Category Archives: Historical Fiction

A Day in the Life of a Writer: Jackie Copleton

Posted by December 1st, 2015

Dictionary of Mutual Understanding.CoverIt’s so much fun to spend a day with Scottish writer Jackie Copleton, whose debut historical novel A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING comes out today from Penguin Books. The novel deals with the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and is a story of family secrets, romance, and reconnection. DICTIONARY is a BookPage Top Pick for December, an Indie Next Pick, and a BBC 2 Book Club selection, among many other distinctions. Below, we go behind the scenes of the London BBC Radio Studios with her as she promotes the novel, then flies off to Majorca for some much-deserved R&R!

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7:00 am

Picture 1The day begins with me packing for my train journey from Glasgow to London for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club – my first appearance on national radio – and then on to Palma, Majorca to meet my husband for our vacation. Along with shoes and swimming goggles, you can see some of my holiday reading choices: Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.

9:00 am

Picture 2The journey down to London takes four-and-a-half hours so I’m doing some background reading for the interview. Susan Southard’s Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War is an extraordinary and moving piece of journalism. I’m appearing on the radio at 6pm so I don’t think our conversation will dwell too much on the horrors of atomic devastation while listeners eat their dinner with their children or drive home, but I don’t want to be caught out unprepared on a live broadcast.

 1:30 pmPicture 3

This is me arriving in a black cab at the Langham Hotel in London. I must confess my writing days don’t usually involve heading to a five-star hotel for meetings. I’m due to catch up with my publisher, who I haven’t seen in a year. The last time we met was when I went to Hutchinson (an imprint of Penguin Random House UK) last summer to talk about the possibility of her signing up A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING. Our editorial meetings were over the phone and through emails. I had no idea the hotel was so posh! Continue reading

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Ask a Literary Agent: Amy Cloughley Answers Your Questions

Posted by July 13th, 2015

Amy CloughleyPlease welcome literary agent Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron & Associates to the blog today! Amy’s in the market to acquire the following types of books: Historical; Literary; Mainstream; Mystery and Suspense (all types but NO paranormal); Thriller (legal, grounded, psychological); Women’s Fiction; Adult Nonfiction (pop culture and humor, sports, narrative, memoir–travel). Like Book Country, Amy will be at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference at the end of this week. If you’ll also be at #PNWA15, you’ll be able to find Amy at the Agent Forum on Friday, July 17, at 10:00am, and at Power Pitch Sessions A, D, & E on Friday and Saturday.

When do you need an agent?  How do you know when you are ready as a writer to take this step? – Claire Count

There are a variety of great options for publishing your work, but if your goal is to be traditionally published, your odds of success increase quite a bit if you work with a qualified agent. Although many small/mid-sized publishers will consider unagented work, most of the larger houses will not, and the publishers who do often give priority to agented submissions.

You will know you are ready to take this step when your manuscript (or book proposal for nonfiction) is your best, most polished work. Although an agent will often provide some feedback to clients, an agent is typically looking to take on projects/clients who are as close to ready for the marketplace as possible. So be sure to do your research and due diligence. What is the typical word count for your genre? Is your POV clear and consistent? Are your main characters fully developed? Is your pacing appropriate for your genre? Did you have quality beta readers provide feedback? Did you identify a few current comparable titles to include in your query? There are numerous websites such as WritersDigest or here at BookCountry, as well as countless books and classes, that cover how to prepare your manuscript for publication. Applying this information will help your manuscript get an agent’s attention. Continue reading

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How a Real-Life Murder Mystery in 18th Century New York Led to CITY OF LIARS AND THIEVES by Eve Karlin

Posted by March 18th, 2015

How a Real-Life Murder Mystery in 18th Century New York Led to CITY OF LIARS AND THIEVES by Eve KarlinWhile reading Eve Karlin’s historical fiction novel CITY OF LIARS AND THIEVES, which is published by Alibi, I was struck by Eve’s powerful use of imagery that made me feel like I was living in 18th century Lower Manhattan. The street names were familiar: Spring Street, Bowery Lane, Greenwich Street, Chambers Street, Wall Street. But the detailed description of the boats bobbing along the New York harbor, the gritty and packed city blocks, and the sounds of a growing working-class invoked the spirit of a different era. Eve shares the real-life murder mystery that inspired her to write CITY OF LIARS AND THIEVES and the questions she encountered during her research that led to her novel.

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I did not set out to write a historical novel. Six years ago, while reading a biography on Alexander Hamilton, I came across a reference to a story that reached out and shook me.

In December 1799, a young woman named Elma Sands vanished on the snowy streets of Manhattan. Twelve days later, her corpse was found floating in an abandoned well, and her lover, Levi Weeks, was arrested for murder. The brutal slaying of a beautiful girl rocked the city—as similar crimes do today—but it was the trial that made the case truly sensational: Levi was defended by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr four years before their infamous duel. Continue reading

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Self-Publishing Was Right For Me by Ani Bolton

Posted by September 8th, 2014

In 2005, I wrote a weird book. A really weird book that no one knew what to do with, including me.

My pigeonhole at the time was Historical Romance. I’d gotten a good agent, and she was shopping my novel. I was working on a follow up, but I didn’t want to write a story about dukes or balls. I wanted to write a novel about war and magic. So that’s what I did.

Steel and SongThe novel that became STEEL AND SONG: Book 1 in the Aileron Chronicles flowed right out of me. My then-agent was baffled by it. It wasn’t a paranormal romance. It wasn’t epic fantasy. It was somewhere to the left of what was considered marketable: a dieselpunk romance with magic and war. A heroine who was mouthy and a hero who was a coward. In other words, never going to sell.

So I left the draft on a flashdrive (how quaint!) thinking that was that. I started working for book packagers, ghost writing several YA novels. My day job became very intense. Writing novels was taking a back seat, and honestly, the stuff I was writing wasn’t singing to me anymore. Even though I was the co-founder of a highly regarded writing community, my love for the industry and for writing had taken a beating. I needed to check out for a while. Continue reading

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Jaycee Ford: Early Feedback on ORDER OF THE GARTER

Posted by July 30th, 2014

ORDER OF THE GARTER on Book CountryBook Country member Jaycee Ford won a one-on-one manuscript feedback session at RT14. Jaycee asked me to take a look at a historical romance that she is working on called ORDER OF THE GARTER. I love anything historical, and was even more intrigued that the book takes place in New Orleans (where Jaycee is from) and NOLA is where she and I met! I was so excited to re-visit the Big Easy via Jaycee’s sexy book.

ORDER OF THE GARTER is the story of Ella Harrison, a beautiful, charming “lady of the night” who makes her living charming the pants of the men of New Orleans in Storyville, the red light district, in 1915. Determined to stay unattached, afraid of wanting more, Ella’s carefully compartmentalized world is shaken up when she meets not one but two dashing men eager to sweep her off her feet.

Reading ORDER OF THE GARTER left me with a few writing takeaways that I wanted to share with the community.

 

What’s working:

Jaycee’s commitment to the historical setting really wins over the reader. In Storyville, a district in early 20th-century NOLA where prostitution was decriminalized, she’s found a true historical oddity. The city printed up “blue books”–basically, a directory and tourist’s guide to every prostitute in the city. I love how Jaycee uses the “blue book” to kick off ORDER OF THE GARTER and then subtly threads historical details into the story, so that the situation is normalized for the characters, but still feels intriguing and rare for the reader. Continue reading

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The Extroverted Writer: An Interview with Ayelet Waldman

Posted by May 1st, 2014

Today’s blog guest is one of my absolute favorite writers: Ayelet Waldman. Ayelet and I have crossed paths many times over the years. An author of acclaimed fiction, memoir, and cozy mysteries, I’ve been following her exciting body of work for the last decade, always eager to see what she’ll do next. Her new book is LOVE & TREASURE, a heady mix of Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Mystery, and Historical Fiction set partially in Hungary, a place I love to read about. Read on for Ayelet’s singular take on the writer’s life.ayelet-waldman-love-and-treasure-2501

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LS: LOVE & TREASURE is a novel in 3 parts, each functioning almost like a novella. Why did you structure the story the way you did?

AW: You said the dreaded word, “Novella!” No! No! No!

Kidding.

Sort of.

Not really.

The truth was that I had the structure before I had the novel. I fell in love with three-story structure first when reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham, then in Three Junes by Julia Glass. I read them when I first started taking the project of writing seriously, when I had emerged from my apprenticeship writing light-hearted mysteries, and had started to imagine trying something more ambitious. Those two books gave me a deep appreciation both of structure, and of the importance of theme in creating the world of a novel. They taught me that what is true and real about a story can transcend even characters. That’s a terrifying thing to contemplate, in a way. That what we care about in a novel can be something deeper even than the people in it, that our commitment to the story can survive the disappearance of characters we are invested in and care about. Continue reading

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On My Way to the Heart of Wuthering Heights by Susan M. Wyler

Posted by April 30th, 2014

SOLSBURY HILL coverToday our blog guest is Riverhead author Susan M. Wyler, whose new book SOLSBURY HILL is one of the books I am most looking forward to reading this spring. She dove deep into Emily Brontë’s classic romance Wuthering Heights to extract a passionate, satisfying resolution to this story loved by millions.

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It’s easy to imagine oneself the Creator when one seems to wring human beings and landscapes from mere pen and ink, but I wonder if writers aren’t tapping into something that already exists, like our dream world seems to exist. At any rate, that’s what writing for me has always been like. And when I began writing SOLSBURY HILL, when I sat down to that first empty page, Eleanor Abbott (the heroine of the novel) was already there, sitting in a Manhattan cafe sipping coffee. Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Nigia Stephens

Posted by April 7th, 2014

Nigia Stephens author photo editedI’m excited to introduce Book Country member Nigia Stephens on the blog today. Nigia is a writer of multiple genres, an artist, and a poet with a wide array of curiosities and interests. She’s unafraid to try new things and seek out new paths for her writing–one of my very favorite characteristics in a writer! Read on to learn more about Nigia and her Book Country WIPS ARMS OF ANGELS and THE LOVE OF DANGEROUS CREATURES.

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Lucy Silag: The first book you posted to Book Country is ARMS OF ANGELS, a steampunk romance set in 1690 Jamaica. How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Nigia Stephens: ARMS OF ANGELS emerged from another novel I’d written, Children of Eden, more than fifteen years ago. I love the unconventional. There are not enough people of color, gays and lesbians, or a heady mix of intelligent-and-sexy women in the world of Fantasy or Science Fiction.  Children of Eden is a space saga that begins in our time.  The protagonist of Children of Eden is a Puerto Rican drag queen named Almond who is a direct descendant of Jovan, my pirate captain in ARMS OF ANGELS. Continue reading

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Elizabeth Loupas: Six and a Half Ways to be a Writer Even When You’re Not Writing

Posted by April 1st, 2014

Writers write. That’s true. We’ve all been admonished a million times to park our behinds in our chairs and just write. Sometimes—maybe even most of the time—that’s what we need to do.

But nobody can write all the time, unless you want to end up like Jack Torrance in The Shining, typing pages and pages of madness and hacking down doors with axes. In order to define our writing as writing and hang on to our sanity in the process, we have to have non-writing to surround it. The rich shadowy darkness of creativity is only visible when it’s contrasted with the light of everyday life.

The trick to this is to have an arsenal of non-writing things you can depend on to refresh your spirit. The list will be different for everyone. Here are six things from my list:

Walking. Not power walking for exercise, but just ambling through the neighborhood, picking a different route every time. Sure, the exercise gets my blood circulating, but the solitude, the fresh air, the sunshine (or the rain)—it’s a great way to get away from the computer, but at the same time a terrific incubator for new ideas. I like to recite dialog as I walk, to hear what it sounds like. Yes, the neighbors wonder about me.

Showers. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, but water does a lot more for me than get me clean. The solitude again, the sound, the primitive rushing feel of the water—when a particular plot point is blocking my progress, it’s amazing how often I figure it out in the shower. I keep a notepad in the bathroom so I can get things written down before I forget them. I tried one of those waterproof-notepad gadgets but I kept dropping the special underwater pen. If I get a really good idea I just scramble out of the shower and drip all over everything while I write.

9780451418876_large_The_Red_Lily_CrownStargazing. I learned the constellations as a child, but you don’t have to know Ursa Major from Cassiopeia to appreciate the enormity of the night sky. After a while it makes writing-related problems seem much less important. You can muse on what your characters would see and think at night—the stars will be pretty much the same (well, in the northern hemisphere…and a star map will show you constellations in the southern hemisphere) to anyone in any time and place. I thought of this when I wrote a scene for THE RED LILY CROWN in which my heroine awakens from being drugged and abducted and looks up at the sky to orient herself:

There, that was the North Star, just as Ruan had taught her. Her own stars, the curling tail and spread claws of the Scorpion, were on the opposite horizon, so that was south…

I felt that scene because I knew what the sky would have looked like, deep in the darkness. Continue reading

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An Epic Morning at Starbucks: Author Phillip Margulies’s Agent Story

Posted by January 14th, 2014

phillip Margulies 1Every traditionally published author has a story about how they found their literary agent. My favorites of these are always the more serendipitous ones, the ones that show not just a writer’s tenacity in their search, but also have a cinematic quality to them–a bit of a “meet-cute.” Below, Historical Fiction author Phillip Margulies, whose debut novel BELLE CORA came out from Doubleday last week, tells us how he met his agent, Dorian Karchmar of William Morris, at his local Starbucks. It wasn’t just good timing, however–read on to see how Phillip impressed Dorian even before she read his work, and how that fateful meeting helped him to realize one of his longest-held dreams.

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For unpublished writers the true tale I’m about to relate qualifies as a story of survival.  Whether it is an inspiration or a warning, I’m not sure.

I have been writing fiction since the age of 11;  that is, since 1963, half a century ago. Empires fell, presidential administrations went by in a blur, the quill in my hand became a typewriter and then a laptop, while I sat there in my Time Machine writing.  I had no other ambition, no other serious employment.  By 2005, when I began BELLE CORA, I had written eight previous novels and numerous short stories and poems, all unpublished; also some unproduced plays.  Editors praised my work.  They wished me luck “finding the right publisher.”

My wife, Maxine Rosaler, has a writer friend who is regularly published—they’re from the same town and have stayed friends despite their highly divergent destinies. The friend’s husband had recently asked my wife: “Why does Phil bother?” Like, Phil’s in his fifties, can’t he take a hint?  Earlier, when I was merely in my forties, another friend had told her: “At this stage of his life he’ll never get published.” My wife decided not to pass on either of these remarks, which is unusual for her, but sometimes in a fight when I accused her of saying everything she could say to hurt me, she’d say, “No, I don’t.  There are things I could say that I don’t say.”  Which was, wow, really infuriating. Continue reading

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