Two Questions at the Heart of Historical Fiction

Tucked in among the weighty proclamations issued by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 is the delightful gem of Canon 16, which in part prohibits clerics from attending “the performances of mimics and buffoons” or wearing “curiously sewed together gloves.” If they could be transported to the 21st century, the Council attendees would surely be appalled to see that the performances of mimics and buffoons are nearly the sum total of our contemporary culture, but what a relief it would be … [Read More...]

Looking into the past

On language

Please Be Kind to Idiots, for I Am an Idiot

I suffer the twin curses of the autodidact: patchy, unorganized knowledge and the great gnawing fear that everyone else is comfortably in possession of some Big Idea whose very existence has thus far eluded me. Given that I was spelunking my way through Plato’s Timaeus at the time, I was … [Read More...]

The art of craft

A Right and Good Way to Think About One’s Writing

The magnificently named Augustus John Cuthbert Hare opened the preface of his 1887 guidebook Paris with the following statement: A better book than this might easily have been published, but no one else has tried to write anything of the kind, and I have done my best. I don’t know if I have ever … [Read More...]

This journey

Visiting Historical Religious Sites: Two Gentle Pleas

I hesitate to post this article because anyone who is interested enough in history to visit a website devoted to historical fiction probably doesn't need to hear this message. You are sensitive to the debt of gratitude we have to those who came before us and are therefore inclined in general to be … [Read More...]

Learning from my betters

Catching the Reader with Multiple Hooks: Barry Unsworth’s The Ruby in Her Navel

The opening sentences and paragraphs of a novel have soooo much work to do: establishing the narrative voice and giving it some purpose, igniting a glimmer of interest in at least one character, painting in enough of the setting to help the reader get oriented, and proposing a contract with the … [Read More...]

Half-buried treasures

The Art of Invective: Ovid’s “Ibis”

Nikita Khrushchev: “We will bury you!” Dirty Harry Callahan: “Go ahead. Make my day.” Mike Tyson: “I’m gonna gut you like a fish.” Oh, boo hoo. You want to threaten somebody? Do it properly: While Thracians fight with bows, Iazyges with spears, while the Ganges runs warm, … [Read More...]


Memory Palaces: Storing an Entire Library in Your Head

Sometimes you get lucky. One of the themes of my novel is the nature and purpose of truth. Can the truth or a truth ever be found, and why should it be pursued? Is truth an end or a means, an ideal or a weapon? This theme is animated by characters from the thin stratum […]