Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Meme...

Okay, I've been way slow on this, but here it is at last. A couple of weeks back Gabriele Campbell "tagged" me to do a Meme. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant at the time, but I understand now that it means I'm to answer a series of questions, in this case about historical fiction. Below are the questions and my answers. I stuck tightly to talking about historical fiction, even though sometimes I felt inclined to respond with answers that sighted other genres.

Apologies, Gabriele, for taking so long about this...

Straight Historical, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Historical Romance, or Time Travel?

Straight. I did enjoy Robert Harris' Pompeii, which was a mystery, but I don't know if it was the mystery side of things that interested me in that, anyway. I don't have that much interest in historical romance or time travel, though.

Historical Figures as Main Characters or Purely Fictional Characters in Historical Settings as Main Characters?

Both. I almost don't even notice the difference in terms of being drawn to a book or subject.

Hardback, Trade Paperback, or Mass Market Paperback?

Well, I'm most likely to buy new books when they get to trade paperback, but when I really like a book I'll try to eventually pick up a hardback. It's hardbacks I like to have for my "library".

Philippa Gregory or Margaret George?

Ah... I haven't read either. I'm more of a Margaret Atwood, Kevin Baker, TC Boyle type, with a little Steven Pressfield, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris mixed in. I began as a reader and writer of literary fiction. I still am that, as far as I'm concerned, but I believe that the qualities of literary fiction really come to life when telling big, exciting, often historical stories.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?

The two serve different purposes for me. Amazon is almost like a research tool these days, and I will order stuff from them when it's the most convenient. But I do like browsing bookstores, too. I'm quite a fan of used bookstores, also. That's where a lot of my hardbacks come from.

Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Penman?

Cornwell. I've only come to him recently, though. I particularly enjoyed the series that began with The Last Kingdom.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Hmm... B&N, if I have to choose. My problem with Borders is that they have an African-American literature section that, I think, marginalizes black writers. There's nothing wrong with an African-American history section, or culture section, or even some section that would include classic black novels, but I don't like it that contemporary novelists all too often have their new books sent straight to the back of the store. It means that nobody is going to find them unless they're overtly looking for them, and it means that books by these authors are limited to a tiny amount of shelf space. And what's wrong with having novels by black authors in with novels by all other authors? Afraid of literary misogyny?

First Historical Novel You Ever Remember Reading?

The first novels I remember are all fantasy... But, okay, I do recall getting caught up in The Robe, by Lloyd Douglas.

Alphabetize by Author, Alphabetize by Title, or Random?

Author. I love a well-organized bookshelf, I have to admit.

Keep, Throw Away, or Sell?


Read with Dust Jacket or Remove It?

Remove it.

Stop Reading When Tired or at Chapter Breaks?

Stop reading when I'm tired, preferably at a chapter break.

"It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"?

"Once upon a time," I think. Or maybe, "Once upon a time, on a dark and stormy night..."

Buy or Borrow?

Borrow to check things out. And my kids are home schooled, so we always have about a hundred books out of the library. But I buy when I like things.

Buying Choice: Book Reviews, Recommendations, or Browsing?

Has to be all of the above. I read plenty of reviews, but I wouldn't buy or not buy a book based on any one. I like to read a few of the same book and then make a decision.

Dorothy Dunnett or Anya Seton?

I'm not doing to well with these author questions... Again, neither author is of particular interest to me. How about Mary Renault instead?

Tidy Ending or Cliffhanger?

I like a satisfying ending. That doesn't mean it's tidy, but I do like it when all the narrative threads are brought to some sort of resolution.

Sticking Close to Known Historical Fact, or Using Historical Fact as Wallpaper?

I like sticking close to the historical fact, with the caveat that as an author I also need to make a narrative work. So I tweak the facts on occasion if it helps me tell the story better. I don't, however, tweak the facts to shape them into something false - in my opinion. (I'm quite aware, by the way, that not everyone who's read Pride of Carthage agrees with me.)

Morning Reading, Afternoon Reading or Nighttime Reading?

Nighttime, although I also listen to books on cd, tape, etc. That I usually do while walking - which is part of my daytime writing routine.

Series or Standalone?

I don't think I ever start a novel with the hopes of reading a series. I go for the book - the standalone - but if it's good and there are more than one (and they're good, too) I'm happy to return for more.

Favorite Book of Which Nobody Else Has Heard?

It's not that nobody has ever heard of him, but I didn't learn of the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon until I lived in Scotland. His trilogy A Scot's Quair is a classic, but I also really like his novel, Spartacus. It's not the one the film was based on, of course, but it's very good, lyric, brutal and compact at the same time. The Amazon link to it says it's not available. That's a bummer. Glad I have my copy, though.

Okay, that's it. It may be that I'm supposed to "tag" somebody at this point, but I'm going to hold off on that for now. I'm new to all this stuff, ya know.



Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

Thank you for playing along, and no problem about being late. Life tends to get in the way of blogging. :)

I'm a Bernard Cornwell fan - like me some good battles, lol, though the books of Sharon Kay Penman are interesting too (albeit with a lot less action) and cover a time I'm interested in. Dorothy Dunnett is a bit of an acquired taste, but King Hereafter, her take on MacBeth, is definitely worth reading. The other authors on the list I don't know, either.

The separation of African-American authors in some bookstores is a phenomenon we don't have in Germany, so I was surprised when I came across arguments pro and contra such labelling on blogs. Frankly, it doesn't make any sense to me to have special AA shelves.

6:10 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Hmm, the King Hereafter does sound interesting. It's been noted.

I don't know what publishing is like in Germany regarding African American authors, but in the UK (where I lived for some time) there's no segregation. But on the other hand black American authors don't get published there much. A few years back I was a finalist (I eventually won) for an Award from the Hurston/Wright Foundation. Between all the categories, there were 15 nominees, 15 titles that a panel of black judges thought were the best of African American writing that year. How many of those were published in the UK at that time? Only 1, and that one was Walter Mosley, a bestselling crime writer who has had several books filmed. None of the other titles were published in Britain.

So, they aren't segregated as they are in some US bookstores, but they also aren't there to be segregated in the first place.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

It may be a bit better in Germany. We're still very much a nation of translators, and that includes books from all over the globe. :)

Is there a German version of Pride of Carthage in planning? It's the sort of book that would find readers here - historical fiction is very popular and gets its own shelves.

11:42 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I can well imagine that Germany would be better about searching out diverse voices. That was certainly true of the Germans I've known - mostly in Britain. (Although, they were travellers - which might mean they're a bit different from the norm.)

But, no, there's no German edition of Pride in the works. I'm not sure why. It did well at getting placed with other European countries - six in all. And a German publisher, Blanvalet, has been the first to grab Acacia. Actually, more than one German publisher bid for it. So I'm not sure why nothing happened with Pride.

It may end up for the best, though. If Acacia does well in Germany perhaps Pride will follow, with a bigger launch than it might have received otherwise. We'll see, so much of this publishing thing is about patience and enduring (potentially unrealistic) optimism.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Scott Oden said...

I'd love to break into the German (and Spanish) market. I've done fairly well in the UK, plus Russian and Czech Republic editions, but still no love from other Continental publishers.

So much of this publishing thing is about patience and enduring (potentially unrealistic) optimism.

Man, is this ever true. There's also no rhyme or reason, that I can discern, as to why it works the way it does. Much is made of publishing as a business, but for the most part it doesn't operate as such -- it operates more like an art gallery or Hollywood.

My first year in "big" publishing has been interesting . . .

11:26 PM  
Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

Well, Blanvalet specialises in Fantasy, so they probably won't pick on Pride. Heine and Bastei Lübbe publish lots of German historical fiction but I don't know about their translation policy - should check the stores for the publishers of those books I read in the original, lol.

2:32 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I just checked the Blanvalet website, and I wouldn't say the specialize in fantasy. They do publish some big names in fantasy, like George RR Martin, Christopher Paolini and the McCaffreys, but that's not all they do.

Actually, they publish an awful lot of different stuff. I noticed some historical fiction on their list, like Colleen McCullough, Bernard Cornwell, James Michener, Gore Vidal, and lots of other mainstream and literary writers, including Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Russell Banks, Roddy Doyle, Don Dellilo, Sue Monk Kidd, Alexander McCall Smith... Okay, the list goes on. Of course, it's mainly the English language names that jump out at me, but there were a lot of them, from all sorts of genres.

4:32 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


You've obviously got that patience and enduring optimism thing nailed. I checked your new website and enjoyed the interview. It's never (or almost never) an easy road into print and on to a career. I wish my students understood that better, but I don't know if it can be explained. Just lived through, if you're lucky.

A Czech edition, huh? That's cool. More to come, I'm sure.


1:48 PM  
Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

Lol, there you see how much I know about German publishers. I've learned from some writer's blogs that they sold to Blanvalet, and a few Fantasy books I read in translation because I wasn't sure I'd like them were by Blanvalet. Historiclal Fiction I usually buy in the original right away or get from the University library.

3:07 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey, I'm glad you prompted me to look into it. I learned a few things about my future publisher! (Mostly good things, by the way.)

3:34 PM  
Blogger Scott Oden said...

Thanks, David!

It's absolutely something that must be lived through, I think. My friends, some of whom are unpublished writers, never believe me when I caution them to be careful what they wish for; that nothing can sour a love for writing quite like the experience of becoming published. I've had it fairly easy in that regard, but it's still been nightmarish at times. Nor is it any easier to make the transition from mid-sized house to global house. I imagine it's quite the same feeling as going from regional theater to Broadway.

But, I wouldn't trade the experience. I just hope and pray I can make a lifelong -- and lucrative -- career out of it. I surely don't want to go back to delivering pizza at 40 :)

1:18 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


I was working in a Virgin Megastore in Perth, Scotland, when I got the offer for Gabriel's Story. Went in the next day and quit, and I've never peddled Brit-pop since. And, hopefully, never will again.

10:10 PM  

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