by the (imagined and real) abuses of men in power. In the soul-examining spirit of the time, Quaker women--like their male counterparts--also wrote publicly about their own struggles to find the "Inner Light" and to give up earthly fripperies. (Poor Susannah Whitrowe--she really wanted to cling to her ribbons, but knew she wasn't supposed to) They wrote about death and heartbreak, joy and promise. (This is not too suggest that they did not use their expressions of suffering to advance their cause--both politically and religiously--but there is an honesty to their expression that is admirable). At a time when women who wrote were disparaged as "petticoat authors," early Quaker women persevered to make their voices known. Just as they "ran naked as a sign" to convey their discontent to religious and secular authorities, they wrote nakedly too. They laid their emotions and concerns bare, for public consumption, expressing themselves in ways that were both daunting and inspiring. As I writer, I certainly struggle to lay my words bare on the page. Those little editorial voices are hard to muffle! I'm hoping, with time, to find my most authentic voice. How about you?
Shakespeare--or "Fakespeare" as the Bard has slyly been called--isn't one of my usual obsessions. Having just seen the film "Anonymous," however, I felt the need to dig a little into this long-standing controversy over who really wrote Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet etc. "Anonymous" (2011) vividly re-imagines the true playwright to be Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who for political reasons, allowed a loud-mouthed actor named Will Shakespeare to take all the acclaim for his work. (Even just writing these words, I think about all the English teachers collectively weeping into their hand-stitched leather tomes...)
So what's the truth of it?
Quite frankly, I don't know. But here are some things I learned:
For a 150 years, an escalating war has been waged between "Stratfordians," who believe Shakespeare to be the playwright he's long been purported to be, and "Anti-Stratfordians" or Oxfordians, who label him a fraud. In addition to de Vere, Anti-Stratfordians (the likes of whom even included Mark Twain!) have put forth Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, and even Queen Elizabeth I herself as viable alternatives.
Non-Stratfordians claim that only an educated noble could have been knowledgeable and articulate enough to pen such greatness. As the son of a glovemaker, Will did not fit that bill. Allegedly, no evidence has been found--letters, notes, unpublished works--that attribute to him even the most basic writing ability. This may be the most credible evidence, I don't know. What it implies however, is that genius can not come from humble beginnings, or that a person cannot overcome obstacles to achieve greatness. That bothers me.
Will Shakespeare's detractors further purport him to be a hack and a known thief of words (and if you believe the film, a murderer to boot). Yet, borrowing of words was a widespread practice. Notions of plagiarism, and authorship for that matter, were far more lax (even non-existent) during the late sixteenth, early seventeenth centuries. For example, there was more than one King Lear--the one we know as Shakespeare's as well as a number of other pieces detailing the life of the the Celtic king--but what does that signify in terms of authorship? The message in the film, and perhaps in the larger controversy, seems confused on this point.
(The film itself, I found intriguing, and the computer-generated sets spot-on. The precarious shops on London Bridge (but no heads on Traitor's Gate, alas!), the sickening bear-and-bull baiting in Southwark, the glimpse into the printing industry, the pummeling of slops during performances--great stuff! What wasn't so great: the blunt suggestion that the "Virgin Queen" had borne multiple children (one of whom she unwittingly took on as a lover later). Given that Elizabeth I's lack of an heir was one of the most pivotal concerns in British history, an additional conspiracy along these lines seems hard to swallow.) Ultimately, to read, enjoy and assess plays or novels, do you need to know who the author "really" is? Does it matter, today, whether an author was the son of a glover or an Earl or a Queen (or a girl from West Philly, for that matter)? For me, there's something comforting in knowing who the author "really" is (or was). And, conversely, something profoundly distressing to think we may have gotten it wrong.
What do you think?