The Challenges of Writing Historical Fiction

Happy Friday, everyone! I know some of you were expecting a different sort of announcement today — one revealing the winner of my epic holiday giveaway. But truthfully, you all made it so difficult to choose that I need a little more time. Which, as frustrating as it is, should be a testament to the talent pool I’m perusing. I promise not to leave you in suspense for much longer though, and will be posting the results by the end of next week.

In the meantime, I’ve invited Tammy Farrell, author of The Dia Chronicles and whose newest release I featured on Wednesday, to come talk about the challenges of writing historical fiction. As someone who writes historical fantasy, she’s intimately familiar with the struggles of accurately portraying history in fiction. So please give her a warm welcome, and be sure to check out her highly reviewed series!
 

The Challenges of Writing Historical Fiction

by Tammy Farrell

 
When I started writing the first book in The Dia Chronicles, I was fresh out of university and had spent the previous few years studying everything from Greek mystery religions, to the development of post-Roman Britain. At the time, I felt that I had a good understanding of the Middle Ages, but when the inspiration struck and I started to write a novel set in 6th century Britain, I realized there was still a lot I needed to learn.

RESEARCH

Researching the time period was my first order of business. I re-read my history textbooks, scholarly articles, library books, historical maps; I ordered books from Amazon, and I even read real medieval letters (particularly those between Peter Abelard and Heloise) to get a sense of the language. I did some Googling, and even looked at Wikipedia from time to time, but I made sure to source that info before I accepted it as fact.

As I quickly learned, simply reading a lot about a certain time period wasn’t enough to make me an expert. I had to research as I wrote. At first, I found that writing a scene was a slow process because I had to keep stopping to look things up. But this process actually helped cement facts in my mind. The further into the book I got, the more confident I was with the details of the world I was building. And while I still don’t consider myself an expert, I can now write a scene without stopping ten times to research. 🙂

LANGUAGE

Deciding how my characters would speak was no easy task. I’ve read historical fiction that uses modern language and lots of contractions, and I’ve also read historical fiction that uses formal language, old English, and no contractions at all.

What I found is that the best way is somewhere in between. The truth is, in the Middle Ages people used contractions all the time (i.e. ‘t is), and they often placed words in a different order than we do today.

It took some practice and playing around with dialogue, but I chose to give my characters both formal and informal voices, with some old English mixed in. If a character is speaking to someone of authority, or if the tone of the conversation is serious, they often speak more formally and with fewer contractions. When they are in a more casual situation, I give them a more relaxed dialogue with more contractions. If you pay close attention, you can almost always tell how one of my characters feels about a person by the way they are speaking.

WHEN TO MAKE THINGS UP

In The Dia Chronicles, I try to insert as much historical fact as possible, but there’s a lot of fiction involved in writing history. For the most part, I invented village names, people (with the exception of King Erbin and King Gerren), and some historical events. In The Embers of Light, one of the main settings is a mountain called Ayrith. I created Ayrith, but this fictional place is set on Snowdon in Snowdonia—a real set of mountains in Wales.

Sometimes inventing history is necessary, but I’ve found that as long as it’s believable, readers don’t mind.

FIND THE RIGHT EDITORS AND BETA-READERS

You can’t pick just any editor when it comes to historical fiction. I had to learn this lesson through experience. Unless your editors and beta-readers are somewhat familiar with historical fiction, you might find them trying to do things like: reword dialogue (e.g. “What of Malcolm?” vs. “What about Malcolm?”), question word choices (e.g. dais instead of platform, mantle instead of cloak), and question your characters actions and behaviors (such as the execution of justice, a woman’s place in society, the importance of land and titles). If an editor or beta-reader isn’t familiar with the basics of historical fiction, you’re wasting their time, and your own. I was really lucky to have Julie Hutchings work as a DE on The Embers of Light, and I feel like she understood the tone, the language, and the actions perfectly. Make sure your team can help improve your historical writing, not misunderstand it.

The Lesson — LEARN BY DOING

I think some writers avoid writing historical fiction because of the many challenges it presents. But the ONLY way to get past the obstacles is to write! Sit down and write as much as you can. No matter what genre you write in, you’ll always need a plot, you’ll need to know your characters, and you’ll need to know your setting. The best way to build the foundation for historical fiction is to write the story you need to tell, research as you go, and add in the details later. The more you research and the more you write, the more confident you’ll become and, one day, you’ll be the expert of your own world.

Book Feature: The Embers of Light by Tammy Farrell

The Embers of Light by Tammy Farrell

 

Since it’s only Wednesday, that means I either feature a cool book deserving of your attention, or I post a review of a cool book deserving of your attention. 😉

Today, it’s a book feature. And I want to wish a happy release day to author Tammy Farrell! The second installment in her historical fantasy series, The Dia Chronicles, is now available. This series has been on my radar for a while, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. Both books are currently in my TBR list, so I’ll be sure to post reviews of them once I’m done. But for now, check out the blurb for Book 2: The Embers of Light.

The descendants of the ancient gods think they’ve found peace, but the time has come when new magic and ancient powers will collide . . .

Stripped of his Dia powers and left to rot, Malcolm is a prisoner of Valenia—a sentence he finds worse than death. His thoughts of revenge are the only thing keeping him sane, but when he finally manages to escape, Malcolm discovers that living as a mortal is more dangerous than he ever imagined. After stealing from the wrong man, Malcolm becomes a captive once more, only this time his punishment is one that he won’t soon forget. His only hope of survival is Seren, an enigmatic young girl with golden eyes and a malevolence to match his own.

When he’s led to Mara and Corbin, the two responsible for his fall from grace, their new faction of Dia is in chaos, infiltrated by an ancient power thought to have been banished forever. This only fuels Malcolm’s ruthless ambitions, but he soon realizes that he too is under attack, a pawn in a centuries old game of power and greed. As new battle lines are drawn, Malcolm finds himself in uncharted waters, forced to choose between helping those he’s vowed to destroy or give in to his lingering desire to settle the score.

Debts will be paid, lives will be lost, and no Dia will ever be the same.

Who doesn’t love a good anti-hero and revenge-driven plot? I think it sounds amazing, if only because I tend to fall for the villains more often than the heroes. But maybe that’s just me. 😉

Be sure to add The Embers of Light, along with Book 1: The Darkness of Light to your reading list, and help Tammy celebrate her release. She’ll be joining us on Friday with a guest post about the challenges of writing historical fiction, so be sure to stop by and say hello.

About the Author:

TammTammy Farrelly Farrell grew up in Orangeville, Ontario Canada where she discovered her love of writing, and all things related to Edgar Allan Poe. She now lives with her husband and six fur babies in Greenville, South Carolina, where she attempts to learn French when she isn’t busy writing.

Learn more about The Dia Chronicles and Tammy Farrell’s other works at: www.TammyFarrell.com

And connect with her online: Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

What Not to Do When Querying

As Editorial Director for REUTS Publications, I’ve been privy to first-hand knowledge of publishing’s “mysterious” acquisitions process.  And over the past two years, I’ve witnessed innumerable querying blunders that hurt the author’s chances, rather than helping them. I’m not the first to offer up this kind of advice-oriented post, but armed with personal insight and pet-peeves, I thought I’d add my own thoughts into the mix.

So, with only a modicum of tongue-in-cheek snark (okay, make that a lot of snark), I give you:

What Not to Do When Querying

(aka How to Piss Off an Acquisitions Editor)

There are plenty of posts out there that explain what you’re supposed to do when querying, the steps that are supposed to lead to that coveted moment where someone offers you representation. There are also posts that tell you what to avoid. But I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone really say the following, in all its blunt glory. Because the truth of the matter is this: there are definitely things you can do as a writer to increase your chances of a book deal, but there are also plenty of ways to blow it. (Also, it should be noted that this information applies to agents as well, not just acquisitions editors.)

So let’s break down some of the worst publishing faux pas you can make, yes?

DO:

Submit to publishing houses and agencies that interest you.

DON’T:

Submit to them blindly, and then ask a bunch of questions about how they operate. That’s something that needs to come first and is a dangerous game to play. Vet the places you’re planning to query before you hand them your work. Not after. That wastes everyone’s time, and there’s nothing agents and editors hate more than wasting time. We have precious little of it as it is. Be courteous and ask your questions up front, please. Most of us are more than willing to answer.

DO:

Query agents and small presses.

DON’T:

Query them both simultaneously, and definitely, definitely don’t use a small press as leverage for attaining an agent’s interest.

This one’s two-fold, so let’s start with the first half: don’t query agents and editors simultaneously. Small presses are fantastic. So are agents. But they lead to two completely different publication paths. And there’s nothing we despise more than falling in love with something, only to discover that the author wasn’t serious about working with us after all. It breaks our literary-loving hearts. So please, know where each publication path leads and which one is right for both you and your project.

Which brings us to the second half. This is a serious faux pas, and one I hope none of you ever commit. Never ever use a small press for the sole intent of gaining interest from an agent. Leveraging an offer of publication from a small press to get an agent’s representation (or even a bigger publisher) is like dangling a wedding proposal from someone you pretended to like in front of the mate you really want. It’s mean, and cruel, and makes you a horrible person. It’s also a sure-fire way to end up on a publishing house’s Black List. Yes, we have those. And publishing is a small world; we talk. So be careful which bridges you burn. Treat all parties involved with respect and professionalism. If you want an agent, don’t query small press editors. If you receive an offer from somewhere else, tell us. There’s a perceived divide in publishing, the us vs them mentality, but we’re all just people. And we all just want a little consideration. Is that too much to ask?

DO:

Research the various agents and editors you’re querying. Find out what they like, personalize your query, follow their submission guidelines, and all that other stuff you’ve seen touted a million times. It’s good advice. We appreciate that.

DON’T:

Spam your submission to everyone at the agency/publishing house. And definitely don’t resubmit the same query, after receiving a rejection, to someone else within the company. Publishing houses are like families. We all know everyone else, and we know what they like. So if we see a submission cross our desk that isn’t a fit for us, but would be for one of our colleagues, we’ll tell you. Better yet, we’ll tell them. (Or, alternatively, acquisitions can be a team effort, as it is at REUTS, and everyone who has a say has already read your work prior to the decision being issued.) Talking about books is one of the reasons we got into publishing, so you can bet our water cooler conversations revolve around that too. If you receive a rejection, accept it gracefully and move on.

DO:

Keep track of your submissions and the response times associated with each.

DON’T:

Incessantly hound an agent or editor for a decision. Wait until the listed response time has passed and then politely — key word there: politely — nudge for a response. Submission in-boxes are the first to brim over with a plethora of time-consuming tasks. And as I said above, editors and agents are incredibly busy people. Reading actually falls low on our priority scale, as our days are usually spent dealing with the various tasks associated with producing the projects we’ve already signed. So reading the new queries that rain down like, well, rain, is a luxury we don’t have on a daily basis.

We know you’re excited for your work, and that you can’t wait for that glorious day when someone from our side of the fence is equally excited for it, but constantly yapping at our heels like a chihuahua does nothing but annoy us. We don’t appreciate being backed into corners, and if you push too hard, guess what the answer is: NO. That’s not the relationship you want to have with your potential publishing allies, is it? You want someone to appreciate those words you slaved over, to savor the story you carefully crafted, and to join you in screaming its brilliance from the rooftops. Rushing a decision allows for none of those things. The most you’ll get is a half-assed read-through and a reluctant yes. Patience really is a virtue here, people. As much as it sucks, it will benefit you in the long run.

DO:

Follow agents, editors, and publishing houses on social media and interact with them. Forming networking connections is a fabulous way to form relationships that further your career. But be careful. There’s a fine line between creating useful contacts and this . . .

DON’T:

Abuse the accessibility social media gives you. We’re there because we genuinely want to meet the authors behind our next favorite read. We want to support the writing community and foster a kinship that bridges the gap between publisher and author. And we want friends who like what we like. We’re human. It happens.

We’re not there so you can harass our every waking moment with status requests, update requirements, or attempts to pressure us into taking your work by leveraging the opinions of others who have read it. That’s not the best impression to make, so just don’t do it, okay? There are a lot of factors that go into an acquisitions decision, but endorsements from random Twitter buddies isn’t one of them. Now, maybe if your random Twitter buddy is Stephen King or JK Rowling, that might be different. But still, save that for the query letter, or better yet, get them to blurb your book after it’s signed.

DO:

Create an online persona, platform, and all that good stuff.

DON’T:

Parade things you don’t want the world to see. One of the biggest factors in an acquisitions decision is actually whether or not the team involved would want to work with the author. So, in that sense, submitting a query is on par with a job interview. And guess what? We do our research. We may love your talent, falling all over your manuscript with gushing adoration, but if we discover that you’re the world’s biggest Prima Donna on social media, guess what? Your appeal just went down. Don’t get me wrong, opinions are great. Everyone has them, along with a certain piece of anatomy that usually accompanies that phrase. But think about how your opinions may be perceived by someone on the outside.

Shaming other authors, railing against other publishers, responding horribly to a rejection, and whining like an attention-starved kitten are not appealing things in a potential partner. Would you date someone who checked those boxes? Probably not. So can you blame us if we don’t want to work with that person either? Publishing is a long-term relationship, taking months or years to come to fruition, and you can be darn sure we’re not going to want to work with someone who will make that time an ulcer-inducing, grey-hair creating pain-fest. You could have the most brilliant masterpiece, but if you yourself are a piece of work online, I’m pretty sure you can guess what the verdict will be. So the moral here is this: think about your online persona. Craft one that will be appealing to both your audience and your potential publisher. And generally try to avoid things that would fall under the heading “authors behaving badly.”

The take-away from this candid look at the publishing process is simple, really. It all comes down to common courtesy. Editors and agents are people. As in human. As in we have lives and obligations and families too. And just like you want us to shower you with glowing praise and go to the ends of the earth to champion your project, we want you to understand that your manuscript is not God’s gift to publishing. We may think it’s brilliant, it may be among our favorite reads of all time, but it’s definitely not the only one we’re working on. Show respect of that fact, handle your interactions with poise and professionalism, and you’ll manage to avoid every single one of the querying faux pas I just listed. Sound like a plan? 😉

 

Book Feature: Fifteen by Jen Estes

Fifteen by Jen Estes

 

This week has been nothing short of hectic. Between work field-trips, frustrating encounters with mundane things, and a bout of dizziness that never seems to end, I failed at reading. But that doesn’t mean I can’t showcase another fantastic book you should all go check out. As part of the blog tour, I’m happy to bring your attention to yet another interesting, original offering from Curiosity Quills Press.

Similar to the last book I featured, this YA read contains a unique twist on the concept of time travel (I’m sensing a theme in my reading choices this year), and promises to be a multi-layered web of intrigue, criss-crossing timelines, and mystery. The part I have read is quite enjoyable, and I look forward to being able to share my full thoughts on it in the near future. But in the meantime, here’s the blurb:

Legend has it if you die in your dreams, you die in real life. Fifteen-year-old Ashling Campbell knows that’s not true because when she closes her eyes each night, she doesn’t dream about public nudity or Prom dates. Instead, she’s catapulted to the front row of her future self’s execution — fifteen years from now– where monsters have taken control of her hometown and she, or rather, her 30-year-old counterpart, is their public enemy number one.

For three months and counting, it’s been the same dream . . . until an encounter with an antique dreamcatcher. Ash falls asleep to discover she’s no longer a mere spectator in these dreams – now she’s astral-projecting into the body of her future self. Each night, she goes on the run with a ragtag group of rebels – who have no idea she’s really a high school sophomore and not their noble warrior. She has to make it through each night so that she can wake up and find a way to change the future. For every action she does in the present day, she falls asleep to discover it had an equal impact fifteen years later. It’s up to her to manage her two worlds and make sure she’s still got a place in both.

Intriguing, right? I’m a complete sucker for this kind of narrative (probably, at least in part, due to my own WIP). If you are as well, then this book should be right up your alley. Go add it to your TBR pile! 😉

About the Author:

Jen EstesBorn and raised in the Midwest, Jen had to choose between staring at corn or reading books. Corn husks just didn’t have the appeal of the Baby-Sitters Club, and so a bookworm was born. Reading later turned into writing and in 2011, Jen published her first novel with Camel Press. After releasing four books in the mystery genre, Jen finally gave in to the literary demands of her inner teenager with her YA debut, FIFTEEN (The Dreamwalker Diaries).

Jen is an active member of the National Writers Union. As an author, she has been featured in Penthouse Magazine, the State Journal-Register, Mystery Scene Magazine, and more. When she isn’t writing, Jen enjoys sci-fi in all its mediums, attempting yoga, using her passport, watching baseball, and reading a good book. She lives in Illinois with her husband Nathan under the tyranny of their three cats: Wrigley, Ivy and Captain Moo. To balance the feline:human ratio, they are expecting their first child this spring.

Find Jen Estes Online:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

A Writer’s Resolutions: 2015 Edition

Ah yes, resolution season. Normally, I’m among the first to catalog a new batch of ambitious goals, but this year, I’ve felt strangely impartial to the practice. Aside from the usual personal ones, like “Be Debt Free,” “Lose Like 100 lbs,” and “Stress Less, Have More Fun,” my resolution list has been sadly lacking. But, since it’s tradition to set some writing ones in stone by posting them here, I’m going to try and rustle some up by the end of this post.

First, a quick reminder of the ones from last year:

Writing Resolutions 2014

  • Finish the rough draft of Unmoving
  • Upload Chapters of Unmoving every two weeks to Wattpad & Authonomy
  • Revise and Re-publish The Bardach, Spinning & Confessions via Createspace/Amazon KDP
  • Compile brief synopses of all plot bunnies
  • Write, Edit & Publish one new short story

How did I stack up against those? Most of you already know. Unmoving still isn’t finished, but I did manage to write quite a bit more of it, thanks to the bi-weekly deadline. Though, I also wasn’t as consistent with that as I wanted to be, and I often had to postpone the chapters, missing the deadlines completely while I tried to finish other obligations. I didn’t upload anything to Wattpad or Authonomy, but I did start submitting the serialized chapters to Starter Serials. So we’ll count this one as a win. Yay me! A quick Amazon search will show that I completely failed at resolution three (The Bardach rewrite is only about a third of the way done), and I also didn’t complete four or five.

So, all total, I managed to maybe, kinda sorta achieve one on that list. But that’s still better than I did last year, so I suppose it’s progress, right?

2014 was actually a great year in other regards, though, aside from the last month, when it decided to go out with a crap-storm of awful. But before that, I attended my first writing conference, followed quickly by a second. I met a lot of fantastic new people and learned some cool new tricks. I helped twelve books come into the world, read a plethora of amazing manuscripts on submission, facilitated the Project REUTSway short story contest, and all around kind of flourished as an editor. So even though I didn’t make the specific goals listed above, I’d say it was a good eleven months. I’m not counting December. That month can suck it.

What does that leave me with for 2015? Well, on one side, it’s left me with a continuation of the suckage December shepherded into my life. But it also leaves me optimistic and full of ambition for my writing, editing, and art. Yes, art. The long-lost bastard child of my creativity. Which brings us to . . .

Writing Resolutions 2015

  • Finish Unmoving (It’s going to happen this year, damn it. I have other stories clamoring for attention too!)
  • Upload Chapters of Unmoving every two weeks to Wattpad & Authonomy (Since I didn’t technically accomplish this to the letter, I’m reusing it. Deal.)
  • Revise and Re-publish The Bardach, Spinning & Confessions via Createspace/Amazon KDP (Still something I really want to do. But I’ll settle for at least completing Kindred — aka The Bardach 2.0)
  • Compile brief synopses of all plot bunnies (Definitely becoming more and more necessary, since I can’t seem to remember s**t if it’s not written down anymore.)
  • Write, Edit & Publish one new short story (Still not sure why I haven’t managed to do this. It’s a short story! Get it together, self.)
  • Plan, Prep, and Unveil Secret Blog Project by the end of the year

You’ll notice there’s now a sixth resolution, and it’s particularly vague. I’m excited about it, but I don’t want to give too much away until I know for sure I’ll have the time and ability to pull it off. Let’s just say that if all goes to plan, it’ll involve quite a bit of free fiction for your reading enjoyment. 😉

Other things on the horizon that aren’t official resolutions — let’s call them “soft” resolutions:

  • Be more consistent with new content for the blog. You’ve all been super patient with my hectic schedule this past year, and I truly appreciate it. But I’m hoping to get back to a more regular posting schedule, full of new insights on writing, editing, publishing, or whatever the heck I feel like writing about. Sound good?
  • Maintain, consistently, the release schedule for the VIP subscription to Unmoving. (Not sure what that is? Look here.)
  • Start working on a more traditional (probably YA) novel. Now that my path to self-publishing is underway, I’d like to tackle the other half — traditional publishing. I’ve always said I wanted to do a hybrid publishing style, self-pubbing A Symphony of Synchronicity, and then pursuing traditional publishing for my dark fantasy stuff. Now seems like a good time to start working toward that goal.
  • Dust off my art training and put it to good use. I have a few artistic opportunities looming in my near future, so I think its high time I went back to actively cultivating this skill set. It may even help support that first “soft” resolution, yielding unexplored topics to write about. We’ll see.

I’m sure there are others I could list, but for now, that seems plenty ambitious, I think. So here’s to a new year, a clean slate, and accomplishing all those things we didn’t in 2014. Cheers!

P.S. I’d love to hear what some of your writing/publishing goals are for the year. Share them in the comments below! 🙂