A Day of Fire: Finalist for the HNS Indie Awards

A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii (cover), by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn, and Vicky Alvear Shecter. "The best fictional account of the disaster that I have read." - Simon Scarrow, #1 bestselling author of the Eagle Stories

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning this before now. However, with the Historical Novel Society Convention only days away, I wanted to review the many reasons that I’m excited to go. First and foremost amongst those reasons, of course, is the chance to meet with my tribe of historical-loving readers and writers. I’ve made so many wonderful friends and learned so much about the past–and the industry–and this convention before that I can’t wait to go back again. Plus, since it’s only held here in the US every other year, it feels like an extra special treat. I’m so grateful for the hard work of the volunteer organizers in making it all come together.

Then there’s the fact that this year I will have the opportunity to spend time with five out of the six authors who made A DAY OF FIRE: A Novel of Pompeii, come to life last year. We will be missing Ben Kane mightily as we celebrate the wonderful reception our novel has gotten from the historical community–including being nominated for a coveted award. We are so honored and will be thrilled to be reunited in Denver. We’re also excited about the other worthy books up for this award too.

Michelle Moran’s Wonderful REBEL QUEEN

It’s been a long time since I last read a novel set in India. (My unhappy 9th grade experience with Siddhartha might have something to do with that.) Whatever the reason, I came to this book without expectation, and was easily immersed in a world before there was a unified India.

Rebel Queen is told from the point of view of Sita, one of the historical Queen Lakshmi’s bodyguards. Yeah. Seriously. There were queen’s guards. And they were women. And if that’s not enough to interest you, how can we be friends?

It’s through Sita’s eyes we see the increasingly difficult situation of royalty trying to negotiate in a world ruled by the British East India Company. And we come to understand just how it is that Queen Lakshmi, the Rani of Jhansi, became one of the all-time most famous fighters against British colonialism.

If you want a very rude but apparently historically accurate quick & dirty summary, consult Badass of the Week. But if you want the poignant, heartbreaking story read Michelle Moran’s book.

Because it is beautiful. It’s immersive. It’s compelling. It’s effortlessly educational. And it also doesn’t make easy dismissive judgments. The authorial eye doesn’t spare Sita’s cultural upbringing and its cruelty to women. Even by other women, like Sita’s poisonous grandmother who would rather have given her over to be a temple prostitute than allow her to become one of the queen’s guards. Moran’s authorial eye also does not spare the British for their dehumanizing of pretty much everyone from that same culture, and Queen Victoria in particular comes off pretty badly.

It was not only a good read, but I came away with a better understanding of how it is that we came to be where we are, politically, in the world at this moment. And that’s some of the highest praise I can give a novel.  More please!

A Regretful Review of THE LOTUS PALACE

Let me tell you what I regret about Jeannie Lin’s THE LOTUS PALACE. I regret every day that I didn’t read this book. Now, understand that I wanted to read it. I wanted to read it so much that I somehow own three copies–one in paperback, one for the Nook and one for the Kindle.

Now I think I didn’t buy enough of them.

So what took me so long? Part of it was the fact that I’ve let myself get into that writer-funk where you think you don’t have time to read. A recent convention where I heard Sylvia Day speak convinced me that was foolish. Writers don’t just write. They need to read. It’s the fuel and the tool that opens up our minds to new techniques and approaches.

And THE LOTUS PALACE does all that not just with its artistry, but by smashing romance genre expectations and drawing the reader into an extraordinary historical fiction world. This is a love story between a man and a woman, make no mistake. But the loving brushstrokes with which the author paints the bright world of courtesans and scholars in Tang Dynasty China speaks to a different kind of passion.

THE LOTUS PALACE pulls the reader into a murder mystery in a forgotten time that is both alluring and painful. I loved every detail. The lamps, the flowers, the tea, the pots of cosmetics, the silk sashes, the dragon boats. The way this world came alive was as sweet and surprising as a mouthful of pop rocks.

And that’s to say nothing of the pleasure of learning all the cultural details that are woven effortlessly into the fabric of the plot. The heroine, Yue-ying, is a woman with a marked face who wants to save her sister from being convicted of a crime she didn’t commit. She is helped in this endeavor by a supposedly hapless scholar who is smitten with her.

You probably think you have heard this story before. Or that you know how it will unfold. You don’t. Yue-ying isn’t a fiesty romance heroine with a wit that makes men forget about her marked face. Neither is she a sad mopey cinderella in the ashes, in need of rescue by a hero who sees her true beauty.

She is actually a rather quiet person of majestic dignity, housed in the body of a lowly serving girl. Reading about this former prostitute as she holds onto an innate belief in her own worth–in spite of her own cynicism about the world and her place in it–is captivating. In truth, even love itself, freely offered by a patient and earnest man of position, is a challenge to her sense of worth.

These are people who work hard for their happy ending.

I know Jeannie Lin–have worked with her and read her books before–so I know that she’s talented. I knew I would enjoy the book when I read it. What I didn’t know is that it would be a new level of awesome from her. Be smarter than I was. Read this book right away.

Apology

When I decided to write a mainstream historical fiction book about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy, it was in part, because of my continued frustration with people in our country who refuse to believe, even with DNA evidence, that Thomas Jefferson initiated sex with his slave, Sally Hemings, most probably when she was fifteen.

It has been my ambition, from start to finish with this project, to shed light on the devastation of slavery–a devastation that became more and more evident as we researched. And to make clear that the scars of that devastation are still evident today in our politics and our culture.

Racial justice is something that I feel deeply about. Something that I think deeply about.

But apparently not deeply enough.

Because after editing this book, I made a joke–which I won’t repeat in the interest of not offering new offense–thinking I was mocking our culture’s casual acceptance of women’s lack of consent in sexual circumstances.

Instead, I hurt people and sent a message that goes against everything that I’m about. It undercut what I’m trying to accomplish with my work. And with my life.

I’m a writer; it’s my job to pay attention to what my words are actually communicating. And I’m bitterly disappointed in myself for communicating in any way that would trivialize the very matters I feel most passionately about.

To that end, the post has been removed. I would like to extend my heartfelt apology. And I thank those of you who made me take a hard look at this.

I was wrong.

It will not happen again.