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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Author Patricia Bracewell on Old English and Misleading Castles Plus, Win a Copy of Her Great Novel

Hwaet! (That's Old English for "Listen up! I'm going to tell you something you want to hear!") See the end of this post for giveaway instructions.

I was reading The Year 1000 to see if it could tell me something I didn't know about the turn of the eleventh century, in order to use it for The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. (Lots of the atmosphere, none of the history can transfer.) A passing mention of the mysterious, fascinating Queen Emma made me think, "Someone should write a novel about her!" The following week, Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell came out. It is that novel.

JK: The Year 1000 is a useful book for beginning historical research into the period. Did you encounter any other books that would be accessible to unspecialized readers?

Patricia Bracewell: There are indeed some helpful books out there, some of which you may already have read. The Last Apocalypse by James Reston, Jr. provides a broad look at what was happening in Europe at the end of the first millennium. It’s filled with fascinating gossip about the rulers of the period, although I suspect he plays a little bit fast and loose with facts sometimes! Michael Wood looks at Pre-Conquest England in his book In Search of the Dark Ages. In Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England, Richard Fletcher takes a good look at the politics (and animosities) of the years between 1000 and 1066. For anyone with a specific interest in Emma of Normandy there are two excellent resources: Queen Emma and the Vikings by Harriet O’Brien and Emma: The Twice-Crowned Queen by Isabella Strachan.

JK: Did you read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the original Old English? If so, did it help you set the tone and language for your book? 

PB: I have to confess that my knowledge of Old English is limited to a handful of words. I’ve not even seen a copy of the Chronicles in manuscript form - yet. There are versions held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, at the British Library in London and at the Bodleian in Oxford, but none easily accessible. I have, though, a wonderful translation by Anne Savage, as well as an older translation by the Rev. James Ingram which is in the public domain, and I’ve used excerpts from that version in the novel. In writing my book I tried very hard to use language that was rooted in Anglo-Saxon, and I sprinkled a number of Old English words into the text to bring the reader into that distant past without drowning him or her in a strange or unwieldy vocabulary. I hope that I’ve succeeded. One reviewer described the England of Shadow on the Crown as a Beowulf-y place, which I quite liked!

JK: What first drew you to this period and location in history? Was there anything particularly surprising that you found out during writing? 

Patricia Bracewell
PB: It was Emma herself who drew me to early medieval England. I found her story and her character terribly compelling. And yes, there were surprises along the way. One of them was my discovery of how much we actually know about Æthelred’s reign through wills, charters, laws and sermons, not to mention the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle itself. Another surprise was the exact opposite – how very little we know! There are so many details missing or known only by conjecture. What did royal residences, for example, look like in the England of 1002? We can only guess, and not all archaeologists and architectural historians agree. As for the people, we know very little about the activities of Æthelred’s children by his first wife. We don’t know how they related to Emma or if they even spent much time in her presence. That was maddening; at the same time it was freeing. I was able to make it all up.

JK: The cover of your book shows a woman, presumably Emma, facing an arched, stone gateway. Did you have any input in the design?

PB: I’m very lucky in my editor and publisher, because they did ask for my input and listened to what I had to say. The very first cover design was actually much brighter and far less forbidding. It showed the same woman looking at a distant castle complete with crenellations and a moat. Alarmed, I contacted my editor right away and told her that the fourteenth century castle they had chosen was misleading for a novel set in 1002. There were no castles in England before 1066! The design team went right to work and did some research. They learned that there would have been arched stone entryways in late Anglo-Saxon England, and they chose to show such a gateway on the cover. In addition, the final design had the sense of threat that I was looking for. They did a wonderful job.

JK: That kind of input is rare for an author. Thank goodness they accepted your influence! Has your family always been supportive of your writing?

PB: My family has always been supportive of my writing, and at the same time I have to say that while my two sons were growing up I put my family first. I knew that once my sons reached high school I would be able to devote more of my time to my writing career, and that turned out to be the case.

JK: You've just finished a whirlwind book tour. How did it go?

PB: The tour more than exceeded my expectations. Viking has been wonderful! I arranged a lunch meet at my alma mater with two of my former college English professors (now retired), and when I walked into the office that they share, they each handed me a copy of my book and asked me to sign. That was very special!

JK: How touching! What impression do you hope to make on readers when they've finished Shadow on the Crown?

PB: I hope that readers will come away with some understanding of that murky period before the Norman Conquest, and that they will be intrigued – not just by Emma and her story, but by the rich culture and history of Anglo-Saxon England. I would love for them to be eager to read more about that time, that place, and the people who dwelt within it.

JK: It certainly has that effect on me. Thanks so much, Patricia, for being here. 

Shadow on the Crown was released on February 7. Visit Patricia's beautiful site for history and book events. 

How to get a free copy of Shadow on the Crown courtesy of Viking: 

1. Follow this blog through Google Friend Connect or via email (or indicate in your comment that you already follow).

2. Leave a comment on this post.

3. For an extra point each, tell everyone about the giveaway on Twitter or Facebook. 

Open to US residents only (sorry!). One winner will be chosen at random on March 3 at 6 pm CST and announced and contacted by March 4. Good luck! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post Today: Begin at the Beginning (Help!)

What to do? What to do?

Today I'm at the kind and talented Dixon Rice's blog, revealing how I decide to begin my stories. And begging for your help!

I'm stuck over how exactly to begin The Seven Noble Knights of Lara. What would draw you in as a reader? Please comment below or at Dixon's post. Thanks!

And come back here on Wednesday for a really great (if I do say so myself) interview with Patricia Bracewell, author of the historical hit Shadow on the Crown and enter the giveaway!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Libraries and Their Relationship to... Books...

As a true bibliophile, I love libraries, public or private, big or small. I proudly served in the catalog department at the Boston University Law School Library for as long as I could before destiny took me other places.

As books move into digital formats, libraries have to figure out ways to stay abreast of it all. A. K. Marshall, who is also a writer, has recently called attention to the way some confused companies are shortchanging both libraries and themselves. The publishing industry, to repeat what's become a platitude, is undergoing a complete upheaval. I hope publishers can come up with useful, fruitful ways to collaborate with bookstores and libraries in the near future.

In a similar librarians-kick-ass mode, see some of the most interesting rules and special requests at libraries nationwide here.

I've also seen on social media that it's happened: a librarian has been asked for "the book by that mental writer" -- a request for Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Interview and Excerpt, No Turning Back

Today I'm appearing in an interview about No Turning Back at Marta Merajver's Corner. And don't miss the accompanying excerpt on her blog -- all of Chapter 6! That chapter was one of the most harrowing to translate. It really shows what was at stake for political prisoners in Spain in the '70's. It's just one of the factors that make this book unforgettable for me. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Second Historical Fiction Blog Hop!

Another medieval rabbit for a historical hop. This one is too weird to pass up!

The basic rules for participation in this new hop are in a previous post.

The six exclusive, excellent excerpts for our first Backward in Time Hop are at the following links:

Jessica Knauss - The Seven Noble Knights of Lara

In a Milk and Honeyed Land

Misfits and Heroes

Ascroft, eh?

Jenna Jaxon

Tree Soldier

A million thanks to all the participants for joining and a billion thanks to all the readers who come here looking to discover new historical fiction authors. Feel free to comment on each post! Share the love!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bullfighting in My Time

I snapped these pics when I splurged on sitting on the shady side at the
Maestranza Bullring in Sevilla in September 2005.
When I first started to love Spain, I loved bullfighting right along with it. I loved the spectacle, the daring, the honor. The complex structure and the different opportunities each fighter had to show his prowess were fascinating, and the culture of poor young men (and more recently women) being able to make it big through talent, guts, and life-risking seemed like a fairy tale.

In the summer of 1998, I went to the Maestranza bullring in Sevilla every Sunday to sit in the sweltering sun and see the apprentice bullfighters get more kills under their belts, with mixed results. Even at its goriest, the whole ritual was a heady thrill to me, inflaming all my sensibilities that preferred "Spanishness" above all. None of the American students in my group went with me. None of them had the same sense of Spain that I did. I took my mother in September 2005 and leaned forward to get a better look when she covered her eyes.

If anyone asked how I could conscience such a practice, I argued the following:

• The bull represents a Roman god who must be defeated. This is a battle of good versus evil that will continue in some form for all time.
• The bulls live fantastic lives, free range, doing what they like, for years. The end of that charmed life is unpleasant, but it's short.
• Sure, the bull always loses, but sometimes the man loses, too, so it's not as unfair as you would think.
• The meat is not wasted, but served as food in the bars around the bullring. You might as well get a spectacle out of the necessary butchering.
• There is no way to love Spain as much as I do and not like a good bullfight. It's the single most Spanish institution, period.

The Canary Islands banned bullfighting in 1991, but that could hardly threaten my sense of cultural unity, because the Canary Islands sit far away, off the coast of Africa. Catalunya's 2010 ban (effective 2012) didn't phase me, either, because Catalunya is an autonomous region with its own language and which has never desired to appear culturally attached to the rest of the peninsula.

But this year I finally woke up to hypocrisy of enjoying los toros while being outraged to the core that precious, rare, rhinoceroses are all too routinely killed for sport and monetary gain. I can easily argue against my previous self:

• A real, live bull represents only himself.
• There are many ways beef can be butchered without causing terror, rage, and profuse bleeding in the animal. Terror, rage, and bleeding are all things we could do with less of in the world.
• Any game with the threat or certainty of death of either party belongs in the realm of fiction, not the real world.
• It's insane to enjoy watching death, whether the meat is going to be used later or not.
• In the final analysis, one does not need to recreationally kill bulls to prove his or her Spanishness.

There is a whole industry built around bullfighting, and far be it from me to want to put even more Spanish citizens out of work. But inevitably, the practice will fade and I'm now on the side of those who hope it will fade sooner rather than later.

In the future, I will only go to a bullring to attend musical events. (Yes, bullrings can be used for any stadium-type event! No waste of architecture! I also think the bullfighting museums should remain open to keep that part of history fresh in people's minds.) I can't wait to go back and investigate what exactly the essence of Spain involves, now that bullfighting is out of my mental picture!

Update! OMG! The greatest Spanish singer-songwriter went to the bull festival opening day, March 2, in Olivenza! He looked incredibly dapper in the stands.

If going to a bullfight was the only way I would ever be allowed to sit next to Manolo García, I have to admit I'd be there with bells on! We all have a price.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Historical Blog Hop Signups

So, we're doing it again this Sunday! Are all you historical authors ready to sign up?

The idea is that writers of historical fiction, whether published and famous or working on their first books, can share ten sentences of their work with other authors and hopefully, with readers, who have the same interests.

The basics:

• Historical fiction is defined here as any story that takes place at least fifty years before the author was born. I'm partial to the Middle Ages, but won't discriminate against anyone for going back farther than that.

• The excerpts can come from any of the author's work, whether published or just written yesterday and in need of editing.

• The excerpts must be ten sentences long, no more and no less. You may add a blurb or contextual information.

• The blog post with the excerpt should go live by 9 am EST or EDT (depending on the time of year).

• Signups will begin on Thursday mornings and close on the following Saturday afternoon at 5 pm EST. Our first hop will take place this Sunday, February 3.

• Participants are strongly encouraged to visit the blogs of as many of the other participants as possible and to leave encouraging comments. Each blog administrator will be responsible for activating comments and monitoring their appropriateness. Please also link back to this blog so hoppers can easily access all the links without you having to list them.

• Signups are now closed. See you on Sunday!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bullfighting through History

Cantiga de Santa Maria 144, panel 3 (Late thirteenth century)
Bullfighting -- that quintessential, controversial, Spanish pastime -- has a long history. Most researchers agree that present-day bullfighting is just the latest (and last?) incarnation of the kind of events as infamous as the gladiator games of ancient Rome. During the Middle Ages, the former Romans in Spain developed more and more complex bull baiting games, as evidenced in the pictures in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. The first panel shows a very fine specimen of a bull enclosed in a plaza while spectators become participants by taunting the bull safely from upper stories of the plaza's buildings. We already see lances and darts, which presage banderillas and picos, and one man in the balcony even waves his cape to capture the bull's attention.

Cantiga de Santa Maria 144, panel 4
In the second picture, a man has unwittingly wandered into the plaza and is chased by the bull. The spectators do what they can to help the man escape.

These pictures inspired a scene in the early parts of my novel Seven Noble Knights. The bloodshed and gore were a great opportunity for me to begin developing those images before any humans come to harm. I shared an excerpt for the last Six Sentence Sunday.

In  the eighteenth century, bullfighting took on all the rituals and trappings it has today. The modern traje de luces is a super-bedazzled, sporty version of eighteenth-century nobles' clothing. In the twentieth century, bullfighting became a huge industry, especially after Ernest Hemingway appropriated it as the pinnacle of manliness. I came upon Papa Hemingway's innovative writing just after the obsession with Spain dropped into my head, and I adored his depictions of the agony and the ecstasy of the golden age of bullfighting. I can still highly recommend Death in the Afternoon. For a no-nonsense guide to the mechanics of a modern bullfight, look here.

My own take on modern bullfighting will appear this Wednesday. In the meantime, perhaps you'd like to see my homages to Hemingway and that most risky of arts: Alternativa   El Novillero

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Wanderers

So Illinois hasn't been working out very well for my husband and me. It's not much of a surprise anymore. We're taking positive steps to better our situation, but when I think we might have to move (again) and when I'm tired of the waiting, I listen to this song. My translation here is perhaps rudimentary, but anyone who's done any wandering should have a good sense of what this is about.

The Wanderers by Manolo García (from Los días intactos, 2011)

I am my own inner slave
who staunches his wounds by biting his fists.
I am a previous stranger,
a tightrope walker who unleashes false skies.

And today
when this uncontrolled fire devastates all thought,
today, when I am a prisoner of my desires,
I’m far from wanting to be the stoic I once was.

There will be a place for the wanderers,
there will be time to wander.
Today I think about the song of the emigrant,
of the residual tourist.

Now that the pumping of my blood
is getting strangely discouraged,
today I think about the song of the emigrant,
of the trapped people who struggle in their exile,
of the people who run.

A city full of amazed people,
that would be me, asking for help.
Asking for help, with an outstretched hand,
looking for plenitude, that elusive animal.

A rudimentary destination of bone and orange light,
that would be me. A pitcher in space who needs
clamps and roots is who I would be today.

And today, when an uncontrolled fire
devastates all thought,
today, when I’m a prisoner and desire you,
I’m far from wanting to be the stoic I once was.

There will be a place for the wanderers,
there will be time to wander.
Today I think about the song of the emigrant,
of the emotional traveler.

Now, when I’m grounded and a dilettante,
the planking is curving,
today, I think about the song of the emigrant.
Of infuriated people in search of wonders,
of the people who run.

And it’s not about love or misunderstandings.
Not about lost years.
Not even longing for the brilliance inherent in life.
Today only I want to win this round against impatience
and the apathy that brings a desolate grimace.

Monday, February 4, 2013

For the First Time in English

Now available for the first time in English

No Turning Back by Lidia Falcón
Originally Camino sin retorno, translated by Jessica Knauss, PhD

The harrowing saga of the Spanish transition to democracy from the pen of Spain’s leading feminist.

Critical praise:
·      “Falcón has an extraordinary ability to seamlessly merge her different roles as novelist, feminist, social historian, and courageous iconoclast. No Turning Back … demonstrates in moving and complex fashion the odyssey her female protagonists traverse as they come to terms with patriarchy and its reach into hidden corners of leftist ideology.” – Linda Gould Levine
·      No Turning Back is one of Falcón’s best works of fiction, and the most novelistic, multidimensional, and stylistically sophisticated.” – Gloria F. Waldman
·      “It could be a simple realist novel, but its originality lies in the examination of relationships between men and women, and between women, during some crucial years in the history of Spain.” – Juana Castro
·      “Lidia Falcón is not only an intelligent novelist, but also a tenacious fighter for the best causes, keeping record of injustice and evil with all her authority as victim and eyewitness.” – Jorge Luis Sampedro

Lidia Falcón has long been the face of feminism in Spain. Her multiple publications, awards, and honorary degrees barely touch the surface of her commitment to improving life for women. She lived through many of the experiences in this book, giving it an authenticity that demands to be heard.

Jessica Knauss, PhD, graduated from the University of Iowa with an MFA in literary translation. She is available in Illinois to give readings or talks about No Turning Back or translation, and would be happy to participate in guest posts or interviews.

No Turning Back is an excellent introduction to late twentieth-century politics for courses in women’s studies, Spanish history, comparative literature and the politics of resistance.

No Turning Back is available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon and all the best online booksellers. Order it from your favorite indie bookseller today! 

(Please borrow the Kindle version for FREE for the next three months. You'll be doing a huge favor for a lot of people and it will cost you nothing.)

For review copies and bulk discounts of 50% off retail, please contact orders at

Even more information is here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The First Historical Fiction Blog Hop!

It's a historical hop, so here's a medieval rabbit.
The basic rules for participation in this new hop are in the previous post.

A million thanks to all the participants for joining and a billion thanks to all the readers who come here looking to discover new historical fiction authors. Feel free to comment on each post! Share the love! The six exclusive, excellent excerpts for our first Backward in Time Hop are at the following links:

Kathleen Rollins - Misfits and Heroes

Reading, Writing and No Arithmetic

Stephanie Renee Dos Santos

In a Milk and Honeyed Land

Kim Rendfeld - Outtakes

Jenna Jaxon ~ Historical Romance

The success of a blog hop like this can be quantified in three ways I think are equally important: how many new blog hits the participants receive, how many and how valuable the comments they receive, and how much they enjoy it. Please let me know if you enjoy this hop and would like to see more in the future! And I welcome suggestions and ideas, too!

UPDATE: I've now visited all the links and can certify that all the excerpts are fantastic! I'm so excited to share them with you!