Sunday, June 28, 2009

Enter for a Chance to see Pope Joan Premiere!

Donna Woolfolk Cross's Pope Joan is one of my favorite historical novels; a sweeping and gritty look at Europe in the Dark Ages and one woman's determination to rise above the confines of her gender as the first female pope. Due in large part to Donna's amazing perseverance and dedication to promotion, Pope Joan is now an international bestseller and has been released in a new edition by Three Rivers Press. The novel has also become a film, which I cannot wait to see, and Donna is offering one lucky reader the chance to join her on the red carpet for the premiere. Historical fiction and film are two of my favorite passions, so I just couldn't resist posting Donna's contest. Go ahead: enter, and good luck! Oh, and if you need a guest, I'm always available for premieres. You can see the German language trailer here.

Join Donna and her family as they walk the red carpet on the night of the Pope Joan movie premiere! The winning entry includes two tickets to the movie premiere, plus round trip airfare for two from any location in the continental United States or Canada, and one night hotel accommodation for you to share with your guest. To enter, just buy the Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishing paperback edition of Pope Joan during the months of June or July 2009 and send Donna the original receipt. In August, she'll pick randomly from the pile of receipts to select someone and their guest to join her at the U.S. movie premiere in the fall (exact date still to be determined).
For more information, visit Donna's official contest website.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Goodbye, Farrah

I was saddened today to hear of Farrah Fawcett's passing. She was a classy lady and her battle against cancer bore testament to her determination and courage. One of my best friends in high school had her poster on his bedroom wall and I remember how much she influenced all my girl friends, who ran around with enormous winged hair and gold throat bracelets, just like Farrah.

Later on, she bowled me over with her searing portrayal of an abused woman in "The Burning Bed." Though she could act, she never seemed to take herself or her outrageous fame too seriously, something a few of today's up-and-coming stars should take a lesson from.

We'll miss you, Farrah. You defined a generation, and those of us who grew up watching you will never forget you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The HNS Conference

So, I mentioned I'd do a brief re-cap of my experience at the Historical Novel Society Conference, which I attended last weekend. The first thing I want to say is: Wow! I had so much fun. Honestly, I didn't expect to have as much fun as I did. I had of course been looking forward to it; I attended the first U.S. HNS conference in Salt Lake City in 2004, shortly after The Secret Lion was published, and enjoyed it immensely; I met several authors I admired and through one of them, my marvelous friend Judith Merkle Riley, I eventually found my current agent and sold my books. So, I knew the HNS conferences offered important networking opportunities, interesting panels, as well as the only gathering where the historical fiction tribe can congregate and shamelessly share its obsession with the past.

This year I had the opportunity to sit on two panels: "Breaking in and Staying in the Historical Fiction Game" with Michelle Moran and Karen Essex; and "Historical Boys" with authors Doug Jacobson, Tony Hays, and last minute replacements, Margaret George and Karen Essex. The panels were great; Michelle, Karen and I focused on how marketing has become integral to an author's longevity and the different approaches we take to it. On "Historical Boys" we had a lively interactive discussion about writing in the POV of a different gender and about the political correctness /branding that has seeped into publishing and limited our ability to pitch ideas that are seen as contrary to our brand. Each panel had dynamic Q&A sessions.

I also attended an editor's panel on selling historical fiction, featuring Trish Todd of Touchstone, Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press, and Shana Drehs of Sourcebooks. The different perspectives presented by each editor were fascinating and helped answer some questions I had as to how editors acquire historical fiction and which manuscripts are most likely to be seen as successful. Not surprisingly, characters that are 'marquee' names (famous people in history) and a strong female perspective continue to dominate the genre.

The evening banquets and keynote speeches by Margaret George, Sharon Penman and Trish Todd were marvelous; but it was the late-night sessions at the bar that were true highlights for me. Meeting other writers and readers over copious amounts of wine and having robust conversations on everything from eras that fascinate us to the ways books are sold made me realize just how important that elusive 'face time' is, i.e., getting off the computer and getting out there. I've always valued personal interaction and the HNS Conference only further cemented for me the essential fact while we may be a virtual culture, as human beings we still need to talk to one another in person. I think all of us who attended the conference will agree.

If you love historical fiction and haven't yet attended a Historical Novel Society Conference, I cannot recommend it enough. These are terrific, well-organized events that offer a variety of panels for writers and readers.(In photo, left to right: Karen Essex, Michelle Moran, Margaret George and me).

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'll do anything for publicity . . .

I'm back home after a whirlwind, exciting and fun time at the Historical Novel Society in Schaumberg, Il. I'll blog later about the wonderful writers I met, the new friends I made and the overall terrific and exhaustive efforts the entire HNS committee made to create what is certainly the most comprehensive and delightful reunion for the historical fiction tribe. (In picture, left to right: Me, Cynthia Miller, Margaret George, Val Perry, Michelle Moran and Kate Forsythe).

I also met the lovely and witty Barbara Vey, blogger extraordinare of Beyond Her Book at Publishers Weekly. Barbara is truly a book lover and author's best advocate and she asked me to give her a "drive-by" video for her Monday morning blog, a request I simply could not resist. After three days of little sleep and much socializing, it just goes to show that I'll do almost anything for publicity. Enjoy! (and please don't hold it against me :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Historical Fiction for the Summer on the Daily Beast

I'm in Chicago attending the Historical Novel Society Conference and I'll be blogging more about it when I get home, but in the meantime please check out my new article on The Daily Beast, featuring a summer historical fiction roundup.

This was a terrific opportunity for me to showcase samples of the genre at the biggest blog on the web, so if you can comment directly at The Daily Beast on the post (there is a section for comments at the end of it) they will be much appreciated. I did have some limitations, per the editor. Novels I selected to showcase had to have been published within the last three months and upcoming releases had to be no later than August. I'm hoping I'll have more opportunities to review again for the blog and thereby bring more attention to historical fiction. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

E-book, anyone?

I've been reading a massive amount of blog posts and other material related to the recent BookExpo 2009 in New York; I followed the actual event via Publishers Weekly updates, because, frankly, it's the biggest book gathering in the U.S. and with all the rumbling going on around the future of publishing, I was very interested to hear what the industry thought and how they were preparing to deal with all the changes coming, one of which is the rise of the e-book. While I was reading, I came across this very interesting Q&A with author Sherman Alexie, who garnered some infamy for himself at BEA when he made a controversial remark about a woman he saw on a plane, reading from a Kindle.

Now, I have to admit, I am not an e-book reader. I've tried several times, even borrowing a Kindle from a friend; but I just don't like the sleek "feel" of the e-reader tool, nor am I enamoured of seeing a book on screen. It all feels . . . well, impersonal. I may be old-fashioned, though, like Alexie mentions in his post, I do love my computer, my iphone, my HD tv, etc. I also work on a computer all day and, as a writer, cannot imagine living without one. I've written manuscripts long-hand (yes, I'm old enough to recall a time when personal computers did not exist) so I know the drill. Your wrists ache and editing is a white-out nightmare. Computers are a writer's best friend. Unless the hard drive crashes and you forgot to back up. But I digress.

For me, a book is more than words; it's a sensory experience. I revel in all four senses whenever I read. The words are most important, yes, but the texture of the pages, the feel of the cover, the look and smell: each book has its own distinct personality, its allure, if you will. Short, tall, fat, slim, rough-cut pages, gullotine-cut, matte, varnished, embossed, smooth, new, used, collector edition, mass market, trade, hard cover -- I'm in love with the book itself and whenever I walk into a bookstore, I still get that giddy rush I've had for as long as I can remember. It's like seeing a beloved; I just can't wait to touch.

To me, books on an e-reader look all the same. Like droids. This isn't meant as a criticism or lament; honestly, I'm all for books selling in whatever formats most benefit readers - the operative word here being 'selling.' There is a comment below the Alexie Q&A that froze my blood: "In the future, no one will be able to make a living writing novels." This gave me serious pause. Of all the arguments in favor of the rapid digitalization of books, this isn't one I'd ever thought to hear, nor did I ever think to hear it declared with quite such glee. First of all, it's not as if most writers make much of a living writing novels to start with. For every James Patterson and Danielle Steel, they are thousands who sacrifice a lot to write, because they must. Most book advances are not yacht-worthy, trust me, and they're doled out in installments, so most writers never "cash in". It can take years to write a book and years to build a career, if you're lucky. And with publishing suffering the massive effects of this recession, shrinking marketing dollars means more and more of us realize we must save a portion of our advance, often up to 20%, for our own marketing, if we ever want to sell enough copies to get the next book deal.

I'm ashamed to admit, because I'm not an e-book reader I've also paid little attention to the pricing issues and formatting related to e-books. As far as formats go, it's all very complicated, and so I've just thought to avoid it by continuing to buy physical books. Pricing, however, does apparently affect me, and so I did some research, only to discover, to my surprise, that many e-books cost around $9.95! I guess the poster on the Alexie Q&A was right: at that rate, if the book does go 100% "e", none of us will be able to make a living, except the e-book publisher, that is. And when I start exploring all the pesky copyright issues coming up, I start to feel as if I need a cocktail.

Nevertheless, I'm going to pay a lot more attention from now on. As an author, it's vital to me that all writers receive decent compensation for their work and are protected as much as possible from the horrifying piracy issues that nearly gutted the music industry. I also think writers should have a say in how their work is digitalized. There's no question that the e-book is here to stay and there are as passionate defenders of it as there are opponents. I'm still muddling my way through the various arguments, because frankly I don't see why we shouldn't all be on the same page, no pun intended: we should be championing reading and joining forces to keep our book industry alive. There has to be a place for everything: I want physical book and e-books, online and physical bookstores, and all types of publishers to thrive, because I believe there is an audience for all of it, providing we, as a society and as a species, keep reading.

What do you think?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Meet My Agent

Though she tends to shy away from limelight, my agent Jennifer Weltz is my most stalwart supporter and champion; without her, I would never have sold a book! She convinced me to get back into the submission game and she put her expertise to work for me. She's also a no-nonsense critic and inspiring editorial colleague.

Jennifer was interviewed today on Guide to Literary Agents and she offers up some judicious insight into the publishing business, writing, querying, etc. Check it out!