Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thoughts on Accuracy in Historical Fiction from Guest Author Lynne Connolly

I have found that whenever I try to discuss historical accuracy in historical
fiction, especially in historical romance, the same responses pop up. So
much so that I'm getting bored with them and tempted to wave my hand, sigh
and say "Whatever."

1. "It's only fiction." That response trashes the nature of the novel
and the nature of fiction. It tends to show that the responder is either
parroting the response he or she has heard elsewhere or really doesn't
know what the novel is, or what fiction means. The novel is a highly
artificial construct made of several recognizable features. I think
every author should at least know that, or come to realize it as s/he
writes. But sometimes they don't. Fiction, similarly, doesn't mean you
can make up what the hell you like, it is again a recognizable construct
and bounded by understandings. If a writer has something they want to
bring to that, and the example that springs to mind is Truman Capote's
"In Cold Blood," then they are at liberty to do so, but it's nice if,
like Capote, they know exactly what they're doing and why they want to
do it. Even better if they can explain to a room full of academics, who,
in this case, are the gatekeepers.

2. "The story comes first." Hell, yes, of course it does, but that isn't
a reason to traduce history in the telling of it. Just incorporate the
real stuff or call it fantasy. There are some superb fantasies that take
a medieval world as its base ("Lord of the Rings" anyone?) but also
introduce other ideas. Just don't call it history if it isn't.

Alternative history, like "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" is also an
exciting way to go.

3. "The readers don't care." Demonstrably, they do. You can sell
humongous numbers of historical romance that have very little relation
to the era they claim to be set in and get away with it, but I firmly
believe that was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the
historical romance genre a few years ago. The readers moved away from
the paper-thin walls towards the paranormal romances, many of which take
the same construct (putting made-up characters into a recognizable
world) and make it more real seeming.

4. "You can have a success without fussing too much about the history."
Yes, you can, but that, IMO, is short-changing the readers. Even if they
don't know, many can sense it's not right because the setting isn't
fully depicted, or they sense something about a character. And you're
limiting your readership. Publishers think in the relatively short-term,
they don't care if a writer only has a few years' success and then fades
away because there are plenty more waiting. And if you have respect for
yourself and your integrity as a writer, then you'll take more care.

5. "I want to read a novel, not a text book." As if making lists and
over-description aren't symptomatic of bad writing in any genre. This
one exasperates me, because no good historical fiction writer would
dream of overwhelming the reader with facts and details. When you write
a novel, it's like the tip of the iceberg. You put in what you need to
put in, but you need the confidence and the knowledge to put it in and
not to insert the wrong thing. You need to know all these facts if you
want to create a living, breathing character in a vivid background. Your
reader doesn't. I don't read SF romance for the details of how a
spaceship works, I read it for the story, but if the writer has an
inconsistent world, I won't bother reading further.


*Lynne Connolly, author of Dark and Provocative Romance
A murder... A lord's desire...and her quiet, respectable life is gone
Tantalizing Secrets from Samhain Publishing
<http://samhainpubli romance/tantaliz ing-secrets>
*_*http://www.lynnecon TantalizingSecre ts.html*_

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Top 25 Literary Influences

Today I was challenged by my friend Marvin Wilson, author of I Romanced the Stone to list my top 25 Literary influences as he did this morning on his Free Spirit blog. So, here goes, Y'all. From last to first.

25. Margaret Atwood

24. Sarah Waters

23. Radclyffe Hall

22. Sylvia Plath

21. Patricia Matthews

20. Kathleen Windsor

19. Gustave Flaubert

18. Anya Seton

17. Marion Zimmer Bradley

16. Betty Smith

15. Leon Uris

14. Anita Diamant

13. Maya Angelou

12. Alix Olson

11. Anne McCaffrey

10. Robert Jordon

09. Margaret Walker

08. Rita Mae Brown

07. John Steinbeck

06. Frank G. Slaughter

05. Samuel Schellabarger

04. Lawrence Schoonover

03. Pearl Buck

02. Mary Renault

01. Sappho

Your turn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Learn something from the Construction Industry by Guest blogger Phoenix Alexander, MFA, PhD

     Writing a publishable manuscript is akin to building a successful commercial building. Both require good, aesthetically pleasing or satisfying design, sound structure, and quality materials that are well crafted to create settings suitable for the people who will use them and attractive to those who visit. Both must be well planned—no rooms without doorways or stairways to nowhere, with utilities conveniently placed. Signage, lighting and transit patterns must be clear enough to help folks get where they are going without stumbling. And both need inspectors to ensure everything is in place before they are ready to present to the market.
Too often writers let the analogy stop there. Writing a manuscript and "hoping for the best"—not knowing the intended readership or a way of getting it to market—is like a real estate developer building a commercial building without having leases signed and tenants ready to move in. Both are costly mistakes. When they finally find agents willing to represent them, they will be at the mercy of some pretty unattractive deals just to move a piece of property that has cost them to create.
You’ve heard the phrase “learn the craft” and assumed it meant learning the mechanics of writing—like the trade work on our commercial building. But successful writers who are more than “one-hit wonders”—the Micheners and the Pattersons—think more like the building’s developers. Before they build, successful developers study the neighborhood, learn which tenants will attract the widest range of visitors and bring in the most revenue, learn who the agents are who specialize in those tenants, keep tabs on the hottest architects, maybe assemble a focus group to review the design, and learn where to get the best tradesmen at the best cost, all ahead of time. They read trade magazines, network, and regularly update voluminous address books, so that by the time they conceive the next project, they know whom to approach for money or talent and what their “hot buttons” are.
     Most importantly, while developers may favor certain projects over others, THEY DO NOT CONFUSE THEM WITH THEIR CHILDREN. If inspections indicate needed changes in the project, they sign the change orders. In short, they deal with it as a business.
     I’m assuming here that you actually want to make money with your writing. If you’re a traditional type and don’t mind waiting a long time—a year or so in many cases—to see yourself in print, camp out in the library and check out the annual Writer’s Market series, which will tell you who is buying and publishing what, what their requirements are, and how much and when they pay—in short, how “the deal” is structured. Understand that payment upon publication is typical for magazines, and since it may take a magazine publisher three or four months to evaluate your work as a first-timer and another six after acceptance before the work hits the news stands, it can be a long time before you see any money from it.
     For books, the situation is worse, especially if you don’t have an agent. Sorry. The Writer’s Market series also includes a Guide to Literary Agents, and read all instructions carefully. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BANG A SQUARE PEG INTO A ROUND HOLE. IT ONLY "PISSES OFF" THE HOLE.
     If you’re more adventurous, consider exploring alternative routes to publication, especially when you’re starting out—blogging, self-publishing, print-on-demand, graphic novels, even distributing stories by cell phone. Check out online newsletters (such as Your Publishing Poynters Newsletter, a freebie) to keep up with changes in the industry. In short, do your homework, and don’t be taken by surprise. Know that you WILL make mistakes, you WILL fail, and you WILL be taken advantage of at some point by someone. It’s part of the learning process. Just don’t let it shut you down.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

When is it too late to start writing?

That was the question posted recently to a writers' email group.

I think a better question might be "Is it ever too late to stop learning to write?" We learn by writing. We learn by reading. And, lately I've discovered that I learn most by listening. My son downloaded hundreds of audio books, converted them to MP3s and gifted my [so far] with 30 DVDs full.

After listening my way through the entire Narnia series, ALL of the McCaffrey Pern novels and ALL of Robert Jordon's Wheel of Time I feel much more "ready" to work on my third novel and beyond.

My editor/friend has tried for years to get me to re-read Jordon for help with some of my style issues but after half a lifetime doing research and writing I find myself unable to read anything without mental editing. Listening disallows this and makes novel story structure and novel styles much more evident.

To paraphrase Rita Mae Brown, writing is perhaps the only field of endeavor in which a woman cannot be accused of "sleeping her way to the top." We live or die on the page or should I say we live and die FOR the page. Writing is age at its most irrelevant.

Incidentally, for the record I was 33 when I began my first novel and 68 when a truncated version of the umpteenth draft was published. I began my second novel at 46 and published it at age 70. "My" [and my editor's] preferred version of the first novel was published last year around the time of my 76th birthday. Now, as I contemplate my lucky double 7s year I'm anxious to get back to work on my 3 or 4 book historical epic. Age? Hurrumph! Who cares as long as we're living and learning?

Write on!

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