History’s darker side
Karleen Koen’s historical fiction
doesn’t pull punches
COSTCO HAS 50 copies of
Karleen Koen’s Through a
Glass Darkly, with signed
book plates, to give
a way. To enter, print
y our name, member-
s hip number, ad-
d ress and daytime
postcard or letter and
s end it to: Karleen
K oen, The Costco
C onnection, P.O.
B ox 34088, Seattle,
O r send an e-mail
to g email@example.com,
w ith “ Karleen Koen” in
the subject line.
No purchase is necessary. Open
to legal residents of the U.S.
(except Puerto Rico) who are age
18 or older at the time of entry
and who are current Costco
members. One entry per household. Entries must be received or
postmarked by July 1, 2008. Winners will be randomly selected
and notified by mail on or before
August 1, 2008. The value of the
prize is $16.95. Void where prohibited. Winners are responsible
for all applicable federal, state
and local taxes. Odds of winning
depend on the number of eligible
entries received. Employees
of Costco or Sourcebooks and
their families are not eligible.
By J. Rentilly
HISTORY OFTEN IS UNKIND, brutally sacrificing profoundly human level rarely achieved and also on
its heroes, tearing true love to shreds and leaving an equally high intellectual level of h istorical
villainy unpunished. Although historical novels research and character analysis,” says
often varnish reality’s imperfections, putting bows Naggar. “Every time I thought I knew
and ribbons atop the atrocities of epochs, Karleen where Karleen was going with the story,
Koen, author of the brilliant, galvanizing Through a she deftly took me somewhere else. I
Glass Darkly, refuses to gloss over history’s dark think that’s one reason the book still mat-days, crafting nourishing, soulful, enduring work in ters so much to readers 20 years on.”
the process. While putting the finish-Published 20 years ago, Darkly is ing touches on her fourth
still a hot seller and widely read. Koen’s novel, King, due in earl y
debut novel, it weaves a rich, full- 2009, Koen teaches a fiction -
blooded tapestry of star-crossed love, writing class at Rice Universi ty
royal chicanery and political intrigue, and also works as co-founder of of
set against the backdrop of 18th-cen- Women in the Visual and Literary
tury London and Paris. Koen, also the Arts, a Houston-based organization
author of Dark Angels and Now Face to that supports and stimulates creativity
Face, believes readers have responded in women.
warmly to Darkly not in spite of its “We have done marvelous things:
tougher edges, but because of them. collaborations between artists and writ-
“In most historical romances, the ers, performances, chapbooks, fundrais-girl always gets the boy, no matter the ing and we support two scholarships a
challenges,” says Koen, whose grandfa- Karleen Koen year,” she tells The Connection. “I’ve
ther introduced her to the historical fiction of Frank seen women too afraid to even say what their medium
Yerby, Frank Slaughter and Zane Grey when she was is, and after being around the presence of other
just a child. “That’s not always how it goes, and I creative women, they blossom, get into galleries, win
think readers appreciate being told the truth.” awards, finish their novels or short stories.”
Joyce Murray Boatright, author of Telling Your Meanwhile, Koen relishes the perennial affec-
Story: A Basic Guide to Memoir Writing and Koen’s tion and attention afforded her debut novel. Despite
longtime friend, believes that the author’s compul- its adherence to history’s darker truths, Koen believes
sion to unfurl history in all its majesty and imper- the discerning reader will uncover Darkly’s deeper
fections is part of the allure, to be sure. “But it’s also message of hope.
her characters—complex and fully developed, not a “Life is a gift. The people in our lives are gifts.
stereotype among them,” she says. “And Karleen is a Love them. We break, but we can mend,” Koen says.
master in constructing plots that keep readers turn- “That’s what this book is about. If I had to do it all
ing pages. The tension is exquisite!” over again, the only thing I’d do differently is I’d cry
For Koen, who lives in Texas with her longtime louder, sing longer and dance harder.” C
sweetheart, exquisite tension was long a part of her
life, laboring as she did for many years on editorial
staffs at national magazines, “putting on high heels to
go to work.” With the birth of her two children, she
felt at loose ends, ready for a change and the challenge
of writing her first novel.
She spent five years poring over more than 300
books, including histories, biographies, social commentary and other research books. She also crossed
the Atlantic, visiting London and Paris. “Those cities have old souls, and I needed to know what it felt
like to be there,” she says. “I love research.”
Koen shopped her finished manuscript to agents
lifted from a magazine article she’d read and, to her
surprise, was signed by her first choice, Jean V. Naggar.
Naggar set up an auction and, according to Koen, “the
bidding got crazy.” The novel eventually sold for an
astonishing $650,000, virtually unprecedented at the
time for a debut novel, and then stormed the best-seller lists, where it stayed for many months.
“The novel works quite brilliantly on both a
J. Rentilly is a Los Angeles–based journalist who
writes for a variety of publications.
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I UNDERSTAND THAT historical fiction may not be
everyone’s cup of tea. For fans of the genre, this month’s
Book Buyer’s Pick, Karleen Koen’s stirring Through a
Glass Darkly, will undoubtedly be a huge literary treat.
For readers who aren’t typically fans of historical fiction,
I can’t help but think that this is the book that will
change your minds.
Set in London in the early 1700s, this novel has
everything: passion, greed, familial confict, intrigue and
betrayal. The rich details and engaging characters only
add to one’s reading pleasure.
Koen’s Through a Glass Darkly is available at most
Costco warehouses and on costco.com.
Costco Book Buyer