The Appeal of Historical Anthologies

Today, I welcome friend and fellow author Cryssa Bazos to the blog. Cryssa and a wonderful group of authors have collaborated on Betrayal, which has just been released. Make sure you snap up your copy soon – it’s a free download available through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.

Here’s Cryssa to talk about the wide appeal of historical anthologies.

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Since its beginning, the anthology was used to showcase poetry collections, but over time it expanded to include short fiction. There has been a recent resurgence of anthologies that has followed a trend towards shorter fiction. With social media permeating every aspect of our lives and a general explosion of streaming and online binging, our attention span has understandably shortened. Anthologies are now experiencing a renaissance, thanks to the changing needs of readers. But can they appeal to historical fiction readers?

Size once mattered for historical fiction. It was accepted that it usually took a great many words to build the past credibly. There are histories to weave in, contexts to set, and details of everyday life to showcase. Fans of the genre generally favoured large, plummy tomes, where they can lose themselves for days without surfacing in the present world. Consider favourites like Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness series, or any of Sharon Kay Penman’s work. 

But a collection of historical short fiction can still offer a rich experience. Here are a few considerations to tempt the historical fiction reader to explore the genre through an anthology. 

1. Bite-sized stories

Computers and the internet were supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient, but there is so much more vying for our attention. Not everyone has time to read more than an hour here or there, in between appointments and meetings. This is where historical anthologies shine. They offer a taste of the past which can be consumed in one sitting. A reader doesn’t need to make a lengthy commitment as they would to a series or a nine-hundred page novel.

2. Variety

The anthology has the advantage of being able to bring different authors together in one collection. Stories may be connected by theme, as in the case of our new anthology Betrayal where the stories explore treachery and betrayal in its various forms. Stories may also be linked by a historical artefact, like a piece of jewelry, that moves through each story and touches the various characters through the ages. A collection may also explore a single historical event through differing perspectives. Regardless of how the collection is organized, the reader is given an opportunity to thoroughly explore history through various lenses. 

3. Discover a new author

Everyone has their favourite authors, the ones whose work they will auto-buy the moment they learn of a latest release. Sometimes it’s hard to take a chance on a new author particularly for an established series. Anthologies give the reader the opportunity to find a new author with bite sized stories. At times the work can link to an author’s series, but even if it doesn’t, the author’s style may speak to the reader and spark an interest in their work. 

4. Discover a new era

It’s easy to get rooted to our preferred reading, and anthologies offer an excellent way to test the waters of a new historical era. It’s great way to travel back to a different time and learn more about histories you would otherwise not explore.

Historical anthologies may be short fiction in a genre that prizes lengthy stories, but they are hardly lightweights. Instead, they are highly concentrated nuggets to savour and enjoy. There’s no better time than the present to expand your reading and dip into an anthology collection. You may discover a portal to another era, guided by a fresh new author. 

Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and a seventeenth century enthusiast. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot is the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award for Historical Fiction and a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards for Historical Romance. Her second novel, Severed Knot, is a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree and a finalist for the 2019 Chaucer Award. Visit her website for more information. 

About Betrayal

Betrayal, treachery, treason, deceit, perfidy—all names for the calculated violation of trust. And it’s been rife since humans trod the earth.

A promise broken

A mission betrayed

A lover’s desertion

A parent’s deception

An unwitting act of treason

Betrayal by comrades

Betrayal by friends

Could you resist the forces of misplaced loyalty, power hunger, emotional blackmail, or plain greed? Is there ever redemption, or will the destruction visit future generations and even alter history? These questions are still with us today.

Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges from post Roman Britain to the present day. 

Betrayal is a free download available through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. 

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  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 AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Historical Perspective: Appealing to Modern Readers

Cryssa Bazos and I met while attending a writer’s workshop in Toronto several years ago. We stayed in touch, occasionally checking in with one another on writing related developments while offering encouragement and empathy as needed. I’m delighted to host Cryssa whose debut novel – Traitor’s Knot – is receiving great reviews. Over to you, Cryssa.

Historical Perspective: Appealing to Modern Readers by Cryssa Bazos

In a work of fiction, you often find the following disclaimer included in the front matter: “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons is purely coincidental.” Historical fiction should include an additional notice to reader: “The opinions expressed by the characters do not reflect the opinions of the author.”

People of the past are both the same and uniquely different than our contemporaries. From a physical and behavioural perspective, we are still driven by primal needs: to love, to survive, to connect with one another, and to have enough resources to thrive. But we are also products of our culture, which is directly shaped by time and place. The best works of historical fiction delve deep into the sensibilities of the past and give the reader a taste of what it was like to live in that age. We think of balancing dialogue—few modern readers would care for authentic 17th century speech in a novel, but the delicate part is to balance the need for historical authenticity in how people behaved while appealing to the modern reader.

19th century French novelist Alexandre Dumas has had his novels translated into film for decades. Modern filmmakers never seem to tire of reinventing his stories for modern audiences. The Man in the Iron Mask is one of his most famous works, second only to the Three Musketeers, and is the final instalment of the adventures of D’Artagnan, who is now a captain of the King’s Musketeers and weighed down by his duties. In this novel, the legendary and unshakeable friendship between the musketeers is tested. D’Artagnan has to decide between honouring his pledge to serve the king, and his time-honoured pledge of friendship to his friends who are now working against the King. A difficult choice for most characters, but for D’Artagnan, whose entire sense of worth is wrapped up in his honour, a particularly impossible dilemma. This proud Gascon would gladly choose the fires of the underworld over having to forfeit his honour.

Yet in today’s world, concepts of honour and duty seem to be an archaic and old-fashioned concept. How much are we guided by these concepts today? On the whole, we make decisions based on convenience; change our minds to suit our needs and our own gratification. Does modern society today understand the implacable nature of D’Artagnan’s choice? The filmmakers of the most recent version of The Man in the Iron Mask (released in 2000), must not have believed we were capable of understanding this choice so they changed the screenplay. D’Artagnan needed a “stronger” reason to stick with the snivelling fickle king he served so a liaison was conjured between our hero and the Queen of France, one that resulted in a secret issue (this same King). That was now the explanation for D’Artagnan supporting the King instead of his honour.

This change had the effect of diminishing the iconic character of D’Artagnan and downplaying the essential element of his nature. More importantly, audiences are robbed of a glimpse of the past, when one’s word and pledge meant something. The original story had allowed us to experience life from a different lens.

Fortunately, historical fiction authors are more devoted to historical accuracy than Hollywood, but does that mean that we are not tempted to insert modern sensibilities into our work?

Modern readers want to see female empowerment. They expect a heroine who isn’t a walking doormat. Yet, most women in the past were restricted by societal norms. There were of course exceptions, like Eleanor of Aquitaine who had power in her own right (and yet she was still imprisoned by her husband). But not every woman we write about is a queen or lived in an era where women did have some rights. My personal interest is in the everyday woman, the one who doesn’t wear a crown on her head.

How do you present a heroine with enough agency to appeal to a modern reader yet portray her true for her time?

One of the challenges I initially faced with my heroine in Traitor’s Knot, Elizabeth Seton, was to make her true to the times without making her passive. It was much easier with her counterpart, James Hart, who I could always send off to rout the enemy with a horse and doglock pistol. But Elizabeth had to be a product of her times. An unmarried woman could not live alone, and she’d either have to get married or attach herself to a relative’s household as an unpaid servant.

How to do it? I once posed this conundrum to bestselling historical fiction author, Barbara Kyle, and her advice was to show my character making choices and taking initiative, even if it was only to take up the quill to write a letter to a distant aunt requesting that she take her in. With that element unlocked, I found other ways to make Elizabeth active and give her agency.

A heroine can be grounded in her time and still be strong. Empowerment may be a modern concept, but personal strength is timeless. There is strength in keeping a family together during war, to do one’s part during times of occupation to survive and help others survive, in other words, to make difficult choices in difficult times.

Character is the bridge to the distant past. Exploring the nature of a character from the past, whether fictional or historical, requires embracing what makes them different, even if that means showing how their perspective differs from how we think today. It’s only through balancing this with the commonality of human nature that we can appeal to modern audiences.

Many thanks, Cryssa. I’m sure readers will be intrigued with your insights on the delicate balancing act facing those who write historical fiction. PS – love your notice to the reader!

Traitor’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos – England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I. Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself. Traitor’s Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.

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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.