Looking back on the theme of transported in time and place

For the last year or so, I’ve invited many authors to describe how they do the work of transporting readers in time and place. Today I’m looking back on  some of those posts.

Elizabeth Hutchison Barnard on writing Temptation Rag – “A novel’s setting is not just something physical; it is intrinsically tied to the deeper meanings of a story.”

Stephanie Thornton on writing American Princess – “One of my favorite distractions while writing is researching exactly what life would have been like for my characters. For turn-of-the-century America, that often meant looking up menus and digging through grainy black-and-white pictures in online archives so I could add verisimilitude to every scene.”

Fiona Veitch Smith on writing The Cairo Brief – “Before I even start writing – and certainly during the process – I absorb myself in the music, fashion, art, architecture, cuisine, cinema and theatre of the period … for my latest book, The Cairo Brief, I signed up for a six-week online course in antiquities theft, run by Glasgow University through Future Learn.”

JP Robinson on writing In the Shadow of Your Wings – “I typically take about two days to research names that were popular in the era I’m writing about before naming my characters.”

Nicola Cornick on writing The Phantom Tree – “I’ve never been able to paint but I visualise the process of creating my imaginary world as a picture in which layer upon layer of detail is added, from the frame that surrounds it to the tiniest figure in the corner.”

Sue Ingalls Finan on writing The Cards Don’t Lie – “Free women of color in New Orleans in the early 1800s were often involved in placages, or left-handed marriages with wealthy white men. Their mothers, thanks to their own placage benefactors, sponsored grand balls to arrange permanent financial settlements for their daughters.”

Arthur Hittner on writing Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse – Research for a non-fiction book prompted Hittner’s fiction. He “traced the living descendants of the artist, determining that the bulk of his output resided in the attics and basements of nephews and nieces, and in the vaults of an art museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. I viewed and photographed the collections of the descendants and the paintings in the museum … Along with the paintings, I’d gained access to an old scrapbook that had been lovingly maintained by the artist’s parents. Inside were yellowed newspaper clippings from the Thirties and early Forties, chronicling the young artist’s triumphs and later, his tragic demise.”

Harald Johnson on writing New York 1609 – Johnson made an amazing discovery “It’s a computer simulation of what Manhattan would have looked like on September 12, 1609—the day Henry Hudson and his crew sailed to it.”

M.K. Tod on writing Unravelled and the power of a photo: “Suddenly, there it was: a red Tonneau with just the right blend of style and uniqueness. Not only was it quirky but it fit my notion of the woman who originally owned it – a fiercely independent woman who’d never married but had had many relationships, particularly with one or two of the impressionist painters of the time.”

Sophie Schiller on writing Island on Fireduring a visit to Musée Volcanologique “On the walls are various photographs of the city when it was known as the ‘Paris of the West Indies’. The pictures reveal a town full of French colonial grace, carriages crowding the cobblestone streets, rum barrels lining the waterfront, planters in panama hats, and barefoot market women carrying baskets on their heads. Interspersed among these photographs are artifacts, including broken china, a crushed pistol, melted scissors, charred spaghetti, stacks of drinking glasses fused into misshapen columns, and a human skull reportedly from the prison.”

Elizabeth St. John drew inspiration from visits the Tower of London for her novels The Lady of the Tower and By Love Divided – “What I didn’t anticipate was the visceral reaction of walking through Lucy’s rooms, standing in her kitchen, looking through her parlor window– just as she had done. The emotional response to treading in her footsteps inspired so much of my work within The Lady of the Tower, and so many small details found their way into my writing.”

Glen Ebisch on writing Dearest David which is a novel about Henry David Thoreau – “A fairly high level of historical accuracy is necessary in order to convince the reader that he or she is actually living in that time. In addition, the author must try to recapture the concerns, the issues, and the view of life that was prevalent for people living then.”

Carol Bodensteiner on writing Simple Truth, which is a contemporary novel – Carol writes that place is as complex as a human being. “In addition to the town itself, the other most significant location in the story is the poultry packing plant … The work that goes on in packing plants may be difficult for some people to stomach. Yet it is important to know the place to understand why people choose to work there. In the plant, as in the town, the situation is complex, made more so by the diversity of countries, languages, religions, and cultures represented.”

Dana Stabenow on writing Silk and Song – “One of the most delightful discoveries during my research was The Medieval Woman: An Illuminated Book of Days, a daily diary which features illustrations from illuminated manuscripts current to the time in which I wrote featuring women…working. Yes, they are sweeping and spinning and weaving and cooking. They are also selling and painting and and laying brick for city walls and defending their castles crossbow in hand.”

Jeffrey K. Walker on writing None of Us the Same – Jeffrey focuses on finding authentic voices “Within the superstructure of solid research, we imagine our histories and we therefore have to find voices for the characters we’ve imagined placing there. By this I mean not only their dialogue, but also their patterns of thought, reactions to all manner of situations, and interactions with each other and their world. That’s the challenge in developing richly drawn, three-dimensional characters that engage readers on a deeper level than merely as historical curiosities … I bought a box of reproduction artifacts in the gift shop of the Imperial War Museum—which led me to spending several hours listening to two dozen songs listed in a Red Cross entertainment program from 1917 to literally get the sound of my character’s music in my ears. On a more practical level, this broad survey of original writing gave me a strong grounding in the slang, idiom, word choice, and level of formality used by people of the period.”

Some serendipity, many personal visits to the places of their novels, much deep digging into history and reading a wide range of non-fiction sources. All to serve the purpose of writing stories that transport readers in time and place. I’m grateful to these authors and many other who contributed to the series.

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.

American Princess by Stephanie Thornton

While researching for one of my own novels, I came across a fascinating journal written by Alice Roosevelt during a lengthy trip to Asia. Now there’s an idea for a novel, I thought.

Stephanie Thornton must have had a similar experience! She’s here today talking about her upcoming novel American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Alice is an intriguing, forceful, and beautiful woman … exactly what a writer wants for their heroine.

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The goal of any good book is to transport its reader into another world, be it Middle Earth, Green Gables, or down the rabbit hole. When it comes to historical fiction, a book becomes a time machine (I prefer a TARDIS) that whisks its reader into the past to watch a bloody gladiatorial fight in the Colosseum, dance a brisk galliard with King Henry VIII (just don’t marry him!), or slog through the muddy trenches of Verdun.

In American Princess, I hope to make the not-so-distant 20thcentury come alive, as seen through the keen eyes of Theodore Roosevelt’s wildchild daughter, Alice Roosevelt.

My favorite revision of any novel is when I add in all the fun little historical details that really transform an era from shades of gray into vivid Technicolor. (I wait until nearly my last revision to add most of those, once the story is set and I’m fairly certain scenes aren’t going to get slashed.) For example, many people know that Theodore Roosevelt once quipped, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” He said that to his writer friend Owen Wister—who actually dedicated a western novel to the president—after Alice burst in and interrupted their conversation for the umpteenth time that day. For added fun in that scene, I pulled in mention of her younger brothers pounding on stilts down the hallway outside the White House’s presidential study (the Oval Office hadn’t been built yet) and included one of the Roosevelt family dogs, a yappy little terrier named Skip.

Source: Alice in Asia – the 1905 Taft Mission to Asia

One of my favorite distractions while writing is researching exactly what life would have been like for my characters. For turn-of-the-century America, that often meant looking up menus and digging through grainy black-and-white pictures in online archives so I could add verisimilitude to every scene. When Alice complains of her debut’s flat lemon punch or writes home about the gold filigreed fingernail sheaths she received from China’s Empress Dowager Cixi (which she later turned into a brooch), it’s because those were real things she experienced!

I was also fortunate to visit Alice’s childhood home at Sagamore Hill, to hear from National Park rangers about how the energetic family used the main hall’s fireplace as a spot to store their tennis rackets and how the children used to play hide-and-seek in the massive bathtub upstairs, which they aptly dubbed the Sarcophagus. In addition, the Library of Congress also allowed me to peruse many of Alice’s letters and diaries, plus one of Theodore Roosevelt’s famed doodle letters to his daughter. (They actually let me hold them with my bare hands!) It’s my hope that walking where Alice walked and seeing what she would have seen, plus reading her actual words has helped me capture what it was like to be her so I could pass that on to my readers.

A brief excerpt:

I ran an admiring hand over the car’s sleek twelve-horsepower wagonette body, rimmed by cherry-red wheels that begged to race. The speed gauge inside went all the way to a jaw-dropping fifty miles an hour, which promised an exciting caper from the train’s plodding pace. Plus, a news story covering my driving escapades might put to rest Father and Mother’s hysterics over those same papers reporting my five recent engagements. (Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s assertion that my suitors were as numerous as Penelope’s wooers from The Odyssey made me want to retch; I didn’t even know one of the men the papers claimed as my fiancé, and others speculated I might end up with cousin Franklin. I’d sooner have had all my fingernails pulled off and fed to me.)

Many thanks, Stephanie. I’m sure readers will be thrilled with American Princess.

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt by Stephanie Thornton … releasing March 2019

Alice may be the president’s daughter, but she’s nobody’s darling. As bold as her signature color Alice Blue, the gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing First Daughter discovers that the only way for a woman to stand out in Washington is to make waves–oceans of them. With the canny sophistication of the savviest politician on the Hill, Alice uses her celebrity to her advantage, testing the limits of her power and the seductive thrill of political entanglements.

But Washington, DC is rife with heartaches and betrayals, and when Alice falls hard for a smooth-talking congressman it will take everything this rebel has to emerge triumphant and claim her place as an American icon. As Alice soldiers through the devastation of two world wars and brazens out a cutting feud with her famous Roosevelt cousins, it’s no wonder everyone in the capital refers to her as the Other Washington Monument–and Alice intends to outlast 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. 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.