Tag Archives: Historical Novel


Finding Napoleon in Portland, Oregon


Portland, Oregon June 2017 by Margaret Rodenberg

I actually was in Oregon because of Napoleon Bonaparte. You see, that’s where the Historical Novel Society held this year’s conference. It’s a historical novelist’s dream: a hotel full of five hundred people, all fascinated with previous eras. It’s a joyous celebration of camaraderie, craft and commerce. It’s a chance for would-be authors to pitch manuscripts to agents and publishers. But most of all, it’s a chance for them—and for me—to step away from the computer screen to share a love of writing about the past.

HNS 2017 Gordon Frye Session on Historical FirearmsReaders of historical fiction demand accuracy, not in the plot or characters, but in the historical details. A conference like this reminds writers that Vikings don’t zip up their pants any more than they call Uber on their cell phones. Many of the sessions were steeped in historical detail: Underwear from Medieval to Victorian Ages! Hooch through History! How Far Can A Horse Walk In A Day and Other Questions of Accurate Historical Travel!

I was particularly interested in the lecture, “Things that go “Bang” in the night: Firearms for Novelists—Writing It Right.” Gordon Frye who hosts the internet show Gordon’s Gun Closet is an expert on historical weapons and advises historical re-enactors. He led an excellent session, pointing out the most common errors writers, who are often unfamiliar with firearms, tend to make. A couple of years ago, I’d decidedMargaret Rodenberg at the shooting range to fill in that gap in my own education. I took a firearms safety course that culminated in the shooting range experience seen on the right. That helped me get the feel of shooting a gun. Gordon helped me understand more about historical weapons. My writing doesn’t include a lot of gun battles, but he gave me confidence in the few scenes I’ve written.

Portland made a fitting location for a writers conference since Powell’s New and Used Books is located there. The largest independent bookstore in the U.S, Powell’s takes up most of three stories of a city block. Our plane landed at 8:05 pm and I was in Powell’s before 10 pm. That’s where I “found Napoleon Bonaparte” in Portland—or at least a few shelves of Napoleonic history books, one of which is shown below.

On a final note, if you love—or want to write—historical fiction, be sure to join the Historical Novel Society’s Facebook page.

One of the Napoleon Shelves at Powell's New & Used Books in Portland

The Man Writing Links

Finding Napoleon in St Petersburg, Florida

 Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida

Napoleon as First Consul, Unknown Artist, MFA, St Petersburg FLThis past weekend I attended the Historical Novel Society’s annual convention (more on that later) in St Petersburg, Florida. For a city of 250,000 residents, St Petersburg has a surprising trove of art museums, including the Salvador Dali Museum shown in the photo above.

Of course I was on the lookout for Napoleon. Sure enough, in the Museum of Fine Arts, I found this early 1800s bust of him as First Consul. It’s a somewhat commonplace piece by an unknown artist who modeled it after work by the artist Joseph Chinard who in turn was influenced by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. Personally, I prefer Canova’s work because it exudes the power and determination of its subject. Both busts are fine examples of Napoleon’s desire to be portrayed as a Roman hero. 

But judge for yourself. Here’s a photo I took two years ago, in the Chateau de Malmaison, of Canova’s bust of Napoleon: 


Napoleon bust by Antonio Canova at Malmaison

Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Margaret Rodenberg