I’m thrilled to announce the first post of the two-month “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” has debuted! Author Susan Vreeland, preeminent writer of art in fiction, kicks off the series with her profound observations and reflections. Join us at the Historical Novel Society website each Saturday for an in-depth interview with a historical novelist who has explored the realm of art and artist in fiction. Where each writer shares fascinating details into this ever-growing literary niche.
For the Love of Art in Fiction click and read on… Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Susan Vreeland
And join the new Facebook group: Love of Art in Fiction
As of late, I’ve been interviewing historical fiction authors for the Historical Novel Society. Here are a couple of recent posts:
An Interview with Erika Robuck, about her latest release Fallen Beauty (debuted March 4, 2014). If you love the Jazz Age and eccentric American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay dive into this novel about a small town seamstress, Laura, who finds herself in an unacceptable social society position and forced into the world of the Bohemian poet. There is some exquisite prose in this novel. I recommend it.
An Interview with Deborah Swift, author of A Divided Inheritance. Deborah is a storyteller of the common folks’ struggle and the author of two other novels set in seventeenth-century England. But, A Divided Inheritance early on takes leave of England and transports you to Spain at the height of swordsman duels,craftsmanship, and training. This interview is fascinating and gives insights into behind the scenes of this well-written novel. Recommended.
Note: June 1st at the Historical Novel Society features page begins the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”,where for eight Sundays I will share an author interview that inspired the soon-to-be-published article “The Artist’s Call, The Writer’s Calling”, Historical Novel Review, May 2014. Stay tuned!
It is my pleasure to introduce and welcome author M.J Rose and her Gothic time-slip mystery Seduction. The story takes place on the windswept British Island of Jersey. Rose’s prose is filled with descriptive ambiance, art, mythology, psychology, and scent. The book explores the implications of reincarnation, and delves into nineteenth-century French novelist Victor Hugo’s life while on self-imposed exiled to the island. Hugo led hundreds of séances at his coastal home there, trying to make contact with his departed daughter Leopoldine. While the modern day protagonist mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, becomes entwined with Hugo’s past secrets and with a disturbed soul’s quest, which leads her deep inside the island’s mysterious Celtic heritage. I loved this novel. It was rich in poignant atmospheric detail and intrigue. It is a sensual and captivating read.
Here are a couple of my favorite lines from the book:
“To be a decent writer you must have both empathy and imagination. While these attributes aid your art, they can plague your soul.”
Now let’s venture into the story behind the story of M.J Rose’s engrossing novel Seduction…
Q: Where did your inspiration for Seduction come from?
A trip to Paris and Victor Hugo’s home there inspired me to read Les Miserables. I became obsessed with Fantine. I kept wondering if someone had inspired Hugo to create her? I started reading more and more about him. I read his poetry. Sought out his watercolors and drawings… But it was coming across a description of his belief in reincarnation and his experimenting with séances that made me decide to write about him… and the woman who might have inspired him to create Fantine.
Q: Will you tell us a little about protagonist Jac L’Etoile?
Founded before the French Revolution, The House of L’Etoile is an exclusive perfumery in Paris. The firm has over the centuries, developed some of the world’s most famous and beloved scents.
Jac L’Etoile has the most highly developed “nose” in the family, but at the age of 21 rejected the perfume industry in favor of becoming a mythologist. She studies and researches the origins of myths and presents her discovering on Mythfinders, an Amercian cable TV show. She’s also written a book of the same name.
Starting when she was a young teenager she began suffering psychotic episode and was teasted and treated for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. But it was when Jac was finally send to a Jungian psychiatric facilty called Blitzer Rath. Where she meets Dr. Malachai Samuels, who believes that Jac is not suffering any kind of illness but is instead having past life memories.
Q: In addition, will you please share with us some information about French writer Victor Hugo, who plays a major part in the novel, and his exploration of séances while on self-imposed exile on the British Island of Jersey.
So much about Victor Hugo’s life is as it appears in the book. His beloved daughter drowned while he was on vacation with his mistress for which he felt guilty for the rest of his life. Several years later he exiled himself and his family to the Isle of Jersey because of political reasons. While he lived in a house overlooking the sea at Marine Terrace he and his family engaged in over one hundred séances that he himself transcribed. The séances began because he desperately wanted to know his daughter was at peace. They continued because, as he said, he became obsessed with the spirit world.
Victor Hugo claimed to have “spoken” with all the entities I mention in the book – including Jesus, Napoleon, Dante, Shakespeare, and especially the spirit he called The Shadow of the Sepulcher. Hugo maintained that the Shadow asked him to write a poem to restore his reputation as a creature of enlightenment. And indeed in 1859, Hugo wrote La Fin de Satan (The End of Satan).
And that’s where the facts end and my fiction picks up. The particular bargain that my Shadow offered Hugo is not recorded anywhere.
Q: Please tell us a little about the Celtic roots on the Island of Jersey, as they are important in Jac’s story.
The Celts inhabited Jersey centuries ago; Visual proof of it is everywhere you look. The dolmens and menhirs and passage graves I describe are for the most part the ones that actually exist. These Neolithic monuments have been dated as far back as 4800 BCE. Sadly human sacrifice was practiced by these spiritual people in a time very different from ours. Jac’s begins to have what she calls Meomory Lurches which take pace during these tempestous times.
Q: In the novel’s “Afterward” you share about how you were finally able to write this novel. You wrote it differently than all your others you’ve written up to this point. Please share with us this fascinating story.
We sold the book before it was written and when it was time to write – I panicked. Sure I had made a huge huge mistake. How dare I take on Hugo?! And not only take him on – but write a journal in his voice? He was a genius. How could I even begin to conjure him? I wanted to buy my contract back but my wonderful agent convinced me to read Hugo’s letters first. Dan (Dan Conaway, Writers House) thought the letters might show a man who was easier to relate to than the brilliant novelist who wrote Les Miserables. Dan was right. Hugo was more accessible as a man writing to his son or friend or mistress. It was through those letters, he came to life for me in a way that made me think I could take on the book.
So I’d read Hugo’s letters and decided to at least attempt the book, I sat down at my computer. And froze again. There I was. Trying to write what a 19th century novelist and poet would be writing to a woman he’d had an intimate relationship with. And doing it on a 21st century lap top. After many false tries, something clicked. I picked up a pen ,a bottle of ink and a notebook and started writing the way Hugo would have written. Longhand. And 120,000 words later…. I finally put down the pen. It was an astonishing experience. Not sure I want to do it too soon again – but it was the only way I think I could have written this book.
Q: What type of research did you do to write this Gothic time-slip novel?
I am doing research all the time – I love it. In fact I often think research half the reason I write. So I have an excuse to do the research and learn all this stuff. Immerse myself in history. In things I don’t now about. As for when its time to stop and write – it’s different with every book – but it always sort of organically happens. I read everything I could about Jersey, Celtic lore, Hugo, France at the time and seances.
Q: Will you share us a bit about your next upcoming release?
I’d be happy to. We spend so much time writing the flap copy I think I should put it to good use:
Florence, Italy—1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fragrances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the potential to reanimate the dead. In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country but the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, Rene doesn’t begin to imagine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.
Paris, France—The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes he had collected during his lifetime. Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Florentin’s mysterious formula.
Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection. A woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.
This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.
Thank you M.J Rose for sharing about Seduction and your upcoming release!
Exploration of old and new historical fiction defined this past year. As I participated in the online course “Plagues, Witches, and War: The World of Historical Fiction” offered by the University of Virginia and led by author/professor Bruce Holsinger.
I learned the historiography of the historical novel traces back to the genre’s prototype, Cyropaedia, written by Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon in fourth century BCE. The book was a fictionalized biography of the life of Cyrus the Great of Persia. British journalist and literary critic George Saintsbury (1845-1933) consider it to be one of the earliest examples of the genre, although Saintsbury states that it was not intentionally written as historical fiction, but as a political treaty that happened to utilize the modern conventions: a story set in the past, imagined dialogue, and based on historical written accounts.
That said, here are my favorite reads of 2013:
1. The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green. Published in 1890, Green is the inventor of the historical mystery niche. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself holding your breath as you push to find out what happens next! And what a great book cover, adore it.
2. The Love-Artist by Jane Alison. This story is told in feverish prose and much of it reads like poetry. It is the imagined missing chapter of Roman poet Ovid’s life, “the why and how” behind this word-artist’s exile from Rome. It is a driving exotic read.
3. Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. I’ ll put this simply: I loved this novel. It is a spellbinding chronicle of the life of the German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179). I adored the subject matter, the story line, the characterizations, the settings, the writing, the pacing, the scenes: everything.
4. Seduction by M.J. Rose This is an evocative Gothic time-slip mystery. Rose’s storytelling is in a league of its own. This book is ambiance, art, mythology, psychology, and scent. Exploring the implications of reincarnation. And delving into nineteenth century French novelist Victor Hugo’s life while on self-imposed exiled to the British Island of Jersey. Where, he led hundreds of séances at his windswept coastal home, trying to make contact with his departed daughter. While the modern day mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, becomes entwined with Hugo’s past secrets and the island’s mysterious Celtic ruins. I loved this novel.
5. The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J Rose. Welcome to another of M.J. Rose’s incredible historical time-slip novels: some authors take us by surprise, by storm, as did this novel for me. I love the things the thriller brought together: art, scent, mythology, reincarnation, spirit. I read the novel in two sittings. Loved it.
6. The Passion of Artemisia by SusanVreeland. This is an important and fascinating story about Renaissance Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I wish for everyone to read this novel and to learn about the artist’s incredible paintings and life story.
7. The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin. While researching for a short story idea, I came across the work of Severin’s. This story is part history, part legend, part pure adventure. Severin’s is in a class of his own too. He recounts famous tales of lore and reconstructs the maritime crafts that sailed the famous protagonists through their harrowing journeys. This is the first book in a series of travel log yarns that are unforgettable and profoundly inspiring.
8. Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns. In this account of the American portrait painter, John Singer Sargent, you’ll be taken into the art world of nineteenth century Paris and coastal England. It is told incredibly from fifteen first person points of view, the personages that posed for his portraits. I loved the writing and voices in this book, along with poignant and insightful reflections of what the artist thinks and cares about.
9. The Art Forger by B.A. Shaprio. Suspenseful and imaginative this story plunges into the murkiness of the infamous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, still the largest unsolved art theft in history. It is a fascinating time-slip novel that lets you into the world of art and artists, craft, forgery, and the obsessions of the art connoisseur. What would you do for the sake of art? Recognition? To house one of the world’s greatest paintings?
1o. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara. I really loved this story: tension on every page as you live the plight of the female painter. I could deeply relate to the protagonist, the sacrifices one makes to create, how nothing seduces the artist more than the desire to bring forth images, and the electricity between artists.
I highly recommend these novels. If you like stories of the arts, creatives, adventure, and living passionately you’ll adore every one these!
To Read List: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J. Rose (releases April 8, 2014), Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland (releases August or September 2014), The Last Queen of India by Michelle Moran (release date not yet available),The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman: A Novel by Naslund Sena Jete, The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman, A Burnable Book: A Novel by Bruce Holsinger (releases February 18, 2014), Tierra del Fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre
I’m really looking forward to the new year. I will begin seeking representation for my novel CUT FROM THE EARTH in 2014! Woo hoo!
“The Sand Poet” is a philosophical piece about communing, the reality of impermanence, and the experience of non-attachment. A poet writes daily upon a beach, creating works that are pertinent in their moment: writing not to produce lasting works, but as a spiritual act of being. This story reminds and encourages us to recognize our nature, which is nature, to live and experience each moment, to unite, to be, and to let go.
To purchase issue #6 visit Amazon.com.
(A great Christmas present!)
“Lalitamba is a bold and innovative journal for liberation.From page to page, you’ll find the writings of saints, wanderers, prison inmates, and award-winning novelists. These are the mystics of our generation. They challenge us to live and to love without hesitation.The journal includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, translation, and artwork. Lalitamba was inspired by travels through India. The name Lalitamba comes from a devotional song. It means Divine Mother.” – Poets & Writers
On this day 258 years ago with the vast majority of Lisbon, Portugal’s population at church, earthquakes struck the city followed by tsunami waves and mass fire. The “Princess” of Europe’s capitals was destroyed. Today, the grievous day is often referred to as, “The Great Lisbon Earthquake”. I would like to send out a prayer to those who were lost on this day in 1755 and the subsequent months that proceed these horrific events.
My novel-in-progress, Cut From The Earth, strives to recreate Lisbon before the tragedies, while Portugal was at the pinnacle of its colonial wealth and at its height of artistic developments in tile making. I’ve tried to bring to life what it might have been like on this disastrous day, and afterwards — what was lost forever.
The exact origins of All Saints Day are uncertain. Although, after Christianity was legalized in Rome by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD, a common commemoration of saints and martyrs, of the known and unknown, began to appear in various areas and dates throughout the Church’s reach.
The primary reason for establishing a common feast day was due to the desire to honor the great number of martyrs, as there were not enough days of the year for a feast day for each martyr and many died in groups defending Christianity in the late Roman Empire. Therefore, a common feast day for all saints and martyrs seemed logical and appropriate. According to accounts, it was Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) who dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of all the saints and martyrs on November 1st in Rome, thus officiating the date.
All Saints Day in 1755 Lisbon was not only a day to attend mass, it was also a day to make offerings, to light candles, and was to be a day of placing flowers upon the graves of loved ones. Also, it was the day when groups of children went door-to-door before mass with cloth bags or baskets to receive chestnuts, pomegranates, and little cake-like breads called pão-por-Deus (God’s bread). This tradition of giving and receiving pão-por-Deus would become a vital link to survival for those that lived through the dreadful day and those that followed, as they fled Lisbon, begging for God’s bread in the countryside. Today may we remember the saints and martyrs and all those who have gone before us, while we prepare for All Souls Day tomorrow, November 2. It is a good day to read your favorite saint’s story (whatever your beliefs and affiliations) and to remember those who’ve come before us. Click here for recipe: pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)
Guest blog post by author MARY SHARRATT
Come Halloween, the popular imagination turns to witches. Especially in Pendle Witch Country, the rugged Pennine landscape surrounding Pendle Hill, once home to twelve individuals arrested for witchcraft in 1612. The most notorious was Elizabeth Southerns, alias Old Demdike, cunning woman of long-standing repute and the heroine of my novel Daughters of the Witching Hill.
How did these historical cunning folk celebrate All Hallows Eve?
All Hallows has its roots in the ancient feast of Samhain, which marked the end of the pastoral year and was considered particularly numinous, a time when the faery folk and the spirits of the dead roved abroad. Many of these beliefs were preserved in the Christian feast of All Hallows, which had developed into a spectacular affair by the late Middle Ages, with church bells ringing all night to comfort the souls thought to be in purgatory. Did this custom have its origin in much older rites of ancestor veneration? This threshold feast opening the season of cold and darkness allowed people to confront their deepest fears—that of death and what lay beyond. And their deepest longings—reunion with their cherished departed.
After the Reformation, these old Catholic rites were outlawed, resulting in one of the longest struggles waged by Protestant reformers against any of the traditional ecclesiastical rituals. Lay people stubbornly continued to hold vigils for their dead—a rite that could be performed without a priest and in cover of darkness. Until the early 19th century in the Lancashire parish of Whalley, some families still gathered at midnight upon All Hallows Eve. One person held a large bunch of burning straw on a pitchfork while the others knelt in a circle and prayed for their beloved dead until the flames burned out.
Long after the Reformation, people persisted in giving round oatcakes, called Soul-Mass Cakes to soulers, the poor who went door to door singing Souling Songs as they begged for alms on the Feast of All Souls, November 2. Each cake eaten represented a soul released from purgatory, a mystical communion with the dead.
In Glossographia, published in 1674, Thomas Blount writes:
All Souls Day, November 2d: the custom of Soul Mass cakes, which are a kind of oat cakes, that some of the richer sorts in Lancashire and Herefordshire (among the Papists there) use still to give the poor upon this day; and they, in retribution of their charity, hold themselves obliged to say this old couplet:
God have your soul, Bones and all.
Other All Hallows folk rituals invoked the power of fire to purify and ward. In the Fylde district of Lancashire, farmers circled their fields with burning straw on the point of a fork to protect the coming crop from noxious weeds.
Fire was used to protect people from perceived evil spirits active on this night. At Longridge Fell in Lancashire, very close to Pendle Hill, the custom of ‘lating’ or hindering witches endured until the early 19th century. On All Hallows Eve, people walked up hillsides between 11 pm and midnight. Each person carried a lighted candle and if the flame went out, it was taken as a sign that an attack by a witch was impending and that the appropriate charms must be employed to protect oneself.
What do these old traditions mean to us today?
All Hallows is not just a date on the calendar, but the entire tide, or season, in which we celebrate ancestral memory and commemorate our dead. This is also the season of storytelling, of re-membering the past. The veil between the seen and unseen grows thin and we may dream true.
Wishing a blessed All Hallows Tide to all!
Excerpt from Daughters of the Witching Hill
“At Hallowtide, Liza insisted on walking up Blacko Hill, as we’d always done, for our midnight vigil on the Eve of All Saints. Under cover of darkness we crept forth with me carrying the lantern to light our way and John following with a pitchfork crowned in a great bundle of straw.
Once we reached the hilltop, after a furtive look round to make sure no one else was about, John lit the straw with the lantern flame so that the straw atop the pitchfork blazed like a torch. With him to hold the fork upright and keep an eye out for intruders, Liza and I knelt to pray for our dead. In the old days, we’d held this vigil in the church, the whole parish praying together, the darkened chapel bright as day with the many candles glowing on the saints’ altars. Now we were left to do this in secret, stealing away like criminals in the night, as though it were something shameful to hail our deceased. I prayed for my mam and grand-dad, calling out to their souls till I felt them both step through the veil to bring me comfort.
In my heart of hearts, I did not believe my loved ones were in purgatory waiting, by and by, to be let into heaven. There was no air of suffering or torment about them, only the joy of reunion. My mam, young and pretty, worked in her herb garden. She hummed a lilting tune whilst her earth-stained fingers pointed out to me the plants I must use to ease Liza’s birth pangs. Grand-Dad whispered his old charms to bless me and Liza and John.
A long spell I knelt there, held in the embrace of my beloved dead, till the straw on the pitchfork burned itself out, falling in embers and ash to the ground. Our John helped my pregnant daughter to her feet, then we made our way home through the night that no longer seemed so dark.”
Mary Sharratt is an American writer living in the Pendle region of Lancashire, Northern England. Her acclaimed novel of the Pendle Witches, Daughters of the Witching Hill, is out in paperback and ebook. Illuminations, her award-winning novel exploring the life of visionary abbess and polymath, Hildegard von Bingen, is now out in trade paperback and ebook.
Visit Mary’s website: www.marysharratt.com.
Click here for: Soul Cake Recipe
Source: Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain
Thank you Mary for sharing with us, Happy All Hallows in Old Lancashire!