8 Tips from Guest Post Authors

During 2019, A Writer of History had the good fortune of securing many guest authors to discuss a range of topics related to historical fiction. Below are 8 tips that stand out for me.

Historical fiction, in its very essence, is a way of falling together in time—a story is set in the past, but it is being written from the present, so, for me, the process of writing such a story is in itself a synchronizing of different times.

Mary F. Burns, author of The Love for Three Oranges

In Keeping Historical Figures Real, Mary Sheeran discusses how to weave real historical figures into your novels. She says that:

“we can’t just report; all characters need to drive the story and have something of the writer in them.

A Surgeon’s Advice … on how to Write Books with Andrew Lam

Writers must choose topics that matter to people. Stories that center on a controversial topic, an important historical event, or a way to help others improve their lives are all more likely to succeed. If your book isn’t about something important, it won’t be important to readers. Make sure it matters.


Marc Graham whose novel Song of Songs is about the legendary Queen of Sheba, writes of the challenges in going far back in time.

While it’s simply not possible to recreate these tales with certain accuracy, harnessing the best available resources (archaeology, linguistics, epigraphy) and cross-referencing the myths among different cultures can help us frame our stories in a realistic world.


In Writing the Stories of History’s Powerful Women, Judith Cromwell tells us that:

such writing requires meticulous research.  Research resembles a mixture of jigsaw puzzle and mystery.  The writer must identify clues, track each to its source, evaluate each within the context of the subject’s life and character.  Original research brings the thrill of unearthing new information.

Donna Baier Stein, author of Scenes From the Heartland, discusses using actual images as a basis for building a story in her post Turning Images into Tales:

as a fiction writer, my desire was not to capture the truth of the actual image (the way a photographer might want to do), but to imagine a potential story behind this scene.


Luke Jerod Kummer is the author of The Blue Period, a novel about Pablo Picasso. He writes about examining the works of Picasso in order to gain a deep understanding of his character:

when I sought to reconstruct the look and feel of where and how a maturing Picasso lived in Barcelona and Paris, or what his households, friends or lovers were like, there were  paintings, pastels and drawings allowing intimate glimpses both of his surroundings and what was going on inside him.


Elizabeth Bell’s guest post The Importance of Warts brings out the theme of creating characters and stories that don’t gloss over the warts of historical events, culture and social mores. She says:

As historical novelists, we are tour guides and teachers … We do [readers] an enormous disservice if we’ve whitewashed that truth… If we don’t make our readers think, if we don’t make them at least a little uncomfortable, we’re not doing our jobs.

Important lessons. I’ll have a few more for you next time.


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

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.


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.

From palaeontologist to author

Davide Mana was on the blog last April talking about successful historical fiction and today I’m pleased to welcome him back on the topic of being a second career author. Davide’s latest novel is House of the Gods.


There’s a saying that goes, all kids are fascinated by dinosaurs, then the majority grow up, and the rest become paleontologist.

I am a paleontologist, if a defrocked one.

I was born in 1967, and I grew up with documentaries and books about space and the depths of the ocean, about explorers and travelers, and lots of adventure narratives, in book, films, TV series. Considering I was particularly fascinated by the oceans, by volcanoes  and by dinosaurs, I decided to study sciences, and geology in particular.

I aligned a number of qualifications, including a B.Sc. in Micropalaeontology and a Ph.D. in Geology.

I worked briefly for an oil company, then as a lab assistant and general gopher, then as a lecturer and a researcher. I designed and delivered courses to post-grads and post-docs, I published articles in major science journals, working in teams with some fantastic people. I worked mostly on the Mediterranean, doing environmental models and reconstructions, including present day analyses of pollution and environmental changes.

In 2014 my contract with the University of Urbino expired, with little hopes of renewal as the crisis brought massive cuts to research. A colleague cheerfully suggested now I could post my CV to McDonald’s.

I started writing instead (and killed that colleague in my first novel).

I always loved stories, and writing fiction had been my hobby since the mid ’80s, when I was in high school. I had a few things published, a handful of short stories, a few short essays, some role-playing games material.

In 2014, as I sat by a telephone that refused to ring, I “temporarily” turned my hobby into a full-time job, with a side of translation gigs. Basically, because it was the only marketable skill I had at the moment, and because I could do it while assisting my ailing father.

Right now, I am a hybrid author, meaning I publish both traditionally and independently, both fiction and non fiction, both in Italian and English, both under my name and using an alias. Fiction-wise, I write mostly genre, adventure or fantasy or thrillers, usually with a historical twist.

It’s a sort-of-full-time job, but it comes in a number of different flavors – as I said, I write gaming material and I’m also a freelance translator (an activity I consider akin to writing: translating a text requires human imagination and skill, that’s the reason why software can’t really do it).

It’s like a roller coaster, with ups and downs: on a good day it’s the best job in the world. The simple idea that something that did not exist before and came straight out of my head through a keyboard now’s being enjoyed by strangers and is actually paying my dinner is exhilarating.

But there are drawbacks, of course. And while the thought instantly goes to payments – or lack thereof – the first true problem, for me at least, is isolation: wake up in the morning, start writing, stop writing, go to sleep. I do it at home – writing in public places is too distracting for me – and it can be lonely, and tiring, and depressing. And really, IT IS about money: as a little known author, you must write a lot to pay your bills, so you hole yourself in your writing nook and write write write; and any incident can lead to a missed deadline, a missed sale, and then to panic attacks as the bank rings you up to inform you your account is in the red.

But most of the time it is fun, and one enjoys a type of freedom that’s unknown in other careers.

Of my old job – that’s now turned into my hobby – I miss the research most of all. Going out there, see what it looks like in the field, get samples, develop models, find answers or even better new questions. Solve problems. I miss “doing science”, and I miss the lab just as I miss the classroom. Because I always loved telling stories, but being a scientist, and an earth scientist, was my dream as a kid.

I don’t have particular regrets. What-might-have-beens are great for fiction (and historical-tinged fiction certainly), but they are not something that really makes one’s life any easier. Let’s say I could have been better at managing my academical career but really, it would have required choices and compromises that I would then certainly regret.

As for advice for those that have taken up writing as a second career, I’d say, don’t forget what you learned during your first career, the places you saw, the people you met. The mindset, too, and the discipline and work ethics. But the experiences you had, most of all. Experiences are a gold mine, and a career, no matter in what field, is a huge source of ideas, snippets of dialog, characters.

Characters you can kill in your first novel, maybe.

Many thanks for sharing your story, Davide. I’ll have to be careful in future dealings with you otherwise you might kill me off in a story!

House of the Gods by Davide Mana – High above the steamy jungle of the Amazon basin, rise the flat plateaus known as the Tepui, the House of the Gods. Lost worlds of unknown beauty, a naturalistic wonder, each an ecology onto itself, shunned by the local tribes for centuries. The House of the Gods was not made for men.

But now, the crew and passengers of a small charter plane are about to find what was hidden for sixty million years. Lost on an island in the clouds 10.000 feet above the jungle, surrounded by dinosaurs, hunted by mysterious mercenaries, the survivors of Sligo Air flight 001 will quickly learn the only rule of life on Earth: Extinction.

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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.