Friday, December 11, 2015

Crowns and Roses

There’s a special joy in watching a book and an author come into their own. My latest interview for New Books in Historical Fiction represents that kind of pleasure for me. I met Courtney J. Hall by accident: she responded to an ad that I didn’t even know had been placed, for writers to join a critique group that was just then forming. That was more than seven years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. She is a wonderful writer, a talented graphic designer, and one of the three founding members of Five Directions Press, where she oversees cover design, various social media, and our quarterly newsletter.

Among other things, Courtney has a gift for producing back-cover blurbs: those pesky short descriptions that drive authors crazy. Write four hundred pages of novel? No problem. Distill those four hundred pages to a paragraph or two? The mere thought makes most of us sweat. So for all those reasons—and the simple fact that she’s a lovely human being—I was delighted to interview her about her debut novel, Some Rise by Sin. For those of you interested in the “alone together” concept that lies behind writers’ cooperatives, we also spend a few minutes discussing Five Directions Press.

Last but not least, I was impressed that she agreed, although I knew in advance that she would do a great job. Like many writers, Courtney feels more comfortable behind a computer screen than putting herself forward. It took courage to sit in front of a microphone, even with a friend, and talk about her early writing career and what led to the creation of Some Rise by Sin. (Although it would surprise anyone who encounters me these days, I too was once shy, so I sympathize.) So congratulations to Courtney, first for writing a lively and appealing novel focused on a lesser-known but vital transition in late Tudor England, then having the nerve to talk about it.

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

The reverberations of Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign continued to echo long after the monarch’s death. England teetered into Protestantism, then veered back into Catholicism before settling into an uneasy peace with the ascension of Elizabeth I. But for the survivors of the first two shifts, the approaching death of Mary Tudor in 1558 created great anxiety. No one knew, then, that Elizabeth would choose a path of compromise and (relative) tolerance. And Mary’s public burnings of Protestants gave much cause for concern that her sister might follow the same path with any Catholics who refused to recant.

Cade Badgley has served Mary well, even enduring imprisonment abroad for her sake. When he returns to England to discover his queen seriously ill and his own future changed by the death of his father and older brother, he has little choice but to manage the earldom dumped on his shoulders. But maintaining a crumbling estate without staff or money to hire them demands more resources than Cade can amass on his own. He turns to his nearest neighbor, who is happy to help—if Cade will return to the very court he has just abandoned, with the neighbor’s daughter in tow. Marrying off a lovely heiress will not strain Cade’s abilities much, but keeping her from pitchforking them both into trouble with her impetuosity and naïveté proves a far more difficult task. As the weeks pass, Queen Mary’s health worsens, and the future of England’s Catholics becomes ever more tenuous, the court is the last place that Cade wants to be.

In Some Rise by Sin (Five Directions Press, 2015), Courtney J. Hall neatly juggles politics, history, art, and romance during England’s brief Counter-Reformation, a moment when the Elizabethan Age had not yet begun.

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