Monday, February 28, 2011

Neglected classics: East Lynne by Mrs Henry (Ellen) Wood

I think this book would have to come under the heading of “guilty pleasures” for me; the Victorian sensationalist novel I could not put down.  I’ll try to give a taste without ruining the plot.
When Lady Isabel’s dissolute father dies (an early death, of course), she is shocked to find her comfortable world crumbling under the weight of his debts.  A young lawyer, Archibald Carlyle, comes to her rescue with an offer of marriage.  Alas, the path of conventional motherhood and the vocation of being the ‘angel in the home’ is not enough for the bored, neglected Isabel, and she falls for the charms of the caddish aristocrat Francis Levison.  Thus begins a satisfyingly intricate plot fueled by passion, crime, ‘ghosts’, hidden identities, and of course fitting moral retribution for all sins committed. 
This was a bestseller of its day and spawned several stage versions that, between them, kept the story in the theatre for decades.  East Lynne offered many a Victorian lady, stuck in her own respectable marriage, a chance to enter forbidden worlds.  It also offered Mrs. Henry Vane, through her ‘respectable’ married name, an opportunity to explore issues ladies should not discuss, let alone write about.  And, now it’s a classic, you too can enjoy the melodrama while assuming the literary moral high ground!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

E-publishing: a reader’s perspective

The world of e-publishing slipped by under my radar for several years.  That is to say, I knew it was out there, but I had no interest in it and saw it as something very secondary to ‘hard’ publishing.  Recently, though, the involvement of fellow writers in my critique group, as well as the Kindle-Nook debates, drew me to explore some of the possibilities of the e-publishing world.  It quickly became such a big subject that I’ve decided to divide it into two: this article is from the reader’s perspective, but I’ll follow up with the writer’s perspective.
(Disclaimer (!): this is not a thoroughly researched article, but simply my sharing with you what I have been learning, and how my own responses to e-publishing have changed.)
When people first began predicting things like “Someday we’ll be reading all our books on computers,” my reaction was one of cynicism, if not outright hostility.  I spend enough hours at a bright computer screen, and I couldn’t imagine an experience less cosy or intimate than huddling over my computer—even a laptop (which is on my knees as I type!)—to read a novel.  It turns out that plenty of other people have that feeling, too, for lo and behold along came E ink® technology, which is designed to simulate the look of a printed page.
Amazon’s Kindle, and Sony’s Reader emerged, designed to give that ‘holding a book’ feeling, yet I managed to bypass them both.  But the Barnes and Noble Nook captured me.  Admittedly it might have initially had something to do with the fact that their colour scheme matched my own favourite shades of blue and green (advertising works, even on the media-savvy).  But, as I wasted idle time browsing for more information, I realized that an e-reader had several features that made it attractive and useful (remember, William Morris enjoined us to have nothing in our homes that is not beautiful or useful).
  • We travel a great deal, and this would cut down drastically on the hundredweight of books my elder daughter hauls back and forth across the Atlantic.  Given that more than once I have been charged for overweight suitcases, this is a big consideration.
  • We also wanted to encourage said elder daughter to read more classics, and this seemed like an easy way both to bribe her and to offer a good selection without sending our bookcases into therapy.
  • Our bookcases are overflowing (see above).
  • Classics are readily available in free or cheap versions (see above above).
  • Out of print books useful to my medieval research are being made available in electronic format.
  • The screen really is like a printed page, so no computer-induced headaches.
  • I can also put audio books on it, thus keeping my library together.
  • Barnes and Noble is already our preferred online bookstore.
  • I can purchase and upload books and files from other booksellers in formats such as ePub and PDF.

As you’ve gathered from some of the remarks, I did go ahead and buy a Nook, and I have to say I’m more than happy with it (and not being paid to say so).  Bear in mind this comes from someone who is very low tech, who barely uses a dryer for her clothes, let alone remembers to turn on her refurbished cell phone.  What additional features did I find I liked?  Well, I can download samples of books before I choose to buy them; it’s easier to use than my cell phone; and the wifi connection is probably better than said cell phone’s.  But best of all, it is curing me of a recently-acquired bad habit of skimming ahead in books.  And, being the size of a paperback, I can still curl up on the sofa with it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries... a book by writer Kathy Lynne Emerson that presents an overview of the entire process of writing historical mysteries.  It covers subjects from research, plotting, and language through to marketing and publicity.  It is written in a straightforward style, and each chapter is subdivided into easy-to-digest segments for those who want to dip into various topics, all of which are indexed in the comprehensive table of contents.  Emerson includes plenty of examples and advice from mystery writers, and a detailed case study of the writing process for one of her own Face Down mysteries.  Through it all, as the subtitle suggests, she manages to convey the thrill (or compulsion?) that keeps writers going, paycheck or no.  I actually had to remind myself to write a review of this book (for the Historical Novel Society), as I was so busy putting it to use.  It's an excellent introduction for writers starting out in the genre as well as a handy reference guide and encouragement for the more experienced.
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How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries: The Art and Adventure of Sleuthing Through the Past
Kathy Lynn Emerson, Perseverance Press, April 2008, $14.95, 9781880284926