Historical Novelists and Fantasy Writers Should Be Friends
Christopher M. Cevasco is an author of both fantasy fiction and historical fiction. As someone with a foot in both worlds, he’s constantly surprised by the lack of crossover.
“I don’t see the same faces when I go to the Historical Novel Society Conference that I do when I go to the World Fantasy Convention,” Cevasco says in Episode 511 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Most people have either been to one or the other. I guess I’m the odd bird who goes to both of them.”
Many fantasy writers have read George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, based heavily on the War of the Roses, but would never think to sample the work of historical novelist Bernard Cornwell, which offers many of the same pleasures. Cevasco loves them both. “I know that George R.R. Martin is a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell, and vice versa,” he says. “It makes perfect sense to me that they like to read each other’s work.”
Cevasco’s biggest attempt to bring together the two communities was Paradox, a magazine that he published for six years, beginning in 2003. “That was part of my impetus for starting Paradox magazine back in the day,” he says. “I was trying to highlight that overlap and bring the two together under the umbrella of a magazine that at the time was publishing short fiction that was either historical, or fantasy, or a mix of both historical and fantasy.”
Historical fiction and fantasy both allow readers to step outside their everyday reality and view it from a new angle. Cevasco hopes more authors will come to appreciate how much common ground the genres share. “I think the best science fiction and fantasy and the best historical fiction, it’s not just a period costume drama, it’s also something that resonates with the modern world—with our world—and comments on it somehow,” he says. “I think it’s an interesting way to explore those sorts of issues in an unconventional setting.”
Listen to the complete interview with Christopher M. Cevasco in Episode 511 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Christopher M. Cevasco on his novel Beheld: Godiva’s Story:
When [Lady Godiva] rides through town, in the legend, most of the townsfolk go into their homes and avert their eyes so as not to shame their beloved noblewoman. But one man, named Thomas, peeks at her and is immediately struck blind—or in some versions he’s struck dead—by God for his voyeurism. And this is of course where we get the concept of a “Peeping Tom” … If you look at it page by page, only a small percentage of my book has this voyeuristic, erotic content, but it is definitely a prominent theme throughout my book, and it is far more risqué than anything else I’ve ever written, short or long. So I was in this awkward position of having to write outside of my comfort zone, but I just felt like it was something the legend compelled me to do. I had to confront that head-on, and make it front and center in this book.
Christopher M. Cevasco on the Norman Conquest:
Everyone tends to think of the Norman Conquest as an event—that in 1066 the Battle of Hastings happened and the Normans conquered England. But I think it’s fair to say that that battle was just the start of their process of conquest, and really for about five to seven years after that battle there was an active resistance movement among the English that in many ways paralleled the Maquis in France during World War II. They were doing covert operations, there were all these colorful figures like Hereward the Wake that were living in the woods and sabotaging the Normans—and in some places fighting and winning pitched battles against William’s armies. It’s a really amazing period of history, that period right after the Conquest, and that’s the other big book that I’m shopping around right now, is one that’s sort of a wartime resistance thriller set among those resistance fighters.
Christopher M. Cevasco on Heorot: Beowulf’s Domain of Dread:
If you play Dungeons & Dragons, you know that there’s a setting called Ravenloft, which is basically all these different horror pocket dimensions—everything under the sun could be in this milieu. So I was like, “What if there were a setting based on Beowulf where the people in that setting are trapped in a never-ending cycle of violence and revenge? And this whole cycle resets every time Grendel comes in and slaughters everyone, and the mom comes in and gets revenge for Grendel being killed, and then it all resets, and these people are trapped in this never-ending cycle?” So I had a lot of fun putting this together. I thought it was going to be a little 10-page supplement, and it ended up being a 125-page gazetteer of Ravenloft and Beowulf lore that pulls in Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon history and all sorts of fun stuff.
Christopher M. Cevasco on religion:
What’s cool to me when you’re writing about people and how they interact with their faith—you know, it’s one thing when you have a scene between two or three characters. They’re always going to be portraying themselves as “characters”—as they want to be perceived. But when you have a character who is interacting with their god, or some spiritual force, the power of their faith means that they are sort of stripped naked, and you are seeing the truest version of that character that you can possibly see because they know that they, in their minds, have nowhere to hide. So it’s really interesting to me when you have a character, in any book, that is dealing with the spiritual or the divine, because it’s very revealing about their inner thoughts.