Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

September 19th, 2016 by Evangeline Holland

Books, Prose, and Conversation

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Black Belt, 1934

Archibald J. Motley Jr., Black Belt, 1934. Oil on canvas, 33 x 40.5 inches (83.8 x 102.9 cm). Collection of the Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia. © Valerie Gerrard Browne.

One thing I’ve been pondering as I work on two different MSS is the hows and whys of social change, and how people of the day responded to them. Looking back at the Harlem Renaissance, or even the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement in Edwardian England, we can easily pinpoint this style happened in this year because of XYZ. We are able to say “Important Writer/Artist was saying this to another VIP here after ABC.” It’s all very self-conscious of the past and whose work we consider influential and game-changing, but what was the every day life like for the people in the thick of modernism?

I finished Everybody Behaves Badly by Lesley M.M. Blume last week, and was left incredibly curious about Hemingway’s belief that he was going to change literature with his first novel. Was his assurance more than simple arrogance and self-congratulation? Was 1920s society really clamoring for something new and different? What if his book bombed? (There are plenty of now-forgotten modernist novels published at the same time)

Since my primary WIP is set during the Harlem Renaissance, I’m reading copious amounts of poetry, essays, short stories, fiction, plays, and artwork produced by the leading figures of the New Negro Movement, not simply for research but to understand the conversations between their creators. I am also listening to blues and early jazz, and reading newspapers to find connections between the creatives and the common people in Harlem since, after all, the movement was dominated by the educated, somewhat financially secure Harlemites.

But in general, I’m trying to figure out the actual conversations of my characters as they move through the 1920s. Would it be pretentious, precious, and self-conscious for them to espouse what was going on right now? (And the swiftness with which new ideas are exchanged in 2016 is something to consider when reflecting on the speed of the past) Would over-awareness seem like info-dump? Would holding too much back make the characters formless and opaque?

I’m still working on this.

May 23rd, 2016 by Evangeline Holland

Pistols and Petticoats: How Women Write the West

The myth of the frontier or the border, as perpetrated by male writers, has centered on the loner, the “fugitive from civilization,” (Smith 54) whose role is to clear the path for settlers and be the bridge between savage and civilization, yet whose synthesis with the wilderness bars him from the possibilities of a domestic life. Of the texts read in class, Louis L’Amour’s Hondo comes the closest to integrating the “Natty Bumppo/Leatherstocking/Hawkeye” archetype back into civilized society, and is also the most “feminine” of texts. Through the character of Hondo, one can see the germination of the work done by women writers of the West, who use the frontier setting and its accompanying myths in a uniquely feminine literary form.

According to statistics listed on the website for Romance Writers of America (RWA), the romance genre is a one billion dollar-a-year industry that makes up thirteen percent of adult fiction sold. It is a complex genre made up of multiple subgenres, ranging from Christian/Inspirational to contemporary to paranormal to erotic to suspense to historical to LGBT, and inside of each subgenre exists categories (and many combine subgenres or categories). Westerns are primarily considered to be a category of historical romance. Written primarily by women (the only known deviation from this is Howard Lowery, who writes Western romances under the genre neutral pseudonym Leigh Greenwood), this category of historical romance more explicitly focuses on the taming of the West alongside the “Hawkeye” character—and many flip this narrative, with the female protagonist as “Hawkeye,” or both male and female protagonists as “Hawkeyes.”

Overall, in the romance genre, the heroine is the hero. The West remains a masculine space in romance novels, with the archetypical stock characters and plots seen in male-written Western media, but the heroine drives the novel; she “is the one with choices to make, she is the one to take control, to triumph at the end,” states best-selling author Penelope Williamson in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. (Williamson 126) Williamson grants her heroines “the traits and qualities traditionally reserved for the heroes in other types of fiction: honor, loyalty, integrity, courage, intelligence, and good old-fashioned grit…she is a survivor.” (Williamson 128) These elements, and the woman writer’s view of the West as a uniquely hybridized space—feminine and masculine, “savage” and civilized/domestic—are present in the three Western romance texts discussed in this paper: Jezebel by Katherine Sutcliffe (1997), Fair Is the Rose by Meagan McKinney (1993), and Fall From Grace by Megan Chance (1997).

As is common with the genre, all three novels take place within the decade after the Civil War—1870 Texas, 1875 Wyoming, and 1876 Texas/Mexico respectively—, a period before the so-called closing of the west, or end of the frontier, as Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill’s individual narratives at the turn-of-the-century claimed. Sutcliffe’s Jezebel conceptualizes the West as a hell on earth, an area where white Americans reside to escape the laws of civilization and society, and where they can only remake and refashion the land and the people through violence.

The male protagonist, Rafael de Bastistas, is referred to throughout the novel as a walking dead man; his narrative directly mirrors that of William Blake in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in that an unexpected encounter with violence turns a meek farmer into “Hawkeye” or “Hondo.” The female protagonist, Charity Bell, has been brutalized by the West and her attempts to tame it. When the story opens, she is widowed, pregnant, and on the verge of insanity.

The initial meeting of Rafe and Charity echoes Hondo’s meeting with Angie Lowe and Johnny: Rafe delivers the delirious Charity’s son when he takes shelter from a snowstorm in her house, and is diverted from his quest for revenge when he is forced to care for the newborn. In this opening, both the landscape—the snowstorm—and civilization—a helpless newborn baby—conspire to force the protagonists to merge both elements in order to survive on the frontier.

In contrast, gender roles in McKinney’s Fair Is the Rose are flipped. Christabel (Christal) Van Alan escapes West after breaking free of the insane asylum to which she’d been wrongly committed, and her stagecoach is held up by a ruthless gang of ex-Confederates turned outlaws. Initially, the male protagonist, Macaulay Cain, is presented as a cold-blooded outlaw, but he is eventually revealed to be a U.S. Marshal. Civilization has brutalized Christal, and where Cain yearns to leave the West behind, she finds her own form of justice in the frontier. McKinney also presents a more multicultural and multi-ethnic West than Sutcliffe, as well as other texts read in class: not only ex-Confederates and ex-Union soldiers (with an on page appearance of Ulysses S. Grant), but African-Americans and Native Americans, exist in her concept of the frontier.

Chance presents the most violent West in Fall From Grace, and the romance that most explicitly falls in line with Williamson’s argument of the romance heroine as hero. Lily Tremaine is orphaned by an outlaw gang, who adopt her and mold her into a ruthless, sexless killer. The gang leader’s son, Christian “Texas” Sharpe, later marries her. There is something ironic in Chance’s narrative that Texas, a fellow gunslinger, attempts to tame Lily through such a civilized concept as marriage, and that it is Texas’s sheltered half-sister, Jocelyn, who is the key element in bringing Lily out of the frontier—bodily and mentally. At the same time, Jocelyn undergoes a transformation when her desire to experience the frontier as Lily has, draws her away from domesticity. In the end, Lily is akin to the Uncas character, while Jocelyn has become a “white Indian” through her experiences in the West.

In the Western romance, as presented by female writers for a primarily female audience, the frontier myth is strong, particularly Turner’s thesis that the West was “‘free land’ into which the pioneers moved [and] was available for the taking, and that American progress began with a regenerative retreat to the primitive, followed by a recapitulation of the stages of civilization.” (White) All three novels end in some degree on a farm, with little interrogation as to how it is be acquired, but with the implication that it—domesticity through landownership and homesteading—is necessary for a believable romantic ending.

After Rafe has succeeded in his quest for vengeance against the men who murdered his family and left him for dead, he returns to Charity’s homestead to marry her and finish cultivating the land. Christal clears her name of the murder she’d been committed for, leaves her wealthy family, and returns West with Cain. Lily leaves the outlaw gang behind after a disastrous train robbery nearly gets the entire gang killed, and after living in Mexico for a year, returns to Texas and Jocelyn to fulfill their mutual dreams of settling down and running a farm (in this novel, their outlaw habits die hard—they plan to rustle cattle to start their ranch).

Unlike James Fenimore Cooper, who struggled to make Natty Bumppo into a hero of a romance, Western historical romance novelists of the 20th and 21st century do not necessarily work hard to place the white Indian/Hawkeye/hunter character in a romantic narrative. It could be the distance of time—1870 is far from 1997, and especially far from 2015, when compared to Cooper writing about the 1750s in the 1820s.Or, as I believe, it is the changing role and experiences of women that plays a part with this ease. Contrasting the Michael Mann adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) to the 1936 version reveals that the increasing agency the heroine (Cora Munro) and the audience’s changing perception of women on the frontier, makes Hawkeye’s position as a romantic hero easier to write.

The agency of the heroine, and the construction of the hero as open to love and domesticity, turns the frontier into a hybridized space in the Western romance. More recent texts, such as Genevieve Turner’s Las Morenas series, and Beverly Jenkins’s Destiny trilogy, further hybridize the frontier through a multiethnic cast of characters (both series’ take place in turn-of-the-century California, with a Mexican-American family and an African-American/Mexican-American family, respectively), thus increasing agency for marginalized communities and restoring them to their place in the frontier myth.

This isn’t to say there are no problematic elements similar to those seen in Cooper or L’Amour, or in the myths perpetuated by Turner and Buffalo Bill. Similar imagery—covered wagons, dangerous Indians, white women in peril, fears of and the presence of miscegenation (Hawkeye’s constant declaration of being a “man without a cross” and the futility of the pairing of Uncas and Cora), etc, are passed down through time and disseminated across many Western romances. However, the adherence to a hybridized space in the West purposefully molds this imagery and the myth of the frontier to create a satisfying romantic ending that often pulls the protagonists out of an historical reality to formulate its own myth about the West.

In the hands of women writers, the West is where Hawkeye type characters are allowed a domestic life, whether they be female or male. In most—if not all—Western romances, the fugitive from civilization is the most acceptable romance protagonist of all. “Hawkeye” redeems and is redeemed through love and romance, and s/he actively yearns for domesticity. For women, the frontier myth is not masculine and white/European. Women and ethnic groups are permitted to undergo the transformation into “true Americans,” while preserving the hybridization that allows them to escape the “urban wormdom [that] seemed the inevitable destiny of most Americans.” (White) It also isn’t restricted to male/female romantic relationships, as seen in Chance’s novel. Ultimately, freedom, independence, and autonomy, as conceived by women writers in Western romance, is not built solely through the experiences on the frontier, but built through love.

Works Cited

Chance, Megan. Fall From Grace. New York: Harper, 1997. Print.
Krentz, Jayne Ann, ed. Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. Print
McKinney, Meagan. Fair Is The Rose. New York: Island Books, 1993. Print.
Ramsdell, Kristin. Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.
“Romance Industry Statistics.” Romance Writers of America. RWA. 2014. Web. 13 June 2015.
Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007. Print.
Sutcliffe, Katherine. Jezebel. New York: Jove, 1997. Print.
Wendell, Sarah and Candy Tan. Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Print.
White, Richard. “Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill”

November 5th, 2015 by Evangeline Holland

Book Publishing Newbie: First Pass Pages for Fall of Poppies

A week ago I received the first pass pages for my contribution to the Fall of Poppies anthology.

Cue excitement!

Until I realized I had no clue what I was supposed to be doing with this document. The editing process, I get. I think I aced the copy-edits. But First Pass…what is this foreign language thou dost speak?

The process of What Happens Next (after the snagging an agent, selling a book, yadda yadda yadda) can be so hush-hush, and the rise of self-publishing has created a downturn in author blogging about traditional publishing processes has increased the difficulty in discovering just what heck I’m supposed to be doing. But I like to think that a post from 2009 or 2011 is just as relevant in 2015, so on we march Googlefu.

According to Laini Taylor: “First pass pages are the first typeset draft of the book, printed out as proofs. These pages are exactly as they will appear in the ARC, or Advance Reading Copy, which is sent out to booksellers, librarians, reviewers, etc. At the same time that the publisher is readying the ARC to print, they/we are also going over the book in this format one last time before the final print version is arrived at. So, though this is the way reviewers will see it, it is not the final-final-final draft.”

Got it! But what I am supposed to do with them?

Pete Hautman says I’m looking at “the stage just after copyediting, when the copyedits have been incorporated into the manuscript, and the work is set in the font and layout that will appear in the final book.”

So that means I can do some light clean-up of the text, right?

Yes you can, says Alyssa Palombo (a 2015 post!): “The point of the pass pages is for the author to go through the book again and make any small changes that still need to be made, correct anything that may have been missed in copy edits, etc.”

Phew! So that sentence I cringed over while looking at this file isn’t set in stone. Hallelujah!

There you have it–a semi crash course in unfamiliar publishing terms and its process. Back to work I go!