On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, the New York Historical Novel Society held one of its bi-yearly author panels, this one entitled "Allure of the Gaslight Century," organized by Loretta Goldberg. These are marvellous events held in the Willa Cather Community Room at the incomparable Jefferson Market Library in New York City. The next event will be in the fall.
Gray Basnight draws on his Confederate ancestry to create a slave girl’s narration of the fall of Richmond. The story begins with Richmond still in its glory day as the Confederate capital, though confidence is ebbing enough that one of the white masters has ordered his slaves to grow food in a kitchen garden. This is what Francine Pegram, the heroine of the story, knows of her origins:
I was sold over the back fence of the Spotswood Hotel when I wasn’t yet one year old. After that, my name changed over from Francine Pettigrew to Francine Pegram. Extra was present and remembers the barter. He tells me Master Pettigrew handed me over—just plunked me down into the waiting arms of Master and Missus Pegram “for cause,” as the saying goes, which I believe means for nothing.
Francine grows up under the watchful eye of another slave named Extra. Eventually they fall in love and plan to marry. But their plans are postponed when Richmond burns and the war ends.
The slaves are happy to be free, but they have no idea what freedom means. A particularly poignant moment comes when Abraham Lincoln visits Richmond. The slaves wait and watch for him, cheer him, and then are downcast when he returns to Washington. They had thought he would stay and guide them in this new phase of their lives, a phase filled with many surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant.
Published by Five Star, the book tells a story we all think we know, but sheds new light and new perspective. Read Loretta Goldberg's interview with Gray Basnight here.
Gray Basnight is deeply immersed in writing fiction after almost three decades as a broadcast news writer, editor, producer, and reporter. His books and writing cross several genres, and features a range of voices and characters very different from himself. He lives in New York with his wife Lisa, and their golden retriever Tinta. When not writing, he's thinking about writing while walking Tinta, watching movies, and all other daily activities.
Christina Britton Conroy’s 4-book historical novel series, His Majesty’s Theatre, also starts with a child’s birth. And thus begins a rollicking tale of theatrical actors, actresses, directors, and producers, all of whom have personal lives as complicated as anything the put on the stage of a real theatre in London that really did produce The Tempest in 1904.
The novel spans all four volumes. They have to be read in order, none stands alone. But the commitment feels light, as each we are introduced to each new set of characters and their problems, their hopes, and their dramatic ambitions.
Christina Britton Conroy has many passions. Her 4-book historical novel series, His Majesty’s Theatre won the International Book Excellence Award and her non-fiction, (I want to Go to Lithuania) or How to have Fun with our Aging Parents was an Amazon best seller. Her screenplay adaptation of From the Shadow was produced in Hong Kong. As a classically trained singer/actor, she performed around the globe creating characters for her stories.
Stephanie Cowell immerses us in the dazzling, sensuous world of French Impressionist, Claude Monet. The book draws us into the emotionalism of his artistic process. It also situates Monet in with the Impressionists, without falling into the stereotypical trap (often seen in books or movies about Picasso) of making artists in Paris look like fraternity boys with no sense of responsibility. The heart of the book is the story of Monet’s romance with his first wife, who tragically died very young, and how he came to meet his second wife and take on the care of her six children as well as the children he already had. His paintings of women and children in the garden will never look the same after you read this book!
Luckily for us, Cowell is following up this novel with another novel about Monet, this one focusing on his final years at Giverny.
Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. She is the recipient of an American Book Award. Her next novels are The Man in the Stone Cottage, (the secret world of Emily Brontë), and Robbie, a love story set in the English midlands 1900 between a young male artist and a married man.
You can read Loretta Goldberg's interview with Stephanie Cowell here.