Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's Conference Time!

Exciting news: registration is now open for the Historical Novel Society North American Conference.

This year the conference will be held June 12-14 at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg, IL. The guests of honor, both of whom will speak, are bestselling historical fiction novelists Margaret George and Edward Rutherford. Many other authors--among them Catherine Delors, Michelle Moran, C.W. Gordon, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Easter Smith and Lauren Willig--will be in attendance. The registration fee includes an opportunity for attendees to pitch to one of the agents or editors who come to the conference looking for new talent.

This conference is wonderful because it's open to all lovers of historical fiction: readers and writers, editors and agents. The panels are timely and informative, the entertainment high spirited, and the networking possibilities endless! Best of all, everyone there loves to talk about what you love best--historical fiction. The conference is limited to 300 registrants, so if you're interested, visit the registration site soon.

If you have any questions about the conference, I'll be happy to try to answer them. I attended the last conference in 2007 and have been counting the days until the next one.

See you in Schaumburg in June!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Talents, Rank and Beauty

Poking around on the web today, I found a wonderful site that reproduces exquisite color plates of French women's costume from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries. The plates are taken from a collaborative work by eighteenth-century artist Louis-Marie Lanté and engraver Georges-Jacques Gatine entitled Galerie française de femmes célèbres par leurs talens, leur rang ou leur beauté (French Gallery of Women Famous for their Talents, Rank or Beauty), published in 1827. The author-artists are known, among other things, for recording French regional costumes of their era. The Galerie features "portraits" of many of the women featured here--Louise de Savoie, Queen Claude, Marguerite de Navarre, Madame d'Etampes, Catherine de Medici.... I'm trying to find out how accurate the costume portrayals are, but to first order they appear trustworthy. In any case, they're beautiful. I couldn't find any public domain images to post, so be sure to visit the site. Click on a thumbnail to view a larger version. The sixteenth-century columns and personalities begin with Queen Claude's mother, Anne de Bretagne, in the middle of the fourth row and continue through the eighth row and the court of Henri IV.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Plum of a Queen: La Reine Claude

Despite his taste for forbidden fruit, François I felt true affection for his first wife, Claude de France (1499-1524). Claude's father, King Louis XII of France, betrothed her to François in 1506 when it became clear that Francois would inherit the throne. Claude's mother, Anne of Brittany, disapproved of the match--she was still hoping to produce a male heir herself--so the couple was unable to marry until Anne's death in 1514. François and Claude's marriage lasted ten years, until Claude died after a brief illness in 1524. Together they had seven children, five of whom lived past infancy.

Claude was plain, her body contorted by scoliosis--a stark contrast to the stunning women who surrounded François at court. Yet her sweet nature and pleasant conversation made up for her lack of physical beauty. A visitor to court described her thus: "The Queen is young and though very small in stature, plain and badly lame in both hips, is said to be very cultivated, generous and pious." He also noted that "It is a matter of common report that he [the king] holds his wife the Queen in such honour and respect that when in France and with her he has never failed to sleep with her each night."

Constantly pregnant or recovering from birth and by nature drawn to spiritual matters, Queen Claude withdrew from the hedonistic glamor of François's court. Her household, which included Anne Boleyn (Anne was the same age and probably served Claude as an English translator), spent most of the time in retirement at Amboise and Blois. Claude only rarely participated in public events, although she did appear, heavily pregnant, at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the famous meeting between François and Henry VIII of England at Calais in 1520. 

Claude died at Blois in 1524. François, who was a prisoner of Charles V at the time, mourned her loss and claimed "If I could bring her back with my life, I would gladly do so." Her body was embalmed and temporarily housed in the chapel at Blois. It was later moved to the Abbey of St. Denis in Paris in 1527 after François returned to France.

A great patroness of the art of the miniature, Claude commissioned two exquisite works, a Book of Prayers in 1511 and a Book of Hours in 1517. The Morgan Library and Museum has the entire Book on Prayers on virtual display here. The book, which fits into one's hand, is a stunning example of sixteenth-century devotional art. 

Today, a tribute to Queen Claude lives on in the "Reine Claude" plum, a richly flavored cultivar of the fruit introduced into France from Italy during François's reign and named after the queen. They are also known as "la bonne reine," "the good queen," plums, in honor of Claude's gentle disposition. 

(Sources: R.J. Knecht, Renaissance Warrior and Patron; E. Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A NaNo Snippet

I can't resist. I'm so excited about the new novel I thought I'd share a snippet with you. Remember, it's an early draft, so don't judge too harshly. I hope you enjoy it.

I scrape away the globs of white with the palette knife and swirl a touch of blue onto my brush. Jamet will never equal Father in skill, of that I am certain. Whereas if Father would only give me a chance…

I should be thankful to be at court painting feathers and bows instead of scraping carrots in my mother’s kitchen, yet each day spent at Fontainebleau tries me past endurance. An army of artists slaves to transform this hunting lodge into the showcase of Europe, and all I can do is watch. Rasping saws and clanging chisels taunt me as I sit at Father’s desk, tallying accounts; whiffs of wet varnish, undercutting the reek of courtiers’ perfumes, entice as I arrange the fall of sitters’ skirts. Marble gods beckon for caresses as I cross the palace gardens toting Father’s paintbox; tumbling putti wave as I pass beneath cloud-swathed vaults with pails of water to launder chalk dust from Jamet’s sleeves. Knowing I’ll never plaster the garlanded frescoes or tint the stuccoed fauns eats at me like acid on an engraver’s plate. I shan’t even gild the “F’s” that monogram the paneled walls of the king’s
grande galerie.

“Is it ready?” Jamet fills the doorway, blocking the light that streams in from the courtyard.

Finishing the last of the pearls, I don’t look up. “Father says she doesn’t expect it until next week.”

“Not the portrait. My bag.” I hear him grunt as he spies his leather satchel on the bench beneath the window. “I do hope you packed new chalk. That last batch of black splintered under the slightest pressure.” He clucks his tongue as though I fired the faulty charcoal myself, just to vex him.

Sibling rivalry takes on an entirely different dynamic when women's roles are severely circumscribed ...

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Right Tool for the Job

Not much writing to report, but my new Macbook arrived today! Can I rave? This machine is beyond awesome. No more clicking--just tap the mousepad. Scroll up or down pages with a two-fingered swipe of the pad. The glossy screen is crisp and clear. I'm sure there are many more amazing features I just don't know about yet. I'm trying to get everything set up quickly so I can get down to some serious work.

No more excuses for not writing, since no one is allowed to use this laptop but me. I no longer have to cede the desktop to high schoolers with homework and toddlers who want to play Curious George. I can escape the noise and the chaos and retreat into my imaginary world. It had better be a productive one, though, to justify the expense of creating it.

Off to write now...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Save the Publishers!

The book industry, like many others, is suffering from the economic downturn. Moonrat, the anonymous editor who gives authors wonderful advice at her website Editorial Ass, discusses the difficulties particular to publishing in this important post. Among other things, the situation is resulting in a reluctance on the part of publishers to take on previously unpublished authors. Moonrat explains what lovers of books can do to counteract these dangerous trends. Please be sure to read her post before you begin your holiday gift shopping!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Never Say Never

Just poking my head in during a quick break from writing. I'm so excited about my new book and how it's coming together. I'm surprised (astounded might be a better word!) to find myself doing two things I swore I never would--writing in first person and using present tense. I've always been partial, as a reader and a writer, to close third person as a narrative perspective. That's how I wrote Measure of Silence and I began writing this second book that way, too. But after a few thousand excruciatingly slow words, I found it just wasn't working. I fought making a switch out of principle, but since I have, words are flying off my fingers and the main character is showing me just how different she is from the protagonist of my first book. Writers are always called to challenge themselves, so I figure doing something out of the ordinary (for me, at least) can only help me grow. It doesn't hurt that first-person narratives are the popular ones these days in the genre (the novels of Michelle Moran, Catherine Delors, C. W. Gortner, and Lawrence Hill are all written in first-person).

As for my use of the present tense, which I've always viewed as an empty stylistic flourish--all I can say is this story insists on it, at least at this point. Whether I leave it in present or not, it's too early to tell.

I haven't abandoned third person all together. The way I envision it, sections from the main character's perspective will be in the first person, alternating with chapters from the secondary character's viewpoint in close third. I was wondering whether this sort of structure would fly when I began reading Vanora Bennett's Portrait of an Unknown Woman. Guess what? Bennett does exactly what I was considering. The chapters of her book told from Meg Grigg's point of view are in first, those from Hans Holbein's in third. I'll be in good company, it seems.

Do you, as readers of historical fiction, have preferences in regard to the use of first or third person? I'd love to hear what you have to say. Meanwhile, back to writing...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Cover for Silver Phoenix

Isn't it gorgeous? This is the cover of Cindy Pon's novel, Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia, a YA fantasy novel to be published by Greenwillow/ HarperCollins in summer 2009. The jacket copy reads:

No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed, free, and not some stranger’s subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.

But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Spring in search of her beloved father—missing these many months—is so much more than that. Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help.

It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own Chen Yong offers that help...and perhaps more.

Cindy is thrilled with the cover--as well she should be!--and says she was kept abreast of the design process every step of the way. Her editor showed her mock-ups of the cover before they reached a final version. Photographers took 500 photos of the model in five different Chinese costumes! The amount of input Cindy had is unusual for a debut author and shows the confidence HarperCollins has in Cindy and her book.

Cindy said she'd be glad to answer any questions you might have about the cover itself or the process. Ask away! She did reveal on another forum that hair is very important in the story and she was happy the designers featured the model's long braid so prominently.

(In the context of our earlier discussions on cover art, I'm just glad the model got to keep her head!)

Congratulations, Cindy, on your amazing journey. I, for one, can't wait to read Silver Phoenix and share it with my daughter and friends.

Visit Cindy, learn more about her book, and view her own beautiful Chinese brush painting at

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Aboard!

So I've jumped on the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) bandwagon. I thought it would be a great way to forge ahead on Fontainbleau. I doubt I'll hit 50,000 words by the end of November, but I'd be more than happy to reach 30,000. 1000 words a day--4 typed pages. It's more than I'm used to writing (slow writer that I am), but if I push myself I should be able to do it.

Anyone else participating? I'm julianned on the NaNo website, if you'd like to friend me. We also have a thread running on Historical Fiction Online.

Happy writing! If you're watching from the sidelines, keep an eye on my FB wordcount over in the sidebar and prod me if I start falling too far behind, okay?