Friday, April 23, 2021

Agony Aunt for the Ages

As someone who’s kept a weekly blog for coming up on nine years without interruption, I’m always looking for good ideas for the next post. The New Books Network interviews help fill the void, as do the increasing number of written Q&As that I host for authors I can’t fit into my podcast schedule. I have bookshelf lists once a quarter, updates on my own books or comments on the craft in general, discussions of historical research and its place in fiction, and occasional posts about individual books or series that I enjoyed.

Even so, there are some weeks when I wake up on Thursday morning desperate for good ideas. I wish I had thought of this one, but the credit goes to my friend and fellow Five Directions Press member Claudia Long, who has created a time-traveling advice columnist willing to read and answer questions from fictional characters. Meet Madam Mariana.

So, what kind of questions does Madam Mariana field? Not surprisingly, the first two in the series (it only started a few weeks ago, so this is definitely one to revisit—and worth signing up for the author’s updates) address issues raised by characters in Claudia Long’s own books. Another Mariana from a work in progress, fifteen and living in Cuidad de Mexico in 1586, seeks advice on how to deflect her mother’s marriage plans. A widowed journalist in San Francisco, heroine of Long’s The Harlot’s Pen, wants justification for her pursuit of an artist in 1933—and writes back two weeks later revealing that perhaps she’s not a widow after all.

Most recently, a young woman in Ancona, Italy, at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Mirelle, the heroine of Beyond the Ghetto Gates, by Michelle Cameron, whom I interviewed for New Books in Historical Fiction last year) has watched the man she loves head off for Egypt with Napoleon’s army and fears he may never return. Like Lucy of The Harlot’s Pen, Mirelle gets into a back-and-forth with Madam Mariana. It’s all tremendous fun, as well as a convenient way to find out about titles you might like to add to your reading list.

 And yes, Darya Sheremeteva,  heroine of Song of the Sisters (2021), will be seeking advice a couple of Thursdays from now. So if you don’t check before then (and you certainly should), do go to the blog on May 6. I don’t know what Madam Mariana will say, but I suspect that Darya may be quite shocked at the advice she receives!

Image: Konstantin Makovsky, Noblewoman Stitching (1890s). Public domain because the artist died in 1915.

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