Christopher M. Cevasco, Author

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Welcome!

On this blog, I share thoughts about history, writing, and life in general, talk about books and movies, and occasionally interview authors, historians and other luminaries.  As companions to this main blog, I make frequent Zounds! posts that provide fun and easily digestible dollops of history, and I also regularly update the Photo Muse feature, wherein I share images of places that inspire.  All of the above can be easily accessed through the categorized archives at the bottom of this page.

FTC Regulations require that book bloggers disclose how they acquire the books that they review. Any book that I review here has been purchased unless otherwise noted.

Writing Process: A Blog Hop

I was recently invited by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt, author of Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo and The Stolen Golden Violin, to participate in a blog hop requiring me to answer four questions about my writing process. Syncopation is the fictional autobiography of the youngest of Victor Hugo’s children, and The Stolen Golden Violin is a contemporary children’s mystery that takes place at a summer music camp.

Onward to the questions…

What are you working on?

Currently, I’m seeking representation for a completed novel while working on a new one.  The former is an 11th-century psychological thriller exploring the legend of Lady Godiva’s naked ride through the streets of Coventry by illuminating the woman behind the legend and the passions that drove her. It is a much darker take on the familiar story, putting at the forefront the sexual tension between Godiva and the Peeping Tom figure from the legend.

Standing Desk

I bought this desk last year and now often write standing up.

Meanwhile I’ve just finished a final round of edits on the first polished draft of a new book. This one is a novel of English resistance and rebellion in the years immediately following the Norman Conquest. For years after 1066, the English waged an underground war that in many ways resembled the struggles of the French Maquis during World War II. As the conflict in my book escalates, a ghostly presence stalks the highways, the villages, and the fenland battlefields, some lingering shade of the pre-Conquest past with a deadly agenda all its own. I’ll be sending this draft off to a group of beta-readers (writer friends and colleagues) later this week, and I look forward to their feedback.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

My writing focuses very intensely on character, which can sometimes be overshadowed by the Big Events of historical fiction. But, perhaps more significantly, my work differs inasmuch as it often transcends genre or bridges multiple genres. For example, I very much enjoy a structural approach more common in epic fantasy—the weaving together of multiple disparate character threads into a single tapestry. I often take a similar approach when writing historical fiction: in one book I alternate between three characters’ points of view; in another I employ two primary points of view with occasional one-off chapters from a handful of characters at the periphery; etc.

My love for speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural horror) also inevitably leads to elements of the otherworldly creeping into my history. The Lady Godiva book features a character who is unhealthily obsessed with the Welsh myths of the goddess-queen Rhiannon. And of course the story of Godiva’s naked ride itself is the stuff of legend, almost certainly apocryphal, although I sought to strip away its more obvious anachronisms, grounding it firmly in the political upheavals of England’s mid-11th-century regime shift from the conquering Danish kings back to the royal English bloodline. As I mentioned above, in my latest book, a ghostly presence becomes increasingly intertwined with the events of the English resistance to the Normans. In the past, I’ve also written alternate history, deliberately changing the known timeline with an historical divergence point, which can be a lot of fun.

Why do you write what you do?

Basically I write what I like to read. Two of my favorite authors are Bernard Cornwell (I particularly love his Grail Quest series set during the Hundred Years War) and Connie Willis (her Doomsday Book, dealing with the 14th-century Black Death, ranks among my all time favorite novels).

I was once fortunate enough to hear George R.R. Martin give a lecture about his own experiences as a reader, and he indicated that, foremost, he reads fiction (and I paraphrase here) to experience the sensation of falling through a window into a wholly different locale—an environment that can seem as real as the world around us. That succinctly encapsulates why I read and write historical fiction—for the unique opportunity it affords us to travel through time.

How does your writing process work?

Bookshelves

Research, research, research…

I’m always astounded by writers who just sit down and type, having no idea where the story is going to take them. My brain doesn’t work that way. I’m the sort of writer who outlines the story from beginning to end before I start writing. That doesn’t mean there aren’t often huge gaps in my outline, aspects of the story I do flesh out as I go along. My outlines are also never set in stone; more often than not, were I to produce an outline after having finished a book, it would bear only a passing resemblance to the outline I started out with. But some core component of that initial outline always remains.

Once I have my outline, for the most part I work linearly, starting with chapter one and moving forward. But that system, too, usually breaks down. As I continue to think about the book, inspiration often strikes, and a scene from the midpoint or end of the story will coalesce in my brain. In those cases I’ll jump forward or backward to write those scenes, striking while the iron’s hot.

Strangely enough, though, when working on a single chapter (or a single short story, as the case may be), my process is anything but linear. I’ll have a general sense in my mind of what has to happen in the chapter, but I almost never start with the first sentence. When I write a chapter, my process might be analogized to laying a dry paper towel down atop a puddle of spilled wine. A bloom of spreading red might appear first in one corner, followed by another in the middle, a field of blossoms growing across the towel, reaching toward each other until eventually they merge and become one unified whole. That’s how I write a chapter. I might start at a spot in the middle, some bit of character interaction or plot development that stands out most clearly in my mind. I’ll then jump around, adding a bit here, embellishing there, connecting the dots until the written sections all touch, becoming one.

I also find that, chapter by chapter, this process starts out slowly, then speeds up to a frenzied pace. I might spend a couple of days dithering around with a chapter, not really achieving any significant word output, until all at once the whole chapter comes spilling out of me over the course of a morning. Then it’s on to the next chapter. Rinse. Repeat.

I try to set aside a block of time every weekday for writing. Sometimes that means actually churning out words, but at other times it’s revising, brainstorming, outlining, researching, or chipping away at the business side of writing (correspondence, self-promotion, agent queries, website maintenance). As my schedule allows and the Muse demands, I will also sometimes write in the evenings or on the weekends, but that is a far less structured thing.

One last thing I’ll mention is Scrivener, the software I use when writing. I first started using it near the end of 2007, have written three novels and many short stories with it, and can no longer even imagine writing without it. If you’re a writer and you haven’t yet tried using it, I can’t recommend it enough!

Bulletin Boards

My office walls: surrounded by history!

 

Bulletin Board

I recently needed a third bulletin board…

My thanks to Elizabeth Caulfield Felt for tagging me to participate in this blog hop; it was fun and will also hopefully inspire me to revitalize my blog, which has languished for about the past year. I’m already at work on a new Zounds! post about Anglo-Saxon beekeeping and a general post about World War II resistance films, which I hope to post in the upcoming weeks…

Read Elizabeth’s answers about her writing process here.

I now hereby tag two other authors to participate in the blog hop: Teralyn Rose Pilgrim and T. L. Morganfield, whose writing processes will be revealed in posts over the next two weeks. I look forward to reading their answers!

On April 7, visit Teralyn Rose Pilgrim:

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim is a historical fiction author with a special interest in spirituality. She is seeking representation for Sacred Fire, her novel about an ancient Roman priestess, and is working on Voodoo Queen, a novel of Marie Laveau. When she’d done with that, she plans on writing a novel about Joan of Arc. She is a homemaker and the mother of a six-month-old daughter.

On April 14, visit T. L. Morganfield:

T. L. Morganfield lives in Colorado with her husband and children. She’s an alumna of the Clarion West Workshop, and she graduated from Metropolitan State University with dual degrees in English and History. She reads and writes way too much about Aztec history and mythology, but it keeps her muse happy, which makes for a happy writer, so she has no plans of changing her ways.

There and Back Again: My Journeys With Tolkien

I saw the first of Peter Jackson’s three Hobbit films last week on opening day, and since then I’ve been reading the reviews and reactions to it–some glowing, some scathing. Over on Facebook, I posted my own brief review (I was utterly charmed by it), but the rather polarized response this film has received got me thinking and has inspired me to write this more in-depth blog entry. Before I can adequately convey what I want to say about the film, however, I should give a little background about where I’m coming from with Tolkien–what his work has meant to me.

I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings some time around the age of eleven and The Silmarillion soon thereafter (since then I’ve reread each of them more times than I can say, the only books I’ve ever read more than twice). They struck me like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky, for some of the obvious reasons people are drawn to the books but also for deeper reasons I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand. They simply resonated with me in a way nothing had before or since. Read more…

Spring Updating

Yes, spring is in full swing, but the thought of cleaning doesn’t quite appeal. Instead I thought I’d post an update on goings on since my last general blog post. Much of the new year has thus far been taken up with work on my new novel, a psychological thriller of sorts about Lady Godiva that returns the legend of her naked ride to a more plausible historical context in 11th-century England. I’m hoping to finish a draft of the book by the end of April and will post more details then. For now, suffice it to say I’m very excited about this project and look forward to shopping it around to agents later this year… Read more…

Author Interview: Bernard Cornwell

On January 17, Death of Kings, the sixth book in Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Stories, will be published in the U.S. (published in the U.K. last September). About seven years ago, I interviewed Mr. Cornwell shortly after the release of the first book in that series, The Last Kingdom, and I thought it would be fun to share that interview here as we fans wait to get our hands on the new installment.

For historical fiction enthusiasts, Bernard Cornwell needs no introduction, but for those who have yet to experience his work, he is the bestselling author of the Richard Sharpe series (set during the Napoleonic Wars), the Grail Quest series (the Hundred Years’ War), the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles (U.S. Civil War), the Warlord Trilogy (Arthurian England), and the novels The Fort (American Revolutionary War), Agincourt (the eponymous battle in 1415), Gallows Thief (Regency London), and Stonehenge (2000 BC), among others. He has also written a handful of contemporary thrillers, including the novel Scoundrel. In this interview, in addition to discussing The Saxon Stories (which tells the tale of Alfred the Great and his descendants), Mr. Cornwell shares some thoughts on reading and writing historical fiction, the relationship between history and myth, and the transforming human quest for answers throughout history and into modern times… Read more…

Old and New

With 2011 winding down, I thought I’d spew a few thoughts before entering the new year…

Inhuman #5Back at the end of October, I attended the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, where I was very happy to receive contributor copies of Allen K’s Inhuman Magazine #5.  The issue contains my story “The Lion of Orkahaugr,” which is about a marauding band of Norsemen on 12th-century Orkney who stir up something sinister when they break into a prehistoric chambered tomb. I actually sold the story to Allen Koszowski six years ago, but the issue was much delayed owing to Allen’s poor health; happily he’s recovered now, and the magazine is up and running again via Centipede Press. The lag time brought an interesting phenomenon into sharp focus for me: it afforded me a window into my own growth Read more…

Midsummer Missive

With summer in full swelter, here are a few updates about recent items of note and upcoming fun…

First, as reported in my last general blog post, the Historical Novel Society Conference in June was amazing; it continues to inspire me. I’ve updated the Gallery page of my website with a small sampling of my photos from the conference. A larger photo set is on my Facebook Page, and a still larger one is available through the HNS website. Read more…

Historical Novel Society Conference Recap

As the weekend comes to a close, this year’s Historical Novel Society conference has now itself become a part of history. But like those bygone eras we love to read about in novels, the weekend was full of moments I’ll revisit in the months to come as a source of ongoing inspiration. And that’s perhaps the best part of these conferences–the way they always inspire and energize me to approach my vocation with renewed vigor. The mental wheels are spinning in overdrive right now, my brain filled with ideas about marketing and self-promotion, ways in which I can improve upon my agent querying technique, scenes and stories and books I want to write after listening to other writers talk about the challenges of plot and character development, historical truth versus compelling narrative, and the rewarding sense of accomplishment we all feel when those gordian knots are unravelled.

Read more…

Updates, Conventional and Unconventional

I hope folks have been enjoying the ZOUNDS! posts, which I’ve been managing to write with some degree of frequency.  It’s been a while since my last regular blog post, but I’ve finally got several items worth mentioning…

First, on the convention front, two big updates.

World Fantasy Convention: I’m happy to report that I will indeed be attending the World Fantasy Convention this October, notwithstanding memberships having sold out before I tried to purchase one.  I still haven’t heard back regarding the waiting list I signed up for, but a friend who had purchased her own membership and now unfortunately cannot attend kindly agreed to transfer her membership to me.  The proper forms have been filed, and I’m now officially attending!

Read more…

Author Interview: Connie Willis

Connie Willis is currently nominated for what would be her eleventh Hugo Award and her seventh Nebula Award for her two-volume World War II time-travel novel, Blackout and All Clear.  The Nebulas will be awarded later this month and the Hugos in August.  In the mean time, I thought I’d share an interview I conducted with Ms. Willis five years ago, when she was still hard at work writing the books.  It should be noted that at the time of this interview, the decision had not yet been made to split the novel into two volumes; it was her intention to publish it as a single novel called All Clear.  In addition to discussing the book, Connie provided a fascinating window into her writing and her fondness for both history and science fiction.  To say nothing of Liberace and the Rockettes…

Read more…

Convening in 2011

In past years, two of my favorite conventions have been Readercon and WisCon.  Unfortunately I’ll be missing both cons this year (one for the happy occasion of attending my sister’s wedding!), but I certainly plan to return to them in 2012.

I will, however, be attending several conferences and conventions over the rest of the year, where I hope to see many of you… Read more…