Monday, March 19, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
(Rant ahead: that's what my story was! What might have happened if Anne Boleyn had not miscarried her son in January 1536. What might have happened if she'd never had her head cut off and her son became king in 1547. What might have happened if Anne and Henry's son repeated his parents' dangerous forays into love and choice. And now we'll see what will happen when that same story is published as a trilogy by Random House beginning in summer 2013!)
Still, despite my disagreement with that agent's interpretation, I like her actual definition. Historical fiction is what might have happened.
Sometimes it's about the well-known dead; sometimes it's fictional ghosts; often it's a mix. But always it tells a story set in the past, in which the time itself is a critical character. The author recreates buildings, clothing, smells and tastes and sounds that are wildly different from any that can be found today. The story lines reflect religious beliefs and social pressures and power structures that seem nearly as alien as any created in science fiction.
And yet, miraculously, the people are just people. Human beings are fundamentally the same, if not on the outside then always on the inside. Love, hate, fear, hope, anger, desire . . . the best historical fiction does what all best fiction does: shows us ourselves.
This is why I read and write historical fiction: to travel to a time and place I can never get to in real life, and to find myself when I get there.
Recommended reading (those titles that made me say "If this isn't how it happened, it's definitely how it should have"):
HERE BE DRAGONS/Sharon Kay Penman/medieval Wales and England and the royal marriage of Llewellyn the Great and the illegitimate daughter of King John
THE BROTHERS OF GWYNEDD QUARTET/Ellis Peters/also medieval Wales and England, two generations later when England sets its sights on destroying Welsh autonomy
THE LYMOND CHRONICLES/Dorothy Dunnet/six book series about a Scottish soldier-statesman in the Tudor era
THE KING'S GENERAL/Daphne du Maurier/one of my adolescent favorites, set during the English civil war
CLOCKWORK PRINCE & CLOCKWORK ANGEL/Cassandra Clare/a prequel series to Clare's well-known Mortal Instruments books, set in Victorian London
WOLF HALL/Hilary Mantel/last year's Man Booker prize-winner about Thomas Cromwell in the time of Henry VIII, the sequel will be out this year
And for those interested in more titles and/or learning more about historical fiction, check out the Historical Novel Society website. Which, by the way, specifically includes alternate history in its definition of historical fiction. So there.
Friday, March 2, 2012
A few notes on Steampunk, in case you, too, are wondering what this new beast is and why you haven't heard of it.
- You get to dress up, and your costume can be as historically inspired and wildly creative as you like. Many times they include funky gadgets, goggles, and glorious gizmos. Plus a corset, if you like. Not that I would know anything about that ;)
- There's lots of opportunity for hands on--in fact, do it yourself is kind of at the core of steampunk. If you're like me and you love to see your own contraption take shape and work, this is for you. If you love an independent and self-sustainable lifestyle, this is for you.
- It has its own music, and its own art. Above and beyond the literary genre lives an entire culture that is vibrant and always pushing the creative envelope.
- The underlying philosophy is one that embraces alternatives. That history didn't have to run the way it did, that you don't have to buy everything from a store, that the possibilities for self expression run deeper than whatever clothing ad is currently running.
Stories started the whole thing, and stories (imho) keep it going. Classics include H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. My personal favorites are Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan books, and Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Which kind of shows you the scope of what steampunk is capable of. When the future has been reinvented through a lens that recreates the past, anything is possible.