Category Archives: The Orphanmaster

The Best Vacation

I came back from Arizona to find that The Orphanmaster had appeared on a Top Holiday Reads 2016 shortlist on line by Co-operative Travel in the UK. The 18 authors included were asked to describe their favorite vacation in 140 characters. What’s funny is I had been spending mine, along with hiking and sunbathing,

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reading historical fiction, which I cite as the finest kind of holiday in my quote. You can find all the books and writers here.

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Kirkus Reviews Savage Girl

Kirkus Reviews Savage Girl (pub. Feb. 15, 2014):

A formal, measured tempo only heightens the tension in Zimmerman’s second historical fiction–cum-thriller (The Orphanmaster, 2012), this one set in the 1870s and concerning a serial killer whose rampage ranges from a rough mining community in Nevada to upper-class Manhattan.

The novel opens in 1876 with narrator Hugo Delegate, Harvard-educated scion of one of New York’s wealthiest and most socially connected families, locked up for the gruesome murder of another New York dandy. He willingly claims his guilt—though that guilt is far from certain—but his expensive lawyers demand he tell them the true story from the beginning. Hugo starts with his family’s visit to Virginia City, Nev., home of his father Freddy’s silver mine. Soon, Hugo’s parents, eccentric liberals interested in the nurture/nature debate raised by Darwin, are eager to adopt a young girl they have discovered in a Virginia City freak show, the owner of which claims she was raised by wolves. Of unknown origins, she speaks Comanche as well as a smattering of English, and her performance involves a set of mechanical claws and a swimming tank. The girl, whose name turns out to be Bronwyn, travels on the Delegates’ private train to New York, where the Delegates plan to put one over on their friends My Fair Lady–style by having her debut as a fashionable young lady. But one grisly murder after another seems to follow in Bronwyn’s wake, the victim always a man who has shown his attraction to Bronwyn’s considerable charms. Is Bronwyn, with her animallike instincts, the killer? Or is it Hugo, with his past mental problems, his capacity to black out and his love for Bronwyn that borders on jealous insanity? Neither Hugo nor the reader is sure right up to the satisfying if melodramatic end.

Zimmerman’s dark comedy of manners is an obvious homage to Edith Wharton, a rip-roaring murder mystery more Robert Louis Stevenson than Conan Doyle and a wonderfully detailed portrait of the political, economic and philosophical issues driving post–Civil War America.

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Stop by My Author Page and Say Hi

My Facebook author page has a brand new cover – it quotes Library Journal saying that Savage Girl is “A fanciful and occasionally surreal take on Gilded Age New York.”

And hey, I just reached 100 likes, a figure I’m a little proud of. But I’d like more likes, more! And more visitors. Come see reviews and interviews as they come in, as well as offers for galley giveaways. Savage Girl doesn’t hit stores until March 6 but there’s a lot going on before then.

I’m always trying to put up something fresh, not only about my books (Savage Girl, The Orphanmaster, Love Fiercely and others) but about writing, reading, and living in such a way as to make those things possible. How do you water an idea to make a book come up? Always trying to figure that out.

watering-can

Something else: please post on my page! I would love to hear what you’re thinking about.

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Savage Girl Review in Library Journal

Woo hoo! This just in, from Library Journal, its Feb. 1 issue:

Wealthy socialite Hugo Delegate and his family rescue the “Savage Girl” from a carnival sideshow and bring her back to their mansion in 1870s New York. Reportedly captured as a child and raised by a Comanche tribe, she instantly captivates Hugo with her boldness and energy. The Delegates undergo a campaign to socialize Savage Girl with limited success. Meanwhile, violence follows this young woman across the country, as men she flirts with end up mutilated and dead. In this follow-up to her acclaimed debut, The Orphanmaster, Zimmerman offers a fanciful and occasionally surreal take on a Gilded Age New York that is reminiscent of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist or even Edgar Allan Poe. Most of the novel is narrated by Hugo recounting events in an extended flashback, which feels jarring and out of place. More successful are the action-packed final chapters. VERDICT This is best for fans of Zimmerman’s first novel and readers who like their historical novels tinged with darkness.

Savage Girl cover

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A Grimm Tale

Recently I checked out my reader reviews for The Orphanmaster – not always a good thing for a writer to do, but Amazon makes it so easy – and after the wonderful, wonderful, wonderfuls I was stopped short by this extremely erudite criticism: Yick. One of my readers actually had to put the book down and erase it from her e-reader, she was so offended by the novel’s instances of violence and depravity.

Alright, you got me. Loving, brave Blandine and valiant, dashing Drummond and adorable little Sabine aren’t the only beings in the story. There are bogeymen lurking in the New Amsterdam shadows, crouching in the forest, maybe even hiding somewhere in your house, perhaps inside the groot kamer itself.

O-Master P-Back Cover

No one in The Orphanmaster is entirely safe. It’s our job (through the actions of the characters we adopt as our totems) to crush those towering monsters and let the light shine in for another day. There’s a crack in everything, wrote Leonard Cohen, That’s how the light gets in.

Why do some writers, like me, want to show the monsters, expose them, and crush them? Why are some people drawn to a TV gorefest like The Walking Dead? I know I am. Monsters are with us at the core of our psyches. A lot of viewers are eating up the NBC prime time show Grimm, which puts a procedural spin on nailing fairy-tale creatures.

grimm

It’s actually amazing that we manage to find anything remotely more interesting to tell stories about.

Today is the anniversary of the first publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This literary landmark, originally titled Children’s and Household Tales, first appeared in Germany on December 20th, 1812 – just in time for Christmas shoppers, right?

Grimm's_Kinder-_und_Hausmärchen,_Erster_Theil_(1812).cover

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were not the first to publish fairy tales, but their versions enshrined the “folk” aspect of the material – the down and dirty part, the cruelty, the yick factor. The brothers went out to the countryside and collected folk tales from peasants, unsanitized, terrifying and utterly compelling.

Arthur-Rackham-Grimm-Fairy-Tales

Many of the details in the original versions of the stories were more ghastly than those we recognize from Disney – for one minor example, in the Grimms’ Cinderella, two heavenly doves help the heroine get dressed for the big ball in a gold dress and slippers – then fly down to peck out the eyeballs of the evil stepsisters.

Cinderella-(Cinderella_III)

Yick. But brilliant. The tales have found their way into 160 languages in the last 200 years. A recent translation of 50 of them by children’s writer Philip Pullman manages to be as elegant as it is gory. As far as I know, there is no witika in Grimm, no towering, green-skinned, long-fanged, cannabilistic spirit of the woods such as the being that torments 1663 Manhattan in The Orphanmaster.

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Yick. Yum.

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Of Hand Muffs and Weather Masks

Wenceslas Hollar, the finest etcher and printmaker of the seventeenth century, had a thing about fur hand muffs. He had nearly 3,000 prints to his credit, having fled war-torn central Europe for England in 1636 under the patronage of the Earl of Arundel.

sun expelling mask

The extremely fashionable London lady in Hollar’s “Winter” Dress from 1643-44, in the collection of the British Museum, sports a voluptuous muff and is draped in furs besides, but perhaps the most curious thing about her is her facial accoutrement. Beneath the image runs the legend:

The cold, not cruelty makes her wear

In Winter, furs and Wild beasts hair

For a smoother skin at night,

Embrace her with more delight.

She wears what was called a sun-expelling mask, intended to protect her “smoother skin” from the elements.

In America, Dutch settler Adriaen Van der Donck deemed the lustrous coat of the black bear “proper for muffs.”

Fox or mink would do as well.

Another sun expelling mask.

sun expelling 2

In The Orphanmaster, Blandine and Drummond stand on the New Bridge overlooking the East River one frosty morning, each of them with their hands shoved into their muffs – fashionable men made them part of their wardrobes just as women did.

Another woman by Hollar, without mask, looks as though she is wearing her overwarm muff inside.

another hollar muff

Hollar was so infatuated with fur hand muffs that he frequently made them the sleek stars of his work, leaving human subjects out in the cold. These are just a few. The University of Toronto has more in an in-depth Hollar digital collection.

hollar muff

Wouldn’t you like to stick your cold hands in one of these?

hollar muffs 1

Piles of luxurious fur.

hollar muffs 2

Hollar was in London during the Great Fire of 1666. His scenes of the city after the conflagration are amazing. His skills were all the more incredible given an infirmity — Hollar was almost blind in one eye. You feel in these images though that as important to him was his sense of touch.

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Hudson River Haunts and Hustlings

For my whole life I’ve lived up and down the Hudson River, in Hastings, in Ulster Park, in Ossining. New York City crouches on its shoreline, and I lived there for twenty years. The Hudson happens to be my favorite river in the world – although to be precise it is an estuary.

I’ve written about its history, in both nonfiction and fiction — about the rubble-stone house of Margaret Hardenbroeck, in Yonkers, about Blandine berry-picking on a Manhattan bluff, and other people whose lives I placed against this magical backdrop. But I haven’t just told stories about a place. I’ve lived it.

I was thinking about some of the things I’ve actually done along the Hudson’s reaches. What helped me in my imaginings. How the Hudson Valley has informed my life.

I’ve taken a canoe out through ancient marshes at the river’s edge. Had picnics along its shores. Dined in fine restaurants. Rode a bike. Collected beach glass.

sea-glass-on-the-beach

Kissed. Thrown sticks for a swimming dog. Gone swimming myself. Taken the train, that glorious route down the river’s eastern flank. Snoozed on that train and missed my stop.

Watched fisherman pull out catfish. Careened along the Henry Hudson Parkway above the river in a series of second-hand cars. Visited a yacht house in winter, warmed by a wood stove. Hitched a ride on a tugboat.

tug

Walked the George Washington Bridge–it sways terrifically. Learned to hula hoop.

Peter hula

Heard blasting rock and roll concerts on ancient piers. Wandered a factory ruin from the nineteenth century. Did I mention throwing a stick for the best cattle dog in America?

Sugar

Saw fireworks explode up from every little Catskills town down the river’s length one Fourth of July. We sat on an escarpment far, far above the river coursing below.

As an adolescent, I read classic books in a library overlooking the water.

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Later, bought paperbacks at library sales. Talked about my own books in library all-purpose rooms.

Watched my three-year-old get gleefully wet under a sprinkler at a city park in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Devoured garlicky Dominican mofungo at a lunch counter a block from the water in Sleepy Hollow.

Hiked the Breakneck Ridge Trail, which rises 1,250 feet in a three-quarter mile stretch and hovers over the river as it winds. Experienced vertigo and rapture at one and the same time.

SONY DSC

Admired thousands of sunsets.

Praised the mighty Palisades. Daydreamed. Considered the water’s surface, olive green, deep black, cobalt, covered in crashed-together ice floes. Seen eagles ride the ice floes (an untruth – I’ve always wanted to, it’s in my bucket, but I never have managed it).

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Admired art on walls with river views. Experienced the unicorn tapestries, in awe. Taught children to make art. Touched cattails. Bought hanging plants from Garden Club ladies. Watched my teenager kill it in soccer games on a field watched over by the Palisades. Stood on the porch of Washington Irving’s stucco cottage, Sunnyside, imagining the 1840s river the way he must have seen it, appalled when the railroad went through.

sunnyside_and_hudson-300x225Skipped stones, clumsily. Never could master that. Threw a stick for a dog. Considered the white-tailed deer swimming across to New Jersey – diaries describe the phenomenon in the seventeenth century. A long time back, but a drop in the bucket for the old, bountiful Hudson.

What have you done along the Hudson–or your own personal favorite river? Leave a comment, will you?

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