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. 

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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 AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Writing Family Sagas – the Next Generation by Derek Birks

scars-from-the-pastDerek Birks and I met in 2014 at the Historical Novel Society conference in London where we talked about our respective time periods and the passion we share for writing historical fiction. He’s the author of a family saga set during the Wars of the Roses. Today, Derek discusses about the unique challenges of writing family sagas.

WRITING FAMILY SAGAS – the Next Generation by Derek Birks

When I started writing historical fiction, I did not really intend to write a family saga but that’s what happened.

I intended to write a series featuring a small group of characters trudging a bloody path through the Wars of the Roses. What emerged though, even in the first book, Feud, was a story about three fictional young siblings and those who served and loved them. Creating characters within a family gave me all sorts of connections and frictions that were born simply of the blood relationship between characters. What difference does it make? Well, for example, it doesn’t feel great to be betrayed by anyone, but if you are betrayed by a brother? It just adds a special ingredient to the relationship – and the story.

However, writing about the family of a minor fifteenth century lord, meant that I was also writing about those who lived in the same household: the servants. So I actually had more than one family all interacting with each other.

In terms of research, I have to say that this is a nightmare.

Writing multiple storylines required me to research, for each one, the historical background, locations, local history – not to mention any real historical figures with whom my characters interacted! In my first book I had three main characters all in different parts of the country. This meant I had to research far more places and circumstances than if I had just followed one central character through the story.

I visited a lot of places, sometimes real locations such as Middleham Castle in Yorkshire, and sometimes completely untouched places. Once I stood on a hill at a place called Queenhill, near the river Severn, and asked my wife where she thought the fictional castle should go.

A family saga sees it all: birth, death and everything in between.

I need to research it all: medieval childbirth, Christmas celebrations, funeral traditions, manorial estate management, etc, etc. Now you might say that a writer of historical fiction has to do all those things anyway, but with a family saga the sheer number of characters is that much greater. With each new book I have to remember the detail of their backstories. You can’t ignore them for long either otherwise the reader wonders what’s going on. But hey, I’m not complaining – I love it!

The interaction with real historical figures is critical because it fixes your fictional characters in time, place and circumstance. In this respect I found myself asking the same research question over and over again: where is the real person at a particular moment in time? It’s no good having him meet up with your fictional characters if it is recorded that he is somewhere else at the time! Not so bad when you are dealing with one or two people but a bit trickier when you are juggling the whereabouts of a dozen scattered all over Europe.

So over a period of seven or eight years since I started writing, I had invested a lot of time and research in this saga centred on the Elder family, but after four books spanning 12 years of history, I decided to end it, intending that most of them would go out in one great blaze of glory. Well, the characters who survived the third book, Kingdom of Rebels, were not having any of that; they wanted to live on!

I was already writing the final book, The Last Shroud, and also looking at what the next project might be but, the more I researched other periods and other characters, the more the familiar ones pestered me. You know in the zombie movies where the hero thinks he’s killed someone and then – shazam! – they’re back! Well that’s what it felt like and so, finally, I decided to at least hear them out. Could I really take some of these characters into a whole new series?

The last thing I wanted to do with my ‘brand new series’ was repeat the stories of before, so I took my cue from the historical fiction author who most inspired me to write: Alexandre Dumas. With his Three Musketeers he decided to miss out great chunks of time, revisiting his characters twenty and thirty years later. Wilbur Smith, amongst others I’m sure, used a similar formula. So, I began to consider this as a possibility.

How would it work? First of all, though I could keep some characters, I would have to create a new and younger generation. If I was going to do that, I’d have to act fast because it would need to be written into the final book which was already half-written!. Children would need to be born to provide my next generation. Thus, I had to decide at once. I can tell you that it’s strange feeling when, as you are planning to kill off a few important characters, you are also trying to work out how the new ones can be born!

I needed to consider the dramatis personae of the new series as a whole.

I already had an enormous family tree for the Elders, not to mention sundry other families. If I wasn’t careful both I and the reader would be overwhelmed by the plethora of characters! The pollaxe had to be wielded, but how? I tried to look at it from the reader’s perspective: what would my existing readers want and what could I do that might attract new readers?

I tried to preserve at least some of the characters that I knew were popular with readers – others I’m afraid perished in The Last Shroud. (I still get complaints about that!)

I wanted a blend of old and young too – you can’t just replace one generation with another. As well as that, I needed new faces that could bring something fresh to the stories. One of the joys of writing Scars From the Past, was placing existing characters alongside or against new ones, thereby creating new conflicts and liaisons all over the place – great fun!

Because I was starting something new, I could also change the parameters of my storylines.

This new story had to be different. Of course I could age my characters, introducing subtle changes here and there – for few of us stand still, do we? But the most crucial change was to make the new story a love story – this was new territory for me, so dear readers, please be gentle with me!

There were elements of romance in my first series but Scars From the Past is centred upon a difficult relationship between two 17 year olds. Difficult because one is the heir to the Elder lands, John Elder, and the other is Lizzie Holton, the daughter of the manor housekeeper. They have spent most of their childhood together, but one is destined to be a lord and the other will remain a servant.

This ill-matched pair are clearly doomed to failure. When the story begins, John is pretty much at odds with the world and decides that everyone will be better off if he just leaves. Suffice to say, he gets that wrong…

The time period is obviously important because if I set the new series ten years after the old, that would take me to 1481 which was a bit of a lull in the Wars of the Roses. How could that work?

What I decided to do was to use the young Edward, Prince of Wales, as part of the story – an attractive idea because for so long he has been something of an ‘also-ran’ in the history of the period. I wanted to make him as real as I could and the second book will see him take centre stage even more…

Whilst it’s important for the new series to be different, I need to maintain for loyal readers the style and character of the first series: accurate history, a character-driven plot, fast moving story, unrelenting action and tension that builds as the story unfolds to its climax. Actually, all of that sounds a pretty tall order. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in blending the new generation with the old in the telling of the tale.

Scars From the Past: An unwelcome legacy. An impossible love. A relentless enemy.

By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years. The Elder family have discovered a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back, yet scars from the past remain with them all.

Scars From the Past is currently out on pre-order as an e-book and will be published on November 24th with the paperback launching a week later. Also available in the US.

Fascinating, Derek. And you’ve given me some great ideas for the novel I’m currently writing! Wishing you lots of success with Scars from the Past.

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 www.mktod.com.