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Andrea Connell is currently Managing Editor of Historical Novels Review Online (the sister publication to The Historical Novels Review print magazine) and works as a manuscript editor at the Marine Corps University Press in Quantico, VA. In any remaining free time (which isn’t much), she reviews historical fiction for Historical Novels Review and writes a reader’s blog at http://thequeensquillreview.wordpress.com.
Q. How did you come to your position as Editor at HNRO?
A. I had been reviewing for the print magazine since 2003, and when this position opened up, I jumped at the opportunity. I had wanted for some time to become more involved and make a professional editorial contribution to the Historical Novel Society; I had seen nothing like it before. I also craved a challenge, and evaluating subsidy- and self-published fiction is nothing if not that!
Q. What two things are the easiest & hardest parts of your job?
A. The easiest (and my favorite) part of the job as reviews editor has been the discussions with authors whose books have been successfully reviewed—it’s fulfilling to see a book make its way through the process and witness the author receive the accolade she or he deserves. Vetting content has been the most challenging, but most rewarding, aspect. A book’s appeal is rather subjective, and being able to figure out where to draw the line between personal preferences (in terms of subject matter or design that I personally find appealing, for instance) and easier-to-identify objective elements (a plot that makes sense, showing instead of telling the story, etc.) when I judge the quality of a novel is a difficult task. My responsibilities right now revolve more around administrative tasks than the novels themselves, and I will miss that part of the position.
Q. Which books are sure to be selected for review?
A. HNRO has recently revised our review submission standards, to include professional layout and cover design. The self- and subsidy-publishing field has expanded dramatically in the past two years, and we receive many more submissions than before. We felt that in order to help readers choose books that are worth spending their valuable money on (especially during these tough financial times) and to give authors’ works proper credit, we needed to reassess our acceptance standards. So, excellent content (historical context, of course; tight plot; appropriate character integrity; and sophisticated writing, for example) and professionally edited copy and appealing design will all be taken into consideration. No book is sure to be selected, but the more professional a book in all these ways, the more likely it will be.
Q. Which books are less likely to be reviewed and why?
A. Books that are sloppily presented and whose content is substandard (too much telling, not enough showing; meandering plot; shallow characterization, etc.). I also think the author’s presentation of him or herself in the initial query is important; if the query is unprofessionally handled or illustrates a lack of writing skills, we do take that into consideration.
Q. Last year’s NY Times # 1 Bestseller was Historical Fiction and now it’s a movie. Do you think the genre will continue to sell well over the next decade? If so, why?
A. Yes, I believe so. Historical fiction is a dynamic genre; not only is it composed of numerous subgenres (for example, historical mysteries, adventures, romances, and fantasies to name a few), but also offers an immense range of topics within the scope of “history.” Combine these two elements and authors have nearly unlimited opportunities for creativity, and readers, options to choose from. A problem we run into, though, is remaining fixated on trendy topics—beating a dead horse, as it were (Henry VIII and his wives, for example, or Jane Austen sequels). We need to allow authors to wander off the beaten path or we risk the reading public’s boredom with the genre. My guess is this is partially why self- and subsidy-publishing has taking off lately—authors now have the opportunity to expand their reach beyond the trends of the traditional publishing houses and write what they are passionate about. And HNRO is here to find and publicize the best of this alternative route to publishing.
Q. Who are your own favorite historical authors?
A. My introduction to the genre started with Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh trilogy. She was and remains one of my favorite authors. I also enjoy the historical romances of Anya Seton and the historical fantasies of Juliet Marillier. Dracula in Love by Karen Essex was one of the most enthralling books I’ve read in a long time. I also can’t recommend Paullina Simon’s heart-wrenching WWII saga highly enough. (The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander, and The Summer Garden).
Q. Which era is selling best among historicals today?
A. To be honest, I can’t answer that question. When it comes to self- and subsidy-published books, “bestseller” as a term really doesn’t apply. Many of the submissions we receive are set in periods that are not currently popular (for example, novels based on Greek mythology or set during the American Civil War) or whose subjects are off the beaten path (homosexual romances set in ancient Rome, for example).
Q. How would you define the difference between nonfiction history and historical fiction?
A. I came across a definition that, for me at least, sums up a major difference between the two:
“Nonfiction history focuses on an event . . . historical fiction focuses on the character(s) involved in those events. . . . Historical fiction is a close relative of history, but not simply a retelling of the lectures we learned to dread in high school. We write historical fiction, and read it, not to learn about history so much as to live it. It is the closest we can get to experiencing the past without having been there.”
In an undergraduate European history course, I was assigned novels set during the same time periods as the history text, to be read and examined together. The history was necessary to understand the intellectual context and the novels were enlightening for an authentic “experience” of the time. This was the best course I ever took and illustrates the value of historical fiction.
Q. In your experience, who is best suited to write historical fiction?
A. In my personal experience (and I am completely generalizing here), I feel that many academic historians-turned-writers tend to focus more on the historical details, neglecting the plot and characterization. Since this genre is, ultimately, fiction, and the audience looks forward to an enjoyable reading experience, I think a person who is a writer, first and foremost, and who is talented in and enjoys historical research is probably best suited to write historical fiction. I’m sure many people would disagree with me, though.
Q. What is the best advice you can give a writer who is keen on succeeding with historical fiction?
A. From a review editor’s point of view, regarding self-publishing, I would say write—and write WELL—what you’re passionate about (choose a time period, event, or figure that captures your imagination and make it appealing to your potential audience) because this enthusiasm will shine through in your work; hire a good developmental and copy editor; and take layout, style, and design issues seriously.
Q. Where can we read what your reviewers are writing?
A. The HNRO magazine is located at http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/hnr-online.htm.
Thanks for spending time with my following, Andrea!
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