Recently in historical fiction Category

Remember that book called THE BLOODIEST QUEEN? That became THE MEDICI QUEEN when it was pointed out that my UK and Australian readers would guffaw at the "Bloodiest" bit?

Well, after much deliberation, I came up with another title with a bit more pizzazz than THE MEDICI QUEEN -- one which shows Catherine's deep involvement with evil forces. The result?

THE DEVIL'S QUEEN. It'll be out spring/summer 2009, and I'll give an update as soon as I know the month.

P.S. That, plus I've heard my dear friend John Allen is running for President. I'm anxiously awaiting his text message to learn which lucky soul he's chosen as his running mate.

When my agent, Russ, first suggested that I try my hand at a historical, he mentioned that I ought to study an author who happened to be represented by my foreign agent, Danny. That author was Noah Gordon, who wrote a fine novel which became a bestseller in Europe, though not so much here: THE PHYSICIAN, set in the 11th century. THE PHYSICIAN is the story of young Rob Cole, a Londoner who is determined – after the loss of his mother – to learn all he can about healing. It’s a richly detailed look at the healing arts in the early middle ages. I highly recommend Gordon’s books.

Book of the Month

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Speaking of Dan Simmons, I just finished his novel, THE TERROR. The title suggests a horror novel – and the story is indeed very dark. But it is wrapped in an elegant historical novel, titled after the name of a nineteenth-century British ship which became trapped in frozen polar waters. Simmons’ ability to capture the sights, sounds and smells of the Arctic and the ships and crews that braved its seas is breath-taking. I was completely absorbed by the story, the setting, the characters, and the precise, stunning details.
His next novel, DROOD, focuses on Charles Dickens’ friendship with Wilkie Collins, the nineteenth-century author whose mystery THE WOMAN IN WHITE is considered a classic. His website states DROOD will be published in January 2009, although publication dates sometimes shift. I’ll be waiting…

One of my favorite authors

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Recently, I had the pleasure of stumbling onto Dan Simmon’s website. It includes the usual list of the author’s works, as well as a forum and a series of essays called Writing Well. The latter are so well-written and entertaining that I’ve linked to them for you here.

One of my favorite passages from Simmon’s essays includes the theory of developing a story (I think it’s a perfect description of what occurs when I write a novel):

Monday Fashion Extravaganza

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1540 Florentine noblewoman Just to give you an idea of what my characters are wearing: here's a link to Grand Ladies of the 1500s, an album of images posted by the mysterious gogm1. This particular selection pertains to my area of interest -- Italian and French dress in the mid-1500s. Above is an image of a Florentine noblewoman circa 1540, an important period in my work-in-progress THE BLOODIEST QUEEN.

It's tricky trying to describe what characters are wearing without sounding overly expository, or modern. Take a look at the costumes being worn -- now quickly! Describe them in ten words or less, and make it sound natural and 1500ish.

Such are the challenges faced by the intrepid writer of historical fiction. I'm not complaining, mind; I'm just grateful that I can get away with wearing sweats and my husband's old t-shirt to work instead of the get-ups these ladies are wearing...

Dog Days

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Djangoingrass.jpgMy current work-in-progress, THE BLOODIEST QUEEN, is based around the key event of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in France. More than 70,000 French Protestants (known as Huguenots) were slain by Catholics in mob violence.

It all began on August 24, 1572. August is beastly hot, even in the City of Lights, and most Parisians have the good sense to hightail it out of the city for the better part of the month.

No one thought to do that back in 1572; they'd all been invited to the wedding of Catherine de' Medici's daughter. Paris was a tinderbox that year, brutally hot, a fact which no doubt fueled the sectarian violence.

By coincidence, as I've been studying up on the details of that vicious summer, my little corner of paradise has heated up to 105 degrees today. And it's only noon. Let's just say I'm glad I don't keep weapons in the house. And that I have a don't-discuss-religion-when-it's-over-eighty-degrees rule, too.

At least I can kill people digitally. I'm off to slay a Huguenot or two as soon as I finish typing these words...

The picture? Ah, that's Django the Wonder Pup, the newest resident of the Palazzo Kalogridis. Sure, he looks all cute and innocent now, but give him a few minutes outside in the heat, and he'll turn into a slavering monster.

At least, not until I write a novel set after the year 1694, when "snicker" was first recorded, perhaps coming from the Dutch snikken, "to gasp, sob."

No one sniggered (a variant) until 1706.

Word origin is one of the thousand little thorns that prick the writer of historical novels. I instinctively avoid words that feel too modern -- for example, none of my characters can be mesmerized, since the word comes from Franz Anton Mesmer, who developed the theory of animal magnetism and hypnosis at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

That's why the the Online Etymology Dictionary is one of my closest friends. If you have an interest in word midwifery, check it out.

Swing by Blogging for a Good Book, which gives you a suggestion for a good read every single day.

I chose to focus on the historical fiction archive -- which you can see was recently updated with Philippa Gregory's EARTHLY JOYS. It also contains Connie Willis' marvelous novel, DOOMSDAY BOOK, a must-read.