A Year in Review, with Grades

Well, it’s been a weird and wild ride for the past year. 

As with any journey, one never knows for certain where it will lead, and mine thus far has been no exception. Like my heroine, I have lost my innocence, encountered friends and foes, Tricksters, Mentors, and Shapeshifters (with proper credit to Mr. Chris Vogel; not for the loss of my authorial innocence, of course).

I wrote in August that the purpose of this blog is to explore the issues of reading, learning, teaching, and writing history, and historical fiction in its many guises. All of these, I wrote, involve a confluence of popular culture, historical knowledge, our American educational system, literacy, language, and all that good stuff involved in any creative act. And boy, do they ever.

So, what have I learned thus far? That my many suspicions proved to be correct and that some of the very things others have warned me about turned out to be true—but did I listen? Noooo!

So here’s my turn at three things I have been warned about, with grades:

 1. The people you have never met or barely know suddenly will take over something you’ve been gestating longer than a pregnant elephant—and you have absolutely no control over what they do with it. Oh, ouch. Viz ad for The Sixth Surrender in the August 2, 1010 issue of  Women’s World. Great news, eh? Except…

  “…in the 13th century, Queen Aliénor coerces a cynical mercenary, Guérin, to marry her. But the pair are [sic] better matched for battle than love—until spies conspire to reverse their romantic fortunes.”

 Oh dear, dear. That’s a “D” or a Mercy Grade for getting the century correct. Words fail for the rest of it.

 2.  Reviews: They will be good, bad, and absolutely silly. How true. This is my favorite:

 “After reading about 100 pages I decided not to finish this novel. I didn’t care for the characters, especially the male protagonist (crude, selfish, lacking morals, promiscuous…) I also had a hard time following the political intrigue—unless you know early 13th century Medieval well (I am only familiar with it) you can become lost when the author throws in too many plots. In addition, in so far as I got, there are explicit sex scenes and profanity (taking God’s name in vain and vulgar words). Too bad, because the writing is good and so is the book cover.” http://libraryofcleanreads.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html

 That’s a “B+” .

The century is correct. Excellent.  But a grade is docked for missing in those first 100 pages the real reason to be upset with the crude, selfish male protagonist who lacks morals and is promiscuous: He is a mercenary being paid to kill people for a living. Taking God’s name in vain is perhaps the least of his faults. The “plus” is of course for liking the cover (although the fact that the heroine therein is modestly dressed does tend to mislead some folks into thinking that it is “Christian” fiction. Perhaps more on covers and all that stuff later).  And of course for liking the writing….awww. 

 As for the political intrigues of the 13th century, the author does not bear responsibility for the readers’ lack of knowledge of political intrigues in the 13th or any other century, and although ignorance is not a defense in the court of law, no penalty is imposed in this one. (See our American education system.) On the other hand….

 “…Guerin de Lasalle is an intriguing man who has a powerful hold on every woman he encounters… This man is the hero you love to hate. …The villain with a heart of gold… The entire book is a gem and Guerin de Lasalle steals the show from beginning to end.” http://www.thetruebookaddict.blogspot.com/2010/11/book-review-sixth-surrender-by-hana.html

 Awwwww…what can I say? I sleep with this review under my pillow.

 3. From on-line discussions, reviews of historical fiction in general, both readers and writers of the genre are fully engaged in trying to corral the two contrary, greasy pigs of “History” and “Fiction.”

I highly recommend the publications of the Historical Novel Society (Solander and Historical Novels Review) for a discussion on the subject of “history” in “historical fiction” from the writers’ POV.

 A hint here from my favorite writer on the subject of writing: “If you sit down to write a short story or a novel about a fictitious person, you do two things: you write, and you imagine.” (Jack Woodford, Trial and Error a Key to the Secret of Writing and Selling (Garden City Publishing Co., Inc. 1940, p. 315). One may add the same caveat about writing a fictional account whose subject is a “real” historical person.

 In other words, the safe bet is: if it says “fiction” it’s not the sort of “history” to rely upon when one is trying to earn a college grade. Truly. The other safe bet is that the debate will rage on. And on…

 The grade: “I” for Incomplete.

 Finally, I grade myself: an A, of course.

            I survived! I end up the year with 1st place in the historical novel category at the NM Book Association (thank you!), and received an author invitation to the 2nd annual RomCon in Denver, Co., as well as to the 4th Annual Historical Novel Society North American conference, and made new friends at the London Writers’ Society.  I am fortunate to have met folks who have extended me their support, advice, best wishes and warnings about this weird and wonderful world of “being published.” So in the New Year I look forward to making more friends and foes, and meeting the next Tricksters, Mentors, and Shapeshifters.

 P. S.

I’d better make sure that in those spring semester classes I really “do” that pesky l3th century, eh?  (Or is it the llth….?)

About Hana Samek Norton

I am a historian who writes 'history with a story' in off-duty hours.
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