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Ann Rinaldi In defense of Historical Fiction

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hart

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In Defense of Historical Fiction
This article originally appeared in PW's Children's Bookshelf.
By Ann Rinaldi -- Publishers Weekly, 4/2/2009
 
Ann Rinaldi has an interesting defense of historical fiction that begins
 
"Someone who owns a successful independent bookstore told me recently that if I ever decide to write a novel about an officer in the army in the American Revolution I’d better give him dripping fangs, bat wings and a tail. Well, he wasn’t far from wrong, because as we all know, the bestselling young adult novels today are either about vampires, fantasy or romance."

She mentions many episodes in American History more gruesome that any vampire book ever was. The whole article is an interesting read. Nice to see someone stand up for historical fiction.

She had a hard time getting her fiirst historical fiction published but it was a sucess and "Holiday House and other publishers have been asking me for nothing but historicals ever since."

I saw the article this morning and thought it was finally time I de-lurked.--Hart

(had pasted in the whole article--forgetting about copyright, so I've whittled it down)
#1 - April 03, 2009, 08:34 AM
« Last Edit: April 03, 2009, 02:44 PM by hart »

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Amen to that! I love historical fiction and I know so many teachers and librarians that want to see more of it.

Thanks for sharing.
#2 - April 03, 2009, 08:48 AM

I foudn her article interesting...but she didn't make a very good case, IMO. All she's saying is history has interesting stories. She's really not illustrating how it is they sell!

She seems to be trying to say historicals should be more commercial. They can be--- look at THE LUXE, A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, etc. You can do a historical and make it commercial, but it has to have something appealing to today's teens.
#3 - April 03, 2009, 09:04 AM
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Thanks for sharing this. It seems to me, though, that most large publishers still want to carry historical books, if only to honor biographies and stories of non-Caucasians whose stories still haven't been told. My own sons love to hear true stories and biographies. We've read a pile of them.

I actually didn't agree that besides teen romances, only vampires and fantasies are selling. From what I've observed, a lot of agents and editors are tired of fantasies and want anything but.
#4 - April 03, 2009, 10:57 AM

MaryWitzl

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In the U.K., there is a whole series of history books for kids called 'Horrible Histories'. They're written in tongue-and-cheek style, but they're all historically authentic, and they are hugely popular with kids -- so much so that the primary schools now use them. My kids couldn't get enough of the Horrible Histories.   They read 'The Vicious Vikings', 'The Vile Victorians', and 'The Terrible Tudors'.  My husband and I got a little tired of hearing about all the grisly things that have happened over the ages, courtesy of this series, but we could see how compelling they were and how they got reluctant readers into history.

I wonder, has anything similar been done in the States?  Surely there is a market for this in America too?
#5 - April 03, 2009, 11:04 AM

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Mary,

Those sound up my alley. I love my history with grit.  :cookiemonster 

I am in the middle of reading The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, which was a summer reading choice for YA's here in CT. Doesn't get much grittier and raw than Nazi-occupied Poland at the end of the war.




#6 - April 03, 2009, 11:18 AM

Is the rest of the article online? I'd like to read it.


Nevermind--I found it on someone's blog.
#7 - April 03, 2009, 04:25 PM
« Last Edit: April 03, 2009, 10:23 PM by Lenzi »

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One issue with making historical more commercial might be keeping the integrity of the true events intact. For example, Philippa Gregory has big commerical appeal, but some critics call her out on bending the facts. Personally, I think the stuff critics call her out on are subject to debate. Historians don't always agree on what happened. And as much as I enjoy The Tudors on HBO, they have absolutely taken way more liberties than Ms. Gregory has in pursuit of commercial appeal.  :smile

That being said, I like both straight historical and the more commercial variety.
#8 - April 04, 2009, 05:13 AM

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Here's the link: http://tinyurl.com/cmntk7
#9 - April 04, 2009, 08:59 AM

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In the U.K., there is a whole series of history books for kids called 'Horrible Histories'. They're written in tongue-and-cheek style, but they're all historically authentic, and they are hugely popular with kids -- so much so that the primary schools now use them. My kids couldn't get enough of the Horrible Histories.   They read 'The Vicious Vikings', 'The Vile Victorians', and 'The Terrible Tudors'.  My husband and I got a little tired of hearing about all the grisly things that have happened over the ages, courtesy of this series, but we could see how compelling they were and how they got reluctant readers into history.

I wonder, has anything similar been done in the States?  Surely there is a market for this in America too?

Our older son (now 20) had horrible histories, so they were available in the U.S.--or at least some version of them was, for a time.

anita
#10 - April 04, 2009, 09:03 AM

Sarah Miller

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I have mixed feelings about Rinaldi's laments on the state of the historical fiction market. Much as I enjoy a dash of snark here and there, this disclaimer on the back of her books has always rubbed me the wrong way:

WARNING: This is a historical novel. Read at your own risk. The writer feels it necessary to alert you to the fact that you might enjoy it.

Coming from a prominent historical author with such reliable sales, that feels...I don't know. Anything I try to articulate comes off more snippy than I intend. I just find that disclaimer disheartening, both as a reader and a writer -- I guess it's always struck me more like a veiled grievance than a good-natured rib.
#11 - April 04, 2009, 09:55 AM

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That is an odd thing to put on the back of the book, Sarah. It reminds me a little of the Lemony Snicket warnings, but those really are tongue in cheek.
#12 - April 04, 2009, 12:44 PM

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I wonder why she kept calling Benedict Arnold a vampire. Have I missed something?
#13 - April 10, 2009, 02:36 PM
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We have some of the Horrible Histories...love them!

The tone of the article struck me as odd--like there was a lot of anger going on under the surface.  It was interesting to read--thank you for posting it.
#14 - April 15, 2009, 05:25 PM
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I wonder why she kept calling Benedict Arnold a vampire. Have I missed something?

I think she was just trying to say that if you are going for blood, gore, and dark, there is plenty of it in historical fiction, so it *should* be as popular as urban fantasy is at the moment. (While violence and gore seem to be in an upswing at the moment, I don't think that's the only reason vampires are hot and historical not so much right now--but that's just my opinion.)
#15 - April 15, 2009, 05:50 PM

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Thanks, AnneB, for posting the link.

Rinaldi's article struck me as more wry and rueful than bitter--and, okay, a little sad, too. (It has the same tone as her back-cover warning, so perhaps that warning is also her own little joke.) It certainly makes me sad to imagine that with 39 books to her credit, Rinaldi might not be feeling much love from her editors, or the chain booksellers, or the powers that decide which books get displayed face-out on the shelves. 

It makes me sad that I love a genre that doesn't produce many new titles that don't incorporate elements of another, more popular genre (retold fairy tales, pirates, fantasy, horror, mystery, or Jane Austen). (I never dreamed I'd have my fill of homages to Jane Austen.) 

But for me the heart of Rinaldi's essay wasn't the sadness or rue. It was this: there are readers who love and even need straight historical fiction. Maybe they're not in the millions, but they're in the thousands, and perhaps the tens of thousands. They would read a book a week, or more--if they could find them.

I have a daydream: a 21st century version of the "little" presses, on the Web. A web publisher could specialize in a "little" genre. Overhead is low because each copy of a book is printed only on demand, when it's ordered. The "little" genres would find their readers via blogs, Twitter, and short video sites. And -- important! -- writers would compete on a smaller, specialized playing field. Readers wouldn't be deprived of Rinaldi because her sales are unlikely to match Bray's or Godberson's.   

If the experiment doesn't work, for one title or for the whole shebang, the loss is not as huge, because on-demand printing means no warehouses full of unsold books. But if it worked?

So--where's the editor out there who would like to be the 21st century's Alfred Knopf?
#16 - April 16, 2009, 07:46 AM

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