Monday, September 12, 2011

N is for Newman: Sharan Newman

Continuing the Mystery Author Alphabet Meme, today I welcome Sharan Newman: N is for Newman.

Sharan Newman is a medieval historian and author. She took her Master's degree in Medieval Literature at Michigan State University and then did her doctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara in Medieval Studies, specializing in twelfth-century France. She is a member of the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Association of the Pacific. Newman has done research at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique France Meridionale et Espagne at the University of Toulouse and the Institute for Jewish History at the University of Trier, as well as many departmental archives.

Sharan Newman:

It’s all about me?

First of all, my thanks to Janet for thinking of me in her mystery alphabet. Being told that I have two pages to write about anything I like is daunting. So, perhaps I should start by introducing myself.

My name is Sharan Newman. “Sharan” is not a new age affectation; my dad filled out my birth certificate and he didn’t know how the name should be spelled. He was a bright man but tended to be creative in orthography. I seem to have inherited this talent.

After that excitement, nothing much happened to me. The world, however, seemed to get more and more scary as I grew up. I am part of the first generation that knew without a doubt that istwas possible to destroy the entire planet without divine intervention. The older I get, the more ways we invent to accomplish this.

Since the modern world confused me so much, I became an historian, a medievalist to be precise. I thought that would be far enough from the present for psychological equanimity. Well, I was mistaken. I discovered that everything people think they know about the Middle Ages is wrong and that humanity hasn’t changed a bit; we just have better medicine and plumbing.

OK, I know that sounds like a real downer. But what I also found was, that while we are not so different from our ancestors, that’s not such a bad thing. Instead of using the Middle Ages as a dumping ground for everything we dislike about ourselves: brutality, selfishness, prejudice, we can look at that time (or any in history) and see what they got right that we might adapt to solving the problems around us.

It probably won’t surprise anyone that my most recent book was a non-fiction look at the end of the world.

Actually, I found it very reassuring that so many people have predicted the Apocalypse and been wrong. Talk about not learning from history, the most recent wide-spread prophecy is for next month. I wouldn’t worry; it’s based on calculating the ages of the men in the Bible from Adam on down, throwing in the age of the world, assuming we’re at the end of the seventh Age, stirring briskly and putting it in an oven until it’s half baked. It’s been done many times before and we’re still here.

I did a lot of research out of my period for this and discovered that every culture has at least one sub-group that believes we are in the end times. One my favorites was the group in Berkeley in the 1890’s who believed a major tidal wave was coming. They were going to ride their bicycles up and down the hills to warn the unbelieving populace. Oddly, no one has ever written about them. I got all my information from the Oakland papers.

OK, back to the Middle Ages. My main work is a mystery series set in Paris and anywhere else I want to go, in the mid-twelfth century. I have a family of characters. Catherine Levendeur is the central one. She started out to be a nun, mostly because she wanted to study without being interrupted, but she was sidetracked by an Anglo-Scot student named Edgar, whom she married. The third main character is a young Jewish merchant named Solomon. I think I’m in love with him and, from the letters I get, I’m not alone. There are now ten books in the series and you can find out more about them at my website:

For those who would like a taste of the series or have read the books and want more, I have just finished a collection of short stories with background introductions. It will only be on e-books at first, but there will be a hard copy soon and I’ll announce it on the website and on my Facebook fan page.

Here is the cover:

This was my first attempt at Photoshop, which is harder than it looks. The picture is one I took at Carcassonne in the south of France. But it took forever to get the lettering right. Sometimes I think that a nice scriptorium would be easier, then I remember the monks’ margin notes; “It’s freezing in here.” “The ink has dried up again” “My eyes burn from the candle smoke”. Then the 21st century starts to look better.

Well, once I get started, I found a lot to say when it was all about me. Gluttons for punishment can find even more on my website.

Gratias vobis ago!!! Or, in other words: Thanks, everyone!!


AnnOxford said...

Hi Sharan,
You won't remember, but I interviewed you and reviewed your first Catherine Levendeur mystery for our Daily Madison (WI) paper. Then met again when you did a signing here. I've been a fan ever since. Everything you write is so rich. Thank you!

Priscilla said...

Thank you, Sharan, for this, all stated with your usual wit and insight. We haven't changed much but think we have, which may be the reason we never learn from history. Looking forward to your newest.

sharan newman said...

Thanks. I especcially appreciate Ann's remembering that interview. It was 18 years ago!

Anonymous said...

Can you please write another Catherine book!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!