Today I’m pleased to welcome author Jessica James. I read Shades of Gray last summer and knew it would be on my 2009 Favorite Books list. For more about the book, click on the cover. Here’s some background information about Jessica and then her guest post about what a reader can learn from historical fiction.
Jessica James is the award-winning author of the historical fiction novel Shades of Gray, an epic Civil War love story that has twice overtaken Gone with the Wind on the Amazon Best-Seller list in the romance/historical/U.S. category. A former newspaper editor, she spent 18 years in a newsroom before turning her attention to fiction writing. She holds a master’s degree in communications and a bachelor’s degree in public relations/journalism.
This multi-award winning novel has been widely praised by historians for its balanced portrayal of the War Between the States, and by romance readers for its emotional description of the love that develops between the two main characters.
The novel chronicles the clash of a Confederate cavalry officer with a Union spy as they defend their beliefs, their country and their honor. The rolling hills of northern Virginia provide the backdrop for this page-turning tale of courage and devotion.
Shades of Gray Awards and Accolades:
2009 HOLT Medallion Finalist for Best Southern Theme
2008 Indie Next Generation Award for Best Regional Fiction
2008 Indie Next Generation Finalist for Best Historical Fiction
2008 IPPY Award for Best Regional Fiction
2008 ForeWord Magazine Finalist for Book of the Year in Romance category
2008 Favorite Book of the Year by The Book Connection
2008 Favorite Book of the Year by BookWorm’s Dinner
2008 Top Ten Favorite Book of the Year by The Printed Page
Learning something from historical fiction
When Mary was kind enough to review my historical fiction novel Shades of Gray last July, she noted that war novels are really not her preferred genre. I’m not sure she could have said anything more gratifying – I wrote Shades of Gray for precisely that type of reader.
Authors realize time is precious for everyone and that finding a few hours to sit down with a book is becoming a luxury. Though I definitely want to reflect my passion for the Civil War in my writing, my goal is to write books that appeal to readers of any genre and, more importantly, have them not regret the time they spent reading it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t want readers to come away with a new appreciation, or even better, an actual interest in the war. I believe historical fiction can be a great teaching tool, and love it when readers say they’ve actually learned something about our nation’s history. Mary noted that she gained new insight into the Southern perspective by reading Shades, and found the plotline of a woman dressing as a man during the war one of the more captivating aspects of the book.
O.K., so you don’t remember reading about women soldiers in your history books? Me either. In fact, I’ve had a few readers say this “fictional” premise is too far-fetched. Yet in reality, there are hundreds of wartime records verifying that women fought beside their male counterparts, sometimes even achieving rank as officers. For the most part, their sex was only revealed after being wounded, or being found by a burial party when they were killed in action. (Two dead females were found on the battlefield right here in my hometown of Gettysburg).
While I’m on the subject, at least six soldiers are known to have performed their military duties while pregnant, and two Confederate prisoners of war gave birth while incarcerated. I don’t have any pregnant soldiers in Shades of Gray, but my female heroine does get sentenced to prison. I was a little leery about that plotline as well, thinking that if a woman were caught in male attire, surely she would announce her sex and simply be sent back across the lines – as some were. But records show a number of women who were not discovered in prison until becoming ill, dying – or, amazingly, delivering a baby.
Some people read historical fiction, I suppose, to learn interesting facts such as these, while others perhaps turn away from it for precisely the same reason. Some want to be educated – and others merely entertained. I think historical fiction, done correctly, can accomplish both. By properly weaving facts with fiction, and creating characters with real feelings and emotions, readers can become so engaged with a book that they begin to care about what happens – and in doing so, learn something.
When readers tell me they smiled over my main characters’ triumphs and cried over their heartaches – I take it as a testament to the emotional connection they formed to Andrea and Hunter. It is that connection that gives them the feeling they’ve read an epic love story – not a Civil War story at all. And yet surely all those readers who have told me they silently wept upon the pages of Shades of Gray, have also come away with an additional knowledge of history and a new understanding of the sacrifices that helped shape our country.
Learning about the past doesn’t have to be a dull and tedious proposition – it can be entertaining and thought provoking in a way that may surprise you.
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My review of Shades of Gray can be found here.
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Tomorrow Jessica James will stop at http://abookbloggersdiary.blogspot.com as part of her Holiday Blog Tour and Civil War Basket Giveaway.
Visit www.jessicajamesbooks.com for more information on the tour.