Life’s a Roller Coaster

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I went spinning last week. The first ten minutes are always tough. That’s when your legs are saying “what the heck are you doing to us?” and your heart is saying “slow down”. Last week’s instructor co-owns the studio, which is one of the best I’ve tried, and their classes are almost always full. But I digress.

Dana loves to exhort the group not just with instructions for adding more tension, doing pushups while pedalling madly, and altering our stance from pedalling seated to pedalling standing and back again, but also with instructions about life in general. How we should live a life of purpose, believe in ourselves, take time for family, dig deep to understand who we are and so on. If I feel like listening, I do, otherwise I think about the latest chapter I’m plotting or a troublesome character.

Last week I listened for a while and the bit I heard made me think of life’s journey that we’re all on. That in turn made me think of the ups and downs that I’ve experienced in life – no doubt you will all have your own version of ups and downs. At times life trends mainly up, at other times mainly down. At times life is flat. At times, we have no idea where we’re going.

As you dear readers will know, I don’t get philosophical very often, but ask yourself this: if you aren’t in charge of your life journey, if you aren’t making decisions of what to do or what to do differently, then who is? So rather than be on an endless roller coaster to nowhere, choose when to get off and what other ride will make a difference.

I think that’s what I did when I began to write ten years ago. And now, life is still a roller coaster but it has different ups and downs, curves, and thrilling loops. Thanks for listening.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  … and occasional personal posts … FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Double Trouble #HNS2019

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Beatriz Williams and Kate Quinn were obviously having a blast at their session Double Trouble at #HNS2019. The topic was all about crafting the dual timeline historical novel and having written two of them — Time and Regret and the as yet unpublished The Admiral’s Wife — I wanted to hear their advice. They ran the session like a conversation which worked extremely well.

According to Beatriz and Kate, dual timeline novels are hot, and I wonder whether this is because they can appeal to both fans of contemporary and fans of historical novels. But let’s hear from the experts!

BW: a dual timeline story is a dialogue between past and present and as such it connects us to the past

KQ: Kate’s editor suggested writing a dual timeline novel, apparently saying that it had the advantage of getting your books shelved in two spots which will broaden your reach. Kate said that historical fiction is a more difficult sell in the market and that dual timeline makes the ‘sell’ easier.

BW: historical fiction doesn’t feel relevant to many readers; with the present being so challenging (!) and dynamic, many people have less respect for the past. It’s very important to create HF stories that are relevant to readers. Dual timeline has been around for a long time and is a respected structure for a novel.

KQ: there are many varieties of dual timeline. For example, you can position the same character at different points in his/her life. The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams follows that model. The contrast between a character at time A and time B creates tension, interest, questions, and drama.

BW: you can show how the time — the era and its events — affected the character. And the points of inflection in a character’s life. Stories like these are a bit more demanding of the reader. In terms of technique – you can write one narrative at a time or go back and forth between the narratives.

Both: Beatriz prefers to write one narrative at a time in order to feel immersed in the era. Kate said she wrote The Alice Network going back and forth between the narratives. Both said there is no ‘right way’ to do it and you can/should make connections between the timelines as you switch.

BW: every book has its own personality.

KQ: there are various devices to link the timelines. Characters, objects/artifacts, locations, dead bodies, antiques can all serve as links between timelines. Kate mentioned that old letters from the past are a bit overdone as a technique.

On the topic of pitfalls and problems:

BW: you need to ‘get into’ each character with enough depth and detail to give them the richness they deserve and make them come alive.

KQ: in The Huntress, three main characters gave variety in time, setting and character. In the process, this created much more research, challenges with language and slang, and a huge requirement for fact checking.

BW: you need to create difference as well as consistency of voice. She finds this challenge easier if she writes one timeline at a time. Recommends that you create variation in your characters in terms of ages, gender, backgrounds, experiences. As a writer, you need to slip into the being of your character, which in turn will help your readers do the same.

KQ: likes to write ‘fish-out-of-water stories’. For example, a night witch with a Nazi hunter. This technique creates conflict, tension, dissonance. Kate recommends 2000 to 5000 words before switching timelines. She also recommends creating some parallels in points of inflection for each timeline. These become the beats of the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Kate and Beatriz and will take their advice into my next dual timeline! By the way, I’ve read both The Summer Wives and The Huntress – highly recommended and superbly crafted.

If you want more information about dual timeline novels, Susanna Kearsley did a session on them at the 2017 conference. I wrote about it in Weaving the Twin-Stranded Story.

Other posts about #HNS2019: Tips on Writing a Series,  The State of Historical Fiction and When You Don’t Quite Fit.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

When You Don’t Quite Fit #HNS2019

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Alison Stuart, author of historical romance and the soon-to-release historical mystery, Singapore Sapphire, and three other authors—Lauren Willig, Deanna Raybourn, and Leanna Hieber—discussed the notion of carving out your niche in a crowded market. It was a lively session with lots of laughter.

Publishers and retailers love labels; but what do you do when what you write doesn’t fit neatly on the shelf …

Lauren Willig refers to her novels as “genre stew”, a combination of historical chick lit, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Deanna Raybourn used the phrase “magpies of the writers world” to describe her novels which are Victorian, romance, mysteries. And Leanna Hieber has coined a new phrase for her novels—gaslight fantasy—to describe their blend of historical fantasy, mystery, and gothic.

The group shared stories about their obstacles to publishing. Deanna said that she originally “didn’t know what she wanted to write” and stumbled around for years trying to fit until her agent told her to spend a year reading rather than writing. What she discovered during that time was that the stories she loved to read all included mysteries, had women in the lead role, and featured romance. Two years later, she sold a series of six books in one deal, her Julia Grey series.

Lauren sold her first novel just when cross-genre stories “became a thing.” She then experienced a problem because the genre lines tightened again. Lauren has discovered that readers enjoy a “modern frame story”, which is what she writes. She also told the audience that her publisher changed the cover of one of her novels from a historical fiction look to a romance look, when romance was hot and historical fiction wasn’t.

According to the panel, we should realize that publishers are organized by genre.

Each panelist offered advice for other authors:

Leanna: say yes to every opportunity and say yes to your voice.

Deanna: choose fear … choose the project you’re afraid of

Lauren: be flexible when you go to market; remember that the market is a strange beast and changes on a dime.

Alison: understand what your core story is, understand the market for that core story, and pitch to the right market.

The group said that historical fiction seems to be booming. Positioning your novel is key. For example, “Kate Morton” read alikes are selling. You can also position a novel by using a combination such as: Jane Austen meets James Bond.

Other posts on HNS2019:

Tips on Writing a Series and The State of Historical Fiction.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.