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Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Hoffert’

Photo courtesy of Library Journal.

We’ve posted several times about the recent Historical Fiction Panel, but let’s be honest, as fans of historical fiction we’re just not tired of posting about it yet!  This week, before we put the subject to rest, we wanted to direct your attention to an excellent article written by Historical Fiction panelist Barbara Hoffert, which was inspired by her experience on the panel.  Barbara Hoffert is a fiction editor at Library Journal and the author of LJ’s long-running weekly Prepubs Alert column. She is a past-president of the National Book Critics Circle, for which she now serves as Awards Chair. In 2006, she won ALA-RUSA’s Louis Shores-Greenwood Publishing Group Award for excellence in reviewing.  An excerpt of her article, written for Library Journal, is below.

Historical Fiction in the Making
By Barbara Hoffert
April 30, 2012

Such is the protean nature of literature in general that we couldn’t exactly define the parameters of historical fiction—not even the time frame, though World War II came up as a dividing line. I did like DeSanti’s wonderful term hybridity to describe the current climate, one in which historical fiction has gotten richer and deeper and might best be summed up through compound terms, e.g., literary historical, historical romance, historical thriller, time-travel historical, and more.

To read the full article, click here!

Thank you again to Ms. Hoffert for her contributions to our panel, and for her excellent description of the night’s events!

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By Sonia Kane

On the evening of April 26th, it was standing room only at Wix Lounge for WNBA-NYC’s panel discussion on the popular topic of historical fiction. The five panel members included literary agent Daniel Lazar (Writers House), editor Heather Lazare (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), editor and reviewer Barbara Hoffert (Library Journal), and two authors of recent works of historical fiction, Carole DeSanti (The Unruly Passions of Eugenie R.), and Kathryn Harrison (Enchantments). DeSanti, who is Vice President, Editor at Large at Viking Penguin, contributed insights not only as an author but as a longtime publisher. WNBA-NYC’s Rosalind Reisner moderated the panel.

Reisner began with a question: What is historical fiction? Does it have to take place at least 60 years before the current period, as in Walter Scott’s Waverley, generally considered the first historical novel in English? Daniel Lazar noted that he considered anything set during and before World War II to fit the bill; Heather Lazare agreed that this was an appropriate benchmark, but said that a lot depends on how a book is packaged by an agent and what audience a publisher is trying to reach: “From a publisher’s standpoint, are we going after the historical fiction bloggers? The mommy bloggers?” Panelists generally agreed that whereas historical novels used to be considered strictly genre fiction, with plots featuring either romance or, as Barbara Hoffert memorably put it, “sweaty men sticking things into each other,” today’s historical novels are often more accurately labeled as literary fiction, as in the case of the phenomenally successful Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, which won the Man Booker and National Book Critics Circle Award. For a book review editor like Hoffert, this shift can make assigning books to the appropriate reviewers more perplexing, but she still is in favor of broadening categories to reach as many readers as possible, and has even at times used the seemingly contradictory label “literary/popular.” DeSanti echoed this thought: “Writers are working to broaden what historical fiction can be. . . . today the trend is toward hybridity, depth, and character-driven novels.”

Harrison and DeSanti shared brief descriptions of their novels:  Enchantments, set during the Russian Revolution, is told by Masha, daughter of the monk Rasputin. A woman whom Harrison found to be a “strangely modern character,” Masha escaped the Bolsheviks, survived a marriage with a husband chosen for her by her father, and eventually had a successful career as a lion tamer! DeSanti’s work, set in France during the Second Empire (1860-1871), focuses on a young woman who leaves her home in the provinces to meet her lover in Paris. Pregnant and alone, she waits for him in vain. DeSanti described her protagonist as “on a path to finding her center . . . in a polarized culture that was both hedonistic and moralistic.” She sees Eugenie’s story as one of “becoming alienated from what you love and desire and then finding your own way back,” adding that her book might be considered “self-help folded into historical fiction.”

Both authors spoke of their delight in giving voice to their characters. In Harrison’s novel, the protagonist is a real woman whose remarkable story had yet to be told. In DeSanti’s work, she is a type—courtesan—who recurs in the fiction of male writers of the nineteenth century, and yet whose thoughts are not often explored by those writers. As she put it, “Zola does not give Nana an interior history.” Harrison and DeSanti also spoke of the immense and consuming pleasures of research—as well as its perils. DeSanti noted that she “used artifacts to get the emotion of the time,” artifacts such as ration cards, dancing slippers, and even a piece of bread perfectly preserved from the Siege of Paris. She became so immersed in the period that her friends were worried, asking her, “Are you ever going to leave the nineteenth century?” Harrison pointed out the danger for historical novelists of trying to “jam things in” to their novels, just to put their research to work. “You will use three to five percent of what you have taught yourself; it’s important for a historical novelist to be disciplined.”

The evening concluded with a robust question-and-answer session in which the authors provided further details about their research methods (DeSanti noting that she had read “an entire dictionary of smutty French words from the nineteenth century”) and literary agent Lazar gave tips on how to write a good query letter (“be very specific and evocative, give us a taste of the atmosphere of your novel”). Afterward, audience members milled about happily and got their newly purchased books signed. Ashley Gallman and Omri Arad of Wix Lounge were enormously competent and convivial hosts, as always; many thanks to them for their enthusiasm and good cheer. For the hosts, the panelists, and the audience, it was clear that historical fiction remains an enduring genre.

Sonia Kane is a free-lance editor and writer living in Brooklyn. Formerly Assistant Director of Book Publications at the Modern Language Association, she has a PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches literature and writing at Hunter College. She has recently been appointed Co-Editor of the NY Bookwoman, the official newsletter of the NY chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.

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The NYC chapter of the Women’s National Book Association will be hosting a panel this month entitled, “Historical Fiction: An Enduring Genre in a Changing Landscape.”

Thursday, April 26, 6:00PM – 8:00PM
Wix Lounge, 10 West 18th Street, 2nd Floor, NYC

Free admission for WNBA Members
Non-members ~ $10.00

Register Here!

The Red Tent, Cold Mountain, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and other successful historical novels set off a trend that’s apparent to anyone who follows current fiction. Historical novels are hot! And read by people who never thought they were interested in history. We’ll explore what historical fiction means to today’s readers and publishers, and we’ll examine what it’s like to be a player in this market – agent, author, editor, reviewer, or bookseller – what’s happening now, and what’s likely to happen down the road.

Panelists

Carole DeSanti‘s The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2012) is already receiving great reviews. Carole is also Vice President, Editor at Large at Viking Penguin, where she is well known as a champion of outstanding, original voices in women’s literature, including those of Dorothy Allison, Tracy Chevalier, and Melissa Banks. (Photo © Sigrid Estrada.)

 

Kathryn Harrison is the author of thirteen books, including the bestselling memoirs The Kiss and The Road to Santiago. Her historical novels include The Binding Chair, Poison, and The Seal Wife. Her latest novel, Enchantments (Random House, 2012) takes place during the final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire. She is also a frequent reviewer for The New York Times Book Review. (Photo ©J.Ravid.)

 

Barbara Hoffert is a fiction editor at Library Journal and the author of LJ’s long-running weekly Prepubs Alert column. She is a past-president of the National Book Critics Circle, for which she now serves as Awards Chair. In 2006, she won ALA-RUSA’s Louis Shores-Greenwood Publishing Group Award for excellence in reviewing. (Photo courtesy of Library Journal.)

 

Daniel Lazar is a senior agent at the Writers House literary agency. He represents a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, but he especially loves historical fiction of all kinds. Some recent and forthcoming books include NYT bestseller Juliet by Anne Fortier, The Bells by Richard Harvell, Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran, and The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveney.

 

Heather Lazare joined Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, as a senior editor in 2011 after six years working at the Crown Publishing Group. Prior to that, she was with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Heather acquires historical fiction, upmarket women’s fiction (book club books), narrative nonfiction, humor, pop culture and memoir. (Photo courtesy of HNS Conference 2012.)

 

Moderated by Rosalind Reisner, WNBA-NYC member and author of Read On…Life Stories, a readers’ guide to the memoir genre, and the award-winning reference book Jewish American Literature: A Guide to Reading Interests. Rosalind is a former librarian; she speaks about books and reading and blogs at www.areadersplace.net.

 

This event is being held at Wix Lounge, a free co-working and event space sponsored by Wix.com. Launched in 2008, Wix.com is a free online platform that allows users to create their own Flash website, Apple-compatible mobile sites, and customized Facebook pages.

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