Monday, March 31, 2014

Jaipur Literary Festival

Image copyrighted by the Jaipur Literary Festival Every January, the glittering literati from the world over gather in the fabled Indian city of Jaipur to exchange ideas, present their thoughts, engage in heated debates, and discuss everything under the sun from fiction to biography, from history to music, and much, much more. Music concerts, art displays, and a wide variety of food forms the esthetic nourishment for the literary discussions.

And best of all, the Jaipur Literary Festival is completely free to the general public. As you scroll through the 2014 program by venue or by date (January 17–21), you can watch videos of most of the sessions. The organizers and sponsors of the festival have really gone out of their way to support the idea that knowledge is meant to be shared widely and freely.

The main themes for 2014 were: Crime and Punishment, Democracy Dialogues, Women Uninterrupted, and Endangered Languages.

For a festival that is still in its infancy, started in 2006, it still featured over 240 authors, some of them very big names. Consider these: British celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Mauritian Francophone writer Ananda Devi, Indian historian Urvashi Butalia, Iranian-American religion scholar Reza Aslan, British historian William Dalrymple, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, British Roman scholar Mary Beard, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, British author Geoff Dyer, Harvard professor Homi Bhabha, American novelist Jonathan Franzen, Olympic gold medalist boxer Mary Kom, and on and on.

I have stars in my eyes just reading that program. What would it have been like to have been there. So listen to these talks amidst the splendor of the Diggi Palace, attending "The Greatest Literary Show on Earth!," according to Tina Brown.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Oldest Public Library

Established in 1803, the Scoville Memorial Library in Connecticut is the oldest publicly funded library in the U.S.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Romance Writers of America Has Announced their RITA and Golden Heart Award Finalists

Today generated a lot of excitement in the romance industry, among writers and editors. The Romance Writers of America announced their RITA and Golden Heart Award Finalists.

According to the RWA, the RITA award is the highest award of distinction in romance fiction, and it recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas. The Golden Heart award recognizes excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts.

The winners will be announced at a fancy Oscars-style black-tie ceremony at the conclusion of the RWA annual conference in San Antonio, Texas on July 26, 2014. I attended this ceremony for the three years that I went to the conference. It's such a glam affair, with women in long gowns, up-dos and makeup courtesy of salons, fancy-schmancy shoes, a witty host for the ceremony, thank you speeches by the winners, and so on and so forth. It's a night to remember, whether or not you're a nominee, a winner, a big-name writer, or an aspiring writer. The atmosphere in that ballroom is as fizzy and euphoric as champagne.

This year, for the first time, a writer whose book I edited has been nominated. She's none other than the really fabulous historical author Courtney Milan. She's nominated for her book The Countess Conspiracy.

Below please see the RITA and GH nominees in the Historical Romance category. Note that two of the RITA nominees are self-published. This is a big step forward for self-published books.

RITA Awards

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Tessa Woodward

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie
Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley Sensation
Wendy McCurdy, editor

The Chieftain’s Curse by Frances Housden
Harlequin, MIRA
Kate Cuthbert, editor

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan
Robin Harders and Keira Soleore, editors

Darius by Grace Burrowes
Sourcebooks, Casablanca
Deb Werksman, editor

Dark Angel: A Gothic Fairy Tale by T J Bennett
Entangled Publishing, Edge
Liz Pelletier and Shannon Godwin, editors

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt
Grand Central Publishing
Amy Pierpont, editor

The Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick
Harlequin, HQN
Ann Leslie Tuttle, editor

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Lyssa Keusch, editor

The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas
Berkley Publishing Group
Wendy McCurdy, editor

Never Desire a Duke by Lily Dalton
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Michele Bidelspach, editor

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Carrie Feron, editor

Plaid Tidings by Mia Marlowe
Kensington Publishing Corp., Zebra
Alicia Condon, editor

A Rake’s Midnight Kiss by Anna Campbell
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Amy Pierpont, editor

The Rogue’s Proposal by Jennifer Haymore
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Selina McLemore, editor

Sins of a Ruthless Rogue by Anna Randol
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Tessa Woodward, editor

Sonata for a Scoundrel by Anthea Lawson

Golden Heart Awards

Charlene and the Duchess Factory by Lenora Bell

The Earl Next Door by Charis Calhoon

A Haunting Desire by Julie Mulhern

Much Ado about Scandal by Jillian Lark

The Seer by Gwynlyn MacKenzie

A Soldier’s Serenade by Ellen Lindseth

The Unseducible Earl by Sheri Humphreys

Wicked Things by Laura Trentham

A Wild and Wicked Wind by Laura Trentham

Medieval Movies

The esteemed blog Medievalists have compiled an extensive list of medieval-themed movies released in recent years. I've been scrolling through the list and adding them to my Netflix (already overly long) queue. I thought you readers of my blog might be similarly interested. So I'm the link up here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nalanda University of India

In its heyday, the ancient University of Nalanda was the premier education institution of higher learning in the world, long before the universities of Oxford, Heidelberg, or Bologna even came into existence.

Nalanda was started in the 5th century, and it took 200 years for the original Nalanda to flourish into a leading center of learning. It was primarily a religious institution and taught Buddhism, medicine, philosophy, and mathematics. Thousands of students and scholars came from all over the world to study and to teach there. Extensive dormitories and kitchen facilities served to keep up with the influx of people. Big lecture halls as well as small ones served to meet the needs of the various courses taught there. The university was destroyed by invaders in 1193, leaving behind only ruins as testimonial to its glorious past.

An international effort by modern-day scholars is working towards achieving their vision to rebuild Nalanda into a world-class university once again. The Nalanda Mentor Group is chaired by Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen, who is also the university's chancellor. They draw inspiration from the essence of the old Nalanda: A place where cutting-edge knowledge was produced.

The first students arrive this year. Modern Nalanda will be teaching the modern subjects of humanities, economics, management, sustainable development, Asian integration, and oriental languages. As before, professors and students from all over the world have been attracted to Nalanda's storied past and ambitious present. They want to participate in the forefront of history in the making.

Friday, March 21, 2014

'Before You Hit Send' Editing Workshop

Before You Hit Send is a three-week self-editing workshop for authors to learn the basics ins and outs of looking critically at their manuscript in order to polish it up before either self-publishing it or submitting it to an agent and/or an editor at a publishing house.

Angela James is the editorial director of Carina Press, an imprint of Harlequin. She has years of copy, line, and developmental editing experience under her belt. And most importantly, she shares her expertise unstintingly in the Q & A in the comment sections of the various lessons.

I took this workshop two years ago, and I loved it. I learned so much from it that I kept all my notes. Since then, I have noticed the workshop has only improved.

Angela says here's what you’ll learn: Concrete ideas, tips, tricks and lessons for polishing and self-editing your manuscript. Tips are delivered in 1-3 daily individual lessons along with examples and assignments to help you get the most out of your workshop experience.

Who should attend? Angela says...
•Aspiring authors
•Authors interested in polishing their craft
•Self-publishing authors
•Multi-published authors–you may be surprised by what there still is to learn!
•Freelance editors and copy editors looking to enhance their curriculum vitae
•Anyone interested in learning to edit and copy edit

Much more information is available here.

If you're a writer or editor or interested in writing or editing, I highly urge you to take this class. The cost is $75 and the class starts on Monday, March 24, 2014. I apologize for the short notice; I just found out about it. If you can't make it to this class, the next class will be offered in August 2014.

Picture Day Friday: Cavalia

Two years ago, I had the privilege of watching the Cavalia horsemen perform live. They're pure poetry in motion.

Here's information about the new show by Cavalia called Odysseo.

"Odysseo by Cavalia is a theatrical experience, an ode to horse and man that marries the equestrian arts, awe inspiring acrobatics and high-tech theatrical effects. Set under a 38-meter tall White Big Top, audiences will be transported around the world as more than 60 horses and an international cast play and demonstrate their intimate bond. The 1,393 square meter stage features a real carousel and a magically appearing 302,000-litre lake in front of a stunning video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens."

Image copyrighted by Reuters

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Weathering Winter

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Weathering Winter: A Gardener's Daybook by Carl H. Klaus.

This is a memoir about the reflections on the weather and gardening written in an epistolary style, daily from January 1 to March 15. The thrust of the musings are about the effect of wintry weather on the author and on the anticipation of and preparation for spring gardening. So if repetitive flights of fancy over snow and gardening catalogs are not your thing, I'd recommend skipping this small hardcover.

The book would've done better as a long narrative nonfiction piece with a few days as an illustrative sample, rather than the long-winded 189 pages covering two and a half months. Having said that, the writing is gorgeous in a few places: expansive, imaginative, nuanced, and detailed.

"'Can you believe it? Wednesday I was freezing in Ames and today I'm watching a kite in the park.' Watching that kite, I could almost feel the tug of it in my hand, jumping and soaring high on the updrafts, swooping on the shifts of wind, as alive as a bluegill or bass, diving and turning on the end of a line."

You can see that kite. You can feel the wind winging the kite away. Lovely writing.

Here's another one:

"What they also didn't tell us was that during the [solar] eclipse everything around us, including ourselves, would seem to be risk, especially at noon, when the light turned brassy, then dark, like gray glass, like black light, like darkness visible, and the breeze went dead, and the air turned chill, and all the birds fell silent."

Can you see that eclipse shading in and everything going still? Lovely!

Overall, the prose is spare and yet is able to convey the author's rollercoaster of glee and despair over too much or not enough snow, too cold or too warm temperatures, those unending garden planting catalogs thudding down on his doorstep, whether he's seeded his pots too early or too late and when are they going to be ready to be transplanted outdoors, and why certain birds are showing up and others aren't at his bird feeders.

In a memoir, I look for daily musings that act as jumping off points to writing about specific benchmark moments in the author's life and/or important external events that inform on the author's life. There was almost none of that in book. It truly was a day-to-day reporting on the weather and the state of his gardening plans.

There was only one significant external event that was brought in from to time to time and that was the mention of the two named people (and others) from the Kobe earthquake disaster of 1995. However, the way the references to the event and the people were randomly sprinkled into sporadic entries, a propos nothing, it felt more like a "introduce leitmotif here" manipulation.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair

Image copyrighted by sarnia.8m.comThree months too late, but this just came to my notice. Every holiday season, the Bay Area near San Francisco comes alive with the Victorian era cheer of England with their Great Dickens Christmas fair.

This fair has been in existence for the past 35 years, and it's part crafts fair, part live theater, part reenactment, part environmental theater production, and all parts fun and good Christmas spirit.

The Cow Palace in Daly City is turned into a "120,000-square-foot recreation of London circa 1840. Over the course of five weekends (Nov. 23­–Dec. 22), upwards of 50,000 people" visit to partake of the festivities.

Image courtesy of the British Library"The environment is a clever conglomeration of constructed 'streets' and 'alleyways' with names like Pickwick Place and Petticoat Lane. Shops staffed by vendors in period attire sell everything from antique books to velvet gowns while more than a dozen restaurants and bars serve up a variety of traditional dishes and adult beverages."

All the vendors and costumed actors roaming the 'streets' remain in full character all throughout the day. This adds to the complete immersive experience of Victorian England.

Isn't this just such a cool festival? I hope this year I have the opportunity to go participate.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Historical Author at Work

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Edward Rutherfurd's Rules for Writing Historical Novels

While reading through M.K. Tod's blog, an entry about the Rules for Writing Historical Novels by Edward Rutherfurd caught my eye.

Here are Rutherfurd's seven rules. I've summarized them here, but visit his post for the full explanation of each rule.

1. Don't invent history. You can add people to a scene; and of course you are free to invent incidents of the kind that might have occurred, so long as they slot into the overall pattern of known events.

2. Try to be fair. The people on both sides of every conflict are still human.

3. You can leave doubt about what happened. Usually it's best if the storyline itself is clear, but there well may be doubt about the nature of historical events. These can remain. Occasionally, you may even want to put a brief note in the Preface.

4. Keep the chronology as accurate as possible and avoid distorting history.

5. You can leave things out. You cannot recreate every detail of the past.

6. Complete historical truth is unknowable. At the end of the day, the novel is a construct. All you can do is use the best modern scholarship available.

7. How to test if you've done a decent job? Take the manuscript to a good historian of the period. Ask: "If one of your students wants to read this, would you say, "All right, it won't mislead you.' " If the answer is yes, then it's OK. If not, then it isn't.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Historical Fiction Survey Results

I blogged here in October 2013 about the Historical Novel Society conducting a survey of readers' reading habits, purchasing/borrowing habits, interest in history and historical periods and reasons behind them, and the types of writing and writing skills of authors.

A few days ago, surveyor M.K. Tod emailed me these results of the analyses of the survey.

Do read the survey in-depth. I found it fascinating. Here are some of the highlights.

The survey reached 2,440 participants (83% female, 17% male) and was conducted between October 16 and November 11, 2013.

The largest participating group was in the 50-59 age range, followed by the 40-49 range.

The number of U.S. participants dominated the chart followed by the ones from the U.K. and Ireland.

The majority of the participants were readers followed by some authors and some bloggers.

Majority of the participants were avid readers, reading more than 30 books a year.

Showing Amazon's grip on the book retail business, people overwhelmingly bought books there.

Print books still dominated the number of books sold, but people tended to mostly buy a mix of print and electronic books.

In choosing a book, the following were important, in decreasing order of importance: subject matter, author, and trusted recommendation. Publisher was the least important of all the factors.

In terms of pricing, people chose the following: eBooks: $2–$6, print $6–$11, and hardcover $16–$20. These prices are below industry standard. The key takeaway from this is that people think eBooks should be much cheaper than print books. The premium put on production and distribution of books as a large part of the pricing of a book, meant that people expected the eBooks to be discounted.

In answer to why do you read historical fiction, people chose: to bring the past to life, because it's a great story, and to understand and learn without reading non-fiction.

People chose the following for the question within historical fiction, what type of story appeals to you?: fictional characters within a backdrop of great historical events, followed closely by, adventure, romance, life of a single historical figure. The least popular were inspirational and thriller.

Popular historical periods: 13th–16th centuries, 18th century, and 19th century. The least popular was prehistory.

Europe and Britain dominated the popular historical geographies category by far, followed by the U.S. The least popular was Latin America.

When reading a historical fiction novel, the following were most important parts: superb writing and feeling immersed in time and place. The least important was dysfunctional families.

Where do you find recommendations chart was broken down equally between: friends, favorite websites or blogs, online retailers especially Amazon, social media, and browsing the bookstore. The least looked for were publishers' websites.

People overwhelmingly didn't belong to book clubs but did discuss their books over social media.

The most popular looked for information from blogs are reviews, new release information, and author interviews.

BTW, as one of the survey participants, my blog is listed on Tod's blog.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Picture Day Friday: Gstaad New Year Music Festival

The Gstaad New Year Music Festival takes places in this fashionable Swiss alpine town with 14 performances by international stars and new, young rising musicians.

Image copyrighted by the BBC

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mystery Series Recommendations

I've greatly enjoyed reading through all the comments on this post on mystery series recommendations: international, US, historical, current-day, police procedural, cozy mysteries, etc. I thought I'd post the link up here in case any of you are likewise interested in reading mysteries. Note, most of the recommendations are in the comment thread.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

British Library Digitized

Image provided courtesy of the British Library In a spirit of great devotion to scholarship rooted in the deep belief that knowledge must be widely shared, the British Library has released a million digitized images of 17th, 18th, and 19th century art from 65,000 volumes into the public domain and have made them freely available onto Flickr Commons. The images were digitized as a gift to the Library by Microsoft.

Image provided courtesy of the British Library "The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, [and] wall-paintings."

The Library says that this is an ongoing project, since only 65,000 books have been digitized thus far, and there are millions more books to go.

Image provided courtesy of the British Library Concurrently, the Library is going to open a crowdsourcing project to "help describe what the images portray," in a bid to tag them and index them properly for better discoverability through search mechanisms.

While all these images are freely available for you to download, manipulate, and display on your blogs, etc., the Library requests, as a gesture of goodwill, that you attribute the images to them. So, for example, if you hover over the image on the left, you can see my attribution.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Are These Bones King Alfred's?

Image copyrighted by Getty Images In August of 2013, the media reported that scientists have been given the go-ahead to test the remains in an unmarked grave from St. Bartholomew's Church in Winchester in the south of England. Researchers suspected that some of those bones may belong to Alfred the Great.

However, tests have revealed that the bones are more than 200 years older. This was disappointing to say the least, following the initial excitement.

Remains from an earlier excavation were kept in a box in a storeroom at the Winchester City Museum since 1999, but it was only recently that scholars started to suspect that the remains might be of someone very important.

Image copyrighted by PA Archive/Press Association Images When Dr. Katie Tucker from the University of Winchester carbon dated the oldest bone (pelvic bone also known jocularly as the "seat of power") in the box, she found that it dated back 895–1017 and was of a man aged 26–45. The remains had been found near the high altar of the abbey, indicating their high status. Given these particulars, the bone could belong to either King Alfred, King Edward the Elder, or King Edward brother Aethelweard.

This is very exciting! Finding Alfred's bones would be a find much bigger than Richard III's remains, which I blogged about here and here.

A quick recap: Alfred the Great ruled Wessex from 871 to 899 and is remembered for keeping the Vikings and Danes at bay, for his military prowess and strategies, for starting the unification of England, for setting up English as the standard of language for education and government, for his social and educational reforms, and for his sweeping law codes. He was known to have suffered from an unknown debilitating illness that some suspect might've been Crohn's Disease or migraines.