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Fortune's Wheel

LJ! You're back! I've missed being able to post and read!

A reader asks, "Can you tell us a little bit more about the upcoming book? I'm itching for a new one."

Sure! Fortune's Wheel will be out in the summer of 2012. It's set in the period of the French Revolution and Directory, covering 1794-1800. One of the things that's really different and challenging about it is that unlike Black Ships, Hand of Isis or Stealing Fire, it's in a very well documented place and time. That's a blessing and a curse both. It's a blessing in that there is plenty of material. I don't have to extrapolate and guess nearly as much. But it's a curse in that the parameters of the "canon" are much, much tighter!

For example, there is only one English language biography of Ptolemy, as major a figure in the story of Alexander as he is, and it runs a bare seventy pages! That's all that's known. That's it. Everything we know or can reasonably extrapolate about Ptolemy can be said in seventy pages. Compare this to the volumes and volumes of hundreds of thousands of words about Napoleon! Our original sources on Bagoas are a handful of references, a few lines here and there. Compare this to Josephine, who has more than forty complete biographies readily available on Amazon! It's a completely different task to work in such a well-documented period.

Another challenge is culture and place. While of course there are readers of Stealing Fire who have been to Egypt or who are Egyptian, things have changed. Charmian's Alexandria is not Alexandria today. The past is a different country. Someone who lives in Alexandria today may see things that are familiar in Hand of Isis, but it's not going to be the same. Their city is separated from Charmian's by two thousand years, as is their culture. That's not true in Fortune's Wheel. It is entirely possible to eat in the same restaurants as Elza and Michel, to shop in the same stores, to live in the same apartment buildings. This is true to the smallest detail. We have, for example, a letter from Victor Moreau instructing her to send him a care package containing a certain kind of mustard. I can walk into my favorite specialty market across town, and there by the charcuterie is Victor's mustard, same brand, same type! We can taste exactly what they tasted, listen to the same music, walk the same sidewalks. And so there is not only the double challenge of making the period work, but of having all those details right and perfect enough for the reader who lives down the street from where the characters do! It's an enormous job.

It would be an impossible job without the assistance of several wonderful friends in Europe who have saved my life with various details over the years of working on Fortune's Wheel and its sequels. When I was working on Fortune's Wheel and preparing to write the Battle of Hohenlinden, fought in December 1800, I ran into a problem. Google Earth is wonderful, but their pictures of the area of the battle were taken in summer. I couldn't tell if the trees were deciduous or coniferous! Which makes a huge difference, the second week in December! Can she see or not? If the trees have lost their leaves, yes, she can. If the trees are fir trees, no way. Big problem! I emailed a friend of mine in Munich and said, "You know those trees along the road between Munich and Hohenlinden? Are they firs or not?" She emailed back, "Can't remember, let me ask my dad because he goes that way all the time." She calls her dad, then emails me back. "Dad says the trees are firs." Awesome with awesome sauce, and thank you Tanja!

I would also be lost without Anne-Elisabeth in Paris, who can be counted on to fix any errors of geography or implausiblity, Beth in Warsaw, Anna in Amsterdam, and any number of others, including the wonderful friend who had spent a summer vacation along the exact stretch of French coastline south of Boulogne that I needed. I should be lost on Polish roads without Beth, Anna kindly translated several articles in Dutch that contain unique research, and Anne-Elisabeth has sent me endless scans and photographs and links.

Fortune's Wheel is immensely more complicated in some ways than the other books in terms of research, and I hope you enjoy it!

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
_illumina_
Jul. 31st, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Can't wait!!
jo_graham
Jul. 31st, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
aishabintjamil
Jul. 31st, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Historicals, especially dealing with recent periods are really tough. I've done it once for a short story, figuring that I could do it pretty easily because it was a period I'd done a lot of research on, and thought I knew. The minute I sat down to write I realized just how *wrong* that was. The history books are missing so many of the little details that make for good writing, like your fir trees.

In some ways the things people think they know are the most misleading. We think things are the same, because the written description from 1700 or 1800 matches, but the reality is subtly different.

That mustard may be the same brand, and even made from more or less the same recipe, but I'd really hate to bet that they haven't tweaked it a bit over the years to make it more appealing to the modern palate, or to compensate for changes in ingredients. Varieties of plants go in and out of favor, and they make subtle difference in the taste of your end product. An heirloom variety of tomato in you ketchup might be more or less sweet, the eggs from one breed of chicken common in 1800 might be bigger/smaller than the eggs a modern egg farm, and if you don't adjust the number in the recipe accordingly, it will taste different.
jo_graham
Jul. 31st, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)
Well, one does the best one can.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )