soup, maples and other points of confusion

asdfg raises a good point:

Red corn soup. Does it taste different from yellow, white, or blue corn soup? I wouldn’t expect anyone except Elizabeth to distinguish between corn colors, since she’s travelled more widely than the rest and so might have encountered more corn varieties.

Although it might be possible that at high elevations in New York there might have been more than one variety of corn that grew there then, I would expect only one variety because I don’t think corn hybridization hadn’t started yet. If that assumption is so, then they wouldn’t really have known there was any other type of corn. Just corn soup. Just like in engineering the first widget is called a widget, then later variations lead to widget1, widget2, etc.

Ah well. You asked. And I could be wrong. ((asdfg asks good questions — sometimes hard, sometimes challenging, but always good))

Now, the truth is in this case that she might be right. It’s a good ten years ago since I did the research on the daily foods of the Iroquois, and I’m not sure I could reconstruct it without going back and reading dozens of articles and books. ((And the end result may well be that I got this wrong, anyway.)) Every once in a while a reader points out something like this, some point that I can’t disagree with. It makes sense, really, if you look at it the way she presents it. I am curious about where I got the term and why I thought it was solid, but I don’t have time at this point to go searching. Someday I will, though. And if you’re still there and I’m still here, I’ll let you know.

Every once in a while I get an email or comment from a reader who is disappointed in my research. Very rarely does it happen that I have to disagree completely, but it does happen. For example, the reader who wrote a few weeks ago to say how disappointed she was that I hadn’t done better research on the trees of the Adirondack forest, because if I had I would have found out that maples were not native to the area, were in fact invasive, and could not have been present in the time period I write about.

She was very sure of her facts, but I was also very sure she was mistaken. I went to consult my sources and also various university botanical websites and indeed, there are about fifteen varieties of maples native to the Adirondacks, including the sugar maple. There’s a lot of evidence that the various Native American tribes who lived in the northeast woodlands knew of, and took advantage of, the sap of the sugar maple.

After some thought I wrote a short paragraph in reply and included some links to reliable websites in making my case. I haven’t heard back from her, but I don’t know why that is. Maybe she has more evidence I don’t know about, or maybe she just didn’t think it worth her time.

In any case, I am always interested to hear from readers who have noticed something that slipped past me, or who have expertise in an area where I did not do sufficient research. Live and learn.

 

Into the Wilderness news

Really good news, too.

Next fall Bantam is going to re-release Into the Wilderness in trade paperback format (rather than mass market). There will be new cover art along the lines of the Queen of Swords dust jacket.  I’m going to find out if I can add anything to the author’s notes, which I would dearly love to do.

I’m also going to say right up front that the artist shouldn’t go overboard with the cleavage. I hope they listen to me on this. There are only two things that I don’t like about the Queen of Swords cover: the cleavage, and the fact that the artist seemed to forget that the character he was portraying is Mohawk and not European in appearance. The skin color and bone structure were more Elizabeth than Hannah, but it was supposed to be Hannah.

When I have the cover art, you can be sure I’ll share it.

This is as good a place as any to answer all the questions I’ve been getting about book six. There is a lot of gnashing of teeth and general unhappiness about the idea that this will be the last book in the series. You want me to rethink that.

I’ll state again for the record: it’s not up to me, it’s up to you. If book six doesn’t sell well, there is no way Bantam is going to offer me any more contracts. Which means y’all need to step up and buy a copy when it comes out. Sales alone will make the difference.

Also, let me be clear: I will not necessarily continue along with the Bonner family as I have to this point. I may take one of them and jump way forward. What I will not do is a prequel. Don’t yell. I just cannot do a prequel. None of the characters are willing to participate, and that’s that.

Booklist likes Queen of Swords

Yiiiippppppeeeeee! A really good review from Booklist:

Donati, Sara. Queen of Swords. Oct. 2006. 564p. Bantam, $27 (0-533-80149-X).

In the fifth volume of her popular Wilderness series after Fire Along the Sky (2004), Donati sweeps readers into two strong women’s personal journeys of rescue and redemption. It is 1814 in the French Antilles, where Scots noblewoman Jennet Scott Huntar is being held captive. But when her future husband, Luke, and his half-sister, Hannah, finally locate and free her, their troubles have just begun. To ensure the safety of her son, born during her imprisonment, Jennet had made a devil’s bargain with a dissolute, untrustworthy man. As the trio travels from Pensacola to New Orleans in their attempts to learn the child’s whereabouts, Jennet struggles to heal herself and her marriage, while Hannah, half-Mohawk, uses her medical training to help the city’s Indian populace and faces deadly illness herself. It’s both a smoothly written, engrossing adventure about an early American family and a vivid depiction of the little-explored War of 1812, yet it’s more than that. Donati also delves into much deeper realities, such as race and prejudice in one of America’s famously multicultural cities, the complex patterns of revenge, the price of loyalty during wartime, and the transformative power of love. Avid historical fiction and romance readers will devour it. —Sarah Johnson

edited to add this link to Sarah Johnson’s weblog

Seattle Times review

It’s a good one. Here’s the link, and the review too:

Great news for Sara Donati fans: It is time once more to immerse yourself in her richly imagined world. It’s been two long years since “Lake in the Clouds,” the third novel in her Wilderness series about frontier life in upstate New York (beginning with “Into the Wilderness”). Now the fourth book, “Fire Along the Sky,” advances the fortunes and trials of the Bonner family and their friends — and enemies — as the War of 1812 threatens all they hold dear.

In the new book by Donati (the pen name of Bellingham resident Rosina Lippi), the focus shifts from the heads of the Bonner clan (Nathaniel, a famous hunter, and his strong-willed wife, Elizabeth, a teacher) to the younger generation. It’s a complicated cast of characters. Nathaniel has fathered five children by three women; the youngest three of the five children are Elizabeth’s. Then there are all the subsidiary characters, most of them familiar from previous novels in the series (Donati gives a two-page list of the primary characters as a preface).

Do you need to know the previous books in order to enjoy “Fire Along the Sky”? It’s probably not necessary — but the more you know about Donati’s world, the better you understand the complicated motivation, history and interaction of these well-drawn characters. References to earlier betrayals, romances, disagreements and disasters will strike a chord in the longtime Donati fan that may be less resonant in first-timers.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. Donati keeps the plot moving at a terrific pace; there are deadly dangers, harrowing journeys, tense confrontations, life-and-death struggles. The day-to-day minutiae of frontier housekeeping and provisioning are regularly jolted with shocks of all kinds: warfare, abduction, drowning, unexpected pregnancy, violent death.

Her characters compel the reader’s attention. In the opening pages, the newly widowed Scottish noblewomen Lady Jennet voyages to Montreal in quest of young Luke Bonner, the man she originally wanted to marry. Then Luke’s half-sister (and half-Mohawk) Hannah returns after a long absence — without her husband or her son. It takes most of the book to discover what has happened to them, and why Hannah, a talented healer, is unable to speak about the tragedies that have befallen her family.

Then there are the Bonner twins, Daniel and Lily, who spend much of the novel estranged from each other: Daniel wants to go off to war but is seriously wounded and imprisoned in a Canadian stockade. Lily is a gifted artist who doesn’t always make wise personal choices; she is in love with a married man who is unworthy of her.

And there are fascinating villains. Jemima Kuick, a viciously amoral woman who wreaked considerable havoc in earlier books, returns for a stunning blow against the little society of Paradise. This character just might be Donati’s argument for the existence of absolute evil; Jemima is so willfully horrible that she’s too good to kill off (and Donati seems to be positioning her for a return in a subsequent installment of this saga).

Donati’s strong women characters are the heart of her books. They don’t just sit around and stir the gruel or knit the socks. They go charging off to infiltrate an enemy camp, operate on wounded soldiers, rescue kidnapped hostages. They speak their mind, often so bluntly that it’s a wonder there wasn’t more warfare on the frontier. Young girls or wise octogenarians, these are characters that tug at the reader’s imagination. After four “Wilderness” books, these women seem as real as your own neighbors.

Melinda Bargreen is The Seattle Times’ classical-music critic.