historical thrillers

I’ve been trying to come up with a list of historical thrillers that have been commercially successful, but I haven’t got very far.

The Name of the Rose, The Alienist … there must be others that have hung on the best seller list for a while. I can think of quite a few novels that deserve to be read more widely than they are, but that’s not what I need at this moment in time. I can also come up with a couple alternative history thrillers — Fatherland, for example, that is set in Europe thirty years after Hitler won WWII.

Usually thrillers have a murder in there somewhere, but are otherwise known for fairly quick action and lots of twists. And often a really distinct primary (good guy) character with a lot of personality. Sometimes this kind of story is based on actual events. Sort of historical fictionalized true crime.

Can you think of any? That is, a novel set in the past (pre WWII) that enjoyed a lot of commercial success. At this moment I’m not worried about critical success.

music

[asa book]B000002NBY[/asa] Wolfy and asdfg have both asked about music — what I like, what I listen to, if I listen while I’m writing.

It’s odd and a little embarrassing to admit that over the last ten years or so I have simply got out of the habit of music. I have to have quiet when I’m working, and otherwise it just never occurs to me to put on a cd or turn on the radio. In the car I listen to books on tape.

How this happened I can’t say, but it’s pretty entrenched at this point. No time for music, period. I can’t divide my attention between music and anything else, and there’s always other things to do.

However. That doesn’t mean I don’t like music.  There are many kinds of music I really do love. Some examples:

Friends have been sending me the Oxford American for  a good long while now, and I especially look forward to the annual music issue with a cover-mounted cd of  Southern music  (and the magazine is really, really worth reading.)

My affection for Springsteen is a life-long thing; I can say the same (brace yourself, I’m about to date myself) for James Taylor and Billy Joel.

I adore Mary Chapin Carpenter and Alison Krauss and EmmyLou Harris. I’m an easy mark when it comes to harmony. Dixie Chicks, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Queen: what’s not to love?

If I’m in a store and there’s music playing, there are certain songs that will stop me in my track to listen. Stuff that has personal significance for me. Pretty much any track from Graceland; The Boys of Summer, American Pie, the list goes on and on. But it doesn’t occur to me to play these things at home.

There are classical composers I like a lot too. Sebelius, Bach, Prokofiev, Mozart… eclectic tastes.

A related tic of mine: I love dance movies. That is, movies about dance. I’m not so crazy about musicals where people dance (I remember almost falling asleep once during Oklahoma!) but if the movie is about dance itself, no matter how bad or good as a movie, I will be transfixed. Examples of bad, blah and great movies I watch over again for the   dancing: Flashdance. Footloose. Billy Elliot (the last five minutes especially); Strictly Ballroom, Stomp the Yard, Dirty Dancing, Save the Last Dance, Swing Kids, Saturday Night Fever, Havana Nights, Dance with Me, etc etc.

You don’t have to tell me I’m strange, I know that already.

Miss Zula

spring 2007
My camellias are all blooming; the magnolia tree is in full flower. The rest of the garden is a disaster. But one thing at a time.

On another front, I got some feedback on Tied to the Tracks which I have been trying to process:

I wanted Miss Zula’s story. I wanted to hear her voice. I wanted her sister’s story. Those were the storylines that interested me, and there wasn’t enough of them.

I’ll try to reflect back what this reader is telling me:

This reader would have liked Tied to the Tracks better if it had been all about Miss Zula and her family, from Miss Zula’s POV.

Some time ago I posted about my old friend from grad school, Steve Huff, and what happened at his doctoral dissertation defense. That post was about the way readers sometimes respond to authors, and how authors respond back.

So my first impulse is to write back to this person with this set piece:

I see your point, that would be an interesting story. If you’d like to advance me $100,000 for approximately two year’s work with the standard Author’s Guild contract in place, I’ll see what I can do.

On the other hand, I do appreciate the fact that my secondary characters made such an impression. So I’m going to do something I rarely try to do: I’m going to say something about my intent in how I wrote TTTT. In the next post.

in spite of the distribution woes (or because of them)

Right now Queen of Swords is at Number Nine (yes, number nine) on the bestselling historical fiction list at Amazon. I’m not sure if the link will work, but here’s the page. Note: it’s 249 on the overall list of books, which means everything from the most recent diet book to comic books.

No reader reviews up yet — in case you’ve got a spare five minutes.