Tag Archives: The Hist Fic Chic

TO SELF-PUBLISH OR NOT SELF-PUBLISH, THAT IS THE QUESTION!

So this is a question many writers have, to self-publish or to go the traditional route of looking for a mainstream or small publishing house to accept your manuscript?

Here is the reason I chose self-publishing over the traditional way: Many of you may have read my post about grief (and if not, here is the link) and you may have read about my interaction with my once-in-a-lifetime meeting with the literary agent of my dreams in my post about “other Shakespeare authors,” but if you have not read either of those posts, here is a summary of why I chose self-publishing.

First and foremost, I love the idea of going the traditional route. I have many friends who I met during the writer’s retreat I attended who are published authors and secured their book deals from publishing houses. I say, more power to them!

I attended the Writer’s Retreat Workshop in Erlanger Kentucky in 2006 and found myself completely inspired and on fire to finish my first novel and find an agent and trudge through the mire of the publishing industry. Honestly, I was excited and very naive. Two years after that I attended the Writer’s Conference in Myrtle Beach South Carolina where, as I mentioned before, I had the chance to sit down with the literary agent of my dreams. I found her online and researched her background before I went, so I knew what kind of books she took on, but I never in a million years would have thought she might pick me out of the thousands of people at the conference to sit down and have lunch with. But, she did!

What I learned from the talk with her? I have to be honest, I left the conference very dejected and disillusioned because I learned that sometimes you have to learn to be commercial to be accepted rather than rely on your heart, which is hard to take as an artist and writer. I know this isn’t always the case because there are numerous writers out there still making a living on their art and some are far from commercialized.

I continued on after the conference, another two years went by and I finally secured an agent in New York. Again, the naivety on my part blasted me full in the face. Although my agent loved my work and claimed to have sent out my manuscript to numerous publishing houses, every time I asked for verification, well, needless to say, I never got a letter, an email, nothing to confirm what he told me he was doing. All his emails ever said is “St. Martin’s” said no, “Doubleday” said no, and on and on and on…

By that time, I already started work on research for my second and third novel, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I shelved everything from 2011 to 2015 and took up another of one of my favorite hobbies – photography – and my husband and I moved to the Georgia coast. We became wedding photographers and within three years we were voted #2 best wedding photographers in Jacksonville Florida on Thumbtack.com! I also took my artistic and love for storytelling into my photography and started delving into conceptual work. One of my photographs was accepted into an outdoor exhibition in Lithuania, two of my pieces were mounted in a gallery in Houston Texas, an another in Orlando Florida.

And the bottom fell out of my life. February 2, 2015; the most horrible day of my life. The day I lost my daughter and her husband by the hands of a drunk and drugged driver running from the police. They were only one mile from their home. The 20-year-old idiot traveled at 85 miles an hour down the wrong side of a four-lane highway and took them in an instant. He walked away with a scratch on his leg and is now serving 30 years in prison. But my life changed forever. My life, my husband’s life, my son’s life, forever snatched away and we now serve a life sentence of pain and sorrow.

Now it is 2018 and I am slowly climbing out of the despair and depression hole. I don’t think I will ever fully recover, of course, and I acknowledge this fact. I acknowledge that no matter what I do from this point on, nothing will ever return to normal. I am a part of “that group” now. I am now a mother who peruses the MADD website and who will forever carry a hollowness in my heart.

This brings me to the final reason I chose to self-publish. Disillusionment with the whole publishing industry to begin with, and now, grief overtakes me. We are not promised tomorrow. None of us know from one second to the next if we will get that horrible phone call or have a police officer walk up and knock on your door at five o’clock in the morning with a box of your child’s belongings.

I am content to write for my health and sanity and artistry and love. Whether I ever sell one book or a million matters less to me now. Death brings things into perspective in the most tragic way. I choose to do what makes me happy for I have so very few happy days now. Writing makes me happy, or rather a distracted peace I should say. Anything which distracts me from this hole in my heart and life I soak up like a sponge.

And why am I sharing this? Because as writers we often look for acceptance through our writing. We look for another person to connect with, someone who sees the world as we do through our words, and when another person does that there is a measure of joy and happiness which links our art to the world. My advice now to my younger self and to any other young (or old) writers out there looking to plunge into the mad mad mad world of traditional publishing? Let me first say that I am not against it and if you are one of the fortunate ones to hook a deal from a major or small publishing house, yay for you, but for the vast majority of writers who will never see a book deal I say: write for you. Write for your own heart and write what you love.

That literary agent told me no one reads anything having to do with Shakespeare and to a major publishing house, oftentimes, Shakespeare is taboo, but this is what I love. Writers should write what they know and what they are passionate about. I love all things Shakespeare, so this is what I write. I am not a commercial writer and I never will be, for I refuse to become a lemming writer who runs headlong into the ocean of erotica, or gore, or horror, or vampires, or werewolves, or whatever trend moves the reading nation.

My daughter would have loved my novels, and for me, that is enough.

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley

The Mind of a Master Discussing a Master

I decided to do some research on the editor of my grandmother’s college book “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, and get an idea of the man behind the research done in the preface and introductory analysis of each play, and I have to say, I am astounded.

Wikipedia describes him as the foremost authority on Shakespeare and Milton of his time.

Here is the Wikipedia description of him: Hardin Craig (29 June 1875 – 13 October 1968) was an American Renaissance scholar and professor of English. In his 65-year academic career, he served on the faculties of eight different colleges and universities, published more than 20 books as either author or editor, and was one of the few Americans to be elected to the Royal Society of Literature in Britain.

I thought how interesting it would be to continue posting direct quotes of his from the book while adding my own annotations in parentheses since it seems my blog is becoming more and more Shakespearean by the day. Or at least it is starting that way since I have the intention of delving more into Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, as well as some of my other favorite authors: C. S. Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ken Follett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Rosalind Miles, Daphne Du Maurier, The Bronte Sisters, and Jane Austen.

Shakespeare seems to be a good start to this blog, so I hope you enjoy the journey through Shakespeare, to feel the intensity my own heart feels for the plays and the passion that the words of the Bard can portray in these modern times.

(I love these words of Craig’s): “One does not approach Shakespeare as one approaches authors less well known, authors to whom the track has been opened mainly by historical scholars. The road to Shakespeare is a well-traveled highway. Every modern person who has any pretense to culture knows something about Shakespeare and considers himself in some sense an authority in the interpretation of such characters as Hamlet and Shylock, and usually has a firm rooted opinion that Shakespeare was a self-made man with a proclivity for deer-stealing. To ask a person if he knows anything about Shakespeare is to ask him if he belongs to a respectable family and has had any care in his upbringing. No author ingrained in popular thought as Shakespeare is, no author whose words are proverbs for daily use, can be properly studied without some attention to such questions as how he got into print and how his fame grew and thrived through the centuries.”

(Ah, so true…. opinions about Shakespeare are as common as the noses on people’s faces… and those of wanting to debate whether or not he indeed wrote the plays is becoming more and more common. There was a time when I believed he did not write the plays, but as the time passes, I have come to realize that my belief came simply from my in-depth research into my own novel “Blood and Ink” which delves into the possibility of Marlowe being the actual writer of the plays of the First Folio. When Craig says ‘Every modern person who has any pretense to culture knows something about Shakespeare and considers himself in some sense an authority in the interpretation of such characters as Hamlet and Shylock, and usually has a firm rooted opinion that Shakespeare was a self-made man with a proclivity for deer stealing,’ a smile came to my face. There is such a sacredness for those of us who love Shakespeare, especially those of us passionate about the man and the works, and after immersing into learning the beauty of his words and genius, we indeed feel like we have a firm rooted opinion and consider ourselves in some sense an authority in the interpretation of much of his characters and words.

But, in reality, none of us lived during the 1600s. None of us have had the opportunity to interview the very man, so all the authority and opinions any of us feel like we have, they are indeed just opinion and our own interpretation of our idea of what he may have meant in certain passages, what provoked his thoughts to write quips or scenes or develop certain characters, and what in his background added to his ability to create the incredible blank verse we are so fortunate to have before our eyes in this 21st century.

I have found that as an author myself, experience adds much to writing. My thoughts as to Shakespeare’s experience sometimes wavers and tick-tocks back and forth like the movements of a cuckoo clock. Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don’t, that he is the actual writer. But again, I remind myself on a daily basis, I am just a historical fiction writer, not a historian. I am content to remain an avid Shakespearean geek and leave the philosophizing of his authorship, his education, and background to those who, in reality, cannot, and will not, ever truly know.

I am content to revel and relish his words, no matter if they are Shakespeare’s or not. They inspire me… they make me feel happy when the words filter across my tongue. I think Shakespeare would smile at this thought because after all, isn’t that what all of us as authors wish? To one day, five hundred years from now, for our characters and our words to dance through a stranger’s mind and still, after all those passing years, years after we have passed off this mortal coil, for them to inspire another soul and to bring happiness to another human being. That is what Shakespeare is to me.)

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley

… AND THE CLICK BAIT WORKED ON ME!

So, I was scrolling through the feed and came across this cute little French Bulldog being hushed by a human finger. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I am easily distracted by dogs. I had to click . . . and I’m glad I did. Turns out, the blog post was by Aaron at Sword and Spectres, another book blogger who was challenged in this game. Even though he did not tag me in the game, I thought, hey, since I am starting author interviews on my podcast, why not start with me?

The rules are apparently: Nominate 10 other bloggers and that you should keep the same questions. Aaron said he would reward himself with a hot cup of tea and a few biscuits afterwards, which was the ultimate in English rewards and stereotypes . . . well, I’m all for that!! As an Anglophile, I will heartily partake of that type of reward.

So, here it goes, and afterwards I will tag 10 other book bloggers to follow suit if you wish.

1) Who is your all-time favourite book character?

Yikes, this is really really hard…. hmmm, I think I’m going to have to go with the character that has stuck in my memory the longest, and that is, Anjuli-Bai from The Far Pavilions. The reason? Well, this book is the book that started me LOVING historical fiction. I read this while in high school. On one of my trips to the local library I decided to randomly pick a book from a shelf and read it. Yes, I randomly picked The Far Pavilions, having never heard of M. M. Kaye from any of my teachers.

Her struggle against prejudice from both sides, from Indians and British, as well as Ashok’s (Ashton Pelham-Martin) struggle felt so authentic and real. Her strength and beauty made me think of India, of Kashmir, of the Himalayas, all encompassed in her eyes. I still think of her character to this day, some 40 years later.

2) If you were stranded on a desert island, which book would you take with you? (Survival books do not count)

A Bible. (Does that count as a survival book?)

3) What’s your most unpopular book opinion?

Not sure how unpopular it is (maybe after this post) but I am not a fan of any of Toni Morrison’s books, especially “Paradise“. Don’t get me wrong, I get it, some truly love her writing style. I admire her as a woman writer and success. Yet, I struggled with the cadence and sometimes felt lost in her words. I’m not sure why because I truly wanted to love her books, after all, everyone else does. I guess it comes down to taste… which, after reading Aaron’s take on The Lord of the Rings (which I adored) I guess it makes sense that that is the reason for so many different genres and literary selections.

4) What’s your weirdest bookish habit?
Hmmm, smelling the pages before I read? Of course, I think a lot of readers do this, so I think I might be in the majority.

5) What character would you bring to a family event as your fake partner?

LOL, not sure this would sit well with my husband but just for fun . . . maybe, well, Mr Darcy is a shoe-in . . . but, then again, how about Hamlet? Or maybe he might be a little too brood-y. I know, Sherlock Holmes!! Especially if he looked and acted like Benedict Cumberbatch. I love the bookish intellectual types and it would be a hoot to see him around my Southern family!!

6) What made you decide to start a book blog?

First and foremost, my love of books, especially historical fiction. There are so many out there to choose from and so many underrepresented authors that I wanted to do what I can to put in my two-cents, for whatever it is worth among the thousands of book bloggers out there.

7) What about reading and books do you love the most?
Escapism. As most people know about me, I adore Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland stories. I’ve been falling down rabbit holes since I was a little girl, creating stories in my head, and LOVING books with a passion. It never fails, if you are having a bad day in dealing with this mess of a world, a good Jane Austen or Bronte book can help you to escape!

8) What is your field of study/desired profession/current profession?
My current profession is as a full-time writer and being the best Nana in the world to my amazing granddaughter who helps me to remember Wonderland. I never went to college or a University since life propelled me down the path of marriage and motherhood. But through the years, I’ve immersed myself in the task of reading and studying as much as I can about the subjects I adore (i.e. Shakespeare, the Tudor era, and writing)

9) What are some book recommendations that became your favourites/obsessions?
I am obsessed with East of Eden by John Steinbeck; and I am obsessed with anything written by Carlos Ruis Zafon. Also, Outlander and The Mists of Avalon, actually all the books by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Zafon’s books are the most recent books that had me just rereading passages for the sheer beauty of the words. Right now, I am also enjoying the new works by Ellie Midwood about Auschwitz.

10) What is the book you shove down everyone’s throat?
My own, of course . . . and definitely, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon.

So, these are my ten things about me. And since I voluntarily accepting this challenge, I am going to opt for not nominating anyone else. However, I’d love for some of my followers who have blogs to do the same so I can get to know you a bit. How about it? Anybody up for following the click bait like I did?

Thanks for reading!

D. K. Marley – The Hist Fic Chickie

How to Enjoy Shakespeare

I found this passage while rereading Hardin Craig’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare and found the words immensely agreeable to anyone who might wonder how on earth to completely enjoy reading or watching the plays of Shakespeare.

There are so many I have heard through the years who roll their eyes and sigh with disgust at the very thought of attempting to read or watch anything Shakespearean. I am not of that opinion, nor have I ever been, but I can see if one is intimidated by the wordage or form or style of his plays and sonnets, how they might shrug off any attempt to give them a try.

The passage reads like this and after meditating on the idea Craig offers, maybe if you are not a Shakespearean fan, maybe this will give you the impetus to give him another chance.

Craig says, “All of this repeats from another point of view an age-old criticism of Shakespeare; namely, that he is an exuberant artist, that he is not restrained and classical. But this exuberance has been his chief source of power; we merely cite the facts in order to control, in the interest of a true and vivid appreciation of Shakespeare, idel and unintelligent speculation on the interpretation of Shakespearean characters and plots. We should learn to surrender ourselves so completely and so intelligently to Shakespeare’s artistic appeal that we, like the audiences for whom he wrote, can enjoy his art in spite of its conventions. In doing this we shall not need commentators who insist forever on doing the work over in needless paraphrases of plot and endless discussions of characters. We should put ourselves, if we can, into a sufficiently receptive mood to enjoy Shakespeare’s appeal to simple emotions,, though in doing so it may be necessary for us to suspend our demand for naturalism and philosophy. We should recognize that what we have is a story, told usually marvelously well, with the somewhat crude device of the Elizabethan stage; and that it is a story which, however replete with originality, was usually already familiar to the audience for which it was written.”

Here, here, I say… bravo!! Shakespeare was the Lin Manuel-Miranda of his day. For those Hamilton fans of the Broadway stage, Shakespeare used the devices common to his day to tell the audiences stories of history, of love, of hate, of violence, of jealousy, of joy, of lust, of betrayal, of innocence, of arrogance, of passion, of the travails of the ordinary man as well as noble. The invention of the human, as we all know is still happening on the Broadway stage and lesser stages around the world. The genius of Shakespeare is seen clearly today in our modern versions of Manuel-Miranda and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Craig also points out: “…the more nearly we can see as Shakespeare meant us to see, the more adequate will be our vision and the keener our enjoyment. Neither the Elizabethan writer nor the Elizabethan audience had a body of ideas like ours, knew what we know or in the way we know it, wanted the same things from life that we want, or thought of drama or life as we think of them… Since Shakespeare did not and could not think and talk in terms of such ideas, he should not be made to do so.”

Shakespeare was and is an artist, a writer, and for most of us who aspire to write even one percent of a tenth as Shakespeare wrote, we can understand the significance of allowing Shakespeare to simply be Shakespeare, the artist, and writer. As writers, we all make allowances for artistic expression and for the most part, seek to align ourselves with our audiences for the sake of commercialization. Five hundred years from now will audiences of that future look back on George R. R. Martin’s book series of Game of Thrones or Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth and think, “No, I will pass because the wordage and the style are just too complex or too hard for me to tackle.”

The thought should give us a moment to reflect. Shakespearean plays and sonnets are well worth the time and effort anyone might take to sit back and enjoy, whether by reading or watching. We have enough adaptations on BBC and movies to fill our bellies full of quality Shakespearean meat for any who wish to delve into the buffet without actually sitting down with a book. I have to admit, sitting down with an entire folio of his plays and sonnets is rather daunting, so I have listed a few of my favorite movies, and the links to buy, based on his plays for any who wish to give them him a try (in order from my favorite to least favorite):

Henry V – Kenneth Branaugh
Hamlet – Mel Gibson, Helena Bonham-Carter

Richard III – Benedict Cumberbatch (The Hollow Crown, The War of the Roses)
Henry VI, part 1 and 2 – Hugh Bonneville (The Hollow Crown, The War of the Roses)
Richard II – Ben Whishaw (The Hollow Crown)
Henry IV – Jeremy Irons (The Hollow Crown)
Henry V – Tom Hiddleston (The Hollow Crown)
Hamlet – David Tennant
Romeo and Juliet – Olivia Hussey
Romeo and Juliet – Leonardo di Caprio
The Taming of the Shrew – Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton
The Merchant of Venice – Al Pacino
Richard III – Lawrence Olivier
Hamlet – Kenneth Branaugh, Kate Winslet
Othello – Kenneth Branaugh, Lawrence Fishburne
Much Ado About Nothing – Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson
Twelfth Night – Helena Bonham-Carter
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfieffer
Titus Andronicus – Anthony Hopkins

I have yet to see an adaptation of Macbeth that I truly enjoyed, save for the possible one made years ago by Roman Polanski, but since it has been awhile since I saw that one, I left it off the list. These are my favorites. (addendum to this post: The newest Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard was, in my opinion, visually and intellectually fulfilling!)

So, my advice is to give Shakespeare a try again; who knows, perhaps with these words in your mind, the beauty of his verse may find its way into your mind and heart.

Thanks for reading! Please share and comment if you wish!!

D. K. Marley

Quintessence of Dust

Sometimes as a writer the creative juices usually flowing onto the page are dammed by the realities of the world around you. Ambition and creativity sometimes suffer in this way when an artist of any form cannot function unless words or paint or music is flowing without the weight of problems around them. This makes me think of the character Hamlet, who for all his faults and cowardice, possessed a stilted ambition because of the happenings within the walls of Elsinore. Hamlet was a brilliant mind, a man of words who found himself imprisoned within Denmark through no fault of his own except his own need for creativity to reveal his father’s murderer instead of simply peaking up. Thus, does the character reveal a little something about the man who wrote the play? Perhaps, Shakespeare, as well, struggled with life as a writer and actor. Speaking as a writer myself, we live in a world of make-believe, a world of our own creation, and sometimes because of the world’s we create, the attention to detail and human suffering, our eyes appear more opened to the problems of the world around us.

     I don’t know, perhaps it is a curse of creativity. We are mere humans crawling between earth and heaven, striving for the clouds, ambitious creatures seeking fulfillment on a page and acceptance from the world; a world, in truth, that doesn’t care and can pass you by unless you are one of the fortunate ones, the one-in-a-million lottery-hitting authors who snag a huge contract with a big well-known publisher. Yet, even then, yes, even then, does that guarantee happiness and fulfillment?

     For some, I suppose so; yet, we have so many examples of those for whom success did not give them completion. Virginia Woolf clamored for something outside of herself, something that words could not fill. When I look into her sad eyes, I see myself; yet different, because I do cherish life, yet I understand the darkness she carried. She owned the sadness of the world that she carried like a grain sack on her shoulders and ultimately, weighed her down in those waters where she took her life. Hemingway, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Kahlo, Sexton, all found solace in silence instead of the healing power of words and paint.

     There are times I can relate. I refer to the note written by Hunter S. Thompson, author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where he said, “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

     Sometimes when you get to the point where you are facing mortality because of middle-age, you do become greedy, or ambitious, for more. And as a writer, especially a writer who has not seen success for the very thing you have strived for your entire life, there is a certain amount of vanity, disappointment and boredom that comes along with the weight of watching the world around you. A creative mind always wants more, more, more. Even for those successful, something lacks in their success. My personal feelings is that those of us of that nature, who find we cannot wake without thinking of words, are looking for a perfection that will never come, and when we finally come to that realization, we either take our own life or we settle into a creative retirement in which we find that the world is not worthy of what we have to say. Many authors disgusted with the world and the politics of publishing slip into a void of anonymity; ‘Bound in a nutshell’ and declaring themselves ‘the kings of infinite space.’

     I find myself greedy for words at this stage in my life, and as I am determined to not travel the path of Virginia, yet I wrestle with the idea of seclusion. Who of us has not considered this? Who of us, this quintessence of dust, has not struggled striving to reach a far off dream? Gloomy words for this wordy passage and this passage of life. Forgive me for these words, but they are the most valuable thing I possess and the only thing I have to share; if anyone is interested.

D. K. Marley

Book Review – THE GIRL FROM THE MOUNTAINS by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

The Girl from the Mountains by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is a haunting reminder how things can progress from idyllic to horrific in the blink of an eye. First off, the first few chapters flowed slowly but methodically, setting the stage for Magda’s transformation of enjoying her serene family life with her parents and brothers to the captivating rush of the last chapters and her full-on resistance against the Nazis. The beauty of any story is to recognize the author’s desire to demonstrate contrast. Christina does this with skill. I liken this story to the movie “A Hidden Life” contrasting love against hatred, morality against immorality, and innocence against guilt. To put this into visual terms, this book is a visual fire, a flame sparked in the beginning, slowly burning in the initial chapters as more and more fuel is added until, finally, the story bursts into a bonfire. Magda never believes she is a warrior, a hero, but she is; a woman who is relatable to women today as well as being true to the time period in which Chrystyna writes. My favourite lines from the book:

“….where Swastika stamped flags snapped salutes to the wind.” (Great alliteration and visual)

“Everything about love requires an act of courage. Absolutely everything. But loving yourself perhaps the most heroic act a person can perform.” (Great line!)

“We all understand the difference between right and wrong. But what if wrong is the law?” (Hmmm, makes you think, huh? Especially in our modern day!)

“I believe a soul can die a thousand times before the body does. That’s a good thing because it means you have the chance to recover. So, today, right now, we must choose to live.” (I have lived this so many times, after losing my kids in death, so this profound statement will stay with me a long time.)

“We are shaped by our circumstances, and marked by our choices.” (Simply put, yes!)

I give this book five stars and highly recommend. Well done, Chrystyna!!

Now available on Amazon here:

IMPERFECT ALCHEMIST: WRITING WOMEN’S VOICES by Dr. Naomi Miller

I’d like to welcome Naomi Miller to the blog today for a guest post.

Dr. Naomi Miller is a professor of English and the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. An award-winning author of books on Renaissance women and gender, she teaches courses on Shakespeare and his female contemporaries, as well as on modern women’s adaptations and reinventions of Shakespeare. Her debut novel, Imperfect Alchemist (Allison & Busby, November 2020), focuses on Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke: https://naomimillerbooks.com/.

After thirty years as a scholar of early modern women’s studies, she realized that her work wasn’t close to being complete as long as the wider public had no awareness of the extraordinary women authors who were published and read in the time of Shakespeare. Imperfect Alchemist is the first in a projected series of novels centered on these authors, called Shakespeare’s Sisters – celebrating Renaissance women not simply for their relation to men (like the wives of Henry VIII), but for their own voices.

She was interviewed by the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast “Shakespeare Unlimited” – a great interview if you wish to listen here:

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/mary-sidney-imperfect-alchemist-miller

Imperfect Alchemist: Writing Women’s Voices 

Guest Post by Naomi Miller 

Many popular novels about Renaissance women picture them in relation to powerful men. One  need look no further than the steady stream of novels about the wives of Henry VIII, perpetuating a  phenomenon that I have named the “Noah’s ark approach,” which positions women in dependent  relation to famous men. Contemporary readers of historical fiction have missed out on an extraordinary array of women’s voices that were heard in their own period – both acclaimed and reviled – but then  silenced over time and excluded from the canon of accepted classics. 

My own projected series, Shakespeare’s Sisters, comprises six interrelated historical novels  that imagine the stories of early modern women authors from their own perspectives. These novels offer fictional engagements with an array of early modern figures, from queens to commoners. Historical women, including Mary Sidney Herbert, the protagonist of Imperfect Alchemist, are at the  center of the narratives, bringing their voices and experiences to life for modern audiences.  

Shakespeare’s Sisters centers on women whose lives and voices both shape and are shaped by  women, many of whom appear in each other’s stories. Spanning generations and social classes, the  series paints a multi-hued portrait of Renaissance England, seen through the lives of courtiers,  commoners, poets, playwrights and, above all, indomitable women who broke the rules of their time  while juggling many of the responsibilities and obstacles faced by women worldwide today. 

Imperfect Alchemist, the opening novel in the series, is an imaginative reinvention of the  remarkable life of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke – friend of Queen Elizabeth, visionary  scientist, advocate for women writers and scandalous lover of a much younger man. One of the earliest  women authors in Renaissance England to publish under her own name, the Countess successfully  forged a place for herself in a man’s world.

A member of one of England’s leading families, she carved out space for herself as a daring  and often controversial figure in a royal court riven by jealousies and intrigues. Her pioneering literary  and scientific experiments challenged many of Renaissance England’s established conventions – one  of the things that most strongly drew me to her.  

As an influential literary patron as well as author, she convened a literary salon of writers  whose membership included Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Ben Jonson and other authors interested in  testing the limits of literary forms. Her own play about Antony and Cleopatra is believed to have  influenced Shakespeare.  

Responding to the Countess’s role as mentor to a cohort of women writers – including Mary  Wroth, Aemilia Lanyer, Elizabeth Cary and Anne Clifford, all of whom will play lead roles in the Shakespeare’s Sisters series – I have imagined these women into her circle, their interaction with the  male authors inspiring visions of new possibilities.  

In Imperfect Alchemist, the fictional Mary Sidney Herbert is mediated through my knowledge  of her real-life circumstances and her writings. She was also a scientist, practicing alchemy in her  private laboratory to prepare chemical and herbal remedies. Although the Countess was a well regarded alchemist, no manuscript records of her alchemical recipes or experiments survive. I have  drawn on historical accounts documenting the detailed practices of other female alchemists of the  period present an authentic, if conjectural, account of her scientific work.  

As the acclaimed historical novelist Sarah Dunant observes, fashioning historical  verisimilitude, “like a pointillist painting,” lies in the details. Indeed, Dunant describes historical  details as “gold dust,” giving her readers confidence that they’re encountering worlds that actually  existed, thus grounding the novel’s inventions in a “multicolored” world.  

To lend a broader perspective than Mary’s point of view alone, I introduce an invented  character, Rose Commin, her lady’s maid – a country girl who brings an entirely different outlook to their intersecting lives. Trained to serve and observe, Rose proves to be both a keen judge of character  and a skilled artist whose drawings give new dimension to Mary’s own life and writings.  

Most of the characters in the book are fictional renditions of real historical figures whose roles  combine elements of their actual lives with my own inventions. The “supporting cast,” both real and  invented, adds three-dimensionality to the fictional storyline. 

Once I embarked on the first draft of the novel, I had to guard against my tendency, as a  scholar, to plunge down historical or literary “rabbit-holes,” enticed by fascinating details that would interrupt the writing process and might obscure rather than illuminate the story – dust rather than gold  dust. The most valuable advice I received came from a novelist friend who reminded me that “as a  novelist, your responsibility is to the story, not to history. Just tell the story that matters!” 

So what is the story that matters in Imperfect Alchemist? Most of the novel is written from two  alternating points of view: Mary’s, in the third person, and Rose’s, in the first person. As I was writing,  the story that came to matter the most was about both of these women, driven by sometimes conflicting  imperatives of creative expression and desire – one a quiet artist, the other an outspoken author – who  come to connect across class lines, learning truths from each other that they never expected to discover  about themselves and their world. 

The celebrated novelist Hilary Mantel maintains that “you become a novelist so you can tell the  truth,” and observes that “most historical fiction is … in dialogue with the past.” My driving aim is to  “tell the truth” that becomes visible in these historical women’s writings, and to put my own fiction  into dialogue with theirs. 

My goal has been to tell a story that imagines the perspectives of historical women in a world  that encompasses both known facts and imagined possibilities, illuminating the historical record without being limited by it. I like to think that the real Mary Sidney Herbert, alchemist and author, would appreciate my transmutation of her story.

Naomi Miller, “Imperfect Alchemist: Writing Women’s Voices”

Thank you for your guest post!

D. K. Marley

The Hist Fic Chickie

Buy the book:

The Author Roost – Join Sherry A. Burton’s Takeover!

In conjunction with the Historical Fiction Book Club, I am happy to welcome to the blog today, Sherry A. Burton, the author of The Orphan Train Series, during her author takeover on DECEMBER 14th!!

To join the author takeover of the group, to ask questions and to enter the contests, please click here:

The Historical Fiction Book Club

Sherry A. Burton is the author of The Orphan Train Saga novels, a planned eighteen book historical fiction saga that revolves around the orphan trains.

Join Cindy as she uncovers her grandmother’s hidden past and discovers the life that stole her grandmother’s love.

https://www.sherryaburton.com

The Author Roost – Spotlight with Edward Rickford

In conjunction with the Historical Fiction Book Club, I welcome Edward Rickford to my blog today along with his author takeover of the group on NOVEMBER 30th!! If you would like to join in the takeover, to ask him questions, and to enter to win his Chaucer award-winning book “The Serpent and the Eagle”, click this link and join the group:

The Historical Fiction Book Club – Edward Rickford’s author takeover – November 30th

Bio:
Since a young age, I’ve enjoyed writing. College gave me the chance to combine my interest in history and literature, and I now write HF.

Blurb:
Set in pre-Hispanic Mexico, “The Serpent and the Eagle” recounts Cortes’ famed military expedition and the ensuing conflict. 

Book links/author website:
Amazon:

Barnes and Nobles:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-serpent-and-the-eagle-edward-rickford/1137202100;jsessionid=A5E2608C5F9AE1B35CE9167DDDC00874.prodny_store01-atgap09?ean=9781735131900

The Author Roost – Featured Spotlight: Malve von Hassell

In conjunction with The Historical Fiction Book Club, I am happy to welcome Malve von Hassell to the blog today during her Author Takeover of the group on November 21, 2020. If you wish to join the fun during the takeover, ask questions, and enter contests for her fabulous books, please click here:

The Historical Fiction Club

Malve von Hassell is the author of The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) and Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020).

My current work: 

Malve has published two historical fiction books for YA and Middle Grade readers and has one forthcoming. She is currently working on a biography of a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany.

Links:

The Falconer’s Apprentice tells the story of Andreas, an adventuresome 15-year old orphan, who embarks on a precipitous flight across Europe to rescue the falcon Adela.  A crotchety falconer, a secretive trader and his feisty daughter, a mysterious hermit, a young king in prison, an aging emperor, and an irascible Arab physician are among the principal characters in this action/adventure novel, set in the 13th century. 

Alina: A Song for the Telling is the coming-of-age story of a young woman from Provence in the 12th century who travels to Jerusalem, where she is embroiled in political intrigue, theft, and murder, and finds her voice. 

The Amber Crane features PETER, an amber guild apprentice in the Thirty Years War in a small town in Pomerania at the Baltic Sea. He keeps a forbidden piece of amber and finds himself drawn into a world three hundred years in the future.