Found this online, sounds like they are all going to be re-released!:
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
HISTORICAL FICTION by Rachel Kahan
Rachel Kahan is a Senior Editor at GP Putnam's Sons of the Punguin Group in New York.
Let's start with the obvious question-why historical fiction? Why go back in time when you can stay in your own time? What is it about us as readers, as writers, as book buyers, that keeps us coming back to past times?
When I was about 10, I came upon a small paperback book with a purple cover called, 'Kings and Queens of England.' It was a fairly short, dry book with a brief biography and the relative names and datse of England's monarchs. I suspect my mother had bought it on a trip to England in order to help her keep tabs on who was who when she visited historical sites. I was a big reader at that age, and over the course of a week or so, I read that book cover to cover. And it was fascinating. Dry and academic, but still completely fascinating. I can still see its cover in my mind's eye. My mother couldn't figure out why I was so attached to that little purple book, but looking back, I knew exactly why. Between those covers were some great stories. There was lust, and murder and revenge and love and hate and untimely death-that little history book had it all. And from that little book, I went to the public library in Arlington, Virginia, determined to find some more books about kings and queens. I pulled out the card catalogue-you remember what it was like to pull out that little drawer of cards and riffle through them? I miss those card catalogues-and found an author's name: Jean Plaidy.
What I didn't realize at the time was that Jean Plaidy was not, in fact, a historian. She was a novelist. But it was Jean Plaidy I stumbled on and there was card after card listing her works, so off I went to the east corner of the public library and discovered not just a shelf or two, but a downright wall of Jean Plaidy titles. And they were all-hallelujah!--about the Kings and Queen of England. And the Kings and Queens of France and maybe an odd Scottish queen or Spanish courtesan thrown in for good measure. And that was the beginning of my love of historical novels.
For an entire summer and well into the next year, I read Jean Plaidy's novels. And then I read some novels by Susan Kaye, and Kathleen Winsor, and James Michener and as many other historical novelists as I could find. I read plenty of contemporary novels too, and the usual literary stuff I had to read for school, but I was a woman possessed-I loved historical fiction.
It was the ultimate escapism-it let me travel but it also time travel. And while it was very entertaining, at least in the hands of a good writer, I also discovered that it was really educational. Historical fiction is fiction for the hungry mind. I learned about what life was like in a certain time period, how people ate, dressed married, lived and died. I learned how it was different from my own suburban childhood in the twentieth century, but in the hands of a good novelist, I could not only learn what it was like, I could FEEL what it was like. Although it should be noted that most historical fiction writers gloss over at least some of the unpleasant realities of life in the past. When I took European History in high school and actually started reading primary sources, I was horrified to discover that nearly everyone in the middle ages bathed only once a year and nearly all of them had lice and fleas and rotting teeth, something that was most definitely NOT mentioned in most of the novels I'd read. All those gorgeous gowns and castles and courtly love and not once a mention of fleas or scurvy or death in childbirth! It was a bit of a rude awakening, and here's where I should probably add that a lot of historical fiction, like any good entertainment, contains a somewhat idealized version of the past.
Flash forward another 10 years and I was working at Crown, a division of Random House, building our historical fiction program and hunting for new authors. At last, I had discovered how to get paid for my obsession-that early addiction to historical fiction was paying off, both literally and financially. And it turned out that Jean Plaidy's novels were all out of print in the U.S. When I discovered this, I felt awful-like when you learn that an old friend who you haven't seen for many years has suddenly died. But in this case, I was not just a fan mourning the loss of all those great novels, I was actually in a position to do something about it. I tracked down the agent for the Plaidy estate and made them an offer. I'd buy the rights to 10 of her 90-odd titles, repackage them and republish them for our trade paperback line. I paid a tiny advance and put the books on our list. And I discovered that I was most definitely not the only Jean Plaidy fan out there. The fiction buyer from Borders, as it turned out, was a long-time fan who had mourned the loss of those books as much as I did. There were websites devoted to Jean Plaidy who got the word out right away. We reissued two Plaidy paperbacks in April 2003 and within three months we'd sold 30,000 copies of each. Readers flooded Crown's websites with questions about when the next books would be out. The relaunch was so successful on this side of the Atlantick that one of my colleagues in the UK has bought the entire 90-title backlist and will be reissuing Plaidy's books in her home country, where they've been out of print for years.
As a history buff and an avid reader, I always gravitated to historical fiction, and millions and millions of books sold tell me that I'm not alone. I'm currently an editor at Putnam, a dynamic hardcover publisher with a powerhouse list of authors and a strong interest in commercial fiction of all kinds. And as the market's shown, historical fiction's where the readers are. I've already signed up three new historical novels and I'm always looking for more.
Last Edited on: 12/28/07 8:50 AM ET - Total times edited: 1