In Which We Begin

March, 2021

So here we begin. My first newsletter. Please be patient with me.

There is a lot to do in preparing for the publication of your first novel. Like setting up a newsletter. Like figuring out what to say in a newsletter. Like doing a major rewrite of the novel in response to your editor’s first round of edits that involves introducing a new plot line, moving a bunch of things around, and cutting some other stuff that seemed brilliant when I wrote it. We live and learn.

And we learn how to write newsletters. And we decide what to put in them.

So here’s the plan. Until it seems better to do otherwise, I am going to start with a little bit of a progress report, then comment on a few things of interest I found on the web, then highlight some recent blog posts.

What sort of things interest me? Writing, first of all; the craft, and its role and value in culture. Reading, of course, is the flip side of that. History (the field in which I am qualified), particularly the periods about which I write novels, but also the ways in which history is commonly used and abused. Catholicism, particularly Catholicism in the arts. (Don’t expect anything devotional, confessional, or theological here.) Travel, though only slightly; I am a bit of a road tripper. And, finally, language, and the ways in which it is inextricably bound up with history, with religion, with art, and with the motives of the body and the heart.

My blog, Stories All the Way Down, remains a separate project, though born of the same interests.

I’ll try to send these newsletters monthly, somewhere near the beginning of the month. If I have something big to announce, I may send an extra one. If I am impossibly busy or distracted, I may miss one.

Progress report

Well, that first round of edits for The Rules of Trade (The Peaceweaver, Book One) is off to my editor. This edit was a wrenching experience, not because of anything about the edit or the editor, but simply because it required me to do four full read throughs of a manuscript I have already read countless times. A manuscript can go sour on you without warning, and that happened to me. On the first read through, I hated it. I loathed and despised every page of it. On the second, after some major hacking about, I was cautiously fond of it again. After the third, I hated it. Fortunately, after the fourth, I was in love with it again, and in tears at the end. (You’ll see.)

By the time you read this, I will have sent my first newsletter. But I suppose that was self evident.

After that I will be getting back to working on The Needle of Avocation, which will be the third book of The Peaceweaver series. Unless it turns out to be the fourth, or be called something else altogether.

Found things

Stuff I found that interests me, and may interest you.

Growing interest in the Anglo Saxons

I learned from Dan Hitchens’ newsletter, The Pineapple, of an article in the Spectator, also by Hitchens, entitled Our love affair with the Anglo-Saxons, which discusses the growing interest in the Anglo-Saxon period, reflected in shows like the Netflix program, The Dig. This is wonderful for me, since The Peaceweaver novels are set in the Anglo-Saxon period, specifically in the final years of the 8th century, following the devastating Viking raid on Lindisfarne that was the 9-11 of the Viking age. But my books are not warrior stories like Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories. The first book, The Rules of Trade is more along the lines of Romeo and Juliet and Vikings.

Anyway, Anglo Saxon history is fascinating, not so much for what we know, but for how little we know, and the way what we do think we know gets pieced together from fragments of literary and archeological sources supplemented by modern methods like place name studies. The history books and articles can sometimes make you feel that you are reading all footnotes and no text, because of how much they talk about the sources and their meanings. But that in itself is a fascinating look into how history gets done.

Historical slang

I blogged a little while ago about the difficulties of creating dialogue for characters in historical fiction that will sound right to the modern reader. Now I find an article from the Historical Novel Society on print sources for discovering slang terms from various periods in various countries. I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the article’s premise that “Getting slang right for your time period and location is important for novelists.” As I noted in my blog post, what is authentic and what the reader will believe are often two different things. And there is also the issue that slang terms from distant times and places may be opaque or misleading — or even distressing — to a modern reader. Nevertheless, if you want to get it right (or if you just want a good laugh) it is good to know where to look.

Genre Fiction and the Catholic Author

Genre fiction tends to get short shrift in Catholic literary circles (and a lot of secular ones, of course). Niall Gooch in the Catholic Herald explores the deep connections between Catholic writers and classic crime novels: Linking Christianity to classic crime. Gooch makes the point that classic crime novels mirror the Christian concept of the universe as an orderly place violated by sin. There is philosophy hidden behind the jewel thefts and frequent hearses.

This, I think, is an important point when talking about Catholic literature. A book does not have to be set at the altar rail to be Catholic. Nor does it have to be high-brow or self-consciously literary. Catholicism involves, and depends upon, an anthropology and a metaphysics that is not that of the modern mainstream. A Catholic novel can be set anywhere and concern anything, in any genre, without a chasuble in sight, but it will take as its background assumption a Catholic anthropology and metaphysics. A typical secular reader may not notice the difference, but that does not mean that it does not make a difference.

From the Blog

Just some notes on some recent posts from Stories All the Way Down.

Newsletter vs. Blog

Ever have that experience where you are stumped on how to approach something so you spend half a day writing a blog post asking your readers to help you figure it out, and then you wake up the next morning (having recieved some cogent advice, it is true) and it all comes plain to you? Well, I wrote a blog post about what I should do with my blog and with the newsletter that my publisher wanted me to start. And now here you are, reading my first newsletter. Still, that post may have interest for anyone struggling with the same question.

On Words that “Sound Modern” in Historical Fiction

I mentioned this post above. It was occasioned by my editor marking certain words in The Rules of Trade as sounding too modern, and me having a fit of pique about it. But the problem is real. Readers have an idea of how people in the past spoke. It is often wrong. In many cases it is based on nothing at all, since we have no records of how most people spoke in most periods. (How they wrote tells us something, but not everything, and for many periods we have no records of how ordinary people wrote.) And in my case, my characters would have been speaking Anglo-Saxon — and we don’t know how they would have spoken it. Despite all this, readers have very definite reactions to certain words and phrases in historical novels. What is an author to do?

Questions? Thoughts? Any links to suggest that might be of interest? Write to me at author@gmbaker.net. Thanks!