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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Agony Column!

Joy, joy! Reviewer/blogger Rick Kleffel has posted a wonderful pre-pub review of Acacia: The War with the Mein and another novel. This is great news for me, as Rick is a heavyweight in this world and much respected. Thankfully, he liked my book a lot. Here's a little bit of what he said...

Durham's novel bristles with the joy and power of a historical novelist freed to create his own history. This is not the typical history of fantasy novels, though Durham assures us that he is quite familiar with all my favorites -- Gaiman, Herbert, Stephenson. What informs this novel and sets it apart is what made 'Earthsea' so special, a fully realized world of humans as varied as the usual elves, dwarves and whatnots. Well that, and an immense writing skill that brings a literary flair as well as lots of excitement to the novel.

Relief washes over me... Check the rest of it out here: News from the Agony Column.

By the way, the review starts off looking at another fantasy debut, The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. His book sounds good, too, and judging by the Amazon ranking it's off to a good start sale-wise. Besides all that, he seems like a nice guy in general - if you can tell such things from a person's blog!

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

In Praise of the Mother...


My step-father just sent me the link to this article. It's from a small Annapolis paper, and it's somewhat a tribute to my late mother, who did a lot research into African-American history in Annapolis. It made her a mini-celebrity in the historical scene there, and it directly inspired my second novel, Walk Through Darkness. She died back in 2001. I miss her a great deal, but it's nice to be reminded by articles like this that others miss her as well, for a variety of reasons.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

I Survived the Smithsonian


Actually, it was great fun. I was intimidated by the very idea of speaking at the Smithsonian, but when it came down to it I was blessed with a generous moderator, Fred Winter, a kind host, Melody Curtis, and an interested audience. What more could I ask for? Nobody shot me down with nasty questions (always a possibility), and the discussion was lively right up until the point that Melody pulled the plug. I'm very pleased, and happy to be home safe as well.

I got a little bit of publicity out of it, too. There was a pre-event write up in the Washington Post Express. I was fairly well-quoted and I'm happy with it. They used a photo of me that's a solid six years old, but that's okay too. Actually, I quite wish I still had those glasses. I don't know where my sense of style's gone...
Now, back to work...

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Monday, March 19, 2007

The first Pre-Pub Review!

So it's that time again. Time to wait nervously on what the trade reviewers are going to say about the upcoming book, Acacia: The War with the Mein. Honestly, one never knows how others are going to respond. No matter how confident and proud you feel about a work, there's no guarantee that others are going to agree for all sorts of reasons. So it's with great pleasure that I read the first of these early reviews today. It's from the March 15th Library Journal. Here's what they said...

Leodan Akaran wants only to be a devoted father and political reformer, but his Acacian empire is based on forced labor, drugged pacification, and a dark deal that trades children into slavery. His chance for reform ends abruptly when the Meins, a fierce people subjugated by the Acacians, revolt through assassination, warfare, and biological terror. The four Akaran children scatter to their respective hiding places-and destinies-around the empire. Historical fiction writer Durham (Pride of Carthage ) successfully turns to epic fantasy in a series opener that combines the moral ambiguity and brutality of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire with Guy Gavriel Kay's emotional sweep and Ursula K. Le Guin's ethnic diversity. There are a few false notes as the book moves to its climax (e.g., monstrous beasts stopped through mass battlefield nudity!), but readers will be excited to learn whether the children retake and reform Acacia or are sacrificed to bring the Meinish ancestors back to bloody life. Recommended for all libraries that collect fantasy fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/07.]-Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA

Needless to say, that's wonderful. I'm especially stunned that he wraps me into a sentence with Martin, Kay and LeGuin - three writers I deeply respect. So, I'm very, very pleased. I don't even mind that battlefield nudity slight. It's a strange scene, granted, but I like it!

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

It's been a week, so...


I should post something. I've been a little bogged down with teaching this week, and we've had a small (not so small, really) tragedy regarding a well-loved cat. This latter has been hard on the kids. So I've been distracted.

Umm... The only almost news-worthy thing is that I've entered into talks with a film production company that's interested in the rights to Walk Through Darkness. I won't say much more about it until things have gone further - if they do. But I'm thrilled at the prospect of getting WTD in production. I think it would suit film, in a more intimate way than something like Pride of Carthage. And with Gabriel's Story still in the works... Well, maybe the stars will align at some point and one of these things will be on a big (or small) screen near you soon. I'll be sure to let you know more when/if anything is finalized.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Meme...

Okay, I've been way slow on this, but here it is at last. A couple of weeks back Gabriele Campbell "tagged" me to do a Meme. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant at the time, but I understand now that it means I'm to answer a series of questions, in this case about historical fiction. Below are the questions and my answers. I stuck tightly to talking about historical fiction, even though sometimes I felt inclined to respond with answers that sighted other genres.

Apologies, Gabriele, for taking so long about this...

Straight Historical, Historical Mystery, Historical Fantasy, Historical Romance, or Time Travel?

Straight. I did enjoy Robert Harris' Pompeii, which was a mystery, but I don't know if it was the mystery side of things that interested me in that, anyway. I don't have that much interest in historical romance or time travel, though.

Historical Figures as Main Characters or Purely Fictional Characters in Historical Settings as Main Characters?

Both. I almost don't even notice the difference in terms of being drawn to a book or subject.

Hardback, Trade Paperback, or Mass Market Paperback?

Well, I'm most likely to buy new books when they get to trade paperback, but when I really like a book I'll try to eventually pick up a hardback. It's hardbacks I like to have for my "library".

Philippa Gregory or Margaret George?

Ah... I haven't read either. I'm more of a Margaret Atwood, Kevin Baker, TC Boyle type, with a little Steven Pressfield, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris mixed in. I began as a reader and writer of literary fiction. I still am that, as far as I'm concerned, but I believe that the qualities of literary fiction really come to life when telling big, exciting, often historical stories.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?

The two serve different purposes for me. Amazon is almost like a research tool these days, and I will order stuff from them when it's the most convenient. But I do like browsing bookstores, too. I'm quite a fan of used bookstores, also. That's where a lot of my hardbacks come from.

Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Penman?

Cornwell. I've only come to him recently, though. I particularly enjoyed the series that began with The Last Kingdom.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?

Hmm... B&N, if I have to choose. My problem with Borders is that they have an African-American literature section that, I think, marginalizes black writers. There's nothing wrong with an African-American history section, or culture section, or even some section that would include classic black novels, but I don't like it that contemporary novelists all too often have their new books sent straight to the back of the store. It means that nobody is going to find them unless they're overtly looking for them, and it means that books by these authors are limited to a tiny amount of shelf space. And what's wrong with having novels by black authors in with novels by all other authors? Afraid of literary misogyny?

First Historical Novel You Ever Remember Reading?

The first novels I remember are all fantasy... But, okay, I do recall getting caught up in The Robe, by Lloyd Douglas.

Alphabetize by Author, Alphabetize by Title, or Random?

Author. I love a well-organized bookshelf, I have to admit.

Keep, Throw Away, or Sell?

Keep.

Read with Dust Jacket or Remove It?

Remove it.

Stop Reading When Tired or at Chapter Breaks?

Stop reading when I'm tired, preferably at a chapter break.

"It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"?

"Once upon a time," I think. Or maybe, "Once upon a time, on a dark and stormy night..."

Buy or Borrow?

Borrow to check things out. And my kids are home schooled, so we always have about a hundred books out of the library. But I buy when I like things.

Buying Choice: Book Reviews, Recommendations, or Browsing?

Has to be all of the above. I read plenty of reviews, but I wouldn't buy or not buy a book based on any one. I like to read a few of the same book and then make a decision.

Dorothy Dunnett or Anya Seton?

I'm not doing to well with these author questions... Again, neither author is of particular interest to me. How about Mary Renault instead?

Tidy Ending or Cliffhanger?

I like a satisfying ending. That doesn't mean it's tidy, but I do like it when all the narrative threads are brought to some sort of resolution.

Sticking Close to Known Historical Fact, or Using Historical Fact as Wallpaper?

I like sticking close to the historical fact, with the caveat that as an author I also need to make a narrative work. So I tweak the facts on occasion if it helps me tell the story better. I don't, however, tweak the facts to shape them into something false - in my opinion. (I'm quite aware, by the way, that not everyone who's read Pride of Carthage agrees with me.)

Morning Reading, Afternoon Reading or Nighttime Reading?

Nighttime, although I also listen to books on cd, tape, etc. That I usually do while walking - which is part of my daytime writing routine.

Series or Standalone?

I don't think I ever start a novel with the hopes of reading a series. I go for the book - the standalone - but if it's good and there are more than one (and they're good, too) I'm happy to return for more.

Favorite Book of Which Nobody Else Has Heard?

It's not that nobody has ever heard of him, but I didn't learn of the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon until I lived in Scotland. His trilogy A Scot's Quair is a classic, but I also really like his novel, Spartacus. It's not the one the film was based on, of course, but it's very good, lyric, brutal and compact at the same time. The Amazon link to it says it's not available. That's a bummer. Glad I have my copy, though.

Okay, that's it. It may be that I'm supposed to "tag" somebody at this point, but I'm going to hold off on that for now. I'm new to all this stuff, ya know.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Acacia on Ebay

Hey. So there's an Advanced Reading Copy of Acacia: The War with the Mein on sale through Ebay. I don't know - might be I should be bothered by this. Whomever is selling the thing is selling a copy that says right on it that it isn't for sale... But, anyway, there it is. I've bought some things that weren't legally for sale myself, so who am I to get self-righteous?

Want one? If you pick it up - no bids yet - you'll legitimately have a copy of the book months before publication. And if the book makes it big one day the copy will be valuable, rare and all that. Act fast, though, only 2 days left! Just search by my name and the title...

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Novels with supernatural elements..

Just came across this article in Publishers Weekly. It's by Gwenda Bond and it was written back in 2006. I thought I'd excerpt a bit of it here, as it's of particular interest to me. You can check the whole thing out here, though, if you're interested. The subtitle was Harry Potter Meets the New Yorker...

Edward Kastenmeier, a senior editor at Pantheon, is quoted as saying, "Our culture is exploring the literary margins more than in the past. Exposure to fantastic elements and technology in our daily lives has made people more accepting of them in literature."

Really? I hope so, although being in a college setting at the moment I'm more aware of academics being disdainful of anything that even hints at genre. But academics are only a part of the picture, right? A rather small part at that. Okay, the article carries on...

The blurring of borders signals a return to a broader idea of literature. "Great writers have been incorporating fantasy, science fiction and horror in their fiction for a very long time," says Tina Pohlman, editorial director of Harcourt's Harvest imprint. But she concedes, "I realize that the contemporary literary world tends to equate literary fiction with narrative realism, so maybe there is something in the air..."

"It's more of an aberration," says Brockmeier, (that's Kevin Brockmeier, author of Grooves) "that those elements were stripped out of literary fiction in the first place. No one is rejecting realism, but there is a greater openness to accepting fantastic fiction as a form of literature."

Hurray for that!

A little later it says, Mirroring the rise of fantasy and science fiction in popular culture, literary stars like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem ascended to the top of their field. Both have long championed genre fiction. Along with such writers as Aimee Bender, Colson Whitehead and Haruki Murakami, these writers acknowledged their influences from mystery, comic books, science fiction and fantasy.

"It used to be that serious writers had to leave their childhood passions behind and that's no longer the case," says Kastenmeier. "Jonathan Lethem was embraced by both audiences and able to indulge his passions. In the past, writers needed to hide their genre interests more."

"...indulge his passions..." I like that.

Many of these writers admit they were sneaking over the fence as children. "I grew up reading mainstream literary fiction, but also fantasy and science fiction. As my own tastes matured, the first literary fiction writers I responded to were people who were playing with the fantastic, like Italo Calvino and Gabriel Garcia Marquez," says Brockmeier.

You know, this is something I think alot about. I really do feel that so, so many people became readers in the first place because of reading fantasy and sci-fi when they were young. That's certainly true in my case. So why not give these genres some credit for being gateways to appreciating literature? I'm not suggesting that all genre writing is good, but, duh, that's true of any genre - even the literary one. I do think it's a little small to disregard a genre as a whole instead of encouraging people to find good writing, to recognize it when they see it and know that it can be found in surprising places.

Okay, it also says, The readers who snapped up Sebold, Niffenegger and Clarke's books may have started as book buyers hungry for the next big title, but publishers hope some will develop a regular taste for fantasy. The amount of fantastical literary fiction hitting the market may signal that's already happening...

"Ordinary readers used to be afraid of fantasy," says Kastenmeier. "Writers like Susanna Clarke and books like The Time Traveler's Wife are making it easier to package fantasy subject matter for a literary audience. The audience isn't defining literary fiction as narrowly as it once did."

As an editor, Kastenmeier says he has to consider what people will pick up and read in public. "It used to be people wouldn't read genre books, there was a reticence of the mainstream audience, a feeling that it wasn't acceptable. But now it's okay to be seen reading these books on the subway..."


I had to think about that subway thing a bit. (That's a very urban-oriented comment, isn't it?) On one hand it seems silly to me that people should care what anybody else thinks about what they're reading, but on the other hand I can see the point. Maybe the issue isn't really so much worrying about a criticism of what they're reading. It's a concern that people will judge them based on what they - potentially uninformed - think a particularly title or genre signifies. That I can definitely see.

Puts into perspective why Doubleday worked so hard to come up with the cover they did for Acacia: The War with the Mein. It's a good one, and it looks as literary as the material inside it actually is - while also reflecting that it's an imaginative story. It's not, at least, a cover that I think anybody would be embarrased to read on the subway. If that helps the book find readers I'm all for it.

So, any thoughts?

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

A blurb from James Patrick Kelly!

Good news on the Acacia: The War with the Mein front. I just received my first blurb for the book. Sci-fi veteran writer James Patrick Kelly was kind enough to read the book and to say...

Treachery in the throne room, princes in hiding, ancestors reaching from beyond the grave, wars of succession — this is a novel that Shakespeare would have loved. David Anthony Durham is rebuilding epic fantasy from the ground up. There are books that you visit for a vacation and then there are books that you live in. Get ready to have your mail forwarded to Acacia.

Wow. I'm very happy with that, especially as it's coming from Jim, a two time Hugo winner, with something like ten Nebula nominations and tons of other awards. He's a wonderful novelist and short story writer, always thoughtful and inventive. His books include Burn (a current Nebula Finalist), Think Like a Dinosaur, Strange But Not a Stranger. There's a great interview in Locus from last fall; he was the featured interview of the edition, by the way. You can check out his website for more information on him.

Thank you, Jim.

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