Book News and More . . . by Virginia Pye

Hello Book Lovers!

I’m happy to share that my novel, The Book Lovers, will be published in October 2023 by Regal House Publishing, a small, highly congenial press that specializes in literary fiction. Set in Gilded Age Boston, The Book Lovers tells the story of an author of romance and adventure novels who becomes a champion of the working women who are her faithful readers as she takes on the male literary establishment. It’s also a love story—about people and books, and about how revision on the page can mirror revision in life and vice versa.

More about The Book Lovers and my writing journey on the book podcast, The Writer’s Story, hosted by authors Meredith Cole and Kristin Swenson.

What’s with all the historical fiction?

The term “historical fiction” may have once evoked a fusty world of period costume, arcane manners, court intrigue, and bloody battles. Then along came Hilary Mantel to make it cool, followed by Colson Whitehead, George Saunders, and more recently, Tea Oberant, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Jennifer Egan, and Lauren Groff, just to name a few.

I sometimes wonder as I read these authors, does the pull to write in another era reflect an impulse to escape our own? Readers often seek out stories that carry them far, far from the present day, so why not the same of writers?

But I know from experience that writers are also drawn to earlier times for the way they mirror our own and for the perspective they can offer on the present. Recent novels set during the Civil War, Nazi Germany, and the Sixties, for example, underscore the importance of the current fight to defend democracy against totalitarian and racist forces. Social and political insight into our current situation can find its way into stories wherever and whenever they’re set, and sometimes the far away time or place allows a deeper resonance while avoiding novelistic pitfalls of polemics or propoganda.

Photo of pile of open books
Pile of Open Books by Benjamin White. CC license.
Book Recs!

For me, 2022 started out with some brilliant reading. I disappeared into two of the most ambitious and entertaining novels I’ve read in a long time. Still Life, by Sarah Winman, is a love letter to post-WWII Florence, Italy—the delicious food and wine, the Renaissance art, the Arno river that snakes through its center, and the winding streets and piazzas. Winman populates this dreamy though realistic setting with an array of characters, each unique and quirky, who become a family of sorts. It’s told with a light touch, and a great love of Italian and English habits and culture. I was ready to pack my bags and move into her world.

An impressive epic, The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois, by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, spans multiple generations of a Southern Black family starting with slavery and continuing through the Civil War until the present day. It’s a highly ambitious story of multiple worlds, from an African village to the experience of Southern sharecroppers to sorority life at Black colleges. I tried to imagine how the author kept track of the many strands of her story and yet she pulls it all together masterfully. Mostly, I felt that as a Northern white person, I was learning things I’d never known before about the Southern Black experience, and for that I was truly grateful.

Submit, Submit, Submit

Just a reminder that I’d love to see your writing at Pangyrus. Please send us your short stories. Anne Bernays and I are having a terrific time reading them. Anne is the author of innumerable novels (she’s lost count), including Growing Up Rich and Professor Romeo. She’s also co-author with the brilliant Pamela Painter of a seminal writing textbook What If?, and co-author with her deceased husband, Justin Kaplan, of The Language of Names and Back Then. I’m learning her tricks of the trade and relishing her inside stories of the literary world, past and present. Writers make the best friends, don’t they?

Thanks for being mine. Write and read on!


*This piece first appeared on Virginia’s blog on March 11, 2022*

Virginia Pye
Virginia Pye’s collection, Shelf Life of Happiness, won the 2019 Independent Publisher Gold Medal for Short Fiction, and her two historical novels set in China have also received literary awards. Her essays have appeared in Literary Hub, The New York Times, The Rumpus, Huffington Post, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and elsewhere. She is Fiction Editor for the literary magazine Pangyrus, and a board member of the Women’s National Book Association, Boston Chapter. Virginia holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, has been a Tin House Workshop Scholar, and a returning fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Virginia has taught writing at New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, and most recently, at GrubStreet’s Muse and Marketplace Writing Conference.

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