Thursday, August 31, 2006

Different Strokes for Different Folks, and How Many Folks Would You Like?

Today a fellow by the deceptively friendly name of "Bob" left me a one-star review on my Amazon page. In a nutshell, Bob thought there were too many characters, too many facts, not enough action, and not enough descriptions of medieval castles and homes.

Bob, bless his heart, is entitled to his opinion, and I only wish he'd posted it before I went shopping today so I could have consoled myself with an extra pair of jeans. As it is, it's given me a chance to indulge in some Teddy Grahams (cinnamon graham cookies shaped like teddy bears, for you folks across the pond) without guilt.

My Southern graciousness toward Bob did wear a little thin here, though:

Whether the homosexuality of Edward II is a fact or a figment of the author's imagination I don't know. Nor whether its use here is more than an attempt to meet to what some consider the "correct" tone of the present times.

Which makes me wonder: Will some author next come up with... "Washington & Lafayete, A Story of Forbidden Love?"

Cute, very cute. But Bob, a few short minutes of Googling might have cleared up this difficulty for you. Edward II's homosexuality isn't a fact--no one knows whether he had sexual relations with his male favorites or not--but it's very far from being a figment of my lurid, politically correct imagination. Suggestions that Edward II was involved in sexual relations with men date back to the fourteenth century, well before my time, thank you very much, and I'm merely following in a long line of writers, both historians and novelists, who have depicted his relationships as homosexual. (The only respect in which I differ from other novelists, as far as I know, is that I depict him as having heterosexual relationships outside of marriage as well--a depiction that is borne out historically by his acknowledged out-of-wedlock son, Adam, and near-contemporary rumors that he had been having an affair with his niece.)

Just to set the record straight, so to speak.

Anyway, speaking of long novels with a lot of characters, I'm reading Margaret George's Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles and am enjoying it thoroughly. For my own part, when a historical novel takes place over a long period of time and involves complex events, I'd rather have it be a long novel with many characters than a short one with just a few characters. Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour (1459 to 1492; long) and Juliet Dymoke's The Sun in Splendor (from around 1464 to 1489; short), for instance, both cover the Wars of the Roses and Richard III's fall and include some of the same events. They take very different approaches, with Penman telling the story through the viewpoint of many characters and Dymoke telling it through one, that of a woman who knows most of the major players but who is often at the periphery of events. I find Penman's approach more satisfying, and Dymoke's novel, though readable and agreeable, strikes me as skimpy by comparison. It's a matter of taste, I guess--what's yours?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I Am Woman, Hear Me Rant

I really was going to do some work on my novel in progress last night. Honestly. Then I saw this article in The New York Times, and my rant switch came on. (If you can't get to it--the article, that is, not my rant switch--try using The gist of it is that thanks to Ellen Archer and Pamela G. Dorman, publisher Hyperion is starting a new imprint called Voice. According to the Times's Motoko Rich, "Voice is specifically focusing on women from their mid-30’s and older and will have a resolutely anti-chick-lit bent." Rich adds that 10 professional women will meet twice a year "[t]o help Voice pinpoint what women want."

Well, I'm sure some highly paid consultant has told the women who came up with this idea otherwise, but judging from how much of it is in bookstores, what quite a few women want is chick lit. My own tastes don't run toward it, but I don't see it as something that women need to be saved from reading, any more than we need to be saved from reading romance novels or historical fiction or any other type of genre fiction. The fact that the saviors riding to our rescue are other women doesn't make me one iota more grateful for their intervention. It seems I ought to be grateful, though, because Dorman is quoted as saying, “'People are overwhelmed by choice, and what they want is someone who is self-selecting for them.'”

So what have the folks at Hyperion self-selected for all of us women over 35 to read instead of all that chick lit being written, edited, published, and read by so many misguided women? First on the platter is The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts. "Ms. Bennetts argues that women who 'opt out' of careers to raise children forfeit the financial, intellectual, emotional and even medical benefits of working outside the home."

Well, I'm going to save Hyperion a little market research now. I'm over 35. I'm a woman. But I'm not going to be buying The Feminine Mistake, because frankly, I think the last thing the publishing world needs is another book by a woman telling other women that there's something wrong with them because they choose to live lives that are not exactly like hers.

Now, what am I going to do with the money I save by not buying Bennetts' book? After resting up a while (that choice is just so overwhelming), I'm going to go to the bookstore and look for a book that has a great big shoe on it. Or a great big purse. Or a great big shoe and a great big purse. And I'm going to buy it. Then for good measure, I'm going to find a book with a hunky, barechested guy wearing a kilt on its cover. The boldest, most plaid, most manly kilt there is. And I'm going to buy it. Because I don't like being told by women how to spend my hard-earned book money any more than I like being told by men how to spend it.

As the chick lit ladies know, shopping can be such fun.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Boswell Makes the Rounds

Remember Boswell's interview a while back? Now he's made it onto GalleyCat, along with a number of other pooches, including one called Bothwell and one with a distinct taste for Caleb Carr.

Aside from having his doubts about GalleyCat's feline-centric name, Boswell's delighted to be there.

A Fun Author Photo

At a library sale yesterday, I picked up a whole heap of old historical novels, many of them from the 1950's and 1960's. One of them was The Last Love, a 1963 novel by Thomas Costain about Napoleon's exile. I hadn't heard of it before, but I've read Costain's The Three Edwards, and this looked interesting, so I grabbed it. Only when I was admiring my stack of books later in the evening did I see what a gem I'd found, because of this picture of the author on the dust jacket:

A man eating dinner with his cat (and judging from the size of that feline, that cat's enjoyed a lot of authorial leftovers). Now isn't that a lot more fun than the usual solemn author photograph?

Speaking of authors' bodies, I was looking at the searches via which people have reached my website and found this one:
susan s thigh stories

I hope the person who came to my website thusly wasn't too disappointed, but I very much suspect he was.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Other Hugh le Despenser, and a Too Perfect Heroine

I'd like my blog entry today to honor Hugh le Despenser (d. 1349), eldest son of Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor de Clare, who on August 24, 1346, as a prelude to the Battle of Crécy two days later, stormed the town of Le Crotoy, killed hundreds of French troops, burnt the town, and obtained plenty of provisions for the English troops, who were sorely in need of them at that time. (Granted, the French would probably take a rather dimmer view of Hugh's feats, but c'est la vie.) 660 years ago today--time flies, doesn't it?

Hugh is the subject of my work in progress ("progress" being used advisedly, but then even a snail moving forward is making some sort of progress, I suppose). I'm rather fond of him, not the least because he started out his adulthood in the most unpromising of circumstances, landless, imprisoned, and with a disgraced family name, and ended it as a respected solider and (apparently) as a loved husband. Not a mean feat when one considers that a different sort of man might have wasted his life in bitterness and grudge-holding.

You can read more about Hugh here.

On the historical fiction front, I found it amusing that the same day I read Sarah Johnson's post about finishing novels, I put down a novel after about 30 pages. (I won't name it because (a) I read so little of it and (b) I no longer have it here to double-check.) The heroine had nearly every virtue imaginable except one--humility--and on the few occasions when someone wasn't standing nearby to tell her how magnificently she had handled a situation, she told us herself. As there was hardly any room in the house for her ego and the rest of us, I decided that something had to go, and it wouldn't be the rest of us. Back to the bookstore for you, baby.

Monday, August 21, 2006

It's Cover Time Again!

Some time ago I blogged about Margaret Campbell Barnes's historical novel My Lady of Cleves. To my surprise, I saw it the other day on eBay under another name: The King's Choice. Here's the cover in its early 1950's glory, for the princely price of a quarter:

Nice, isn't it? This book actually credits the cover artist: George Mayers. In the front matter, it also lists not only the publisher, but its president and two of its vice presidents--in case, I guess, a reader didn't think he'd gotten his quarter's worth and wanted to go straight to the top.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A New Novel About Marie Antoinette

Having last blogged about two recent historical novels, I’m going to do myself one better today and blog about one that hasn’t been released yet: Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund. It’s to be released in October, so naturally, I’m looking at an advance reader’s edition.

Abundance is told in the first person by Marie Antoinette, and though it doesn’t purport to be a journal, it’s told in a journal-like fashion, with the events unfolding as the queen experiences them rather than in retrospect. From what I can tell (it’s not my period by any means), it’s well researched, and it’s sympathetic toward Marie Antoinette without minimizing her weaknesses. The other members of the royal family are rendered nicely too, especially Louis XVI. (For those who are wondering, Axel von Fersen is very much a presence here, though the queen’s relationship with him is a chaste one.)

In many historical novels about well-known figures, authors tend to jump from one Big Event to another, serving history while at the same time slighting character. Naslund tends to move in the opposite direction. While she covers all of the usual set pieces of Marie Antoinette’s life—her husband’s difficulty in consummating their marriage, her reluctance to acknowledge the Comtesse du Barry, her public childbirth, the Affair of the Necklace—Naslund tends to focus more closely on her more everyday, mundane interactions with her family and friends, at least until the revolution overtakes all normalcy. I especially liked the queen’s reminiscences about the hippotamus and rhinoceros in her childhood home, the scene where the royal family witnesses the launch of a hot air balloon, and the later scene where the queen is served “fruit” that turns out to be small balloons. (Through a later scene where another balloon launch ends in tragedy, Naslund neatly inserts a sense of impending disaster for the royal court as well.)

Once fate overtakes the royal family, Naslund conveys the increasing terror of their lives powerfully. Though she doesn’t give us an eyewitness view of the horror of the massacre of the Swiss Guard, the laconic way in which the queen recounts the event is chillingly effective in its very brevity: “It required only two carriages to carry away those of us who remained alive of the court of Louis XVI.”

I did find some things bothersome here. The dialogue is sometimes stilted to the point of being comical: “'Those red spots on your fair cheeks suggest measles,'” Marie Antoinette’s dear friend the Comte de Polignac tells her at one point. This may be to show the artificiality of court life, but if it is, it’s not done consistently; the same friend speaks to Marie Antoinette quite naturally at other times.

More problematic for me was this passage in the first chapter of Abundance, at which point the book nearly became airborne:

While my ladies flutter like bright butterflies around me, I glance at my naked body, a slender worm. Louis Auguste and I must be much the same, as all humans are really much the same, except for the difference of sex. We all have two legs—mine are slender—supporting a torso; two arms sprout on either side of a bodily cabinet, which contains the guts and bladder in the lower compartment and the heaving lungs and heart in the upper section. In between, for women, is the chamber called the womb. From the trunk, a neck rises up like a small lookout tower whose finial is the head.

I’m sure there must be some reason for this paragraph—which all but screams, “Look, Ma, I’m writing literary fiction!”—but I'll be blessed if I can see it; all I could think of was that clear child’s educational toy called “The Human Body” and then that old song “Dry Bones” (“The knee bone connected to the thigh bone!”). Fortunately, creative-writing-class passages such as this are relatively few and far between, especially in the latter part of the novel. I'm quoting this paragraph, in fact, only because it almost made me stop reading this book, and I'm glad I persevered.

In short, this is a book the merits of which far outweigh its flaws. Give it a try.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Two 2006 Reviews: Juana 'n' Jane

In addition to the reviews I do on this blog, I've also been doing some reviews for The Historical Novels Review. Here are a couple that appeared in the recently released August 2006 issue. (Reviewers there have a word limit, so you'll find these reviews more concise than many on my blog.)

The Last Queen
C. W. Gortner, Two Bridges Press, 2006

The Last Queen is the story of Juana “the Mad” of Castile, daughter to Isabel and Fernando and sister to Catherine of Aragon. Spanning the period from 1492 to 1509, The Last Queen is a gripping story of passion, intrigue, and betrayal.

The novel is narrated by Juana herself, looking back at her past from a span of decades. Gortner’s choice of narrative styles was a good one, for it allows the reader to experience events as Juana experiences them, without knowing whom can be trusted. The final betrayal of Juana, shocking to her, is even more shocking to us.

Juana here is not a madwoman, but an isolated, proud, and increasingly desperate one who is as determined to claim her throne as others are to keep her off it. Her story, which in less skilled hands could have been a dreary, didactic tale of male oppression and female victimization, is saved from being so by Juana’s voice, one that is candid, dry, sharply observant, and totally lacking in self-pity.

Gortner avoids falling into “historical novel speak,” rendering his dialogue in modern English peppered with the occasional Spanish phrase. The novel reads quickly, and although the events going on around Juana are complex, Gortner finds a happy middle ground between overwhelming readers with too much background information and bewildering them with too little.

Readers who appreciate author’s notes will find an informative one here, though I would have found it more helpful if Gortner, having told the reader that he took certain liberties with characters, time, and place, was more specific as to what these liberties were. This single quibble aside, this was an exceptionally good read about an intriguing, wronged woman.

Plain Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour
Laurien Gardner, Jove, 2006

Young Jane Seymour is stunned when she overhears her parents discussing her future: as they consider Jane too plain to attract a husband, they will send her to a nunnery—at least when they can find one that won’t demand too high an offering. Jane vows to prove them wrong about this bleak prospect. She does so, spectacularly.

Unlike the earlier novels in this series, where ladies in waiting are major characters, Plain Jane focuses on Jane. Gardner’s Jane is an opportunist in the positive sense of the word, able to seize upon what life offers her and to make the best of it, whether it be an invitation to join the court or a chance to marry the king. The reader can’t blame her for pursuing the latter option, for the Anne Boleyn portrayed here is thoroughly disagreeable, sometimes to the point of caricature. Henry VIII, by contrast, is more complex: kindly to Jane most of the time, he is capable of turning viciously on her when she seems to him to be meddling in his affairs.

The writing style here is somewhat choppy. There are long stretches of one- or two-sentence paragraphs, which I found distracting. More problematic was the fact that Gardner at times carries the theme of plainness versus beauty too far. It seems simplistic, for instance, to ascribe Anne Boleyn’s downfall to her being so “deceived by her long reign of beauty” that she fails to understand Henry. On the whole, however, I found this novel to be an engaging portrait of a determined woman.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Little Night Rambling

I finally overcame my Inner Cheapskate and signed up for a paid account on Library Thing, which allowed me to list all of my books instead of being limited to 200. (Interested in looking at my shelves? I'm boswellbaxter there.) I've still got a few things--most of my books about Dickens, for instance--to get on there, but I'd say well over two-thirds of my books are listed now.

It's not as impressive a list as it would have been about fifteen years ago, because repeated moves and a shortage of space have caused me to be pretty ruthless about culling my collection. Sometimes I've wished I hadn't given a book up, especially when it's one that's not readily available in libraries. For the most part, though, I haven't missed what I've gotten rid of--a lot of books, such as the couple I had by Virginia Woolf, had a certain snob appeal but were gathering dust because having read them once, I didn't have the slightest interest in reading them again. Other books I gave up because although I enjoyed them for a while, my tastes changed to the point that I no longer had any desire to re-read them.

There's a little group of books that I've had since the 1970's, however, mostly young adult books that I read when I was in my early teens. Some of them are by authors who are still known, such as M. E. Kerr, and others are by ones who have long since vanished into the shadowlands of Amazon, such as Leona Klipsch. I've dragged them up and down the East Coast for thirty years, and I still like to re-read portions of them from time to time. I suppose one might call these comfort books, which is odd because my adolescence was a time I couldn't wait to outgrow and a time about which I'm not at all nostalgic. All of them were reasonably well written, but a couple of them, like the Klipsch book (Treasure Your Love), were quite formulaic--nice girl falls in with mean clique, starts turning mean, comes to senses, asserts individuality, drops out of mean clique, and wins approval of nice boy who's been waiting for her to drop said mean clique. (Wasn't that the plot of the recent movie Mean Girls? I guess some things never change.)

Anyway, I really can't explain why I've held on to these books, but I'd be scrambling to replace them if they were ever lost.

Book culling has also been on my mind because I recently signed up at (Because all mailing is calculated at United States media mail rates, it's currently available only to those areas served by the United States Postal Service.) It's a pretty good deal--you list books, pay the postage to ship them to members who request them, and earn credits that you can use to have books shipped to you by other members. I've already shipped five and am waiting for three to arrive, so it seems a cheap and pleasant way to move unwanted books off one's shelves and replace them with books one wants. I haven't had much luck finding the obscure historical fiction that I lean toward, but I've found a couple of things that I've been wanting. It's also fun just to see what shows up as newly listed--I've seen both Pamela Anderson and Henry James make an appearance.

Now that I've achieved my lifetime goal of using "Pamela Anderson" and "Henry James" in the same sentence, I'll retire for the evening. Toodles.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Those Wacky, Witchy, Plantagenets

As promised (c'mon, I know you've been tapping your fingers in anticipation), here's my review of My Philippa by Maureen Peters. My copy came all the way from Tasmania, and judging from its almost pristine condition except for sundry library markings, it'd been sitting quietly on the shelves of the library there for some time before being withdrawn and finding its way to eBay.

My Philippa, of course, is about Edward III's queen, Philippa of Hainault, who's probably best known for pleading with her husband to spare the lives of the Burghers of Calais. It's typical of the oddity of this book that this famous incident is mentioned only in passing here.

Narrated by Philippa herself, this book covers Philippa's life from her marriage to Edward III to the beginning of his affair with Alice Perrers. The book has a very domestic quality about it; for the most part, the plot just revolves around Philippa's sometimes frustrating marriage (Edward III is a skirt-chaser) and her growing family. Despite Philippa's being relegated to the background, I found the book agreeable enough to read; Philippa's narrative voice has a refreshingly tart tone, and the narrative moves forward at a brisk pace.

There are a couple of odd features to this book. Peters ties together several characters by their adherence to the Old Religion--Roger Mortimer, Queen Isabella (slightly), Joan of Kent, and Edward III himself. Thus, Joan's famous garter is the Badge of the Snake Priestess, as Queen Isabella helpfully points out, and the Order of the Garter is equivalent to two covens. I'm not sure of the source of this link between the Order of the Garter and witchcraft, but it's not original to Peters; Evelyn Eaton in The King Is a Witch used the witchcraft theory on a much more elaborate scale, forcing Edward III to periodically look about for a Substitute Victim to keep him safely above ground. In Peters's case, what could be an interesting, albeit historically dubious, angle fizzles out, for Peters doesn't develop the witchcraft plot line much, but contents herself with having Bad Things happen whenever Joan of Kent appears on the scene.

The other peculiar aspect of the book is its portrayal of Edward III's son Lionel, Duke of Clarence, as being feeble-minded, albeit in a very charming manner. (Speaking of his desire to marry his sweetheart, Elizabeth de Burgh, the adult Lionel explains, "She is very clever and will read aloud to me in the evenings and I will give her rides on my horse.") I don't know of anything that supports this depiction of Lionel; it certainly seems inconsistent with his later career as royal lieutenant in Ireland. (And Lionel as an adult hardly had to ask permission to marry Elizabeth de Burgh, having been betrothed to her since childhood.)

All in all, I found this a peculiar little book, eccentric yet strangely likable. Its main appeal, though, will be to those who read all things Plantagenet.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reay Tannahill Redux , and a Nod Toward the News

With all the things going on the world today and these past few weeks, it's occurred to me at times that this blog is a bit insular--rather like that Dorothy Parker short story "From the Diary of a New York Lady: During Days of Horror, Despair, and World Change," but without all the cocktails. However, I decided when I started this blog to leave politics to the political bloggers, and God knows there's enough of them without me putting my bit in.

So good job, UK, in catching those terrorists, and now back to historical fiction. (And at least one can still carry books on airplanes.)

Having enjoyed The Seventh Son, I toted Reay Tannahill's Fatal Majesty to the beach with me this weekend. It's about Mary, Queen of Scots, and I liked it even better than The Seventh Son. It's written in a similar style, with a very dry, sardonic tone to the narration.

Fatal Majesty switches back and forth between the English court and the Scottish court, and has a very wide cast of characters--wide enough, in fact, to be rather confusing for someone who isn't intimately familiar with the main players of the time. Most of the characters act entirely in their own self-interest, like so many spiders spinning their webs, and it is the convergence of these webs that eventually engulfs and destroys Mary.

Though Tannahill is sympathetic toward Mary, one gets a sense of distance, especially in the latter half of the novel. Indeed, Tannahill's favorite character seems to be Mary's Secretary of State, Lethington, which gives rise to what I thought was the novel's major flaw: once Lethington makes his final exit, Tannahill becomes far less engaged with her material, making the last fifty pages a bit of chore to get through. Tannahill covers thirty years in those fifty pages, and although there's a lot of intrigue packed in those years and pages, I found myself skimming. Worse, Mary herself appears only occasionally in them. That may have been to drive home the point that she was little more than the pawn of others during that time, but I would have liked to have seen more of Mary nonetheless. Still, this is a 450-plus-page novel, and the pleasure of reading the first 400 pages, packed full of excellent characterizations and dry wit, more than makes up for the relative weakness of the last fifty pages.

Coming soon: My Philippa by Maureen Peters.

Below: Onslow, the King of the End Table

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In Which I Try the One Book Meme

Marg tagged me for this one, but Boswell being the publicity hound that he is, he insisted on my posting his interview first. Anyway, without further ado:

One Book....That Changed Your Life

Probably A Tale of Two Cities. I'd read classics before that, but more out of a sense of obligation and without ever becoming very emotionally involved in what I was reading. The book made me realize that a book could be both entertaining and enduring, and it ended up taking me in a lot of directions--educational and literary--that I might not have gone in otherwise.

One Book....That You've Read More Than Once

I've read a lot of books more than once, though these days I tend to re-read snippets of books rather than whole books. I'll say Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, one of my favorites.

One Book....That You'd Want on a Desert Island

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. A bit of everything--tragedy, history, comedy--to keep me going while I wait to be rescued.

One Book....That Made You Laugh

Anne Tyler's Saint Maybe. The scene where Ian's nieces and nephews try to fix him up with one of their teachers is hilarious.

One Book....That Made You Cry.

I can't think of a book that's made me actually shed tears, but there are many that have made my eyes well up, especially at the end. The last paragraph of Middlemarch is one that always does this, even though the book as a whole isn't one of my all-time favorites.

One Book....That You Wish Had Been Written

The book Charlotte Bronte was working on at the time of her death.

One Book....That You Wish Had Never Been Written

Can I count Anais Nin's diaries as one book? One of the most tedious evenings of my life was spent at a poetry reading where one of the presenters, for reasons best known to himself, decided to read from them instead of from his own work.

One Book....That You Are Currently Reading

Anne, the Rose of Hever by Maureen Peters. A very odd book which ties Anne Boleyn's death to the Old Religion.

One Book....You've Been Meaning to Read

Nigel Tranter's The Bruce Trilogy. I toted this book to the UK and back in 2004 but never read it (the atmosphere in tourist class just isn't conducive to long tomes), and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since calling my name. I guess sooner or later I should answer it.

I never was good at tag, so anyone who wants to join in can do so.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Meet the Author: Boswell

Some dogs can heel, some can play fetch. But how many dogs can write books? Not very many, I warrant. But Boswell, being an exceptional canine altogether, has just published his first book, with help from my daughter Bethany and

Boswell has graciously agreed to take some time from his busy schedule to talk to me about his new venture.

Q: Boswell, how was writing your first book?
A: I would describe it as a cathartic experience, really. It helped a great deal in coming to terms with my greatest enemies—the bathtub and the vacuum cleaner—both of which are pictured within these pages.
By the way, why are there so many words that start with c-a-t and not so many that start with d-o-g? I smell a conspiracy.

Q: No, you smell dinner. Can you describe your book for us?
A: It’s a book about me and my times—the people and cats I live with, my typical day, the things I enjoy doing. Really, it’s the essence of my life as a dog, distilled into a few short pages.

Q: What gave you the idea to write a book?
A: At first, I just wanted to make the cats jealous. But then I realized that I had a unique, dogly voice of my own that was just crying out, begging to be heard, as opposed just to begging for leftovers.
And I've still made the cats jealous.

Q: Where can I buy it?
A: On Not on Amazon or anything like that, which is just as well because if my Amazon ranking was better than Mom’s, she’d get all miffed and probably quit playing ball with me.

Q: No, I wouldn’t.
A: Yes, you would.

Q: Anyway, Boswell, what’s your next project?
A: I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about maybe venturing into historical fiction. Dad read a book about Robert E. Lee told from the viewpoint of his horse, and Mom read a book about Shakespeare told from the viewpoint of his dog, so perhaps I’ll go for a book about Mary, Queen of Scots told from the viewpoint of her dog. Or Anne Boleyn told from the viewpoint of her dog. Or maybe a book about the Knights Templar told from the viewpoint of their dogs. I think that’s the most promising project—Dogs of the Templars.

Q: That last one sounds highly marketable.
A: I know. I just need a good agent.

Q: If you find one, will you introduce me to him or her?
A: If you're a bit more generous with the leftovers from now on, Mom.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Would You Like to Come to My Place and See My Suit of Armor?

I was reading "God Squad," a syndicated column by Marc Gellman and Thomas Hartman, this morning and was struck by this question from a reader: "My daughter just started dating a guy who told her he was a Templar Knight."

Well, you can't say the guy doesn't have an original pickup line. (The God Squad suggested that the daughter might want to find another boyfriend.)

On the historical fiction front, I'm reading The Ivy Crown by Mary Luke, about Katherine Parr. It's well written, but it's proceeding at an extremely leisurely pace--I'm over 100 pages into it, and Katherine Parr's still not married her second husband! At the moment, she's in the periphery of the events happening over at court and has very little to do than to give her opinions on various matters and dispense good advice to her friends. Thomas Seymour shows up once in a while to get poor Kate's heart afluttering. At least he doesn't tell her that he's a Templar Knight.

Coming soon: a chance to meet a very special author.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Joys of eBay, and Tudor Bunnies

One of my many weaknesses is eBay. A few years ago, doubtless as a reaction to turning a Certain Age, I began buying old Barbie dolls there, but this got a bit on the expensive side, not to mention the crowded side. So I’ve changed my eBay habits a bit, and now I bid mostly on books. I’ve got quite a few things there, historical fiction and otherwise, that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

Unless I’m looking for a particular book, I’ll usually just type in a search term and see what turns up. With a term like “Anne Boleyn,” that’s not a problem; almost everything that shows up is somehow related to the English queen, though as we shall soon see, sometimes in rather peculiar ways. On the other hand, “Edward II” can pull up things about the English king, but also DVD’s by a band called Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas and a line of women’s clothing (why not men’s clothing? seems a natural). “Gaveston” often brings up items relating to Galveston, Texas. And “Despenser” pulls in quite a few sellers who misspelled “dispenser.” These items raise some interesting mental pictures:
New Dinosaurs floating in blue liquid Soup Despenser
Deer Buck Antler Toilet Tissue Paper Holder Despenser

Of course, it’s easy enough to avoid results like these by limiting the search to books, but it’s not quite as much fun. And one time in one of my general searches, I came across a cast-metal figure of Hugh le Despenser’s son Hugh (d. 1349), dressed in armor and riding a destrier, which would have looked lovely perched on my hard drive. I duly put a bid in, but sadly, I was sniped. The jerk probably thought he was bidding on a toilet tissue paper holder.

In any case, did you know that Royal Doulton makes a set of figures called "Bunnykins" that include Henry VIII and all his wives? That's fate for you--divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but all made into cute little bunny figurines.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Royal Doulton has a Bunnykins figure for Edward II or his favorites. Or for any of the Plantagenet kings. Someone clearly needs to get cracking on this. Or should I say hopping?