Successful Historical Fiction with Nicole Evelina

Thanks for your indulgence while I enjoyed a brief hiatus from blogging in the lead up to our son’s wedding. I’m delighted to tell you that all went well!

Today, I have Nicole Evelina on the blog discussing the topic of successful historical fiction. Nicole writes stories of strong women from history and today. She also appeared on A Writer of History in 2016. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nicole.

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What’s your definition of successful historical fiction?

Successful historical fiction transports you to another time and place without you realizing it. It is great fiction in general, according to the rules of writing you’d apply to any genre. And the very best helps you learn something about human nature, the time period, a famous historical personage, and/or yourself.

What attributes are most important to you when designating a novel ‘successful historical fiction’.

Historical accuracy and a good story.

Which authors do you think create the most successful historical fiction?

Patricia Bracewell, Geraldine Brooks, Anne Fortier, MJ Rose, and Susanna Kearsley.

What makes these particular authors stand out?

They all paint rich pictures and tell stories that stay with you long after you are done reading.

In your opinion, what aspects prevent a novel from being designated successful historical fiction?

Anything that takes you out of the time and place, feels forced or anachronistic. Even when words are historically correct, if they feel too modern, it can be jarring. For example, I read a book that takes place in the 1920s that used the term “mixologist” for a bartender. I looked it up and it is technically correct for the period, but that word has become so synonymous with recent years that it tripped me up. Lack of research/lazy research goes along with this. Also, forcing modern viewpoints on historical characters.

Are famous people essential to successful historical fiction?

Not at all. I think the unknowns are even more fun because then you learn something about a  real person at the same time you are entertained. Fictional characters are often a good way to see a different POV of an event/time period.

Does successful historical fiction have to say something relevant to today’s conditions?

Yes. I think every book has to say something relevant to readers. If it doesn’t, we can’t relate to the book, characters, etc. and are not inclined to continue reading. Luckily, the basics of the human condition don’t really change. So even though slavery is illegal in most places now, we can still read stories of the US pre-Civil War south or the Roman Empire and emphasize with struggle of the slave because it’s part of human nature to not want to be in forced servitude. In the same way, we can read about times when women didn’t have any rights because it shows us how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

What role does research play in successful historical fiction?

Aside from the basic skills of any storyteller, research is everything. It’s what makes historical fiction what it is; it’s what enables writers to convincingly time travel to a period they can never actually visit; it’s what makes a book feel authentic, and these things are key to a good reading experience.

In your opinion, how are these elements critical to successful historical fiction? Characters. Setting. Plot. Conflict. Dialogue. World building. Themes.

Characters, world building and setting must be authentic to the period for a reader to take them seriously, hence the role of research. Plot must be well-written and realistic and conflict must make us want to keep reading – just as in any other kind of book. Dialogue must sound like it is right for the period – no modern language, yet also not so historically accurate that a modern reader can’t understand it. Themes are what make the books relevant to modern readers.

Do you judge historical fiction differently from contemporary fiction?

Yes. I hold it to a higher standard because of all the work that goes into creating it. Having written both, I can confidently say there is so much you don’t have to think about when writing contemporary fiction because it is second nature to you and to your readers. Those very same things are part of what makes successful historical fiction shine – the very fact that you don’t notice how different they are from today because the author has done their research and convinced you they are part of the everyday life of the characters you are reading.

Many thanks for adding to the discussion, Nicole.

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.

A Year of Reading – Part 2

Following on from Tuesday’s post, here’s the second list of books read during 2016.

read-in-2016

Here’s the rating system I used in 2014 and 2015: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NF=Non-Fiction; NMT = not my type.

Jun Windmill Point Jim Stempel ER Highly recommended; tells the story of Cold Harbour and the final months of the American Civil War
Elihu Washburne Michael Hill NF Research: Diary and letters of America’s Minister to France during 1870s siege and commune
My Adventures in the Commune Ernest Alfred Vizetelly NF Research: Vizetelly was a journalist living in Paris during the 1871 Commune
Grace Note: In Hildegard’s Shadow P.J. Parsons ER A novel based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen
Jul A Most Extraordinary Pursuit Juliana Gray (Beatriz Williams) LR Excellent; strong female character, witty dialogue, romance, and many twists and turns
Katherine Anya Seton ER 14th century story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt; A favourite of so many readers, I decided to reread it.
The Private Lives of the Impressionists Sue Roe NF More research on 19th century France
The Hotel on Place Vendome Tilar Mazzeo NF A interesting look at the history of Hotel Ritz in Paris and its role during WWII
Aug Belgravia Julien Fellowes GR Julien Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey – need I say more?
The Mapmakers Children Sarah McCoy GR Dual timeline mystery of the underground railway; one timeline is much better than the other
The Lake House Kate Morton ER Another dual timeline mystery; excellent except for the ending
Clementine Sonia Parnell NF Excellent account of the life of Clementine Churchill; reads like a story
Sept The Other Daughter Lauren Willig LR Very enjoyable; after her mother’s death a woman discovers that her father is still very much alive
In the Skin of a Lion Michael Ondaatje GR Beautiful writing but a very unusual story
Oct Under the Sugar Sun Jennifer Hallock LR A schoolmarm, a sugar baron, a soldier – set in the Philippine-American war; predictable
The Shadow Queen Rebecca Dean NMT The most disappointing aspect of this novel is that it ends just as the relationship between Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII begins
Nov Madame Presidentess Nicole Evelina NMT The life of Victoria Woodhull; too much detail and melodrama for my taste
Dec Christmas Bells Jennifer Chiaverini DNF Dual timeline story based on Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells; IMHO the story was slow and the present day timeline did not work
Alvar The Kingmaker Annie Whitehead GR 10th century England in the turmoil of changing kings; not quite finished

You might be interested in previous lists from 2014 and 2015:

A Year of Reading 2015 – Part 1 and Part 2

A Year of Reading 2014 – Part 1 and Part 2

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.