29 May 2011

Guest Blog: Nan Hawthorne

This week, we're welcoming historical novelist, Nan Hawthorne, as she celebrates the release of her latest medieval novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, available now from Amazon and Smashwords, and on order from your local bookstore. Here's the blurb:

Unwilling to settle for the passive life of a noblewoman, Elisabeth dons her late twin brother's armor and sets out for the Holy Land. On the journey, she learns many things, not the least of which is that she can pass for a young man because, as she says, "People see what they expect to see." Her lessons also include that honor is not always where you expect to find it, and that true love can come in the form of another woman. She encounters both heroism and betrayal in the doomed Crusade of 1101. Witness her journey across the Alps, her voyage to the golden city of Constantinople, and her struggle to survive with her ideals intact while she loses companions to hardships and destruction as Kilij Arslan's Turks turn the tide irrevocably for the Crusaders.

What makes your recently released novel “Beloved Pilgrim” an “Unusual Historical”?
One of my reviewers commented on this very thing.  He called the novel “gutsy” for two reasons.  One is that it features gay/lesbian characters.  You could even say it deals with “transgender issues” though of course my protagonist, Elisabeth, could never completely change her gender surgically as she might now if she wished.  The other reason he called the book “gutsy” is that it deals with one of the Crusades that is less well known.  More than that it is one that was a complete and utter failure.  He felt those factors alone meant I had courage to write the novel.  I tend to believe I will never write anything that is not an “unusual historical” since my themes are never the usual first person royal female that publishers like.
Describe your protagonist, Elisabeth.
Elisabeth von Winterkirche is the daughter of a Bavarian knight and therefore expected to be a sedate, accomplished young woman and ready to marry to advance her family.  She utterly rejects this destiny.  She and her twin brother have largely been on their own, and Elisabeth identifies with the life her brother prepares for, so she has found ways to learn to fight.  When he dies she chooses to don his identity and leave, largely to escape a brutal marriage but also because she simply wants the relative freedom and adventure of a young man in her class.  She is earnest and idealistic, but her experiences on Crusade rock her values to the core.  I tried to avoid modern sensibilities and did not have her object to war or Crusade in general, but she does provide observations that someone not schooled in the knightly ethic might voice.
Why is it important, do you think, for there to be gay people and lesbians in historical fiction?
For reasons I don’t think I need to get into, there is little or no GLBT history.  It simply must fall to historical novelists to create a sort of para-history by looking at what life would be like for GLBT people in different periods of history.  We simply cannot rely on historical record for anything but criminal aspects of gay life.  That cannot be the whole story.  It is believed that about ten per cent of all humans are gay or lesbian.  That must mean that there were plenty of gay people who never caught the eye of law enforcement of whatever kind.  That means they either repressed their natural feelings or found ways to live in such a hostile society.  I see historical fiction as largely speculative, and this is one area in which I want to speculate.
Do you think straight people will read a novel with a gay protagonist?
I hope so.  It does worry me.  I did have someone tell me “I’m not a lesbian, so I don’t read lesbian romance.”  I told her, “I’m not a lesbian either, but I wrote one.”  Actually, Beloved Pilgrim is not a romance, but you get what I mean.  Gay people read straight novels, why shouldn’t straight people read gay novels?
What do you hope readers will get out of “Beloved Pilgrim”?
I hope they get a cracking good read out of it, first of all.  I write to entertain primarily.  I don’t write history textbooks, I write historical fiction.  If readers find themselves thinking about the nature of gender identity or what honor and heroism really are, so much the better.

Thank you, Nan. Please leave a comment to win a copy of The Beloved Pilgrim, available now.