The Whirl of Launching a Novel

TodMK-TimeandRegret-22790-CV-FTLaunching a new novel is a very exciting time in any author’s life. In preparation I booked two virtual tours, one with Amy Bruno’s HFVBT and the second with Emma Cazabonne’s France Book Tours (starting Sept 1). Beyond the book tours, many friends  helped publicize Time and Regret on blogs, Twitter and Facebook – I am very grateful for their support!

Several bloggers agreed to host a guest post, which meant that during the month prior to launch I was busier than the proverbial one-armed paper hanger writing articles. I thought I would gather them together here. Many thanks to these wonderful bloggers and authors.

Tony RichesThe Writing DeskWriting a mystery – more challenging than expected 

… a mystery is a very different beast. Mystery lovers have expectations, specifically the expectation that you will keep them guessing until the last possible moment and equally the expectation that the smart reader should be able to figure it out. They expect clues strategically sprinkled throughout the novel, many red herrings, a few plot twists, and more than one potential culprit. They expect the excitement to build and build, and the protagonist to have his or her own life problems to add depth to the story … to read the article click here

Elisabeth StorrsTricliniumWhy I used a first person narrator

Time and Regret is the first novel I’ve told using a first person narrator. In other words, the operative word is I. According the Elizabeth George in her non-fiction book Write Away, “When a writer uses this, she stays with one narrator throughout the novel. She’s in that character’s head and no one else’s.” To read the article click here

Jaideep Khanduja – – Millennial Readers – What do we know about them?

Millennials have demonstrated the tendency to read more—and buy more books—than other generations. In fact, Millennials buy 30% of books, compared to the 24% purchased by Baby Boomers.” To read the article click here 

Meg WessellA Bookish Affair Essentials of a Good Mystery

… Plot is everything. You have to have a great story; one that engages readers from the outset offering twists and turns and unexpected developments. For example, a character your readers expect to be the culprit dies before the novel ends. Or perhaps your heroine loses the very clue that promised to solve the mystery or her lover is revealed to be working against her. To read the article click here

Elizabeth St. John – author blog – Through the Eyes of a Historical Fiction Writer

I look at the sweep of land, the flowers and shrubs that border the roads, the rivers that meander or rush, the cows huddled beneath a tree; I watch the people, noting gestures and the rhythm of speech, facial features, colouring, the slope of someone’s brow, the way their eyes flash or their chins lift. I wander through markets imagining similar cheeses and meats, flowers and vegetables on narrow stalls crammed one against the other in the town squares of one hundred years ago. A small cat twitches her tail, a dog barks, church bells ring, a cock crows. Sounds too are important, as are smells. The intent is to immerse myself as completely as possible in the world that will become my story. To read the article click here

Debra Brown – English Epochs 101 – Bringing One Soldier’s Experience to Life

For the past six or seven years, I’ve been fascinated with World War One. So much so that I’ve written three novels centred on that horrifying world conflict. And still it haunts me. To read the article click here

Elizabeth Spann Craig – author blog – 8 Tips on Writing Dual-Time Mysteries

What do The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig, The Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro, and The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier have in common? Answer: they are all dual-time mysteries. I love reading stories like these. But writing one proved to be a significant challenge and demanded a different approach from my previous historical novels … to read the article click here

Marie Burton – The Burton Review – Five WWI Novels that Influenced my Writing

… A huge leap is required to turn your life upside down and do something completely different and I had a lot to learn about war. Beyond the usual internet sources and history books about those times, five novels stand out for the beauty of their writing, their evocation of sights and sounds and the tidbits of historical detail that are seamlessly woven into the stories. I’ve read these five, reread them, unlined sections and even marked particularly interesting pages with little yellow stickies. They are my go-to source whenever I need an injection of WWI atmosphere to spark my writing. To read the article click here

Lorna Ferguson – Literascribe – The Making of a Novel

Each author creates and writes in her or his own way. There is no best approach; what matters most is whether in the end the story is compelling from a reader’s point of view. I tend to get an idea and then put flesh on it using a detailed chapter outline before I begin the real writing. The idea for my latest novel, Time and Regret, came while travelling in France with my husband Ian to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One … to read the article click here

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Richard Sutton (Saille Tales) Sarah Johnson (Reading the Past) and Colleen Turner (A Literary Vacation)

To all of these wonderfully supportive individuals a VERY BIG THANK YOU.

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


Three Flavours of Historical Fiction

Having examined historical fiction by writing it, conducting global reader surveys and reading extensively, it is clear that this highly popular genre comes in a multitude of flavours. The obvious flavours concern time period, location and sub-genre such as mystery, saga or romance, but it seems that other, perhaps more subtle, variations distinguish historical fiction for readers.

What about variations based on character type, historical density and adherence to factual events?

Is the novel concerned with ordinary people or famous historical figures?

Character type continuum Eleanor of Aquitaine (Elizabeth Chadwick), Mary Magdalene (Margaret George), Thomas Cromwell (Hilary Mantel), and Isabella of Castille (C.W. Gortner) are examples of authors writing about famous historical figures while Bernard Cornwell writing about Nicholas Hook in Azincourt or Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series feature ordinary people. ‘Those connected to the famous’ might be considered part way along the character type continuum with novels like The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Ernest Hemingway’s first wife) or C.J. Sansom’s series about Matthew Shardlake (serving under Henry VIII).

How much history is incorporate into the novel?

Historical DensityWe’ve all read novels where history is merely a backdrop for a satisfying read – a mystery that just happens to be set in ancient Rome or a romance that plays out in the middle ages. In such cases, authors still need to create historically accurate settings and consider the morals, values and culture of the day, however, these stories are less dependent on historical events for their dramatic twists and turns.

Sharon Kay Penman’s recent novels on Richard Lionheart are examples at the other end of the spectrum, incorporating the historical record in great detail as the story unfolds. Edward Rutherfurd’s novels also incorporate vast amounts of historical detail on the cities and places he writes about, even though many, if not most, of his characters are fictional.

A second aspect of historical detail relates to plot. More specifically, how closely does the plot depend on factual events?

Historical events continuumAt one end are totally fabricated plots—Deanna Rayborn’s successful novels come to mind, while at the other end of the spectrum are plots that take all their twists and turns from the historical record—Conn Iggulden’s excellent series on the Wars of the Roses is a good example.

From an article in The Telegraph, David Mitchell, author of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Groot, had this to say about historical fiction: “One reason [for its continued popularity] is that it delivers a stereo narrative: from one speaker comes the treble of the novel’s own plot while the other speaker plays the bass of history’s plot.”

Mitchell goes on to say: “Perhaps this is the paradox that beats inside historical fiction’s rib cage: the “historical” half demands fidelity to the past, while the “fiction” half requires infidelity – people must be dreamt up, their acts fabricated and the lies of art must be told.”

Using Mitchell’s analogy: the bass of history’s plot booms louder and the fidelity dial is tuned more acutely when authors create novels on the right hand side of each of these spectrums.

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

Inside Historical Fiction with David Blixt

David Blixt is an actor, author, director and swordsman – yes, you read that correctly, he instructs and demonstrates the art of sword fighting and did so to great effect at the Historical Novel Society conference last June. David was also kind enough to answer some questions for me as I prepared for a panel presentation at that same conference. Today, he’s answering questions about the unique ingredients and challenges of historical fiction.

What are the ‘magic ingredients’ that make historical fiction unforgettable or irresistible to readers?

The first is Character. Any story worth telling begins and ends with the people, how they live and breathe and react. Characters in a historical setting give us a sense of continuity, a link to past times. They’re also a Memento Mori, a reminder that the dry pages of history are filled with the deeds of real living people, and that someday we, too, will be the minor details in some text – unless someone chooses to bring us to life in fiction.

The second is Detail. The small things, the pieces of history that either are utterly foreign to us, or else something that we take for granted today that was new and innovative a thousand years ago.

What techniques do you employ to create that magic?

Detail is easiest – research. The little snippets excite and intrigue me. Where does the phrase “at Death’s door” come from? Oh, in Italy in the Middle Ages, the living and the dead were not allowed to use the same portals, so there was a literal death-door, just waist high, in every home for when someone died. Things like that.

Character is really at the core of all fiction. I’m lucky to come at it from a theatrical world. In Shakespeare, motive matters, but actions define a character. They are what they do, regardless of their intent. Characters should also be conflicted, a mass of contradictions. And they’re each the heroes of their own story. No one considers himself to be a side-plot or a villain. Every man and woman in my work is the most important player in their own story. It’s just that their stories are not always mine.

How are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels?

Because we already know the signposts of history, we get to focus more on the journey than the destination.

What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novels?

Philosophy, food, clothes, religion, literature – but mostly the changing mores. I am attracted to small revolutions, the moments where history shifted seismically, even if those alive in the moment couldn’t feel more than a tremor.

In writing historical fiction, what techniques do you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period?

Dialogue is toughest. I try not to be too modern, but I eschew “old-timey” speak. I focus on class and setting. I’ve been hit for sounding a little too modern, but only when writing for characters who were “modern” for their era. Conflict, plot, and setting all feel natural when steeped in the research.

As for characters – you have to keep reminding yourself that these are not modern people. They cannot have cosmopolitan, enlightened reactions. And then you look around today and see some folks behaving as badly as can be imagined, and you realize there’s room for both enlightenment and ignorance in the past as well.

Most important, they have to be genuine, they must have all the humanness we see today. Faults are wonderful attributes, much more defining than strengths. So I give them faults, and then let them struggle against those faults. Sometimes they succeed. Most often not.

Can you share any of the unique sources or challenges for the time period(s) you write about?

For the Verona books, there aren’t many sources, and most what there are is in a medieval Italian I cannot parse. So I’m constantly finding information sideways – who was near Verona that might mention Cangrande, or Dante, or Mastino? When was this building erected, and why? There was nearly as much in the history of Padua as there is in the history of Verona.

But the best sources are the locals. I was honored to meet Dante’s descendent, the Count Serego-Alighieri, on my second visit to Verona, and he gave me a wealth of information about the family. I was able to tour the Roman ruins beneath the city. I was given a tour of mostly unknown historical sites by the film-maker Anna Lerario, places I’d never imagined, but that instantly because the settings for scenes. The joy is in the research, and the research cannot be limited to the page. Smells, sounds, tastes, sights, and the grit beneath your fingers all bring a story to life.

What do you do to ensure your characters are fully imagined in the historical context?

I try and throw as many historical obstacles in their paths, both literal and metaphorical. I want strictures, I want rules, I want something to either conform to or rebel against. Laws are marvelous, the more arcane the better.

Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how?

Dorothy Dunnett more than any other. I didn’t know I wanted to write historical fiction until I read the Lymond books. It was as though she gave me permission. “Oh! You mean a story can be smart, deep, awful, infuriating, rich, and wonderful, all without pandering or talking down to your audience? Sign me up!”

The first historical novels I ever read were Colleen McCullough’s MASTERS OF ROME books, and they have shaped my life in so many ways. I was later introduced to Sharpe, then Aubrey and Maturin, and more. I’m honored to call Sharon Kay Penman my friend, and I love rubbing shoulders with Chris Gortner, Margaret George, Diana Gabaldon and so many others. The sad thing for me is that I read far less today than I used to – too busy writing.

Many thanks, David. Your responses are unique and enlightening.

The Prince's Doom by David BlixtTHE PRINCE’S DOOM by David Blixt:

Finalist for the 2015 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

The explosive fourth novel in the Star-Cross’d series! Verona has won its war with Padua, but lost its war with the stars. The young prodigy Cesco now turns his troubled brilliance to darker purposes, embracing a riotous life, challenging not only the lord of Verona and the Church, but the stars themselves.

Trying desperately to salvage what’s left of Cesco’s spirit, Ser Pietro Alaghieri for once welcomes the many plots and intrigues of the Veronese court, hoping they will shake the young man back to his senses.

But when the first body falls, it becomes clear that this new game is deadly, and will lead only to doom them all.

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, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.