Inside Historical Fiction with Piper Huguley

piper-huguleyPiper Huguley was named in 2015 as a top ten historical romance novelist in Publisher’s Weekly. A great accomplishment. She writes historical fiction featuring African American characters and has very recently released a novella The Washerwoman’s War. Today, we are chatting about the uniqueness of historical fiction.

What are the ‘magic ingredients’ that make historical fiction unforgettable/irresistible? And in your opinion, what do the best historical fiction writers do to ‘get it right’?  Worldbuilding is completely crucial. It’s important for the author to build a world where readers feel transported. So to me, the best historical fiction authors build in the details of everyday life, dress, food, culture, and what’s going on around them. The best historical fiction authors do all of this, without the reader noticing. That, to me, is the tricky part.

Are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels, and if so, in what ways? They are different because the times are different. However, I think the ongoing struggle with historical fiction is to build a bridge of connection between the author and readers. So to me, there has to be an element of how historical and contemporary novels might resemble one another. When an author can build that bridge, then readers are more willing to read historical fiction.

What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novel(s)? My novels don’t sugar coat the past. I want to bring forward a more complete history. There is a lot in the narrative that has been overlooked, so my stories are an attempt to restore some of those voices that have not been heard from for a richer, fuller depiction of history. Rather than focusing on African Americans as victims, my stories show how hard they worked and how they had strong faith in a brighter future for generations to come.

In writing historical fiction, what research and techniques do you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period? I rely on as many primary sources as I can. This isn’t easy, because there were long periods of illiteracy for African Americans. But they exist. So I go to them. I read the history and literature of the time period as well. As a literature professor, I have to teach this history to my students before they can appreciate the literary work, so it’s work I keep having to review. The history remains fresh and interesting to me in that way.

What aspects do you feel need to be included when you are building a past world for your readers? All of the aspects I listed before as what the best historical fiction authors do to get it right. It’s so important to make historical fiction accessible.

Do you see any particular trends in HF? I’m hopeful there will be more stories of ordinary people. I love the royalty stories as well, but there are a lot of them out there. This tight focus on a small group of people means that historical fiction appears closed off and limited. That kind of rigidity will not help to increase the numbers of readers. There has to be more variety so that more readers might enjoy this rich history in the coming years.

Please tell us a little about your latest novel.

My newest novella, released October 26, 2016, uses the Black Washerwoman’s strike of 1881 in Atlanta as a backdrop.

When Mamie Harper arrives to substitute teach for the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary school, she witnesses terrible injustices with some of the older students who are washerwomen. Mamie’s upbringing as the daughter of the most famous Black suffragette in America means that she cannot be silent. She takes it upon herself to help the washerwomen find their voice and protest their mistreatment.

Reverend Gabriel Harmon is the summer pastor at one of the most influential Baptist churches in Atlanta. When the Black Washerwomen go on strike, he’s brought in to mediate a solution but then realizes the feisty leader of the opposition is the young teacher from Milford who rejected his attempts to court her the year before. When these two collide over explosive events during a hot Atlanta summer, only one side will be able to win the battle. As they clash, they learn there is another war, the war of the heart, that’s worth winning as well.

Many thanks for being on the blog, Piper. I’m sure readers will find your perspectives very interesting. Stories about ordinary people are a passion of mine as well.

Piper G Huguley, named 2015 Debut Author of the Year by Romance Slam Jam and Breakout Author of the Year by AAMBC, is a two-time Golden Heart ®finalist and is the author of “Migrations of the Heart,” a three-book series of historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters, published by Samhain Publishing. Book #1 in the series, A Virtuous Ruby, won Best Historical of 2015 in the Swirl Awards. Book #3 in the series, A Treasure of Gold, was named by Romance Novels in Color as a Best Book of 2015 and received 4 ½ stars from RT Magazine.

Huguley is also the author of the “Home to Milford College” series. The series follows the building of a college from its founding in 1866. On release, the prequel novella to the “Home to Milford College” series, The Lawyer’s Luck, reached #1 Amazon Bestseller status on the African American Christian Fiction charts. Book #1 in the series, The Preacher’s Promise was named a top ten Historical Romance in Publisher’s Weekly by the esteemed historical romance author, Beverly Jenkins and received Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of Self-Published e-books in 2015.

Her new series “Born to Win Men” will debut in December 2016 with A Champion’s Heart as Book #1. Piper blogs about the history behind her novels at She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.

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 and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. 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

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks Piper for sharing your thoughts on Historical Fiction. One story of a notable black woman that would make an excellent novel is that of Nancy Gardner Prince, the free-born granddaughter of an African slave who fought in the Revolutionary War, and whose marriage took her to the Imperial Russian courts of Alexander I and Nicholas I. Her memoir is available as a free download:

  2. Really enjoyed this interview. I agree on so many points.
    I especially agree on the importance of worldbuilding and on the focusing on normal people.
    I think many historical author tend to focus on the big events and the big people, and this takes away from a strong building of a truly historical setting. To me, what makes an historical novel alive is the feeling to be there, which is created by details more than by the big events.

    Thanks so much for sharing this review 🙂

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