Questioner: Well, we start this first week of September here again with author R. J. Nello as he talks to himself out loud. Later this month is his latest novel, Tomorrow The Grace, a tale of the later French Revolution and early Napoleonic times, 1795-1805, and Americans, and French and British, and this time even South Americans too…
Nello: Pretty impressive, eh? I hate September, though. Always did. My personal reason is I have a birthday in a few days. As a kid growing up, it always fell as school started.
Q: Please, Mr. Nello, I haven’t completed my introduction.
N: Oh, my apologies. You were about to call it the best book you have ever read in your entire life.
Q: Uh, no.
N: Allow me to at least get in that small self-promo?
Q: Recently, controversially on your blog, you attacked sci-fi and fantasy writers. Are you trying to be hounded off of social media and chased into hiding in, uh, Norway?
N: There’s nothing wrong with Norway. But I didn’t attack them. I just lamented that too many readers nowadays just seem to prefer to read about little but wizards, trolls, and blue half-people from the planet, uh, Zong or somewhere. Or civilization has collapsed and we are having motorcycle races in the desert over water droplets. That sort of thing. It’s just a bit disheartening to me, trained as an historian, who thinks history is the most romantic and interesting subject, to see that so many out there prefer fake stuff. I’d rather write and read real…
Q: …Uh, that’s quite a bit of Paris in one pic.
N: Don’t let her French caption there put you off, though. Normally she captions in English as she spends lots of time in New York, and she is at times also hilarious. She doesn’t have many followers on Instagram yet, and frankly I have no idea why: maybe the algorithm…something or other is unfair to her. I don’t know. Anyway if you want “Paris,” you’ll find it with her. Great stuff.
Q: Now that you have, uh, plugged another friend on here, you also wrote in a post you could not write fantasy, that you’d be laughed at…
N: Could we please discuss MY writing?
Q: Ah, yes…
N: May I have that glass of wine now? I can’t believe you still don’t know I discuss my writing best with a full glass of wine?
Q: We don’t do wine here…
N: Oh, that’s right: English media. It’s not France. How about at least an ale?
Q: I’ll see what I can do. You are proud of this latest book. You certainly went at this subject much like you did the last novel… and then some.
N: I know it’s a big book, but it is a big subject. I got into aging characters slowly with their times, having their children grow. And they see the world changing, moving from being young people into moving into influencing decision-makers. Suddenly, their views matter more.
Q: And of course there is love?
N: Look, there has to be some of that.
Q: I have bookmarked this passage, and I want to post it for our readers because it includes I think snapshots of the history, politics, as well as the human relationships and culture of the time:
N: That’s a good one, although it doesn’t have much dialogue.
Q: Speaking of dialogue, what do you find most challenging about writing older English?
N: A serious question?
Q: It is.
N: To try to write it also in such a way that modern readers stay with it. To attempt to be truly authentic would I think lose people. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, often did not use punctation as we recognize it. He would also start sentences occasionally in the lower case. Often he seemed even to spell words however he felt like it. And he was a man of great education. Rules and grammar mattered less to them than simple communication. Ordinary people often wrote by standards short of what we would consider really literate today. I opted for characters reasonably literate and able to write well in order to boost the story.
Q: You like using letters and diary entries as background…
N: I got that idea from seeing the modern tendency on television dramas and in films to use text messages and instant messages on screen. I like that. You know, this is starting to seem almost like a serious interview?
Q: My apologies. An intriguing issue for writing of that time is the sensibilities…
N: Jane Austen?
Q: Uh, no, I meant the norms. They are often not ours.
N: No, they aren’t. First, let’s get real here. Just about every man who lived in “1800” would today be characterized by us as a chauvinist and probably hounded off of Twitter, so to attempt to portray them otherwise would be ahistorical and ridiculous. Jefferson thought women’s role in life was supplying “domestic felicity.” Period. Women in government? Oh, please. But men of “1800” did NOT hate women. They were not misogynists any more than men are in 2019. Second, the Americas and Europe were then imbued with Christianity in a way our time is not. We tend only to seek out religion when all else fails. “Please God, let me pass this test…” They lived in a narrower world in which they had to rely much more on family and their own resources. How would you handle your wife suffering, say, a miscarriage when you didn’t know what that really meant and even the doctor was mostly clueless, if you could even find a someone called a doctor? There was no “health care” as we understand it today. You slept on the floor at her bedside, you tried to make her comfortable, you held her hand… and you prayed. Boy, did you pray, because you adored her and there was nothing else to do but hope she recovered on her own. That’s what many a man did.
Q: You are referring to a scene in your novel?
N: I will allow readers to find that out for themselves.
Q: You don’t seem to like Napoleon very much, or some other historical figures?
N: Actually, no, it’s not about what I think. My main character, “Robert Rutherford,” is from New York’s rural Hudson Valley and Catskills. He drifts into viewing the world much as was the norm in his home state and county, as a Federalist – the political views held by George Washington and John Adams and even Alexander Hamilton…
Q: Hey, he’s the guy from the hit musical? Hamilton?
N: Uh, yes. Geez, he’s reduced to a musical. Anyway, “Robert’s” views are largely those of a Federalist, which makes for interesting stuff when he is assailing, say, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and James Monroe. Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were what were known as “Democratic-Republicans,” or “Republicans” for short. By the 1830s, their party was known as just Democrats, the forerunners to today’s Democrats. The Federalists were largely the forerunners of the Whigs and Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s 1860 Republican Party that abolished slavery and favored commerce. Federalists were also vocally anti-slavery – even if they themselves owned slaves, whereas Jeffersonians were more ambivalent or even pro-slavery. But pinpointing today’s political party allegiances as being just like those of the names of those of “1800” is an uncertain science and not really relevant because… Uh, hello?
Q: Sorry, sorry, I nodded off.
N: You were one of those students in university, I bet? Don’t be a smart aleck.
Q: About the fiction and the romance. You have brought back some characters from Conventions: The Garden At Paris.
N: Yes. I did not bring back everyone, though. I tried to view the passage of time realistically. Some people we stay in touch with over the years. Others not. And in the those days if someone wanted to disappear it was pretty easy to do so. I think too that portraying the women of that era remains fascinating to me. By then, many women were writers and journal keepers, so we know a great deal of what they actually thought – at least if they could write. Abigail Adams assailing her husband in letters is wonderful reading and she is just one example. And the romance of that era appeals to us. We do like blushing and awkwardness and all that Austen-stuff. It was of course partly because putting young men and young women into unsupervised situations might well result in, uh, pregnancies, in a way they don’t normally as easily do today.
Q: True, we do at times lose perspective…
N: The idea that I have seen floated of late that women of the distant past were somehow subservient to their men, that “strong women” have appeared only since about 1900, is actually asinine and insulting to our great-great-great-great grandmothers. In “1800” they often had their children DIE in their beds. John Marshall, an historical figure featured in the new novel, and his wife Mary, had 10 children we know of. Ten! And many of them died and never made adulthood! Mary Marshall wasn’t strong? Oh, and HERE is from where the novel’s title comes. The first line, before the underlining:
Q: John Marshall wrote to his wife, “Tomorrow the Grace…” That’s it? The Grace is a ship?
N: In that sense, yes. But there is more. I loved it. It was, I felt, perfect. Look too, he writes the word “october” there in lower case. We don’t. And he leaves the “l” out of “should.” Future Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
N: Life was incredibly hard pre-1900; in most ways ours is a perpetual vacation by comparison. We know it, but we don’t REALLY know it. Yes, women didn’t vote; but most men did not vote either until well into the 19th century. Women were indeed legal wards of their fathers and then wards of their husbands, but the notion that they were viewed in practical terms as equal with children is wildly inaccurate. More accurate is women were viewed by men as needing to be “protected” – and often, well, in some ways they did need it. Remember it was still the pre-industrial world in which physical prowess greatly mattered; even a “weakling” man was in trouble in that world. Industrialism and the rise of machines is what has freed ALL of us from most of the drudgeries and life restrictions of pre-industrial existence. Unsure about that? Try this. Turn off electricity and central heating, your running water, our sanitation, ban powered transport, end immediate communications, close all hospitals and most schools, and eliminate modern medicines and vaccinations, contraception, eat only what you grow on your own property, and return overall to an existence reliant entirely on animal power, sailing ships, and the ability of humans to lift heavy stuff, and the norms of “1800” and “traditional gender roles” would return pretty quickly. We’d be back to the world of “Jane Austen,” I guarantee it. It is easy to decry technology, but tech is what is really making modernity possible. We take our modernity so much for granted and fail to realize how fragile it is. Uh, I think I could sure use that ale now…
Q: Ya, think? Here. How about a port. And take a breath too, will ya.
N: Ah, thank you. The port will more than do. Eh, I am AN AUTHOR. In France, they take this way more seriously. With the port, you are finally getting closer at least to France 24.
Q: I knew you’d say that. Back to our Anglo world. Do your family read your books now?
N: Yes, some of them. I have no idea why. I think they think within them they’ll locate some hints as to why I am nuts, uh, I mean why I am my own person.
Q: You have blogged also recently that because of the world’s sci-fi/fantasy fixation, that you may retire from writing…
N: No, no. I will, though, take an extended holiday from writing anything new after this. I think I have earned it. I now have quite a “back catalog”: my modern day travel and young people trilogy and two massive historical romances. I think I have earned a rest and a chance to rejuvenate for a while… and look on at other authors and snicker as they tweet about how tough their day has been.
Q: You are now back on Twitter.
N: I am trying it once more, but geared to writing. You know, I just am not good at self-promotion. I see all these people on there pushing their books. Ugh. And I don’t like going back and forth arguing with people I don’t know about adverbs. I don’t see the value in it. My books speak for themselves. They are what I want to say because they will exist after this web site is gone and after Twitter is gone, and indeed after I am…
Q: Where are you going?
N: Well, I’m not planning on it, but you never know. I write always thinking: “If I die, these books will remain.” That’s why I would never write some of the cr-p I see out there. I think: Why would you want THAT as the first line of your obituary?
Q: That’s an interesting question. What do you want to be yours?
N: Uh, let me think. Okay, how about this: “Robert ___________, known by the pen name R. J. Nello, died today suddenly at his Catskills home at age 95. He is survived by his wife. He became world famous for writing acclaimed historical romance novels which saw his characters become household names and when adapted for film his novels changed the course of global cinema and created a crop of new stars…”
Q: Uh, that third sentence? Really?
N: We all have to dream, don’t we? LOL!
Q: And you claim not to like “fantasy?” LOL! That’s all we have time for. To our US visitors, have a great Labor Day today. And everyone have a good week, wherever you are.😊