Sunday, November 24, 2013

Explore Your Superpowers Through Historical Fiction.

Humans have always loved the idea of superpowers. The desire to fly has been around for a long time and is explored in the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

If I could have one superpower I would choose the ability to time travel. If I could choose a secondary power I would be invisible. 


Because I'm interested in the way people think and act, and I'm curious to explore how we've evolved over time--if we really have. These superpowers would allow me to drop into private conversations, hang-out behind the scenes, notice how ordinary people lived and eavesdrop on the powerful. I don't care much about wars and politics--events that have been documented.  I'm interested in every day life and the roles women have played throughout history. That's why I enjoy writing historical fiction. And that's why most of my characters are not famous, documented people, but characters who grow out of possible situations. I also enjoy a tight story, so I lean to suspense. 

I found history in school dull, because it focused on war and politics. I got into history through acting. Part of exploring a role involves learning about time and place. For example, playing the Duchess in The Duchess of Malfi  by John Webster (writing in the 1600s), I needed to explore life during the Renaissance. This made the world of the play come alive for me.

 I became interested in ancient Greece when I read plays by Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles. One  of my favorite characters is Electra.Electra convinced her brother, Orestes, to seek revenge for the murder of their father. The play made me think about father-daughter relationships in ancient times, infidelity, the role women played. beliefs about the afterlife, religious beliefs. The Greek plays made mythology and the ancient world come alive for me. I became interested in philosophy and was amazed to discover that the thinkers of that time (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many others) still wield great influence on how western society views the world. 

Taking on a role is a form of time travel--you submerge yourself in a different time and place, ask yourself questions like: what did I have for breakfast today, how do I style my hair, what are the social norms, how am I breaking them--because, of course, the most interesting characters always come up against the boundaries of society. 

Writing historical novels takes this process a step further. As I writer, I get to play all of the characters. I rest my brain (or torture it) in the minds of kings, queens, slaves, prostitutes, serfs, merchants, sailors--anyone I choose. If that's not superpower, what is?

I invite you to play with time travel. Ask yourself, what would I be eating if I were in ancient Rome? What steps would I have to go through to take a bath in the 1700s (or would I bother)? How would I walk if this were Imperial China and my feet were bound and broken for the sake of beauty? What would be the remedy for arthritis, monthly cramps, a brain tumor (whatever you might suffer from) if I lived in ancient Egypt? England in the 1200s? (Ancient Egyptian medicine was far more advanced, by the way.) It's a fun game! And it's made me appreciate many things about my current, high tech life.

How do you play out your superpowers?


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What is Historical Fiction? Guest Post: JJ Toner

Today I'm pleased to welcome author JJ Toner. I met JJ through HFAC, Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative. It's a great place to visit if you enjoy all types of historical fiction. Historical fiction is a broad category encompassing fictionalized history, romance set in specific time periods, mysteries, suspense.

Today, JJ poses the question: What exactly is historical fiction? I know he'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment.

What is Historical Fiction?

I have written 2 historical fiction books and I’m nearly finished editing a third, and yet I’m not at all sure how to define the genre. The book I’m reading at the moment, The Executioner’s Heir by Susanne Alleyn is firmly rooted in French history leading up to the Revolution. At the front of the book Ms Alleyn provides a list of characters, and only a few minor characters — a street urchin and some servants — are fictional; all the others are real historical figures. H/F = 80/20

On the other hand, Mary Louisa Locke’s mysteries set in late 19th century San Fransisco, are populated entirely by fictional characters. Her research of the period and the location are impeccable, of course, giving the reader a fully-rounded historical fiction experience. H/F = 40/60

Clearly, there is a difference between these two books. The first, I would call Fictionalized History, the second, perhaps Mysteries set in a Historical Context.

Phillipa Gregory’s books are all about real life people, kings and queens of history. Her books, though fiction, must be considered perilously close to pure history. I would class these books Fictionalized History. H/F = 90/10

My own book, The Black Orchestra, is set in Berlin during World War 2. I have followed the progress of the war from 1939-1942 with care, weaving the fictional story into the fabric of the historical record, and there are one or two historical characters included in the story, notably, Hans Oster and Reinhard Heydrich. I think the term Historical Fiction fits my book well. H/F = 45/55

Consider Fatherland by Robert Harris. In this book every minute detail of life in Nazi Germany has been meticulously researched, and yet the book is based on an alternative (fictional) version of history, where Germany has won the war. Still it qualifies as Historical Fiction in my view. H/F = 30/70

Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels are set firmly in and around Germany before, during and after the war. The books feature a number of historical characters and yet are fictional through and through. H/F = 25/75

Karen Perkins’ wonderful book, Thores-Cross contains two intertwined stories of the north of England, one a contemporary story, the other a haunting tale of social history from the 18th century. No real life characters are featured. Indisputably Historical Fiction, this one, with strong paranormal elements. H/F = 50/50

My new book, The Wings of the Eagle, is set in 1943 Germany, but I’m not confident that I could call it Historical Fiction. It’s more of an action adventure story with the Second World War as a backdrop. H/F = 10/90

Perhaps we should categorize Historical Fiction on a sliding scale (as above) depending on the historical content versus the fictional.

JJ Toner was discovered under a cabbage patch in Ireland with a pen in his hand. He finally started writing again in 1996, after half a lifetime of procrastination. Not that he was ever short of good excuses. For 35 years he worked with computers as a petroleum geophysicist, with medical and veterinarian scientists, accountants, engineers, and in a variety of industries, from health care through manufacturing to shipping. His work took him all over Europe and USA, and yet he somehow found the time to marry, built a home, father three kids, and get his golf handicap down to a respectable figure. A Maths graduate, he has been a full-time writer since 2007. He lives in Ireland with his wife and his youngest son. So far, JJ has self-published a book of short stories and three thrillers. The latest of these, The Black Orchestra, is set in Germany during the early years of the Second World War.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

5 Questions for The Fussy Librarian

March 6, 2014

Zané Sachs stopped by today. She's created a new blog: Zané Sachs-Going Downin anticipation of the release of her new book, Sadie the Sadist. The blog features forensic informationabnormal psychology, and Sadie's (questionable) recipes.

The interview didn't go as planned. Frankly, Zané Sachs is the strangest author I've ever met.

5 Questions:

Suzanne: Hi Zané. Why are you wearing that apron?

Zané: Hi. I've been in the kitchen--testing Sadie's recipes. Is that your first question?

Suzanne: Not really...what's that red stuff on your apron?


Suzanne: Really? It looks like blood.

Zané: Is that your second question or your third?

Suzanne: What inspired you to write Sadie the Sadist? 

Zané: Working in the corporate world. Specifically, a supermarket. Any day now, we're going to be replaced by robots. Seriously. While I was working, Sadie appeared--a full-blown character. She started whispering stuff to me, and I transcribed what she said.

Suzanne: Will you give us an example?

Zané: "Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill."

Suzanne: Kill who?

Zané: Just about everyone. That's your sixth question! You can read a chapter called SEX IN THE BATHROOM on my blog. Here's a snippet:

Sex in the Bathroom

Over the past few days a lot has changed at the supermarket.

The check stands have been moved so the contractors they hired for the remodel can redo the floor, plus they’ve rearranged the aisles again. Bandages are no longer next to macaroni; you’ll find them on Aisle 6 across from Oatmeal.

There’s this new guy in Deli. He’s about my age, not a kid, but not an old man either. His glasses make him look intelligent and I like his legs. They’re muscular and tan. I know, because he wears shorts to work. (We’re allowed to wear black, knee-length shorts from Memorial to Labor Day.) I met him on the freight elevator. I was bringing down the trash cart, after emptying all the garbage cans, when Ranger rolled in a U-boat of roasted chickens destined for the dumpster. His name is Richard, but everybody calls him Ranger. He helped me load my garbage into the compactor—the bags from the trash cans outside the store are especially heavy—and, in return, I gave him a BJ in the employee bathroom. It’s unisex, down in the basement, and the door locks.

Now the poor schmoe is in love with me. Women sense these things, and we lefties are intuitive. He’s obsessed. I feel his eyeballs on my butt whenever I walk past.

But blowing Ranger is not the big thing (no pun intended).

The big thing is: Justus is dead, and I’m not sure if I killed him.

Release date: April or May 2014

Visit Zané's blog, Zané Sachs-Going Down

Follow Zané on Twitter 

Like Zané's Facebook Page


It's a chilly Sunday morning here in Colorado. The usually blue sky is overcast, and only a few yellow leaves cling to the tree outside my window...great weather for reading. With thousands of books available, it's great to know I have instant access to my own librarian. The Fussy Librarian helps me select the perfect book for my mood--and she'll help you too. 

 My historical novel, Hetaera--suspense in ancient Athens, will be featured on the Fussy Librarian tomorrow, November 4th. I've put the book on sale for a week through Amazon's new Kindle Countdown Deal, so you can pick up a copy for just .99 cents (list price $3.99).

Jeffrey Bruner, who works closely with the librarian, was kind enough to answer 5 Questions:

1) Please explain the service The Fussy Librarian provides to readers.
We provide a daily, personalized ebook recommendation service to readers. You select from 30 genres, answer a few questions about your preferences regarding profanity, violence and sexual situations, and the computer does all the rest. All of our books cost $5.99 or less -- many are 99 cents or free.

2) How is this different than other services?

The Fussy Librarian is the first -- and only -- service to factor content preferences into the database that generates the personalized email. It makes a huge difference in the books you get in the email.

There's a lot of different types of mysteries, for example. With us, you can guarantee you only learn about cozy mysteries that don't have sex, violence or profanity if that's what you want. But if those things don't bother you, you'll hear about a wider selection of novels. The content filters make it easier to readers to try new authors with confidence that they won't get to chapter four and find something that really turns them off.
3) How has the ebook revolution changed reading and book buying habits?
For one thing, an ebook never has to go out of print. Ever! Think about the implications of that. Your choices are no longer limited to what's available on the shelf of your bookstore and that alone has enormous implications for American culture. Ebooks also dramatically lower the cost of publishing for authors and it frees them to write what they want. 

As for book buying habits, the only downside is the negative pressure ebooks have put on book prices. Americans have been getting so much for free in the digital era -- news, music, video -- that I think a lot of readers expect their books to be free, too. Those people need to put food on their tables, though. They're not living off of trust funds. I'm not arguing for going back to the $18.95 novel, but we do need to condition readers to accept $2.99, $3.99 and $4.99 as reasonable prices for something that might take an author a year or more to write.
4) With all the instant media available, why do you think people continue to read books?There's nothing more powerful than your imagination. I think books tap into that in a way that movies or television can never do.
5) Why are novels important?
People love a good story and a good novel takes your imagination to places and times that would otherwise be impossible. When you start to read a book, you're giving the author permission to start telling you a story ... and there's just something magical about that.

About Jeffrey: Jeffrey Bruner has been a film and theater critic and currently works as an editor for Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper company. Under the pen name Alex Adena, he has written one novella, Signs and Wonders, and one novel, Finding Grace. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wonderful wife, Stephanie, one goofy mutt and four bossy cats.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, Jeffrey. You're providing a wonderful service for readers and writers.  I know you've received over a thousand books this past week. I'm sure you'll be receiving thousands more, and that's a lot of books to sort through. Thank you for your hard work!

Sign up for The Fussy Librarian newsletter here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Vestal Virgin on Kindle Countdown November 2-9

Kindle Direct Publishing has a new feature: Kindle Countdown, and I've enrolled Vestal Virgin--suspense in ancient Rome for a week beginning Saturday, November 2. So, if you don't have a copy yet, it will be .99 cents tomorrow. 

The price will keep increasing until the end of the sale on November 9. 

It's an experiment, and I'm interested to see how it goes.

Check it out!