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.


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.

Resurrect the Past by JP Robinson

JP Robinson and I connected when I saw the cover for his new novel In the Shadow of Your Wings. As most of you know, I love war stories and JP’s cover is enticing. I’m delighted to welcome JP today with his take on creating the past for readers.

Resurrect the past by JP Robinson

One of the best parts about being a historical author, is the power to recreate or, as I like to say, resurrect the past. I have conducted workshops on this topic and have a “how to” book called Write History releasing in January of 2019.

Some think that history is dead. They couldn’t be more wrong. Historical authors have the power to bend time itself to our will. With a few well-chosen words, we can have our readers join a swirling mass of colorful dancers, as I did in my novel Bride TreeOr we can spark a rush of adrenaline as they charge with our characters across no-man’s land, as I did in the epic first installment of my upcoming trilogy, In the Shadow of Your WingsNo matter what the era, our words should be the time machine that conveys an authentic, convincing picture of the past.

This is not an easy job. It takes effort, focus, time and practice. Imagination is not enough. It must be married to thorough research in order to do justice to those whose lives have shaped history.

Every aspect of what I write has been vetted to the best of my ability. For example, I typically take about two days to research names that were popular in the era I’m writing about before naming my characters. Clothing styles, weapons, even family genealogies all come into play as I seek to recreate a world that once existed.

This is what made Bride Tree—an allegorical novel set during the French Revolution—such a fun piece to write. One of my favorite chapters opened up with a detailed description of the Palace of Versailles during a lavish ball. In order to do the scene justice, I employed Google Maps, pored over historical documents about the importance of dance and watched several YouTube clips on current Versailles galas.

But I didn’t stop there. Tracking down Maximilien Robespierre’s family history, and what his relatives had to say about him as a child, enabled me to get a better perspective of the man that unleashed the Reign of Terror.

Beyond developing a character’s personality, historical authors can better resurrect the past by recreating the atmosphere of the given era. Let me explain. My next novel, In the Shadow of Your Wings, is set in England, France and Germany during World War 1. Getting the social atmosphere is critical because it’s going to determine the outlook of the people (my characters) which will, in turn, affect the twists and turns of my plot.

Before starting our research, and also during the first draft process, we authors need to ask ourselves questions that only research can answer. When penning this novel, some key considerations were things like: how did Zeppelin attacks affect Londoners? What was spy mania like in London? Was there, in fact, a credible threat of German espionage?

My job as a historical author, is to convey the feelings that characterized the English and German people not just the facts. Again, imagination is not enough here. I need to read documents, visit websites and read old newspapers to capture the feelings of a generation that lived 100 years ago. So when my protagonist, Leila Durand, confesses to her British father-in-law that she’s actually a German spy, I know what his reaction is going to be.

Beyond online research, personal travel also helps me convey a real world to my readers. As a French teacher, I’ve been to France, so I can write convincingly about its architecture, language and history. Video footage of the trenches let me throw the reader into the heart of it all.

Another tool I use are the details. I love to transport readers by sprinkling in details—some of which I uncover while researching other things. Instead of saying a “rifle”, I’ll use the type of rifle British soldiers commonly employed during the war (a Lee Enfield).

The names of popular songs, pieces of art that perhaps still are recognizable are tidbits that help me take you, the reader, on an unforgettable ride. Couple that all with a powerful, inspirational plot and the result is an enthralling book that I can be proud of writing.

That’s not to say, however, that historical authors can’t bend some aspects of history, especially when writing historical fiction. But in those instances, it’s best to let the reader know that this is alternative history or key in the facts in the Author’s note.

So as you’re biting your nails, turning page after page of one of my historical fiction novels, I hope you’ll be able to pull yourself away from the dialogue, romance and action to appreciate the subtler elements that make the story a “JP Robinson”.

Keep an eye out for all three books in the Northshire Heritage series: In the Shadow of Your Wings (Fall 2018), In the Midst of the Flames (Spring 2019) and In the Dead of the Night (Fall 2019).

In the Shadow of Your Wings by JP RobinsonWhen the world goes to war, is there really any safe place?

The shadow of the Great War looms over Europe, affecting everyone in its path.
Leila Durand, an elite German spy charged with infiltrating the home of British icon Thomas Steele, sees the war as a chance to move beyond the pain of her shattered past. But everything changes when she falls in love with Thomas’s son, Malcolm. Is there a way to reconcile her love for Germany and her love for the enemy?

Thomas Steele sees the war as an opportunity for his profligate son, Malcolm, to find a purpose greater than himself. But when Malcolm rebels, it falls to Thomas to make tough decisions.

The war’s reach extends to the heart. Eleanor Thompson finds her faith is pushed to the breaking point when her husband disappears on the battlefront and her daughter is killed in a German air raid. Where is God in the midst of her pain? In the Shadow of Your Wings presents inescapable truth that resonates across the past century. Then as now, the struggle for faith is real. Then as now, there is a refuge for all who will come beneath the shadow of God’s wings.


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.