Tag Archives: The Hist Fic Chic

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.

Author Takeover with Trisha Faye

In conjunction with The Historical Fiction Club’s Author Takeover, I am welcoming Trisha Faye to my blog today as a featured spotlight author. If you wish to join her takeover on the club on NOVEMBER 14TH, please follow this link and join:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/historicalfictionbookclub/

Bio: Trisha Faye’s passion is writing about people and places of the past.

Blurb: Trisha Faye’s latest book, 100 Years of Christmas, celebrates Christmas through the eyes of seven different women, each finding out what truly matters in life.

Release date: November 3rd.

Website: www.trishafaye.com

Trisha’s Tidbits – Free story snippets every week, publishing news, book sales and more

Pages of the Past – Celebrating historical fiction, author interviews, short story contests, and more

www.trishafaye.com

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/trisha.faye.5

Twitter: @texastrishafaye

I Adore “The Hollow Crown”!!

There is a good thing about getting sick. You are forced to lay in bed or on the couch and binge watch some really great shows (plus do some writing if your brain can focus out of the fog of pain).

I must say, I am completely and utterly enamored with the portrayal of these Shakespeare plays on BBC. And I came across them quite by accident a while ago, while researching some things on Shakespeare for my novel, The Prince of Denmark. Needless to say, my husband thought I lost my mind when I jumped up from my sickened state yelling, “Hurry up, buy this for me! I just found this on Amazon and I need this now!!”

He did, and we spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday night watching the series The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses, which covers the plays Henry VI, Part One and Two, and Richard III. We were both speechless after watching them.

I thought I would post the brief synopsis of the series for anyone who reads this and is looking for a 16th-century story told about 15th-century history.  When Shakespeare wrote these plays the history was only about 200 years old. My husband said it would be like writing something today about the history that happened in the early 1800s. Interesting, huh?

Here is the synopsis:

These three screen adaptations, Henry VI in two parts and Richard III, tell the story of The Wars of the Roses, an exceptionally turbulent period in British history. Shakespeare’s plays are filmed in the visually breathtaking landscape and architecture of the period. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Sally Hawkins, & Sophie Okonedo, these exhilarating and emotionally charged films feature some of Shakespeare’s most eloquent and powerful language.

Don’t even get me started on how I feel about Benedict Cumberbatch. And he plays Richard III…. need I say more? As well as, Judi Dench and Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey plays the Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of Henry VI).

In other words, history synopsis goes like this: Henry IV seized the throne, thus the throne of England passed to his son, Henry V, and on to Henry VI; but there were other claimants to the throne who had better right, such as the Duke of York who claimed right not only through his father but his mother, as well; and the Duke of Somerset who claimed right through the third son of Edward III, his great-grandfather). Although, Henry VI still had right from the same third son of Edward III (his great-great grandfather). So, the throne switched from hand to hand over 40 years. Much to-do about a red rose and a white rose, a lot of blood spilled, wars fought, back-stabbing women, ambitious men, and all for the one English throne. Take a break from “Game of Thrones” and watch the history of the real-life game of thrones!

And here is the link on Amazon if you are interested in buying (which I most heartily recommend!!)

The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses

Oh, my! As I was looking up the link for this one, I just discovered that there is a first season of The Hollow Crown!! Jumping up and down, again!! Wanna guess what I will be doing this weekend?

A “Just Hatched” Book- The Girl with the Silver Star by Rachal Zolotov

Rachel Zolotov was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri as a first generation American born into a Belarusian family. Rachel has a passion for antique jewelry, art, reading, cooking and history. She started her career as a Gemologist and Jewelry Designer, and studied Hand Engraving in Austria.

After the births of her children, Rachel felt the desire to research her own lineage and was inspired to uncover the puzzle pieces of the journey her ancestors had taken during WWII. She wrote The Girl with the Silver Star in hopes of teaching and sharing what she discovered with future generations.

In her free time, you can find her snuggling up with a good book and a large cup of tea. Rachel lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and two beautiful daughters. If you would like to learn more, please visit RachelZolotov.com

Back Cover 

For the readers of The Nightingale and Lilac Girls, inspired by the true story of the author’s great-grandmother’s journey during World War II, The Girl with the Silver Star is the extraordinary story of a mother’s love and will to survive during one of history’s darkest time periods.

As a hailstorm of bombs begins to shatter the city of Minsk in Belarus, Raisa and her family run through the darkness of night to take cover. When Raisa, Abraham, and their daughters, Luba and Sofia, emerge from the bomb shelter, they find an unfamiliar city before them; chaos and terror burn in every direction. Fearing for their lives, they must leave at once to find the rest of their family. But before they are able to escape, Abraham is conscripted into the Russian Army and the family is forced to part ways. Raisa’s love and strength are put to the ultimate test as she finds herself on her own with her two young daughters in tow. How will she manage alone without her soulmate by her side?

Relying on hope, resourcefulness and courage, they walk, hitch hike and take trains heading for Uzbekistan, over 2,500 miles from home. Along the way they run from bombs, endure starvation, and face death.

Raisa finds solace in the women around her. Her mother, sisters, old friends and new help carry her through the difficult war years, but Raisa’s longing to reunite with Abraham still rages inside her heart. Will they ever see each other again? Will Raisa and her family find their way back to their homeland?

The Girl with the Silver Star is a captivating journey through war-torn Soviet Union as it illuminates a unique part of WWII history, the female heroes. Raisa’s journey is a tribute to the nameless women, their determination, bravery, grief and unwavering love during impossible times. Their stories shouldn’t be forgotten.  

Release date: 

November 17th, 2020

Book & Author Links:

Amazon Pre-Order: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08GYJTKDF

Author Website: RachelZolotov.com   

Goodreads: goodreads.com/book/show/55164510-the-girl-with-the-silver-star

Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorRachelZolotov

Editorial Review:

“So many books are written about concentration camps and Jewish ghettos, but there are very few accounts that show the Soviet side of Jewish refugees’ tragic history, and meanwhile, such stories shed light on the events that definitely need to be studied and discussed. Eye-opening, meticulously researched, and so very inspiring, The Girl with the Silver Star is a true must-read. Highly recommended!” –Ellie Midwood, USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author  

Historical Leadership in Fiction: Writing Great Leaders by Clare Rhoden

BY Clare Rhoden

In these uncertain times, we are all looking for great leaders.

When I wrote a novel about Australians in the World War One (WWI), I discovered that there are many different interpretations of good leadership.

It’s a bit of a cliché in Britain that the WWI leaders let their men down. You might remember the joke from Blackadder Goes Forth about an attack being ordered because General Haig wanted to move his drinks cabinet six inches closer to Berlin.

It’s not quite the same for us downunder. We still revere John Monash, William Birdwood and Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott – we saved our greatest disgust for their superiors from Britain, fairly or unfairly. For the Australians, good leadership was essential to any success, because alone of all the combatant nations in the conflict, ours was an entirely volunteer force. Leading volunteers is different. I had to research how various styles of leadership look in fiction, before I could convincingly create effective characters in my own novel.

I checked out Shakespeare’s great leaders. The Bard knows that simply naming a man ‘leader’ is not enough. Look how he portrays Richard II and King Lear: they fail to act their kingly parts and come to sticky ends. Richard III and MacBeth use their power for personal gain with the same result. Gathering treasure for yourself would be fine for a leader in Alexander’s Macedonia, but not in Shakespeare’s day, or ours. Coriolanus, even while leading from the front, separates himself from his emotions and becomes too distant from his followers. He ends up despising them, and they rise up against him. Again, he comes to sticky end.

However, Henry V is successful and heroic. He can relate to ordinary people as well as high-caste advisers, and he links his emotions with his responsibilities. Henry V has confidence in himself and instils it in others (‘once more …’). He instigates change and takes the long view rather than the easy road. He doesn’t lie, even in dire circumstances. Most importantly, Hal can invest dreadful situations with coherence and meaning (‘we few, we happy few …’). I needed somebody with this kind of leadership in my novel.

Maybe it’s what the world needs now.

About the author

Clare Rhoden is an author and book reviewer living in Melbourne Australia. Her historical novel The Stars in the Night follows the adventures of one South Australian family through the First World War. The novel was based on her PhD studies into leadership in Australian WWI narratives, and was inspired by the experiences of her grandparents who emigrated to Adelaide in January 1914.

Clare has also written a dystopian trilogy The Chronicles of the Pale, inspired by the worldwide refugee and climate crises. Strangely enough, dystopia and WWI seem to go well together.

She reviews for her website, for Aurealis magazine, and for the HNS website.

Links:

Website: clarerhoden.com

Blog: https://clarerhoden.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clareelizabethrhoden

Instagram: @ClareER

Books:

The Stars in the Night The Chronicles of the Pale

Taking a Stand with Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger



Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is an American ex-pat living in western Austria (“cows, not kangaroos”). Her first trip to South Tyrol over the Reschen Pass included the discovery of a medieval church tower sticking out of the water off the shore of the reservoir. She knew she had a story she had to write. What was beneath the lake? It took her some ten years to learn enough German to start the research for the Reschen Valley series – a story of corruption, greed and prejudice, but also of a fierce love for homeland and community. The Reschen Valley series consists of six books. Four are published  (including a prequel) and the next one, Two Fatherlands, is now on pre-order. Her last book in the series will deal with the South Tyrolean Freedom Party in the Sixties; one could say an Austro-Italian version of the IRA.
Synopsis:

How do you take a stand when the enemies lurk within your own home?

1938. Northern Italy. Katharina, Angelo, and Annamarie are confronted by the oppressive force created by Mussolini’s and Hitler’s political union. Angelo puts aside his prejudices and seeks alliances with old enemies; Katharina fights to keep her family together as the residents in the valley are forced to choose between Italian and German nationhood with neither guaranteeing that they will be able to stay on their land, and Annamarie finds herself in the thick of a fascist regime she thought she understood.

By war’s end, all will be forced to choose sides and none will escape betrayal.

Book Link: books2read.com/TwoFatherlands4