David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Tag: England

Bruce Holsinger on How to Write Historical Fiction, Plagues, Witches, Wars & Guns

The Book Doctors met Bruce Holsinger at the Tucson Book Festival (by the way, if you read or write, do yourself a favor and put the Tucson Book Fest on your Bucket List) and when he told us about his book, The Invention of Fire, we just had to pick his brain about fiction, non-fiction, teaching fiction, plagues, witches, wars and guns. To read on Huffington Post click here.

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The Book Doctors: How did you start becoming a fiction writer?

Bruce Holsinger: Aside from various unfortunate childhood experiments, I never wrote much fiction until I was in my late twenties, teaching at the University of Colorado in Boulder. My wife was living in Wisconsin for a while, and I decided I wanted to spend part of that year writing a thriller. Unlike my two published novels, it ended up in the drawer, and with good reason (one of my favorite sentences from that manuscript: “The mashed potatoes were as fluffy as white clouds.”).

TBD: You write novels and nonfiction. Do you approach them any differently?

BH: Absolutely, and they must come from different quadrants of my brain. My academic writing is slow and deliberate, painful at times, with lots of fact-checking between one sentence and the next. With fiction I can find a flow and write very quickly, and even though I’m a heavy reviser I find the experience of fiction writing vastly more pleasurable. This isn’t to say that I don’t take joy in my nonfiction/academic books–but the joy comes with the finished product more often than with the process of writing the prose.

TBD: What are some of the pitfalls and joys of writing historical fiction?

BH: Pitfalls: lots of fans and readers who know the period as well as or even better than I do–and they’ll let you know it! I love hearing from readers with suggestions, corrections, and so on, though it can be quite intimidating to present a fictional version of a past that some might take as truth. In writing historical fiction you’re always treading that line between plausibility and invention, and that line can often be quite fuzzy.

Joys: rediscovering a moment in history that I thought I already knew. As I said in my historical note in A Burnable Book, though I’ve been teaching the literature and culture of medieval England for nearly twenty years, I was continually surprised and delighted to learn new things about that world and its everyday life. The Middle Ages have always fascinated me, never more so than now, when I’m getting to contribute to a wider public understanding of that era and its many resonances with our own.

TBD: What drew you to this time and this place: 1386 London?

BH: This is the era of Geoffrey Chaucer, the medieval poet at the center of my academic discipline. Chaucer figures importantly in both of my novels, and this particular moment in the history of London was a fascinating one. In the fall of 1386 a massive French navy was assembled just across the channel in Sluys, prepared to invade England. Though the invasion never occurred, the city and the realm were deeply paranoid about the possibility, and there were suspected French spies lurking under every bush. The Invention of Fire is in part about the traffic in weapons across the channel–particularly hand-held gunpowder weapons that were just coming into their own. The English word handguns (in its Middle English form handgonnes) first appears in a document from this decade, and there were many political crises in these years that provide a rich background for the kind of story I wanted to tell.

TBD: What have you learned about writing by teaching literature?

BH: Quite a lot–more than I could have imagined when I started writing fiction. The Middle Ages gave us so many kinds of stories: adventure, romance, saints’ lives, epics, as well as a considerable body of bawdy and quite obscene tales that writers like Chaucer knew and appropriated in their own work. One of the things I value about studying and teaching medieval literature is what it tells us about the power of story. This was an era in which people really know how to sit and listen to a good story for hours at a time. We hear a lot these days about our fragmented attention spans, and one of the lessons I try to teach my students about the Middle Ages is the quality of attention that must have been required to listen to and absorb a work like Beowulf in its original form.

TBD: How does someone get a Guggenheim? Who did you pay to get yours?

BH: I wish it were that easy! The Guggenheim Foundation has always been generous to scholars and writers, and I feel deeply fortunate to have been honored with one of their fellowships, which allowed me a year free of teaching a number of years ago to work on one of my academic projects.

TBD: Did learning a musical instrument, and learning how to be a musician, help you as a writer?

BH: Absolutely. I spent a big chunk of high school and all of college (in the School of Music at the University of Michigan) preparing for a career as a classical clarinetist–and this required many hours a day of disciplined, regimented practice. I’m not nearly as regimented in my writing routine, but I think music did teach me how to squeeze the best results out of a relatively short span of time.

TBD: Why are you interested in plagues, witches and wars?

BH: I try to stay away from them as much as possible, except in the classroom. Last year I taught a massive open online course (or MOOC) called “Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction.” The course enrolled 20,000 students from around the world, and we spent eight weeks reading historical novels from the eighteenth century to the present. I had several wonderful guest writers of historical fiction visit the class, both in person and virtually, including Katherine Howe, Mary Beth Keane, Yangsze Choo, Jane Alison, and Geraldine Brooks. Their novels imagine plagues, witches, and various wars, among other things–so it was a catchy title that helped frame the selection of works on the syllabus.

TBD: What have you learned about the gun industry and culture by studying the history of guns? What do you think is to be done about gun violence in America?

BH: On one level, the modern gun industry bears no resemblance to the nascent gun culture of the medieval world, which was just starting to experiment with smaller, more efficient gunpowder weapons. There was no real mass production of guns until much later in English history, and in the period I’m writing about, the longbow remained a much more lethal and reliable weapon than the handgonne. At the same time, I think the sort of do-it-yourself gunsmithing we’re starting to see with things like 3D printers and mail-order kits represents a return of sorts to the local, private manufacture of guns that characterized the earliest medieval experiments–and that’s quite a frightening thing. I’m a strong believer in much, much stricter gun laws, at the national and local levels. We lose over 30,000 people to guns every year in this country, and our gun culture is just out of control. Though The Invention of Fire isn’t what I’d call a political novel–it doesn’t take a position on contemporary gun violence or legislation–it does try to understand the allure and seduction of guns in their earliest form. It’s a novel about the beginnings of gun violence, and it would be silly to pretend that it doesn’t have contemporary relevance.

TBD: I hate to ask you this, but what advice do you have for writers?

BH: Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, and don’t spend time fretting about a publishing industry that doesn’t recognize your genius. It took me fifteen years and two manuscripts in the drawer to get a novel picked up. All the clichés about persistence are true!

Bruce Holsinger is an award-winning fiction writer, critic, and literary scholar who teaches at the University of Virginia. His debut historical novel, A Burnable Book, won the John Hurt Fisher Prize and was shortlisted for the American Library Association’s Best Crime Novel of 2014, while his scholarly work has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship and other major awards. He has written for The Washington Post, Slate, The Nation, and other publications, and appears regularly on National Public Radio. His new novel, The Invention of Fire (HarperCollins/William Morrow), imagines the beginnings of gun violence in the western world.

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.

World Cup 2010: What We Learned About Ourselves & Others

David Henry Sterry on Huffington Post.


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Glorious World Cup on Huffington Post: Can USA Beat Ghana? Yes, We Can! Here’s How…


The Glorious World Cup on Huffington Post: Live from South Africa: How the English Hate Themselves

Colin Powers, our man in South Africa, tells it like it is about the English.



The Glorious World Cup presents: American Soccer Fanatic on Reuters

we’re all very excited to be on one of the great new services in the world today. Thank you Reuters.


Birthday Boy Gets Severe World Cup Fever, Sex Worker Literati at Bowery Poetry Club & Essential Guide to Getting Published

Today is my birthday. I’m going to have very good pancakes and go see Henri Carter Bresson photographs and then some kind of spectacular meal and see some kind of spectacular theater. As I look back on May and forward to June there’s been so much done yet so much to do that my head spins. We finally got to the top of the mountain of The Essential Guide to Publishing a Book. The book is now in the hands of our incredibly excellent copy editor at Workman. It was a long excruciating climb through massive blizzards temperature dropping way below zero no sleep migraine clusterfuck headaches the closer we got to the less oxygen there was our Sherpas fled, and of course we’re hauling it 2 ½ year-old with us. Sadly, we lost a man. Milo didn’t make it this time. But he gave it his all, 110%, right til the very end. Given the proper burial and if there’s any justice, he’s up in Cat Heaven chasing that wind my, basking in the sun, frolicking in fields of catnip. But luckily, we have an incredible team at Workman, and we are planning a spectacular tour of these great United States, helping writers get well published.

The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatic’s Guide, kicked off, and the team has had a very bright beginning, lots of thrusting offense, some brave defending, and massive amounts of daily grinding. My partner in crime, San Francisco literary legend Alan Black, has been hacking and slashing all over the soccer blogosphere and set up a bunch of kick ass events in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, in my hometown of Montclair New Jersey, at my way awesome local book emporium Watchung Bookstore, we had a rocking soccer event as well. And here’s the beauty of both my new hometown and doing events at your local independent bookstore. I just happened to run into an expatriate Englishman who just happened to be purchasing a book. Turns out he works for Reuters, the international news service. Turns out he was looking for an American perspective on the world cup. I sent him something. He told me I needed to dial it back by approximately 42%. I did. And there it is, alive and kicking. We also had a piece of Arielle-related good fortune. She hooked us up with National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition. They asked us if we would like to be interviewed about the World Cup. We said yes. So on Thursday, through the miracle of modern technology, will be interviewed from Washington DC, with Alan in Berkeley, Ca, and myself in Montclair, NJ. I also put up a series of predictions for the World Cup which are extremely fanatical. The response has been amazing. I’ve been called everything from a fag to a genius, and I’ve made a new friend from Uruguay. And there it is, that’s the beauty of the beautiful game. So were going to San Francisco to do a bunch of soccer events. The big day is June 6. Three events I’m very excited about.

Major changes afoot with the Sex Worker Literati. We decided to move the show uptown. And by uptown, I mean the Bowery. Tres excited about our 1 year anniversary show at the legendary and absolutely fabulous Bowery Poetry Club. I just couldn’t think of a better place. Although I loved Happy Ending, it was just so tiny, and there was no stage. Now, the gloves are off. Throbbing music, wild stories of sex & $ from hard working hos, hustlers, call girls & rent boys, bumping burlesque, ribald questions and answers, I’m slightly dizzy with the possibilities. My most excellent new friend Zoe Hansen will be my cohost with the most. We’ll be taking the summer off, and having our 1 year anniversary extrvanganza in September. Details to follow. Audacia Ray will be continuing at Happy Ending Lounge, with a show entitled The Red Umbrella Project: http://www.redumbrellaproject.com/. This Thursday, totally psyched about my last Sex Worker Literati at Happy Ending: Passing and Coming Out, with amazing guests, Cameron were, Randy Newton, Sarah Jenny, and special guests from RentBoy.com, which has been much in the news recently due to some crazy political sex shenanigans.

Also, there’s a very cool event on Saturday, June 6, Sex Worker Cabaret. I had to drop out of the lineup, because of the events in San Francisco. But it’s a great great lineup, and I’m sad I won’t be part of it. http://www.sexworkercabaret.com/

Sex Worker Literati:
Thursday, June 3, 7:30 PM, 302 Broome St., New York City
Hos, Hooker, Call Girls and Rent Boys: http://bit.ly/afCbkh
Sex Worker Literati Facebook: http://bit.ly/a9HBw1

The Glorious World Cup:
Thursday, June 3, 7 PM, Green Apples Books, 506 Clement St., San Francisco (I will not be at this event, I will be doing a Sex Worker Literati that Happy Ending in New York City)
Saturday, June 5, 10 AM, NPR’s West Coast Live, Ferry Building, Embarcadero, SF
Saturday, June 5, 3 PM, Borders Books, 400 Post St., SF: http://bit.ly/bkTDrl
Saturday, June 5, 8 PM, Edinburgh Castle Pub, 950 Geary St., SF: http://bit.ly/9nF45r

(A goal will be built, and the public is welcome to take your best shot and try to beat yours truly, who will be manning the goal and talking a lot of smack)

The Glorious World Cup: http://bit.ly/ahXLPi
The Glorious World Cup Facebook in Korea: http://bit.ly/9WnpwC

Huffington Post piece: American Manhood from Mickey Mantle to Landon Manchild Donovan, and Why America Can When the World Cup: http://huff.to/c4OEri

Digital Sports Daily piece: http://bit.ly/cd9IE8

Largeheartedboy: http://bit.ly/cvnlLe

Glorious World Cup Predictions
Group A: http://bit.ly/b9DGs
Group B: http://bit.ly/ba99lC

Group C: http://bit.ly/bcqBFJ
Group D: http://bit.ly/bHMxnO

Group E: http://bit.ly/9Oy2sT
Group F: http://bit.ly/cn4xsW

Group H: http://bit.ly/bHKcPQ
Group G: http://bit.ly/b3wXnE

Final: http://bit.ly/949YrC

BEA pictures: http://bit.ly/ansbev
Olive: http://bit.ly/cyy4oH, http://bit.ly/9x0VCE, http://bit.ly/bLfwb4

The Glorious World Cup Presents: An America Soccer Fanatic’s Predictions for South Africa 2010 : Group C

GROUP C: YES: USA & England NO: Algeria & Slovenia
June 12, 2010. USA versus England, the imperialist colonizers who taxed us with no representation. 60 years to the day after the greatest American sports upset you never heard of. 1950, World Cup, Brazil, long before information could fly around the world at the speed of light, a ragtag group of plucky, scruffy unknowns went up against England, the self-proclaimed "greatest soccer team in the world". No one gave uber-underdog Americans a ghost of a chance against the pampered, privileged, pedigreed professionals. How little the world has changed. England boasts a cavalcade of superstar millionaires with beautiful wives and girlfriends, some of whom their own teammates have sex with on the sly (giving the phrase, "I got your back," a whole new meaning). US is a 66-1 longshot. But mark my words and mark them well, if the holy triumvirate of T-Ho, the fiercely mighty Tim Howard, Clint Eastwood Dempsey, and Landon Manchild Donovan are all healthy, they will smack England down, just as they did 60 years ago. Algeria? Slovenia? Thank you for coming to the dance, better luck next time. And don't think this draw is an accident. The powers that be, and all their money, desperately want America and England to: a) play each other in their debuts with galatic ratings off the charts; 2) make it through to the next round against some weak-ass opponents. All due respect to Alvenia and Slogeria. In fact, there's A LOT riding on the US hosting the World Cup in the near future. Don't be surprised to see self-confessed soccer fanatic President Barack Obama give some serious face time to South Africa this summer.

The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatics Guide is, pound for pound, the funniest book about World Cup 2010 on the market today.


3 weeks in England

3 weeks in England and it only rained three times which I take as sign from god that we are leading a blessed life. From london to bath to yeovil to chester to ilkley to howarth to yorkshire to newcastle to edinborough back to newcastle back to london.FleshmarketClose

IMG_0682The vast barren expanses of the lonely romantic moors where you could practically hear Heathcliff crying out in anguished tortured to Cathy –

Fireworks on Guy Fawkes day in Bath – this I really love by the way, Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament and they have a national holiday for him – it’d be like having Benedict Arnold Day, a very funny old lady told me, “Too bad he didn’t do a better job of it!” –

Cows herded right past our car on a tiny country road by an incredibly R. Crumb looking woman cowherder –

RoyalMileMime2Scones and clotted cream and jam and tea and honey and crustless cucumber sandwiches at Castle Combe in a serious 17th century castle (fantastic golf course by the way, old and green and enormous hills looking out over the most beautiful bucolic countryside, ponies nuzzling me up the path on the way to the 18th tee box, and the highlight of my trip, a downhill 307 yard drive on a par four which rolled to within 10 feet of the cup, missed the eagle, tapped in the birdie)-scone in rural uk

Sheep ScottishCountryside4A sheep sitting like a fleecy buddah in the middle of the 12th fairway at ilkley –

A ferret eating the guts out of a bunny on the 8th fairway at Islington (an omen apparently, I shot my worst round, I stopped keeping track at 100 on the 13th hole when I chipped back and forth over the green too many times to mention in polite company) – s

So many sausages and beans and eggs O my god and so much great indian food – the curries the lamb the chicken the cardomum –

Visiting newcastle, my roots, was truly inspiring, the thick geordie accents, all my relatives were so sweet and lovely to us, there is a feeling of family and community there which I do not find in america, many of the people having never been more then 10 miles from the house in which they were born. We asked one man how to get to london and he said, “Ya gan up t’ the roondaboot, tayke a left, then, no no ya cannit gan that way – ya gan throo the roondaboot, then when ya see wor Tetchie wi’ his auld dog Wonky, ya gan 3 more streets an’ tayke a left, right? No, no, that doesn’t gan through. Ehn, ya know, I divn’t think ya can get to London from here.” –

Watching the England v Scotland football matches – in Edinborough all the men clad in tartan kilts and royal blue Scotland uniform tops getting totally tanked before the match – lionglasgow

Giving our leftovers to a homeless guy wrapped in a blanket on a bridge in scotland, he looked kind of stunned and said, “For me?” and he gazed up so incredibly astonished and grateful which is frankly how you want a homeless person to look when you give them something, they have a much more civilized class of homeless in The UK I must say –

The most romantic walk over the river thames with a full moon shining down and the lights of london twinkling, it was just so beautiful –

“the ratcatcher”, a scottish filmm which I would highly recommend –

and by the way if you ever need directions in london, ask a hansom cab driver, they should throw out parliament and fill it with hansom cab drivers, that would put england back on the map –

by the way if you’re in london a great course to play is sandy lodge, 45 minutes from central london and exquisitely maintained –

IMG_961at harrods a spice girl wannabe with long straight blond hair wearing aqua and black boots so loud they jammed radar, turned to us at a cash register and said, “I think you should go to another register, this is going to take a very long time.” The woman at the next register told us Rude Spice had asked her for “The most expensive biscuits in the store.” –

in coxlodge, where my father was born ad raised, we went to the Legion pup (one cousin was working there, the other refused to go, claiming he didn’t want to get Legionaire’s Diseace) on Saturday night. It was odd, the women outnumbered the men by at least 2 to 1, we thought, what’s all this then, and the emcee, in huge black and white trousers with a black and white fright wig (arielle sais, “david, that would you be you if your parents hadn’t moved to america) introduced 5 members of the Gateshead Fire Department, who did the most amazing strip tease I have ever witnessed, and as most of you know I have witnessed enough strip teases to last a hundred lifetimes. Turns out it was full monty night at the Legion. And they did the full monty. They were a bit clumsy, a little overweight, but had a commitment and passion which I found intoxicating. And one of them had the smallest willy I have ever seen on a man. Now that is courage under fire. – so a grand time was had by all, and we’re in nyc until december 1, then back to la – love and kisses, d

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