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?
Date: 1688 Reel position: Wing / 853:61
Fans of Sherlock Holmes may be intrigued to know that the first known female sleuth in England was Anne Kidderminster (nee Holmes), a seventeenth-century widow who tracked down and brought her husband’s murderer to justice thirteen years after the crime. To find out more, check out my guest blog over on Criminal Element
, found under the excerpt of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.
As I move along the path from "writer" to "author," I've become aware of something that's simultaneously wonderful and daunting:
PEOPLE ARE READING MY BOOK. Of course, for the last sixteenth months or so people have been reading A Murder at Rosamund's Gate (due out April 23, 2013). My alpha reader. My beta readers. My agent. My editor, multiple times (thank you Kelley!). Copy editors. Proofreaders. Marketing people. Publicists. But now...
Readers. Reviewers. People who've won advance copies in giveaways. People I don't know, and may never know. Many seem to have enjoyed my book, although a few--well--haven't. In my day job, I spend a lot of time helping faculty find something constructive even in the most negative student comments. And I think I can learn from my readers too.
But because I can't--and probably shouldn't--address reviewers directly, I'd just like to take a moment to say thanks. Thanks to everyone who spent the time reading my book, and for writing a review. Even if my book wasn't for you, I appreciate you spending the time thinking about my book.
And if my book was for you...well, the next Lucy Campion mystery will be out next year!
Just a hundred days left until A Murder at Rosamund's Gate is released on April 23, 2013!!!Now, I know you might well be thinking: "Um, didn't your book come out, like, a year ago? You've been talking about it for ages."
Nope. The book has just been gestating, percolating, spinning, whirling, stirring for the last eighteen months. What can I say? Publishing is a mysterious business.
A hundred days! A hundred days!
Historically, the Hundred Day mark has been a crucial signifier:
Okay, so the last 100 days before my book gets published is not quite so significant in comparison. And I'm pretty sure that the journey won't be a "do or die" march towards triumph or defeat a la Napoleon or FDR.
- The Hundred Days: The time between Napoleon's exile on Elba to the restoration of King Louis XVIII.
- The First Hundred Days of the FDR's New Deal (ever after the marker for all presidents in their first 100 days in office)
- The Hundred Days Offensive: The final period of the First World War.
- The Hundred Days Reform: A failed political, educational and cultural reform movement in 19th century China.
But given that I've been waiting my whole life for this moment... JUST A HUNDRED DAYS TO GO is an awfully exciting concept!!!
I'm excited to have historian Sam Thomas join me today to discuss his first novel, The Midwife's Tale, a historical mystery set in mid-seventeenth century York.
Sam and I connected about a year ago, when we realized that (1) we're both trained as early modern English historians; (2) we both have debut novels coming out with Minotaur Books this year; and (3) both our mysteries are set in nearly the same time period. (I'm encouraging Sam to think about doing a cross-over piece, so that his midwife can bring my Lucy Campion into the world. But I digress.)
The Official Description:
It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.
Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.
A midwife at work
The Midwife's Tale is told through the first person perspective of Lady Bridget Hodgson, a 30-year old twice-widowed midwife and real historical figure. How much is known of the true Bridget, and how much of her personality/character did you invent? Did you ever feel constrained writing a fictionalized account of a real person?
That’s a great question! We know a fair bit about Bridget, and I include some of it here. A lot of the basics are true: She was twice widowed, first to a man named Luke Thurgood, then to Phineas Hodgson, who was the son of the Lord Mayor of the York. (And yes, Phineas seems to have been every bit the loser I portray him as.) Bridget also had a deputy named Martha, though I had to invent much more of her background.
It is also pretty clear that she was a very strong woman. She came from an ancient family and wanted people to know it. She also named all of her goddaughters (as well as her own daughter) ‘Bridget’, presumably after herself. Who does that?
I did, however, make some cuts. For my first book I had a heck of a time writing her home life, so I made her childless, though the historical Bridget was survived by two daughters. There are also rumors that she had two sons, both of whom were hanged as highwaymen, which is amazing, but I’m not sure I believe it.
Similarly, is the case at the heart of The Midwife's Tale based on a true case from the archives? How did you go about doing your research?
The case itself is entirely fictional, though a lot of the supporting characters are real.
As for the research it was a lot of digging. I stumbled across Bridget’s will when I was working on another project, and it provided dozens of names for me to chase down: friends, family, and best of all, godchildren, which allowed me to identify a handful of clients.
Once you have names, you can then dig into baptismal registers, tax records, probate documents, legal records, histories of York…it’s endless, really.
I also got very lucky that Bridget was once sued for defamation, which allowed me do dig even further into her social life and the history of her practice.
Besides being a compelling read, your story gets at some of the larger historical themes around gender, politics and religion that shaped this time period. In what ways did you consciously try to illuminate these larger trends? How did you balance the need for historical accuracy with creative license?
I consciously wanted to connect ‘big’ and ‘little’ history. The novel takes place in the midst of a rebellion against the king, so I made the crime at its heart a domestic rebellion in which a wife is accused of murdering her husband. This was a time when people were intensely concerned about maintaining order at the national and domestic levels, and I wanted to see how they would react when that order was challenged. (Oddly – or not – I do much the same thing in my historical work, favoring microhisotry, in which big stories are told through the lives of average individuals.)
In doing your research, what was one of the most interesting things you learned?
I think it was how complicated life as a midwife could be. Not only did they deliver children, they were part of the legal system, investigating crimes ranging from infanticide, to rape, to witchcraft.
It really makes midwives the perfect sleuths!
I'm taking a quick break from my blog hiatus to do an interview with up-and-coming crime fiction writer, Greg Bardsley, author of Cash Out (just released by Harper Perennial). Greg and I not only share an agent, the indomitable David Hale Smith, but also the bond of seeing our novels released more or less around the same time. (My book won't be out 'til April 2013, but who's counting?).
From the official publicity blurb: Cash Out "is nonstop, mercilessly hilarious, no-holds-barred fiction for fans of The Hangover and Office Space—an outrageous tall tale that follows one desperate, disgruntled Silicon Valley exec through a surreal three-day scramble to cash out his stock options and leave behind his hated high-tech job before outrageous villains (and even crazier friends) completely destroy him." – Harper Perennial
**********************************************************************************What inspired "Cash Out?"
You know, as cuckoo as some elements of the book are, Cash Out was inspired by some heavier themes.
It started when I began to think back on what it was like to live here on the San Francisco peninsula in the late 1990s. It was such a remarkable time. The Internet was exploding, billions of dollars were amassing, and irrational exuberance reigned. The Peninsula was ground zero for this explosion. The word, after all, was out: This was where one came to quickly acquire unimaginable wealth, extreme luxury, insane property fortunes and a bit of business immortality. This was where 25-year-olds retired. This is where Elton John performed at your corporate Christmas party, and where marching bands arrived at your doorstep to deliver job offers, where college grads with no experience started off at $100,000. Where power and money, always aphrodisiacs, now were supercharged by a prevailing sense of entitlement, forming a powerful new cocktail of narcissistic indulgence.
What kind of people did this world this attract? Read Cash Out for my take. Regardless, the end result was that these folks pushed out longtime Bay Area residents, drove home prices into the stratosphere and forever affected the region, its pre-existing culture, its pristine landscape and even its inherent values of inclusion and tolerance. Artists' lofts were transformed into business-incubation offices, hippies were replaced by 6-foot-4 money guys with cell phones pressed against their cheeks, coastal townies are were laughed at and dismissed, longtime residents were pushed into the boonies and the remaining native Californians on the peninsula struggled to maintain not only their sense of self and place, but also their values.
This place had changed.
So I was thinking about of all of this when I met a former WD-40 public relations guy who had become one of the first one hundred employees at Google. And I found myself wondering, What would I do if I were in his shoes and could cash out?
From there, I came up with an idea for a guy who’d be just three days away from cashing out when, suddenly, all hell breaks loose and everything he values in life is at risk.
"Cash Out" is set in 2008--is that when you started to write it? How long did it take you to complete the novel?I actually set it in 1999, but we changed the date after Cal Morgan at Harper Perennial bought the book and came up with some good reasons to advance the date to 2008. He felt the story could be more accessible for readers, considering the economic crisis that ensued that year. And he was dead-on.
I began to write Cash Out in late 2008, but really started to accelerate my work a year later. It’s hard to know how long it took to write, but my guess is it took about two years. I wrote late at night, after my wife and kids had fallen asleep. Some days I wrote at lunch, or when the family was out for an hour. Some nights I couldn’t stop, and I’d write into the very early morning. I guess you could say the first draft of Cash Out was written during a thousand stolen moments over the course of a few years.
You've got some pretty zany characters and circumstances in this novel. How much, if any, of your book is autobiographical? In writing the book, I decided to stick with what I knew best. So in some ways, I gave my protagonist, Dan Jordan, some of my own traits and circumstances. Like me, Dan would be a speechwriter in Silicon Valley working with an array of really smart and interesting people. Like me, he’d feel tired and overworked and worried about losing himself in frothy white waters of the Valley. Like me, he’d have a wife and two boys he’d love with all his heart. And like me, he’d reexamine some of the big decisions he’d made over the years. Unlike me, he’d be days away from cashing out a fortune.
People always ask me, who inspired these other characters in the book? So let me clear up a few things and come clean about some others. ... Yes, the book does include a scene where an obnoxious fatty “upper decks” into the water basin of a toilet. But, no, I have never been on the receiving (or giving) end of one of those. ... Yes, the book does feature a man who slathers himself in cocoa butter and throws buck knives at his garage door. But no, he was not inspired by anyone in the peninsula. ... No, I have never been three days from being able to cash out. And no, I have never seen a man eat a rat on a stick in the break room. (Greg, your life is so sheltered --SC)
After Newgate burned down, then what?
When I wrote the first draft of From the Charred Remains, I focused mainly on getting the story worked out--finding the heart and shape of my tale.
I didn't stress too much over language, description, and dialogue on the first go-round--I figured I could elevate my prose later. As for historical details, I frequently had to make my best educated guess about what might have been true in those first weeks after the Great Fire of London (September 1666)...and move on.
Now as I work through draft two, I'm doing the hard--I mean fun--part: Fixing and double-checking all the historical details.
I've already mentioned two of my recent questions (How plausible was the stated death toll of the Great Fire of London?) and (How far could a horse travel in the seventeenth-century anyway?), but here are a few other things that I've pondered:
Since my heroine is now a printer's apprentice (yes, unusually so!) I had to figure out a lot of specifics about the early booksellers and their trade. So I wondered, for example, how did a seventeenth-century printing press operate? As it turns out, the press operated in a remarkably gendered way--parts of the machine were referred to as "female blocks," which had to connect with "male blocks." The interconnected parts were supposed to work together harmoniously, but on occasion--usually when the female "leaked"--the whole press might stop working. (Naturally, the female part was to blame!)
And another question: Since three of the largest prisons--Newgate, Fleet, and Bridewell--were all destroyed in the Great Fire, where were criminals held? I had to make my best guess on this one. There were other prisons of course: Gatehouse prison in Westminster, the White Lion prison, the Tower, and my favorite, the Clink in Southwark. But I decided to invent my own makeshift jail--after all, in those chaotic days after the Great Fire, order had to be regained quickly, and it stands to reason that royal and civil authorities might have wanted lawless behavior contained as quickly as possible. I couldn't find evidence to the contrary, so an old chandler's shop became a temporary jail.
And were criminals still being hanged at the Tyburn tree immediately after the Fire? Executions resumed quickly after the Fire, conducted as they had been since the twelfth century, in the village of Tyburn (now Marble Arch in London). Prisoners were progressed by cart, from jail to the "hanging" tree, parading through the streets--often praying, preaching, repenting or depending on their personality, even swapping jokes with the spectators. Usually they stopped at a tavern for one last drink along the way, before being forced to do the "Tyburn jig," as Londoners cheerfully called execution by hanging.
Of course, I also looked up countless other details...Who used acrostics and anagrams to convey messages? What secrets might be conveyed in a family emblem? And most significantly of all: What happened when the first pineapple arrived in London?
Ah-h-h, but I can't tell you about these answers....I'd be giving too much away about Book 2!!! I don't really have a question for you to answer, so I'll just end with a maniacal laugh...
MWAH HA HA HA HA....!!!
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