Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spotlight on Europe

Today I'm finally going to post my review of The Briton! That I finished a month ago...

Author is Catherine Palmer, and the book launched the new LI Historical line. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The plot blurb:
The Britons, had lost all she held dear. She had been widowed in war, then robbed of the ancestral home that was her birthright. And now her last hope was a stranger-one with whom she'd shared a single tender kiss.

The foreign knight Jacques le Brun begged her to let him defend her honor-nay, her very life. But he owed fealty to the hated French who had conquered her country, England, and to the new faith they brought with them. Could Bronwen place her trust in the pure, untainted love she saw shining in this man's eyes-and follow him to a new world?

The book is set in the 12th century and Catherine did a marvelous job of capturing the turmoil that the isle of Britain was experiencing. This was the age of the first crusades and the Normans fighting over who was going to rule the island. Loyalties were divided and friends were hard to come by.

Bronwen immediately captured my attention. She's a very strong woman who is determined to uphold her family's legacy, but she does it all with grace and style. That's the kind of strong heroine that I like. Her first experience with Jacques is her first experience with the invading Normans and Christianity. The relationship grows slowly, but very believably. Jacques is just the kind of hero that I like to read about, strong and committed on the outside and a total mushy romantic on the inside. His offer of protection, with no strings attached, is what begins to soften Bronwen's heart towards the Normans and their God.

A highly enjoyable book and you should check it out even if you don't like medievals.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dreams

I grew up listening to the oldies. Music from the 50's, 60's and 70's. When you live in the middle of nowhere that's in the middle of nowhere and detest country music, that's pretty much your only choice. The first Christian station didn't arrive until just before we moved, so I would have been about 13. By that point I had already fallen in love with The Beach Boys, The Righteous Brothers, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

One song that seems to reverberate in my head is All I Have To Do Is Dream. It's the refrain that I can't ever seem to shake. I have a novel named Dream. The title is after the horse in the book, but it also fits the theme of the novel very well. Broken dreams and finding the strength to dream again.

One of the side effects of a medication I take is weird dreams. Let me tell you I have had some doozies! Including ones that resemble acid trips or I wake up so mad that I could hit something. They're always in vivid color and full of details. I don't remember most of them, just fleeting impressions. I've dreamed about my characters before, but last night I dreamed about one of my characters going to Russia. That was a first. It definitely falls into the weird category and isn't anything that I can use in this person's story. Michael, kids on roller skates, glass hotel lobbies and a hot mineral spring in the middle of Red Square are not things that one should use in novels that are set in the real world.

Every character needs to have some big dream. It makes them real, makes them human. In the horse novel, Evan had dreamed of competing at the Olympics, but a false accusation and a monkey trial left him in jail and he was stripped of all the medals he'd won in international competition. He lost his dream, the driving force in his life, the one thing that might make his father see that he really was worth something. So he has to find a new dream. Without Windswept Dreamer, his beloved horse. His is a story of a young man who refuses to grow up, and then is forced to grow up and start over in a totally foreign way of life. Imagine a lad born in Ireland the son of a filthy rich businessman who runs the family empire. Then take this spoiled rotten kid with a too big ego who grew up just outside NYC, and stick him on a Colorado cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, he has to grow up whether he likes it or not.

Nick dreams of having his own large family, providing the same type of safe haven for troubled Russian orphans that his own adoptive parents provided for him. But his past haunts him, both literally and figuratively.

Michael dreams of being the next Bing Crosby and taking Broadway by storm. He does, but he's haunted by a lost love and the tragic death of his best friend. His dreams come true, but they're empty without her.

A character's dreams are so very important. Everyone has dreams and desires. These need to translate into our writing and make us root for the character, make us want to see the dream come true. But it can't just happen, they have to work for it and strive for it, make the reader believe that this is what they truly want.

What's your character's biggest dream? The one thing they would give anything to have happen?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

No, I'm not dead...

I'm not dead, I didn't fall off the face of the earth and I didn't move to Timbuktu. Surely by now they have Internet in Timbuktu... Which would have been a vast improvement on my situation.

I had every intention of doing a late posting of Spotlight. Work was extremely busy Wednesday, and I usually write blog posts in between jobs. And I had every intention of posting the Friday Fact and finishing up the series on lace. The weather had other ideas.

Twas a very blustery day Tuesday and the wind was blowing so hard that it was making the electric transformers pop and surge. Which fried the wireless router that my Internet runs through. Papa fixed that one, but I spent the day working at a desk that I don't like. Wednesday went great. Until about 2:30 that morning, when the other router died.

Right as Papa had to work for 2 days, so he couldn't fix it. I didn't get to work Thursday or Friday, didn't get to check my email, read my blogs or post on my own blog. It was a tough two days, let me tell you! I finally hightailed it to House of Java Friday afternoon to download my mountain of email.

It's fixed now. Hopefully. So far it's been 24 hours since anything acted up. That's a good sign. *knock on wood* But did I use that time to write? Nope. Ended up running errands for my mom, helping her clean a closet out and getting ready for my sisters BD party. Much fun was had though, so it's all good.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Blog tour- Laurie Alice Eakes

Welcome to the second stop on Laurie Alice's blog tour. The book we're featuring is Better Than Gold.

For the question to this first answer, plus another chance to win a copy of Better than Gold, visit: http://www.mltyndall.com

This question is difficult to answer without perhaps offending someone, and I'll take a stab at it.

Poor research. The Internet, though possessing some great resources, is not the definitive source and needs to be augmented. Neither is reading one novel of the time and making an inference from it that that was how things always were. Especially before World War I, class distinctions were profound, and if someone doesn't understand this, they make stupid, avoidable mistakes. Too few authors understand this.

Dialogue is another one. Authors have started substituting dialogue for emotion and tension. Although dialogue can convey these things, pages of it in expository form is contrived and forced. No one talks like people put dialogue in books. This is mostly common in contemporary fiction.

Too many books are just plain boring. It has nothing to do with length. I've read 900 page books I couldn't put down, and 200 page books that made me sleep before the end of the table of contents. Seriously. I just put a book aside because the table of contents sounded like the subsequent chapters—fiction—would be utterly tedious and pointless.

Which brings me to the final problem—pointlessness. I read too many scenes in books or books themselves where my first reaction is: So what? Why should I care? Apparently someone did, since they're published, but I encounter it so much along side books I can't put down, I haven't yet figured out the appeal of the tedious ones.


1: Which do you like better, the writing or the research?

That's a tough one. I love them both, and they use different parts of my brain. Research is more left-brain, and writing more right. I think I am subconsciously writing with the right half while researching with the left. So I get the pleasure of doing both together. Pushed for an answer, probably the writing is more fun, but I do love research.


2: I have yet to meet a writer of historical fiction that isn't easily sidetracked on research rabbit trails. How do you deal with that temptation?

I'd like to say I'm really disciplined and stick to a schedule, and I cannot lie. I tend to follow them because they can turn out valuable. I'm so bad about research that if I read about something in an historical novel that doesn't sound familiar to me, I go research it. The Sarmacians for example. I recently read a book by Gillian Bradshaw called Island of Ghosts that was about a Sarmacian. I'd never heard of the Sarmacians, let alone that they were in Roman Britain. I spent a day reading about them. Totally irrelevant to my current work, but I had to know more.


3: Have you ever gotten a good story idea from a rabbit trail?

Oh, yes! In my newest book, Better than Gold, I got sidetracked reading newspaper accounts of the time in which my story was set—1876 Iowa. I had plenty of material for the story, but I couldn't stop reading these actual newspaper articles from the Davenport, Iowa paper. I read one that led to not only the sort of homey, community event that played well into the theme of my book, but gave my brainstorming partner and me an idea on how to solve the mystery. That's only the most recent one. It's happened many times over the years.


4: What was your favorite time period to read about before you started writing?

Revolutions—the American and the French. Both fascinated me since I was a child. They're not unconnected, you know. And I suppose they fulfilled my rebellious spirit. But by the time I started writing, no one wanted American Revolutionary War stories. I have one set in that time period, but mostly in England. It has some serious flaws, but I may try to rework it one day. It's still one of my favorite stories.


5: After Regency England, what period is your favorite to do research in?

Hmm. The whole Georgian period, encompassing Regency, is great. But probably the Restoration—Charles II was just a romantic figure, though he was, in truth, a bit of a reprobate and quite immoral. Still, the romanticism of his story re-collected a shattered kingdom and got them through some terrible times like wars with Holland France and the black plague epidemic and the great fire of London. But I haven't been inspired to write in that time period—yet. I've just researched it extensively. Probably one of those rabbit holes.


6: If you could go back in time to one historical event, what event would it be?

To get the answer to this question, plus another chance to win a copy of Better than Gold, go to
http://www.louisemgouge.com


The drawing here will stay open until Saturday. To be entered, just leave a comment and if you're not one of my regulars please leave an email address where you can be contacted.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Laurie's blog tour!

Here's the schedule for Laurie Alice's blog tour. I highly recommend reading each interview. Each participant is asking a different "category" of question.

Monday: Marylu Tyndall
http://www.mltyndall.com

Tuesday: Rachel Wilder
http://www.rachelwilder.net

Wednesday: Louise M. Gouge
http://www.louisemgouge.com

Thursday: Susan Lohrer
http://www.inspirationaleditor.blogspot.com

Friday: Melanie Dickerson
http://www.melaniewrites.blogspot.com

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Friday Fact

Bobbin Lace

Bobbin lace is one of the oldest forms of lace making and is also one of the most delicate. It's estimated to have been in existence since at least the mid 16th century. Here's a link to more detailed info about the history of bobbin lace. Back then, each region had its own pattern variations and you could tell where a piece of lace had been made based simply on the pattern

It gets its name from the bobbins that are used in the process. The bobbins can be made of wood and can be very plain, or they can be very ornate and carved from things like rosewood and ivory. There are 3 things you MUST have to make bobbin lace. The bobbins obviously, and the other two are flat head straight pins and a pillow. The lace itself is made by setting the bobbins up in pairs and then twisting and looping them around the pins that have been stuck in the pillow. The pins make the template for the pattern.

Bobbin lace is another one of those beautiful dying arts, and another thing on my list of Crafts That I Must Learn The Basics Of Before I Die. I have the beginner's kit that is sold by The Victorian Trading Company, but I haven't yet made the time to sit down with it.

If you're interested in pictures of the lace or bobbins or pillows or how it's made, check this site out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Historical Fiction 101- Part 4

Today, I'm going to take a look at some of the CBA publishing houses that have a strong presence in the historical fiction genre.

Bethany House pretty much created CBA historical fiction with Janette Oke and Gilbert Morris. Both of these authors started writing in the early 80's, when Christian fiction was still in its infancy. The first House of Winslow book was the second "adult" book that I ever read. They've also published much of Michael Phillips' writing, as well as Judith Pella. Recently the entire structure at Bethany was turned upside down, and their historical division isn't getting as much attention as it used to. The current VP of sales wants to branch out and cut back on the number of historicals Bethany publishes. I find that rather sad.

Heartsong Presents from Barbour is an extremely popular book club that has a line of historical fiction, Heartsong Presents Historicals. They tend to be on the shorter side though, between 40 and 50,000 words. And that's just fine for some people, but I'm not one of them. I've never actually read a Heartsong. Brief guidelines can be found here.

The parent company of HP, Barbour, also publishes historical fiction in their trade paperback line. They have just re-released Susan May Warren's "Olga", now titled "The Sovereign's Daughter" and I also know that they will very soon be re-releasing Gilbert Morris' Appomattox Saga series. If you love Civil War fiction, this is THE series to read.

The recent launch of Steeple Hill's Love Inspired Historical line catapulted them very firmly into the historical genre. Submission guidelines can be found here. At this point they're open to pretty much everything except the American Revolution. As I've said before, there are multiple Regencies in the pipeline. The word count for LIH is 70-75,000.

Tyndale House has published all of Tricia Goyer's novels so far. Unfortunately she recently announced on her blog that Tyndale will not be publishing any more of her historicals. I think it has something to do with the Spanish Civil War Chronicles sales numbers. I don't know what the current status is for them accepting historicals, so if anyone who reads this does know, please leave a comment.

Zondervan also publishes a few historicals, but they're more well known for their thrillers, suspense, non-fiction and the NIV. They have Brandilyn Collins and Terri Blackstock.

Revell also has a growing presence in the historical genre. They published the blockbuster hit All The Tea in China, and they've published Deanne Gist's A Bride Most Begrudging and Courting Trouble. Revell and Bethany are both owned by the Baker Publishing Group. Revell is also the publisher of A Passion Most Pure that's making all kinds of waves in the CBA. I plan to order the book this weekend and will be posting a full review. Revell seems to be open to content that's edgier and a little more passionate. I'm looking forward to seeing what else Revell will publish.

This is just a very very basic list, but it should give you a pretty good idea of what all is out there. In the realm of historical fiction there is truly something for everyone.

Next Tuesday, please stop by for an interview with Laurie Alice Eakes. She has a Heartsong coming out. I'll post the full blog tour schedule over the weekend. We're doing something pretty unique with the interviews and in order to read all the answers you have to go to every blog on the list. But don't worry! There's only 5.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Historical Fiction 101- Part 3

OK, so we've looked briefly at what historical fiction is and what time periods qualify as historical fiction. Here's where the waters get kind of muddy.

Are you writing historical fiction or historical romance? There is a difference, and that's what we're going to talk about today.

Historical romance is exactly what it sounds like. It's a romance set in a historical period. Usually, the romance is the focus of the plot. The only technical difference between historical romance and contemporary romance is the setting. The subtle differences between the two is almost a craft series in itself.

Straight up historical fiction isn't always so easy to identify. The line can be very blurry. The general rule of thumb is this: If you can remove the romance element without losing any of the plot, then you're not writing a historical romance. That said, even most straight up historicals still have a romance element in them somewhere.

Gilbert Morris is the author who first comes to my mind as the author who straddles this line and helps make it blurry. But he does it so well that I personally don't really mind. He does not write romance. He writes historical fiction with a strong romance subplot. Much of his writing does meet the test though. If you remove the romance thread, you still have a good book. Maybe not as riveting, but still a good book.

In my mind, the most classic modern example of historical fiction is Michael Phillips' Secrets of Heathersleigh Hall series. It's not one of his better known series, but it is one of his best written. It follows the life of a family in England, who live at Heathersleigh Hall. When the series opens, no one in the family is a Christian. In fact, the father fully believes and endorses Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and encourages his children to question everything. Even his authority as their father. As the series progresses, he wisens up to the errors of his ways and watches the evolution lies destroy his daughter. Being as this is Christian fiction, she does eventually come back home and accept her father's change, but at a great personal cost. It's a story of redemption really, and how much fathers love their daughters. It's riveting and some of Michael's best writing IMO. But it's not a romance.

Another hallmark of straight up historical is that the historical events are as much a character in the novel as the characters themselves. This particular plot could not happen believably in any other setting because it needs this particular event to make it happen.

Historical romance was pretty much created by Janette Oke. Unfortunately, far too many people associate the term "historical romance" with the prairie westerns that Janette is famous for. That's something that is slowly changing. Today's masters of historical romance include Catherine Palmer, Deanne Gist and Tamera Alexander.

Much of my own writing is very difficult to categorize using just these two terms. The Epic is not historical romance. There's a strong romance subplot going on with Yelena and Dmitri, but if I remove that subplot I don't lose any of the story. But at the same time marketing it as just historical fiction doesn't feel right either. I'm glad I'm not the one who will make the final decision on where it belongs.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Historical Fiction 101- Part 2

My apologies for not posting the Spotlight yesterday. My sister was kind enough to bring home a nasty cold and share it with her siblings. (don't slip in the puddle of sarcasm...) I could barely keep my head on straight enough to work, much less write a coherent blog post.

Time Periods

There is actually quite a bit of confusion out there as to what the different time periods are that make up historical fiction. I'm going to give a pretty basic list and not go into a whole lot of detail. This is 101 after all.

Biblical- This is the sub-genre that covers Genesis through the 1st century Christians in Rome. The series that most CBA readers will think about for this period is Francine Rivers' Mark Of The Lion series. Also, the Thoene's AD Chronicles series falls into this sub-genre. There's not a lot out there in the CBA market that goes into the later years of the Roman Empire. I would guess that the reason has something to do with the pagan culture of ancient Rome, as well as the pagan cultures the Romans encountered during their conquering of much of western Europe. The Roman period sort of segued into the Byzantine/Ottoman Empire, which also seems to be a taboo period right now because of the emphasis in this period on the creation of Islam and the Eastern Orthodox church.

Medieval/Middle Ages- This period also is not very popular in the CBA. A big part of the reason is that Christians at that time were 95% of the time Catholic. For some reason I don't understand, many CBA publishers seem to have a hang-up about novels with Catholic characters--historical or contemporary. At one point many years ago, there was an editor who didn't think it was possible to be a real Christian before the Reformation. Which is utterly absurd. The thoughts on medievals in CBA seems to be changing though. Love Inspired launched their historical line with a medieval, The Briton, and Lisa T. Bergren's medieval set trilogy has been getting fantastic reviews.

Elizabethan/Renessaince/Reformation- Think Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Martin Luther, the Sistine Chapel, Venice at its height of glory. This period is also a hard sell, but you have more belief system options for your characters. Catholicism was still the way of much of the western world, but the Church of England was emerging at this time, as were the Puritans and the Pilgrims. This period also gave birth to the greatest Christian allegory ever written- The Pilgrim's Progress.

Awakening/Georgian/Colonial- Also a hard sell for some strange reason. The 18th century was generally known in England as the Georgian era, and here in the Colonies it was the time of the Great Awakening, a huge spurt in popularity for non-Calvinist denominations, and the seeds of revolution were planted all over the Western world. You have the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the rise of Napoleon, the downfall of England and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution all happening in the same stretch of years. It was a very busy century, and one that most publishing houses won't buy. Kinda sad in my opinion because there was so much going that is absolutely crucial to the reasons why the Colonists were so dead set on overthrowing British rule.

Regency/Empire/Federal- This period is enjoying a huge moment of popularity thanks to the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, the new Jane Austen movies made by the BBC and Disney's "Becoming Jane" starring Anne Hathaway. This span of time covers about 1795-1830. In England it was the Regency, in France it was the Empire, and in the newly formed USA it was the Federal. This period is most noted for its simple, comfortable clothing and clean lined furniture. The 1830's don't really fit in anywhere because they were so vastly different from the preceeding and following decades. The 1840's were just as gloomy and dark as the 1830's were gaudy and brash.

Victorian- This is actually a HUGE span of time and many other periods fit into it. Technically speaking the Victorian era stretched from 1837-1901--the years that Victoria reigned as Queen of England. Women were all about copying Victoria. Her tastes in furniture, clothing, books and music ruled Western society for nearly 3 generations. Her reign is often seen as England's Golden Era, and it's also my favorite period to read about. She encouraged innovation, experimentation and family devotion. The American Civil War falls into this category, as does Reconstruction and Antebellum fiction, along with a host of other stuff like British India and British Africa.

Edwardian- Not to be confused with Victorian! Edwardian started in 1901 and went until about the time of the Titanic. Anne of Green Gables is set in the Edwardian period, as is the American Girl doll Samantha Parkington. The Gibson Girl is usually associated with the early Edwardian period with her sweeping updos, angelic face and leg o' mutton sleeves, but she actually had her start in the 1890's.

WW1- After the Titanic disaster, the world started gearing up for war. World War One, or The Great War as it was called by the people of that time. Again, it's a hard sell in the CBA. My personal thoughts on that is because the war didn't have a clear rallying cry. There was no central "evil" to fight. It was just a bunch of kings and arch dukes playing with their toy soldiers. This led to the Russian Revolution and the overthrow of the Russian monarchy, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of communism.

Roaring Twenties/The Depression- The Roaring Twenties are most known in the US for jazz, Prohibition and the mob. Also a hard sell in the CBA because of the very loose societal morals of the day. While felt the most in the US, the effects of the Depression stretched into every corner of the modern world. It was a time when Communism was very appealing with its promises of food for all and world peace. Nobody knew then how much of a lie it was and how many millions of people were dying in Russia because of Stalin's paranoia and a government induced famine.

WW2- The first truly global war with battles fought in all hemispheres and on nearly every single continent. With a good, gripping story that hasn't been told yet, you can sell a WW2 story easily in the CBA market. Judith Pella sort of blazed the way for Cold War spy novels with the last book in her Daughters of Fortune series, and I for one would love to see more of those types of stories. Guess that's why I'm writing one...

And that's pretty much where historical fiction ends right now. Some houses consider the Korean War as historical, some don't. Ditto for the 60's and Vietnam. Those two are a very difficult sell because of the culture you have to write about. I imagine in another 10-15 years, the line for what is a historical novel will move forward a decade or two.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Historical Fiction 101- Part 1

What exactly IS historical fiction? That's what I'm going to answer today.

Webster's defines historical as "of, relating to, or having the character of history". I like that definition. It works well with historical fiction.

I think we all know what fiction means. So when you put the two together, we get something along the lines of "a work of fiction that relates to or has the character of history." I particularly like this because I love historical novels where the actual history is as much a character as the characters themselves.

Having spent 4 years working at a plantation, I regularly encountered the opinion that history is boring and dull. That it was just a list of numbers, dates and facts. Any history nut will tell you otherwise. History is fascinating. Why did people think like that, what forces shaped their world, how did societal values affect daily life. I believe it is the duty of the historical fiction author to portray these things in a manner that the public can relate to, then bring it to life and help people see that history is not boring or dull.

Every culture in the world needs to know their history. Those who do not know the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat those mistakes. Unfortunately that seems to be happening more and more here in the U.S. So if it's happening here, I would imagine it's happening in other countries as well. We must know our history. We must preserve it for the next generation and we must make it real. I believe that is an integral part of writing historical fiction.

The next installment will be Thursday, and we'll look at the different time periods that fall under the heading of historical fiction.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Historical Fiction 101

I'm about to do my first craft series! I'm terribly excited about it. The plan right now is to post it on Mondays and Tuesdays and possibly on Thursdays. I don't expect it to take more than 5 posts to do. But I reserve the right to change my mind.

The series will talk about the differences between historical fiction and historical romance, go through the different time periods that are included under the historical umbrella and hopefully impart some of my history passion to my readers.

We'll kick things off tomorrow by finding out exactly what historical fiction is.