Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dinner With Lynn Cullen, Author of the Hope-to-be-breakout Novel, The Creation of Eve

Every so often, a publisher organizes a pre-publication, meet-the-author dinner. Usually they are in Chicago, but every so often one is hosted in Milwaukee. There are several independent booksellers here, and together we can create a lot of buzz.

You see, meeting the author gets us to read a book that we might not ordinarily. You might even get more reads than at an event. An event usually guarrantees one read, but unless there's real strong interest among the staff, it's touch and go with the rest of them.

So Putnam has this historical novel out called The Creation of Eve. They've done well with other books of this sort, from Tracy Chevalier and Susan Vreeland. Sarah Dunant and Alison Weir regularly hit the bestseller lists. And Philippa Gregory always does. The editor, Peternelle van Arsdale, actually once came to Milwaukee with one of her pre-pub author dinners, Cecelia Ahern, back when she was at Hyperion. She's seen how these things work.

Eight of us gathered with the author, Lynn Cullen, and Joe, our sales rep, at County Clare at the edge of downtown Milwaukee. Lynn brought out a book of paintings that really helped put the book in context and shed light on the characters. I was only about 75 pages into the book as of the dinner, but Cullen's story was so interesting that I decided to continue, even though the book is outside my comfort zone.

It's the story of Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola, who in effect interned under Michelangelo. A mini scandal sends her to the court of Spain, where she is to teach painting and drawing to the teen Queen Elizabeth, and becomes an observer to a love...pentagon? The story is told in letters and diaries, and sheds a good amount of light on what was happening in Europe at that time, when the Inquisition was being used to control Protestant unrest. Though Sofi has regrets about leaving Italy, she winds up being out of the way from the crackdown on Michelangelo, his artwork, and his secrets, which we hear about trough letters.

I'd say (and Cullen would concur, as we talked about this at the dinner) that the story is a bit of an exoneration of King Felipe*, who has been demonized in some historical accounts. Per Cullen, calling the Inquisition Spanish certainly plays down the killing that went on in France and England, in numbers that exceeded Spain.

There are lots of historical details in the narrative, particularly as Felipe is very interested in the exotic plants of the new world, some of which seem to help with toothaches, and others which turn out to be rather poisonous. File that fact away when you're following the plotline.

The Creation of Eve is available in stores on March 23rd. I wish Cullen the best of success on her publication. I had the shepherd's pie, by the way.
*Look for Lynn's take on King Felipe tomorrow.

1 comment:

Lynn Cullen said...

Thank you, Daniel. It was great having dinner with you and the Milwaukee gang. Believe me, these pre-publication dinners are an eye-opener for the author. At least for me, it was the first time that I got to talk to readers about the book that I had written and rewritten over the years in the quiet of my cave. That connection makes all the hard work worthwhile.

And the corned beef and cabbage was delicious.