Tag: history

history

And the Award Goes To…

The shortlist for the inaugural Staunch Book Prize, “created to make space for an alternative to the overload of violence towards women in fiction” and “awarded to the author of a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered,” was recently announced. The award’s creators wanted to honor “stories in which female characters don’t have to be raped before they can be empowered or become casual collateral to pump up the plot” and that don’t “celebrate the cunning (often, charming sexiness/astonishing brutality) of serial rapists and the dogged brilliance of detectives” at the expense of female characters too often portrayed as two-dimensional victims. The shortlist for the 2018 prize, to be awarded this month, includes a political conspiracy thriller, a psychological thriller, an art caper, a thriller about the immigrant crisis, and a satire about terrorism. In the spirit of new literary awards, I asked my fellow Missdemeanors, “What prize would you create and what would the eligibility criteria be?” Here are their answers. RobinMine is easy. It would be the Amazing Grace Award, which was a nickname for Grace Hopper. Without her, computers would still take up an entire room and do only one thing at a time, so my criteria would be most inventive use of real technology for sinister purposes. Bonus points for flipping the bit, so to speak, to use that same technology to catch the criminal. TraceeI’d hand out the Tolstoy award, in honor of Count Leo Tolstoy. The criteria for this award:  a work of fiction that captures a broader historic theme with dramatic breadth and unity. The committee would prioritize works set in contemporary life.Thinking about Tolstoy, I feel the urge to re-read a few favorite parts of War and Peace. Although with the ice raining down I might be better served to visit another great Russian author, Boris Pasternak and the winter scenes in Doctor Zhivago. SusanI’d hand out an Ove award, named for Fredrik Bachman’s curmudgeonly hero. The criteria would be a work of fiction that shows me the interior life of a character I might have overlooked. MicheleI’m creating The Penny, after Louise Penny for her superb creation of Three Pines. The criteria for winning The Penny would be a work of fiction in which the author creates a setting for her story where, although not conflict free, the reader may retreat to find comfort and solace in times of turmoil. It sure worked for me after November 2016. TraceeI love all of these! CateI would create The Ripley, for the most unlikeable character that you can’t help but root for. The award would be in the spirit of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Alternative name: The Dexter. PaulaOoh, a very good question and such lovely answers.I’d have to say the LATE BLOOMER AWARD, for writers publishing their first novel after age 50…or 60…or…. MicheleAs a writer who received her Medicare card the same month that I got my first publishing contract, I love the LATE BLOOMER AWARD! AlisonI love all the answers. I’ll add the SEDARIS AWARD for writers, like David Sedaris, who are so funny it’s impossible to read an entire chapter without laughing out loud. It’s named in honor of Me Talk Pretty One Day, which I read while taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to New York. I thought I could sit in the “quiet car” while reading, but I ended up leaving the silent section of the train because I absolutely, positively, could not stifle the eruptions of full-on belly laughs coming from my own belly. AlexiaI’d create the ELBA AWARD (named after Idris Elba, of course) for a crime fiction novel that doesn’t pigeon-hole characters of color and characters from other marginalized groups into narrow, stereotypical roles and narratives. There’d be a sub-category, named the JACKSON (after Samuel L.) for the fictional crime film that had a character of color or other marginalized character appear in the most unexpected role. What award would you create? What would you name it? Who could win? Comment here on the blog or join the discussion on Facebook.  

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History and Mystery and Crime Bakes

 I returned home from New England Crime Bake late Sunday night. I spent a wonderful weekend in Woburn, Massachusetts meeting old friends, meeting Facebook friends face-to-face, and making new friends. I participated on a great panel, moderated by fellow Missdemeanor, Michele Dorsey, where we discussed mash-ups/cross-genre novels, what they were, how they came to be, and what they mean for the publishing industry. Hank Phillipi Ryan complemented me on my panel performance. (How cool is that?) I spent time chatting with conference attendees about medicine and whiskey. I got to hang out with the incomparable Walter Mosley. And I heard Mr. Mosley, Frankie Bailey, Bill Martin, and Elisabeth Elo talk about how they use history in writing mystery. This panel especially intrigued me, as I’m a history buff. The past fascinates me. Not so much the big, well-known stories—although as I discover the version of history I learned in school as “fact” may not have been 100% accurate, I’ve re-examined some of the big stories and found them more interesting than I originally thought—but the history of everyday people. How did Regular Jane and Average Joe earn their living? What did they wear? What did they eat? What did they think about the “big” stories, stories that were news to them, not history? How fitting that Crime Bake is held in one of the most history-filled areas of the United States. I wondered why our hotel was decorated with sewing machines, shoe lasts, and photos of old bills for footwear, some Google sleuthing revealed Woburn’s leather tanning industry dates back to the 1600s. Woburn is near Boston, a historical treasure trove, but it’s also near Salem, home of the infamous Witch Trials and location of the house made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne as The House of the Seven Gables. I made time for a side trip to Salem and spent a sunny afternoon learning about the Turners and Ingersolls (the house’s real-life owners) and Hawthorne. I had no trouble understanding why the mansion (and his cousin who owned it) inspired Hawthorne to make it the centerpiece of his novel. Are you a history fan? Are you a names and dates kind of history buff or do you prefer the stories of the not-so-famous people who lived on the dash between the dates? Or the more thoroughly researched stories of the famous which goes beyond the popular myths and shows them to be humans who accomplished things? What historical person or period would you want to experience in a novel?

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Mix and Match

 I’m a fan of mix-ups, mash-ups, and cross-overs. I love it when a book or film combines elements from different genres to create a story. So I asked my fellow Missdemeanors, if you were going to write a mash-up or cross-genre novel, what two genres would you combine? (For example, western and crime fiction, romance and sci-fi,…) Bonus question, Why? PaulaShort answer for me: Unless I had a really high-concept idea, I wouldn’t do it. Because as an agent I know how hard it is to sell mash-ups. If you have a really high-concept idea, or if you are truly creating a new genre, then it’s easier. But that’s lightning in a bottle—and a high bar to meet. MicheleI’m afraid I’m pretty traditional and am unlikely ever to write a mash-up. As far as cross-genre goes, combining romantic comedy with traditional mystery is about as daring as I get. Why? Because that’s what I like to read. SusanI did actually do that when I wrote a novel that combined time travel, mystery and Anne Boleyn. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that her execution was postponed by a day, giving her an unexpected day of life, and that opened to me all sorts of magical possibilities. Also, because so little is actually known about her–even her year of birth is a matter for dispute–it seemed to me that there was a lot of room to explore her character. However, what Paula says is absolutely true. It’s hard to sell. RobinI’m taking this question as a fun thought experiment rather than an actual career goal. With that in mind, I’d write a musical cyber thriller. Something like Wicked or Frozen but about sibling hackers, one who works with law enforcement and one who’s a criminal, then juxtapose them by circumstances. All set to a peppy soundtrack. There’d be a big ensemble number in the second act, like the reprise of “Tonight” in West Side Story, where all the main and secondary characters sing about the impending showdown and their goals or fears about how it’s going to turn out.Why? Because, hey, maybe I could persuade Lin Manuel Miranda to collaborate AlexiaI would totally buy tickets to your cybercrime musical. Orchestra seats. AlisonLove this, Robin! I can completely imagine sitting in The Gershwin Theatre watching your musical.Hmmm. I fall in the same camp as Michele. I can’t imagine writing anything other than traditional mysteries. Having said that, I like the idea of a future history mystery. I’m drawn to playing with “what ifs.” What if a Supreme Court decision had come down differently? What if a war never started? What if an election went the other way? I spent most of my twenties studying political science and international relations where there’s a long and illustrious history of academics writing science fiction (think George Orwell). A mash up can be great reading, but I’m not likely to be the one writing it. AlexiaI’d combine mystery with sci-fi or fantasy. Because you can add a dead body to almost anything (except maybe romantic comedy) and, voila, you’ve got a whodunit. With robots and rockets it’s a sci-fi whodunit. (Philip K. Dick comes to mind.) With dragons and magic it’s a fantasy whodunit. I take back what I said about romantic comedy. I can picture dead bodies involved. Foul Play, with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase is one of my favorite rom coms. PaulaMine, too! RobinAlexia, you said it before I could – romcom + dead body = Foul Play.The more I think about the musical idea, the more fun it sounds. Writers can be EGOTs, right? Maybe that should be a goal after all 😀 TraceeI’m part of the straight and narrow….. mystery with RomCom or history. And I’ll add that every good story has a mystery at its heart so it doesn’t to be a traditional mystery.Alison, your mention of altered future made me think about my love of history. I did enjoy Stephen King’s altered version of the death of JFK, but I’ve not been a big fan of other altered past/future stories. I’m not entirely certain why. Maybe because once we alter then the permutations are endless so why now that specific future. On the other hand it is more likely because history (good old fixed in time) is already so flexible with interpretation and revised information that it’s enough for me! But if you write one, I’ll be sure to read it!  

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Seeking Anne Boleyn

For the last few years I’ve been working on a book in which Anne Boleyn is a character. One of the thing that intrigues me, as a fiction writer, is that there are so few agreed upon facts about her. Even the year of her birth is up for debate. Some people say she was born in 1501, which would make her around 35 years old at the time of her death, a comparatively old woman in Tudor times. Others say she was born in 1507. The arguments on both sides are compelling (I think I lean toward 1507), but without knowing the precise details, we also don’t know precisely where she was born. We also don’t know if she was the oldest daughter or the youngest. So it’s fun to make up stories about her because you get to fill in all those gaps.   For the next two weeks, I’ll be traveling around England as part of a Tudor Tapestry tour led by Alison Weir, (who you may know because she’s written many wonderful books, among them Six Wives of Henry VIII, which was the book that sparked my interest in the whole subject. )I’ll be writing about my adventures for QueenAnneBoleyn.com, which is a fabulous site. You can also find them on Facebook. So prepare for Tudor Week on the Miss Demeanors!  

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Medieval dogs

 While doing research on my new mystery, I came across a completely irrelevant bit of information that I found charming. It was in a lecture by historian Toni Mount on medieval nuns. The lecture started off interesting, and then she began talking about wayward nuns. Immediately I was more interested. Then she started talking about wayward nuns and their dogs. I was hooked. Nuns were allowed to keep cats, evidently, because they took care of the mice. But they were not supposed to have dogs, because they served no purpose!!! Of course these medieval nuns led a very difficult life. They prayed and worked constantly, and with little human affection, and so it’s not surprising that they became passionately attached to little dogs, so much so that they would sneak them into church. At one point a bishop had to pass an injunction against bringing dogs and puppies into the choir, Mount points out. For those who were caught, in one particular parish, there was a punishment: the nun had to fast on bread and water on one Saturday. (A small price to pay, I suspect.)  I spend a fair amount of time holed up with my dogs. Being a 21st century writer is not quite like being a medieval  nun, but there is a fair amount of solitary work, and I am up early, and I felt like learning about their dogs gave me a richer understanding of who they were. On such small details are stories built! (If the course sounds interesting, you can find it at www.medeivalcourses.com.)

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