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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A cache of historical fiction


So, I'm back from Spain. I had a wonderful time: for those who don't know, I'm half Spanish through my Mom and I was raised there, so it was going home for me. Madrid is so vibrant and full of life and history, I found myself staying up way past my usual bedtime, and actually not caring! I also drank too much coffee, but who cares?


I had lunch with my editor there, too, and discovered some interesting facts about the state of books in Spain. First off, books are never discounted beyond 10% off the cover price and even that is rare. I went to several bookstores while I was there, big and small stores, and nowhere do you see the rampant discounting you see here in the US or in the UK. Which is good news for publishers, who get better returns on their investment, and good news ultimately for authors, because if publishers are solvent, then they're more likely to want our next book. Also, historical fiction is booming in Europe and in Spain, in particular. I found many novels that haven't been translated into English, with wonderfully unique themes and settings, such as the Moorish time in early medieval Spain; 14th century Germany; 12th century Byzantium and France; medieval and Renaissance Italy, etc. The authors are German, Dutch, Italian - names I'd never heard of before. The romantic vein that seems so popular here in historical fiction is far less noticeable there, and some well-known authors to us were nowhere to be found.


Needless to say, my book cart overflowed. I read Spanish, though not as often as I read English, and so I decided it was time to branch out and brush up my literary reading skills and further my historical novel appetite. One book in particular that I bought - and is, in fact, published by my Spanish publisher Ediciones B. - is "The Secret of Sofonisba" about Sofonisba Anguissola, a Renaissance woman who painted at the court of Philip II of Spain and has been forgotten by history, though in her time she was considered incredibly talented. The book begins with a visit from VanDyck to her studio, where, ancient and near death, she relates to him a secret . . . I've had to set it aside to finish my current HNS review assignment, but it starts out with beautiful language and much promise. Plus, the author is a real Medici - Lorenzo de Medici, in fact.


It's sad that more books published in Europe are not being translated and marketed here. I feel our market could use an influx of this new, exciting blood. Not that I don't find enough to read here, nor do I think we lack for quality, but still . . . what devoted fan wouldn't like to see down more historical novels?

23 comments:

justin said...

I agree, more historical fiction here would be nice, especially new authors from different countries. It's always nice to find a fresh author.

Speaking of Spain and historical fiction, one of my favorite writers of the genre is Arturo Perez-Reverte who, as you know, is Spanish. I forget which of his books -- I know it's not printed in English quite yet -- made the Top 10 Most Popular Books of 2006 for either Europe or worldwide (can't quite remember which). It was either the Wall Street Journal or NY Times that printed the list, I believe. I just find it interesting that an author can be so popular abroad but most people here would be "Arturo who?"

PS - I'm glad I recently stumbled across this blog. I check it daily at work to see if there are any updates. :-)

Marg said...

I often wonder about historical fiction written in other countries. It would be interesting to read some of the major events in history from another country's perspective.

C.W. Gortner said...

Hey Justin, nice to meet you. Glad you're finding the blog interesting.:) You never know these days; there's so much to read on the web and elsewhere.

Arturo Perez Reverte is also one of my favorites. I love his Caprain Alatriste series, which are now being translated after years of being bestsellers in Europe. He writes weekly columns on various political and social issues for El Semanal, as well. I'd like to know which book of his made that Top 10 list. Was it "El Husar?" It's a novel of his set in the Napoleonic age that has not been translated into English. Several of his recent books are now bestsellers here in the US, but he's the exception to the rule. Most Spanish authors, and I assume quite a few other European writers, never get sold in the US or the UK, for that matter. I hope it starts to change, because some of these books look amazing and I think they'd find an audience here. One of the books I bought is the first in a trilogy set in Moorish-occupied Spain, and though I believe many people here are unaware of this period in history, it's a very exciting and different epoch to explore. In the 50s, this was a popular period. Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren made "El Cid" which broke box office records. Maybe because this was still a time closer to the end of the Spanish Civil War, which captured many Americans' interest?

C.W. Gortner said...

Hi Marg, I agree. Not only because perspectives are different, but because there's a whole vein of history rarely mined here. I'm trying to do this with my books, and look how long it took before a larger publisher took a chance on me! As I've mentioned before, I like historical fiction in all its guises, but there's a whole world beyond England to explore. Speaking of which, I just finished a marvelous novel set in the time of the Crusades but told from the Muslim point of view. It's called "Sand Daughter" by Sarah Bryant and it has everything you could want: passion, adventure, intrigue. She even explores with lovely finesse and compassion a love affair between two male characters, one of whom is a Muslim prince. Again, the book isn't published in the US, so you have to go to amazon.uk or The Book Depository (online bookstore) in the UK to purchase it. But it's definitely worth the effort. She's a stunning writer, and her novel relates a completely different side of what I'm used to reading about that time.

Marg said...

That does sound good! Thanks for the rec!

justin said...

Agreed. The Captain Alatriste is absolutely brilliant. As soon as I finished the first book I started to reread it. Specifically, I love a good swashbuckler story so it quickly found a place in my heart.

As for which of Arutor's books, I did some digging and it's "The Painter of Battles" that made the list. It comes out in the US next year (wohoo!) or so Amazon tells me. Link to the list is and other fun data comparing US & rest of the world books is at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A06E3D8163FF936A25757C0A9619C8B63

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

C.W. Gortner said...

Thanks much. You, too! Have a safe and happy one.

C.W. Gortner said...

I hope you enjoy "Sand Daughter", Marg. Though set in the Crusades and featuring cultures I admit I know less about than, say, Western Europe, I found the book riveting and easy to follow.

C.W. Gortner said...

Hey, Justin - Did you know that Captain Alatriste was made into a movie, with Viggo Mortenson as the lead?!! I had no idea as wasn't released here; it debuted in the summer of 2006 in Spain. Here's the link to the trailer on Perez Reverte's website. It's at the bottom of the page in Red.
http://www.capitanalatriste.com/escritor.html?s=noticias/not_estreno_alatriste

justin said...

Oh yea, I knew about it alright! :-) I was hoping and praying that it'd be released here but sadly it didn't. My girlfriend did however buy me the DVD for Valentines Day (what a gift, eh?). Of course, you need a DVD player that can change regions to watch it (which she does) since it's not a US DVD.

It's a good movie -- a lot of the cinematography looks like those old oil paintings from the time. Of course, since it's all five books smushed into one movie a lot of things got changed or mixed around in the movie (like most book to film adaptions). Still, it's great and the duels are awesome.

C.W. Gortner said...

I was just in Spain and I didn't know. #^*!! Oh, well. It looks as though it might hit Nextflix at some point. Very cool casting, too. The trailer was awesome.

Urraca said...

Interesting post that matches my impressions of the fiction market in Spain. I linked to it --- hope that's okay (www.lucypick.com). I'm also really enjoying this blog!

C.W. Gortner said...

Oh, great! Thanks so much,Urraca. I'll link up to your site via my favorite places. And you have a wonderfully historical name, the same as a certain famous medieval Spanish queen I hope to write about some day. She was quite a force!

Urraca said...

Oh please do write about Queen Urraca! I have a novel on the verge of submission in which she appears as an important minor character, but she is certainy ripe for a full treatment. I saw a novel about her in Spain a few years ago, which I foolishly didn't pick up.

C.W. Gortner said...

Oh, congratulations on your novel!! I assume it's set in medieval Spain; such a fascinating period to write about. Yes, I saw a novel about Urraca, too, when I was there, and I didn't get it, which I now regret. But I did pick up a new biography on her. She's always been someone I've wanted to explore. Honestly, I've shied away because, as I've said, until I sold THE LAST QUEEN, it seemed publishers were wary of historicals not set in the UK. But if QUEEN sells well - fingers and toes crossed! - then perhaps they'll be more open to my going further back in Spanish history. It's certainly what I'd love to do. Best of luck with your submission. Are you going out to agents or publishers?

Gabriele C. said...

What trilogy about Moorish Spain is that? Maybe I can get a German or French translation - or finally learn Spanish, lol. After all, I have that plotbunny about the last Visigoth king Rodrigo. :) But I need to research Arab culture for that and travel to Spain, if possible. I write better when I've seen the places.

It's the same here: German books get translated into Russian and Czech first most of the time, then maybe into Italian, Dutch and Spanish, but never into English (if your name isn't Günter Grass), while English and other foreign books get translated into German all the time. It is one of the reasons I write in English.

C.W. Gortner said...

Hi Gabrielle,
The last visigoth king is a fantastic subject! The Moorish trilogy - actually, it's a series of loosely connected novels - are by Jesus Adalid Sanchez. The first book is called The Mozarabe. I'm not sure if they've been translated into other languages or not. My Spanish editor also edits the author, so I could ask her, if you like. I've heard Germany loves historical novels. My Juana book sold there recently, and the editor was really excited about acquiring it. But I've heard the same thing, that to sell in the US and UK is much harder. I saw a very interesting novel in Spain by a German author named Titus Muller, about a lensmaker in 15th century England. I wondered why it hadn't been translated, as it looked perfect for the US / UK market. Maybe it will be, though.

Gabriele C. said...

Let's hope it will, but I don't see much of a chance since not even the historical novels (a War of the Roses trilogy, a novel about the Norman Conquest) of Rebecca Gablé found their way to the UK, and she's on the bestseller lists here.

I couldn't find any translation of Adalid Sanchez into a language I read better than Spanish, too bad.

Well, Rodrigo is on the list of planned novels, but first I want to finish my Roman Empire trilogy, the two books about the end of the Empire, and the one about Charlemagne' Saxon wars.

Urraca said...

gabriele, I would *so* read a novel about King Rodrigo!
c.w., I have an agent, so publishers are the next target. We shall see.
With respect to why novels about England are so popular, I think it is simply because it is familiar. I think the Tudors are esp. popular because female readers can see authentically powerful and significant woman in them. I know this is why I fell in love with the Tudors when I was nine, and it was through historical fiction. But I believe publishers are too timid --- I think Philippa Gregory et al. have created a market for stories about interesting women in many different times and places. At least, that's what I'm banking on --- but recent releases, and your success with THE LAST QUEEN give me reason for hope.

C.W. Gortner said...

Uracca, best of luck with the submissions! How exciting. I totally agree with you. I think the market is opening up, too, for historical stories about strong women; my hope is that it'll continue to expand to include more diverse backgrounds. I love the Tudors as well, naturally, so if a book comes out with a good approach to the period, I'm always game for it. But yes, there is this tendency to focus on the trend (i.e., Tudors) when in my opinion, the focus should be more diverse historical fiction. This is a time-honored genre; it's fantastic to see it experiencing a resurgence. I'm honored my experiences give others hope, too: it's one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog. And now, I've got fingers and toes crossed that we'll see your and Gabriele's novels on the shelves one day soon, and I'll be interviewing you both!

Gabriele C. said...

Thank you.
But that's the reason I should stick to finishing my Roman trilogy and not getting distracted by a certain Rodrigo. :)

C.W. Gortner said...

Yep! Rome sells. Time later to tackle Rodrigo :)

Steven said...

I agree. It would be nice to have more of this in the U.S. What authors, outside the U.S., do you enjoy reading?

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