Monday, July 25, 2011

Desultory Remarks III

There are quite a few exciting tidbits in the publicity front. Yesterday I had a featured interview on the Kindle Author blog discussing I Serve and my journey as a writer. You can read the interview here and learn fascinating things like "how I develop my characters" and "which authors have inspired me."

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Goodreads is currently running a giveaway of FOUR Advanced Reading Copies of Road from the West

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Road from the West by Rosanne E. Lortz

Road from the West

by Rosanne E. Lortz

Giveaway ends August 15, 2011.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.
Enter to win
And if the odds for the Goodreads giveaway are too daunting, the giveaway for one ARC from this blog is still running until August 8. Click here to fill out the form and enter.

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I mailed out dozens of Advanced Review Copies a week and a half ago, and it's fun to see ARC's arriving in the Mailbox Monday posts by several HF book bloggers. I'm looking forward to the Road from the West Blog Tour, put together by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and running from September 2 to October 20. There are twenty-six blogs participating with reviews, interviews, and guest posts--which reminds me, I have seven guest posts to write up for the tour and less than seven weeks to do it in. I better get working on those....

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Cynthia Robertson has an excellent post against "The Cult of the Short Sentence" on her blog. Some writers feel that any sentence with more than ten or twelve words is too complex for the modern reader and must be broken into smaller sentences, but Cynthia feels otherwise and provides example after example of powerful prose using extended clauses, creative punctuation, and multiple conjunctions, including one excerpt from Hemingway that lasts 424 words before reaching a full stop.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Road from the West - ARC Giveaway!


A tale of Courage, Conquest, Intrigue, and Honor. 

You've heard of the Knights Templar, you've heard of Richard the Lionheart—now learn the story that started it all with the adventures of the First Crusade. 

Haunted by guilt from the past and nightmares of the future, a young Norman named Tancred takes the cross and vows to be the first to free Jerusalem from the infidels. As he journeys to the Holy Land, he braves vast deserts, mortal famine, and the ever-present ambushes of the enemy Turks—but the greatest danger of all is deciding which of the Crusader lords to trust. A mysterious seer prophesies that Tancred will find great love and great sorrow on his journey, but the second seems intent on claiming him before he can find the first. Intrigues and passions grow as every battle brings the Crusaders one step closer to Jerusalem. Not all are destined to survive the perilous road from the West.

It's less than a month and a half till Road from the West: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred releases on September 2. I have been busy getting all the Advanced Reading Copies out to reviewers for the Road from the West blog tour. Yes, they get to read it early--and so can you if you win this giveaway! I have one ARC left over which I am delighted to offer to the winner of this challenge.

  • 1 entry - Fill out the form below with your name and e-mail address
  • 3 additional entries - Be a follower of this blog and mention this on the form
  • 5 additional entries - Share this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and provide a link on the form

Enjoying Our Summer

There's something glorious about having the summer "off." I thought that when I gave up teaching I would no longer have that to look forward to. But with David being in school at George Fox University, I now have his holidays to anticipate, and I think that I've never been so excited about summer break as I have been this year.

During the spring semester David was taking a full class load and working four days a week, which meant that on some days he left the house at 7:30am and didn't get home until 11:30pm. Not the happiest of schedules for him, and definitely not the happiest of schedules for me and the twins. But now that school is out, he has Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday off, and gets to stay home the rest of the days until the early afternoon (since he works swing shift). We've been enjoying our summer and the twins, and like everything else in my normal schedule, this blog has been put on the back burner.

Here are some pictures of our summer "off."

Adam experiences Pop Rocks for the first time
Oliver crawls under Adam in the Exersaucer
Uh-oh...Mommy's caught us playing with her shoes AGAIN!
Waiting in line for "Elephant Ears" at the Oregon Zoo
"There's the elephant, Oliver!"
"And here's a wild pig, in case you're interested."
Eating solid food is so much fun!
It's nice to always have a friend to play with!
This summer has been so amazing (well, ok, not the weather, just everything else) that I don't want it to end. I assumed that George Fox, like most semester schools, would be starting up mid-August. But David informed me just this week, that his first day of school is not until August 29. That's two more weeks of summer than I thought we were going to have!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Eagle Fails to Soar

"The book was way better!" That is usually my reaction after watching a film based on a book I have already read. It's not because the film is different than the book--I understand that changes must be made to accomodate a different medium--it's because the film is worse than the book. The screenplay writer looked at the original story and thought that he could make a better story using the same characters. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the screenplay writer was wrong.

The Eagle, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell, is a movie that came out earlier this year. It is based on the book The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Since Sutcliff has been one of the biggest influences on my own historical fiction writing, my interest was definitely piqued by the preview, and I was exited to watch it while we were on vacation last week.

*SPOILER ALERT!* The first third of the movie follows the book almost exactly. Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing) introduces himself well as a faithful and stalwart Roman centurion, trying to make up for the dishonor that his father had brought upon the family. The Roman fort Marcus commands is very believable, as is the surprise attack by the marauding Britons. Wounded in the leg, Marcus is forced to retire from his military career and spends some time in the south of Britain with his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland). While Marcus is still convalescing (and wondering what he is going to do with the rest of his life), he attends a gladiator fight where he saves the life of a young Briton named Esca (Bell). Aquila purchases Esca as Marcus' body slave, and Esca makes an oath to serve Marcus even though he hates everything Roman.

It is at this point that the plot of the movie radically diverges from the story in the book. Marcus decides to go north across Hadrian's Wall and find the eagle standard from his father's lost legion, bringing with him his deeply-embittered slave Esca as a guide. Instead of adopting some sort of plausible disguise so that he can search unnoticed in enemy territory, Marcus naively follows Esca around the north of Britain, hoping that the tribesmen will ignore his Roman haircut and his reliance on the Latin language. Eventually, he discovers that Esca has been pulling the wool over his eyes--the slave knows exactly where the lost legion lost itself because his tribe was there at the battle! Esca spouts some touching memories about the deaths of his family members, prey to the voracious appetite of Roman conquest. Marcus responds in typical Roman fashion by defending his nation's imperialism and brutally killing any tribesmen who stand in his way.

When Esca and Marcus encounter the Seal People (the keepers of the eagle standard), their tribal logic immediately deduces that Marcus is a Roman. Esca pretends that Marcus is his slave, and that he tricked him into coming north so that he could escape the clutches of Rome and return to his own people. The Seal People (whose looks and way of life would seem to place them in The Last of the Mohicans rather than the highlands of Scotland) greet Esca as a brother and heap abuse on Marcus, the despised representative of a hated race who--despite his civilized veneer--is just as savage as they are.

Marcus, afraid that Esca has betrayed him, behaves stupidly and earns many beatings. But one night, after a tribal ceremony where the eagle is displayed, Esca wakes the Roman and tells him that it is time to complete their mission. The two men steal the eagle and ride for the border pursued by hordes of angry Indians...ahem...Celtic tribesmen. When Marcus is unable to go any further, he finally trusts Esca enough to grant him his freedom. The Briton leaves his erstwhile master and dashes off to find a very unlikely source of help. The movie culminates with a fierce battle between the two men (plus auxiliaries) and the aggrieved tribesmen, which my husband described as "Roman biker gang vs. Native American Blue Man Group."

My main contention with this movie is that the screenwriter took a historically plausible adventure with a resourceful hero and turned it into an anachronistic rant against slavery and Roman conquest. In the book, Marcus and Esca become friends (in a believable way) while they are still at Uncle Aquila's home, and Marcus manumits his slave before the trip to the north. Esca, although a Briton, is from a completely different tribe than the ones that slew the lost legion. He has no conflicted loyalties on the trip. Marcus is a sympathetic character--not an unintelligent brute--who shows kindness to Esca and devises stratagems to find and steal the eagle. The book also includes a small romance between Marcus and Cottia, a young woman who lives nearby Uncle Aquila's home, which softens and adds dimension to Marcus' character.

Instead of following the plot of the book, the screenwriter clearly showed that he (or she?) had an ax to grind. The temptation to add a "relevant message"to historical fiction is one that can beset both novelists and screenwriters. Marcus must learn to hate his country and feel self-loathing by the end of the movie because that is what we would feel if our country went around killing and enslaving people. Some may see this as a profitable addition to the story. After all, since literature teaches by example, is it not right to imbue it with our own society's sense of morals?

Two posts I did earlier in the year have some bearing on this issue, one with Ian Mortimer's take on historical fiction and the other with Sharon Kay Penman's. In his History Today podcast, writer Ian Mortimer states that he is "not interested in enhancing people's understanding of the past. In fiction I'm using the past to demonstrate how we can say something that is true today and more meaningful for us today." Mortimer's kind of thinking would embrace the addition of "messages" into historical fiction, ones like the anti-slavery and anti-imperialism messages in The Eagle, because these are values that are generally held by us today.

Sharon Kay Penman, on the other hand, insists that historical fiction should scrupulously follow the mindsets of the past and avoid anachronistic messages that may appeal to our modern understanding. In a blog post titled "History vs. Fiction" she talks about the medieval view toward animals:
When daily life is so hard, few can spare sympathy for hungry dogs. This is especially true in a world in which people believe that God has given them dominion over the earth and all in it. So when one of my characters is moved by the plight of a suffering animal, he often is vaguely embarrassed by his Good Samaritan inclinations. When Justin de Quincy rescues a drowning dog in The Queen's Man, he does it after he "casts common sense to the winds," and he is motivated in some measure by the tearful entreaties of a small child. The life of a horse was worth a great deal and the life of a pet dog might have mattered to its owner. But the lives of animals in general had no intrinsic value and my characters cannot display the same outrage in the face of cruelty that we would. 
Ms. Penman avoids injecting her novels with the modern notion of animal rights because it would not be appropriate to the time. Her commitment to historical accuracy in her writings outweighs her modern sensibilities.

The Eagle could have been an excellent movie, if the story had stayed close to Sutcliff's original story, or if the plot had been historically appropriate. I do have the capacity to enjoy a movie even if the storyline differs from the book. All I ask is that any changes to the storyline make a story that is equal to or better than the original. In the case of historical fiction (whether book or film), I follow Ms. Penman's (or Ms. Sutcliff's) school of thought. Paint the people as they truly were, not as twenty-first century Americans in helmets. And since films so rarely fail to live up to this criterion, perhaps it is better to keep our favorite historical fiction novels away from the cinema all together. As Lindsey Davis said, when asked about a poorly made film adaptation of her Falco series: "I am not interested in having inferior versions!"

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cities of Note

When I published I Serve in 2009, one of the things I wanted (but didn't ever get) was a map to show all the important story places in England and France. A map was also on my wish list for Road from the West, and this time it actually came to fruition. Pam Forster drew the map and did the calligraphy, and Daniel Forster put it all together digitally. Here is a glimpse of the finished product--although it will be much easier to read when you see it as a two-page spread in the front of the book!

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