some questions and some answers re: the next novel in the series

I had a very kind email today from C.S. in England:

Dear Sara

I would just like to email you to say that I think the ‘Into the Wilderness’ series is just simply fantastic. I have only recently discovered them but have now read (and re-read) all 4 four books and have loved every one. I am now desperate for Queen of Swords! I have read a plot summary of the book on Random House’s website which tells me that the main focus is the Luke/Jennet/Hannah story. But I have two burning questions though which I would be so happy if you could answer: are Elizabeth/Nathaniel/Lake in the Clouds mentioned in the new book or is it completely the Luke/Jennet story? And, is the Queen Of Swords the end of the series or are you planning on writing any more?

As a UK resident, I am planning on pre-ordering the book so that it can be shipped to me straightaway!

Thank you so much for transporting me to a world of adventure and romance!

So let me answer the two questions:

1. While Queen of Swords is primarily about Hannah, Luke and Jennet, you will see something of [two other main characters] at some point. Also, there are lots of letters exchanged so even if you don’t see some people directly, you certainly hear their voices and know what’s going on with them.

2. It had seemed until very recently that this might be the last novel in the series, as publishers are very wary of historical fiction these days an not so keen about investing in it. However, Bantam raised the topic of another novel in the series and so we’re pursuing that conversation. It won’t be quick, I have to warn you, but at this point I can say that it is likely to happen, one way or another.

I’m so glad C.S. has enjoyed the story thus far. For some reason unclear to me, the books haven’t done nearly as well the Brits as it has with the crowd Down Under or here in the States. But I’m ever hopeful that more people will discover the novels, as C.S. did.

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a little perspective would be nice

I like most of Margaret Atwood’s work; The Handmaid’s Tale is on my list of 100 favorite novels. When I met her a few years ago (backstage at the Orange Prize ceremony in London) I liked her too. She was funny and engaging. So I’m wondering why this bit of news about her is so irritating to me.


The Raw Feed reports
that Atwood has invented a robotic hand called the Long Arm. This invention will sign her name. So imagine this: you get in the car, on a train or bus and travel to some bookstore or event specifically because you’d like to get your copy of [insert title] signed. You wait in line. When you reach the front of the line you find a mechanical hand, and a video screen. She’s sitting at home in Canada watching her Long Arm sign her name for you. A face in a box, a mechanical hand.

I know the woman writes sci-fi, but this just strikes me as silly. I do like to get my books signed by the author when possible, sure. Having a book signed by a hunk of metal just isn’t the same thing. And why go to all this trouble? The reasons to do this that come to mind are not complimentary.

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Grey's, and the relative value of money

I gorged on Grey’s Anatomy. Really gorged, but you know what? I don’t regret a minute of it. It occured to me sometime after the tenth episode I watched in a row that the reason the show works so well for me (and possibly, in general) is that I’m equally engaged by all the storylines. The central character (Meredith Grey) and her conflicts — yes, I really love all that. But I’m not disappointed when the story turns in a different direction, because I want to know more about all the rest of them, too. Not that I like them all; Christina infuriates me but I’m still oddly drawn to her.

Now I’ve got to get down to work, because I’m trying to write a difficult scene. I don’t have so much trouble writing attraction or conflict dialogs, but this kind of pivotal scene where a relationship takes a turn — aiaiaiai.

Robyn just sent me a link that I wish I had had years ago. EH.Net is a joint venture of historical economists at Miami University and Wake Forest, and where exactly where these people when I was writing Dawn on a Distant Shore? Part of what they do is to figure out relative values over time:

Calculate present value of money from 1257-present day
This currency converter produces present-worth values
for money through history, using a wealth of different
systems. It applies to the UK and US, and depending on
the method used, you can get price and value
comparisons all the way back to 1257.

In 2004, $1.00 from 1900 is worth:

$22.37 using the Consumer Price Index
$19.02 using the GDP deflator
$108.01 using the unskilled wage
$149.07 using the GDP per capita
$575.24 using the relative share of GDP

EH.Net also has a feature called Ask the Professor:

Professors who have done research in Economic History are volunteering to assist others interested in learning more about the field.

This makes me happy. For which I will not excuse myself; I am a historical novelist, and we are a nerdy lot.

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booknerd contemplation

It is probably no surprise that I am somebody who thinks a olot about books — and not just what’s inside them. The story is my main interest, but it doesn’t stop there.

Just about everything about books intrigues me. Book and cover design, typesetting and typefaces, publishing history in general and editorial history in particular. So for example I have more than one edition of Pride and Prejudice, some of them quite odd and old picked up at flea markets.

I was in college before I started to think much about different editions of the same book. Tom Sawyer was Tom Sawyer, whether he appeared on pulp paper or in a hideously expensive leather bound volume. It made no difference to me which edition I read, as long as it wasn’t abridged. Then I started taking literature courses and my outlook changed. I remember when I was told for the first time that I could only use the critical edition to write a paper, and the idea caught my attention right off. A critical edition is one that has been put together by a scholar who specializes in the work of the author in question. A good critical edition is true to the original, earliest editions, and will include notes on the original manuscript as well. For example, if the author kept changing one sentence back and forth from edition to edition. There will also be cultural and contextual notes — what was going on in the world when the book was being written, how it was received, how it fit into the author’s career and life.

All that and more belongs in a good critical edition. And after so many years of higher education, I am a footnote junkie. I do love me a big overstuffed detail ridden critical edition.

Some fifteen years ago or so I started noticing how big bookstores and publishers in general put out new editions of the classics on a regular basis. I remember once being in a store where a table was stacked with copies of Dickens, Austen, Cooper, and every other big name you can think of. Three bucks each or six for fifteen dollars. Printed on the worst kind of paper, shoddily put together. When my daughter was a little younger she used to pick up these books and ask for them, and she was always surprised when I refused.

I don’t buy used books — if the book is in print, and the author is alive, I buy it new. that’s a solidarity thing and also just plain common sense. If we are to survive as scribblers, we’ve got to support each other. On the other hand, I feel no obligation to buy new when it comes to authors who are dead for hundreds of years (unless it’s a critical edition, in which case the editor deserves to earn something). So when the Girl wanted a copy of the Odyssey, I went to a good used book store and looked until I found an edition from 1950, solidly put together, good quality paper, no obvious short cuts in production or editing.

Now publishers will tell you that they put out the classics in cheap form to make them available to a greater audience, but I don’t believe that. I think it’s an attempt to boost the bottom line, and in this day and age when publishers struggle, I can see why they’d try this. I still don’t think it’s right, but I can see it as a business decision. So if the Girl needs a copy of Jane Eyre or Adam Bede or the complete works of Voltaire, I will go find her a critical edition, often used. Which critical edition depends on the circumstances, but if you’re really interested have a look at Bookworm’s post on this question. She looked at four paperback critical editions of Jane Eyre: Penguin Classics, Modern Library Classics, Oxford World’s Classics, and Norton Critical Edition.

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