Historical fiction seems to be a trendy genre these days. I’ve written my share of historical fiction (Grace Note comes immediately to mind―I mean, if a book set in the twelfth century isn’t historical fiction, I’m not sure what is!).I’m launching my newest book today―Kat’s Kosmic Blues―and I’m wondering if it’s historical fiction to some people. The question is: when does a story qualify as historical fiction?
It seems clear that if a story takes place in the past and is fictional, it must, by definition, be “historical fiction.” But it seems that it’s not that clear at all.
The blurb on Masterclass that leads into Margaret Atwood’s class on creative writing says the following:
Historical fiction transports readers to another time and place, either real or imagined. Writing historical fiction requires a balance of research and creativity, and while it often includes real people and events, the genre offers a fiction writer many opportunities to tell a wholly unique story.
So, any novel that transports the reader to another time and place is historical―except when it isn’t. There seems to be a notion decreed by some parts of the online community that anything set 50 years ago or earlier is historical fiction. But really? If you’re sixty-five years old and lived through the period in question, then, for you, it’s not historical fiction at all. It may not be contemporary, but a story set fifty years ago won’t feel like it is in any way in the same category as, for example, The Girl with the Pearl Earring or The Thornbirds (to mention two of my favourites).
It seems then that what is historical fiction is a bit subjective. And what about a story that starts fifty-five years ago (1965) and sweeps you all the way to 1989? Historical fiction? Probably not. And that’s what I’m launching today.
Kat’s Kosmic Blues, the prequel to The Year I Made 12 Dresses, is really a contemporary book.
In these days of COVID restrictions, we really do have to find creative ways to launch books! Please join me here…
In 1848 a writer named B.H. Smart produced a book quite improbably titled: Manual of rhetoric: with exercises for the improvement of style or diction, subjects for narratives, familiar letters, school orations, &c.: being one of two sequels to “Grammar on its true basis”. It was published in London by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans and is reputed to be the oldest publication that could be reasonably described as a writing manual. Since then, manual after manual has been produced with the objective of improving writing everywhere.
Today, all you need to do is plug the search term “writing manuals” into Amazon’s search function and you’ll be greeted with almost 12,000 hits; if you plug in “writers’ guides” you’ll be rewarded with almost 19,000. Within these search results there are the direct successors of Smart’s manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style (originally published in 1906) which, along with the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, is one of the go-to, required writing manuals for academic and scholarly writers throughout the English-speaking world. In addition to these specific style guides there are books for poets, science and technical writers, novelists, memoirists, romance writers, creators of creative non-fiction and every other conceivable type of writer one could imagine. From the style guides and how-to manuals for specific genres the writers’ guides begin to become more esoteric with books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life, and Natalie Goldberg’s iconic Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, to the more recent offering from Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft where writers weave their personal stories around writing advice to inspire would-be writers. If you’re a writer or aspiring writer yourself, you probably own a few of these – or at least in my view, you should! All of this seems to be in spite of American journalist and writing guru William Zinsser’s pointed comment in his own best-selling writing guide On Writing Well, that most people have no idea how poorly they write.
Poor writing or not, the rush to publish in the 21st century is more like a torrent where the flood-gates, in the form of agents and editors, are no longer needed to stop the outpouring of book-length publications, for better or for worse. Writers are flocking to self-publishing with a vengeance. A quick troll through the social media communities, groups and networks of “writers” suggests that the era of co-dependency is upon us in a way never before imagined as writers look to one another for guidance and moral support in their publishing endeavors. Rather than being connected to publishers, mentors or readers, they are connected to other writers – all as unknown as they are.
What’s truly puzzling, though, is how no one seems to notice their members who are spelling, grammar and stylistically-challenged, not to mention devoid of talent. At least they’re not admitting it with their continual five-star reviews of every piece of drivel produced by their peers. Yet, within all of this publishing-related noise, there are truly unique and important voices that need to find a way out of the slush. What they all need is a reality check. I’d like to help to provide that. And help those unique and important voices find their way out of the noise. So, I’ve written yet another manual – well it’s sort-of a manual.
The purpose of my new book is to provide a tough-love reality check on the vagaries of the new publishing models for aspiring writers while at the same time providing you with a kind of road map based on my experience as a writer, writing teacher, traditionally-published author and indie author.
For my blog readers who have been here a while, you might recognize some of the foundational material in the book – it did evolve from this blog (there’s a whole other story, isn’t it? Turning blogs into books. I could tell you…). There is a whole lot more, though, and I’ve tried to tell readers my own story of making it onto the traditional publishing merry-go-round, and then dabbling in self-publishing. Along the way, I learned a lot and this experience, coupled with my research over the years as as a university prof, has resulted in this book.
Here’s the book trailer. Let me know what you think.
Earlier this week Jennifer Alsever wrote a piece for CNN Money called “Guerrilla Marketing for Books.” A cautionary tale for would-be authors, it tells the story of shrinking promotional budgets at traditional publishing houses and the lengths to which authors now must go to get their books to stand out from the ever-increasing numbers of both traditionally and self-published books. The truth is, it has been ever thus – unless you are a big-name author.
One tactic mentioned in the story is of an author who commissioned a jewelry artist to make necklaces that are featured on her book’s cover as well as a new perfume based on one of her fictional characters. The amount of work and money involved for an author in doing this is staggering to consider. This, however, reminded me of an event in the provenance of one of my recent ‘new’ books Confessions of a Failed Yuppie. Stick with me for a few minutes!
If you’ve been reading Backstory for a few years or even months, you might have realized that the “backstory” I’m trying to tell is the anchor of my own experience in writing and publishing. More than that, though, my objective is to explore the issues that are important to all of us who are more than passingly interested in reading – and writing. Sometimes I rant about things that have annoyed me; sometimes I tell you a story of my experience. Sometimes I tell you a real backstory to my writing: what inspired it, how it developed, what happened next. This post is one of those true backstories.
In the early 1990’s I was on a rant about the Yuppie lifestyle. So I decided to write a book about it – but rather than a non-fiction examination of the phenomenon, which would have been more akin to my writing experience at the time, I decided to write a novel – a satire of sorts. I felt strongly, though, that I wanted it published no matter what, so I did what self-publishing authors did at that time, I sent it to a vanity publisher. (For the working definition of a vanity publisher, you might want to surf back to last week’s post: The confusing world of 21st century publishing jargon: A glossary for writers).
In due course, a box full of hard-cover copies of Yuppie arrived on my doorstep. What to do with them? Those were the days before book promotion through online networking channels was de rigeur. Indeed, there were no social media channels. Just imagine such a world! I decided that the first order of business would be to have a book launch. But before the launch, I’d need some “merchandise.”
I created a design for the front of T-shirts and for mugs and had dozens of these pieces of paraphernalia created – all at my own expense, of course – and had them available on the day of the pary. I also had a poster-sized blow-up of the cover of the book so that it could be the focal point of the party, next to the book-shaped cake that adorned the dining room table. I then created a guest list and sent out invitations.
As parties go, the event was a great success. We had door prizes of T-shirts that the guests obligingly sported and everyone went home with a signed copy of the book.
As the weeks went by, a number of the guests told me that they had enjoyed the book and when was I going to write another one?
The book, naturally enough, never sold. Getting a self-published book reviewed in those days was not next to impossible, it was completely impossible. And since there were no social networks available to promote it, short of taking out advertisements at great expense (I did that once) and going door-to-door with a pile of books (which didn’t sit well with my personality), the book would languish with thousands of others. And so it did. Until last year.
Writers have lots of finished and unfinished manuscripts hiding on their hard drives or taking up space in filing cabinets. I know that most of us should toss most of it, but sometimes a manuscript draws us back and that’s how I felt about Yuppie.
So, I took out the hard-cover copy with its tattered edges and began to write rewrite the book. It’s now a 21st century Yuppie story, and taking advantage of the digital advances, I decided to make it available once again.
Two decades in the making, Confessions of a Failed Yuppie lives again, and it starts with a definition of Yuppie:
“YUPPIE”: A Definition
Acronym for Young Urban Professional, usually occurring in a married pair (often male/female but not necessarily). Categorized as upper middle class or at least moving in that direction, ambitious, well-educated. Characterized by excessive concerns about appearances. Lightly narcissistic. May have money or at least leverage. But not necessarily. Normal habitat is the urban condo, sometimes the single-family dwelling of dubious heritage in a downtown area with a postage stamp for a yard, for which a bidding war took place prior to acquisition. Yuppies with children often move to larger, more impressive dwellings. Diet consists mainly of cocktails, organic kale and the latest gastronomic fad. Would not be caught dead in a North-American-produced automobile brand. Skis in winter, does hot yoga, plays squash (it’s making a come-back), and quietly brags all year round. Widely thought to have become extinct in the early 1990’s. Not so much.