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Why is American History Shunned in HF novels?

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Ariadne
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Post by Ariadne » Fri September 26th, 2008, 6:41 pm

I see a fair amount of historical fiction on the theme of slavery, but most falls into the "literary fiction" arena. Which means it may not be promoted specifically to historical fiction fans, even though it fits the definition just fine.

I did enjoy Barbara Chase-Riboud's Sally Hemings when I read it, maybe ten years ago. (Have you ever read it, Catherine?) I also highly recommend Elizabeth Shown Mills' Isle of Canes, a multigenerational saga about a family of Louisiana creoles. Elizabeth is a highly regarded and widely published genealogist, and the book is based on decades of research into the families she wrote about (Lalita Tademy used her research as a primary source when she wrote Cane River about her own family). I'm going to try to dig out the review I wrote of it and repost it on the forum.

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Catherine Delors
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Post by Catherine Delors » Fri September 26th, 2008, 6:57 pm

No, I haven't read those, Ariadne, thanks for the tips. So far I have read non-English speaking HF about slavery, all fascinating. In particular loved The Kingdom of This World (not sure about the English title) by Alejo Carpentier, about the Haitian Revolution.

I would have to check whether it was even published in the US, because the author was Cuban. I don't know whether the embargo also applies to Cuban literature. And I guess it would be considered literary fiction too. Isn't that distinction completely silly? HF is HF, with many subgenres. There are compelling books, and less compelling books, and that's the only distinction that matters.

I really want to read The Hemingses (and started a thread in the American section, in case anyone is interested.) I understand the author did a tremendous amount of research, and part of it takes place in Paris too...

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Catherine Delors
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Post by Catherine Delors » Fri September 26th, 2008, 7:50 pm

And I was forgetting the Confessions of Nat Turner, by Styron, of course! Great book, though controversial (rightly so, in my opinion.)

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Julianne Douglas
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Post by Julianne Douglas » Fri September 26th, 2008, 8:36 pm

But, Catherine, you're a lowly PUBLISHED scribbler, while I'm a mighty UNPUBLISHED reader. I think I'd trade. :)
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Catherine Delors
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Post by Catherine Delors » Fri September 26th, 2008, 8:46 pm

Not any more, Julianne: I just graduated to reader! :D
As for you, I have no doubt that you will soon be published too. This new novel of yours about sex and espionage at the court of Francois I will be snapped up as soon as you complete the ms.

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diamondlil
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Post by diamondlil » Fri September 26th, 2008, 10:27 pm

[quote=""Ariadne""]I, too, loved Someone Knows My Name and highly recommend it.

There's an interesting backstory about why that title was chosen for the American market. I reviewed it from an ARC and thought how odd it was that the original title, The Book of Negroes, was mentioned nowhere on the publicity material, nor was it mentioned that it was a bestseller in Canada. I'd already owned the Canadian edition, which has a very different cover. It felt to me like its past history was being kept quiet, so I made a point of mentioning it when I wrote my review. Here's a piece I found afterward, written by Hill, on why the title was changed and his feelings about it.[/quote]

Thanks for the link to the article! It was very interesting.
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Divia
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Post by Divia » Fri September 26th, 2008, 10:57 pm

Isle of Canes went on my TBR pile. Thanks for the suggestion! I'm so into slavery, but then again I was taught by one of the best in his field when it came to this area of study.
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Dani
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Post by Dani » Wed October 1st, 2008, 3:18 am

I would like to see a novel written about Betsy Ross does any one know if One exists?

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Post by Ash » Wed October 1st, 2008, 1:54 pm

Oh, I remember a YA biography when I was a kid that I enjoyed. But I suspect you'd be wanting something a little more adult and current ....

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donroc
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Post by donroc » Wed October 1st, 2008, 2:52 pm

Perhaps one reason some U.S. Historical novels are not published or even written is fear of lawsuits from descendants of those real life characters because our history is so recent.

As an example, in 1965, I sold a screenplay to a producer at Columbia. It was an epic about Wovoka and the Ghost Dance, the conflict between reactionary and assimilationist Sioux, a fictional encounter between Frederic Remington and Sitting Bull, the murder of Sitting Bull, and the massacre at Wounded Knee aka revenge of the 7th cavalry.

Two factors prevented it from being produced. The Remington estate threatened to sue anyone who used Remington (hence no novel or film about one of our most colorful artists to date); and even if we had removed his character from the story, at that time there was still bad blood between descendants of The Silent Eaters, partisans of Sitting Bull, and those of the Metal Breasts, Sioux constabulary who killed Sitting Bull when they tried to arrest him.


Perhaps we need more centuries to pass before certain stories can be told without fear of lawsuits.
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