Is Your Novel Historical or Whimsy?

Farmington Colonial Home 2

As a proud native Virginian, I find it painful to read about the possibility that our early settlers may have practiced cannibalism when my state was but a mere colony. If you have been following the story, you have seen that much of the media presents conjecture as fact but at this point whether or not they resorted to cannibalism during the starving season is speculation. Speculation or not, the idea makes me shudder.

The Gallant Sir Walter Raleigh

My third grade Virginia History book opened with the story of how the gallant Sir Walter Raleigh placed his cloak on the mud for Queen Elizabeth I so that Her Majesty’s feet would not have to touch the ground. Then, as far as I can remember, we moved on to the House of Burgesses, the heroic Pocahantas (not the Disney version), and the founding of the College of William and Mary (not necessarily in that order). I’m sure they mentioned the colony’s hard times. An eternal optimist, I like to focus on success so those facts didn’t stick as well with me. Of course, we were told a few more brutal tidbits during high school, but still, according to my memory, the accounts were coated with frothy icing.

But Surely Everyone Was Rich!

As a teenager, I used to imagine myself as a heroine in an historical novel as being among the rich women who wore pretty dresses and drank tea all day. A more realistic scenario is that I would have been wearing simple clothing while toiling with my husband to eke out a living from the Virginia soil. Perhaps like my great-grandmother, I would have given birth to seven boys.

I especially liked reading about the 1920s because I could relate to the age of the motorcar and more conveniences than past eras. So when Grandpa Bagley told me, “The twenties were tight times,” I was shocked and disappointed. The people I was reading about were rich! Wasn’t everybody back there then?

Wine and Roses — NOT!

One of the most unromantic marriage stories I ever heard was told by a relative who came of age at the turn of the twentieth century. She said, “I could either work on the farm for my daddy or work on the farm for myself. So I decided to get married.”

Indeed, in fiction, we seldom read about the unromantic side of history. One element of city living that comes to my mind is the practice of throwing the contents of a chamber pot out the window, possibly hitting a passer-by. We read about war heroes, but not the mundane reasons some were sent home. For instance, my great-great grandfather was released from the Confederate Army not because of anything as dramatic as fire and bullets, but because of an intestinal inflammation known as dysentery. And even though some authors do mention the economic and social benefits of certain marriages, the hero and heroine nevertheless love each other dearly by story’s end. Unfortunately, the reality in many political and economic alliances was not so rosy.

No doubt I’m missing some gritty books out there, but I think most writers of historical fiction usually know far more about how life really was in their chosen era than they let on to their readers. We all want to read about conflicts far more interesting than bare economics, or the depressing reality of a political marriage where the couple goes their separate ways after producing an heir an a spare.

What We Really Want

When pursuing novels, few of us want to read in detail about the neverending battle against dirt, soot, and pests, the uncertain and possibly unsafe food supply, or the stench and crime of the city. We dress our characters in silk. We insist that our heroes be gallant like Sir Walter Raleigh. (Don’t believe those nasty rumors that the story is a myth. Of course it happened!) We demand that our hero and heroine find true love regardless of the circumstances. Because, in reality, isn’t happily ever after what we all really want?

Your Turn

If you write historical novels, what facts have your omitted?

Whether or not you write historical fiction, have you been glad to learn brutal facts, or wish you didn’t know them about our history?

As a girl, I was taken by the story of Sir Walter Raleigh and have been married almost 29 years to a man who is very gallant. What stories inspired you as a child?

What book would you recommend for writers of historical novels to use as a research tool?

39 Responses to Is Your Novel Historical or Whimsy?

  1. Avatar
    Anne Love May 9, 2013 at 3:53 am #

    For my current manuscript I’ve had a lot of fun doing the historical medical research. I found a 1884 copyright, 3rd edition of Dr. Chase’s Last Receipt Book and Household Physician. See: It was fun to look up old tinctures and poultice contents, but there were other tidbits that were interesting to me, but doubtful that readers would like.

    Historically accurate medical practices were not always romantic, that’s for sure.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Anne, I have researched medicine for several books and wow, caring for the sick was so much more time-consuming and complicated then. According to my reading, it is interesting, too, how the calling to be a doctor didn’t become revered until the 20th century since that was the turning point when doctors could do so much more to help the sick than before that time.

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        Anne Love May 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

        Right, and the whole topic of the history of women in medicine is another great learning curve.

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    Ron Estrada May 9, 2013 at 4:17 am #

    I just finished a contemporary mystery, but while waiting on submission responses, I’m considering a historical mystery with a 1930s Michigan State Police detective as my protag. Any of us who’ve done historical research know that no state or nation has an innocent past. Sure, I’d like my hero to chase bootleggers and cruise around the wilds of Michigan in its heydey, but I also know about the 1927 Bath Schoolhouse bombing, in which 40 children and teachers were killed. I think, to be honest with our readers, some of that should be included. No one likes a perfect character, and I don’t think anyone will like or believe a perfect society. By the way, I spent a good deal of my life in Virgina Beach and Yorktown (Navy Brat). I love the history of that area and I understand how recent stories are hurtful to someone who’s grown up with a different image of those times. It’s hard to realize how utterly desperate those settlers could be. They were cut off from civilization. Sometimes survival overrides natural law. They can still be our heros. But now we know they weren’t supermen.

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    Timothy Fish May 9, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    In Awana, last night, one of our adults told the kids about Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal. One of the kids stopped her to ask, “did God really have them killed?” I could tell from the questions he was asking that the concept of God killing people was not one he was comfortable with.

    I don’t think we should include unpleasant historical facts just because we know them, but when those facts define the nature of our characters, we must resist avoiding them. For example, in a romance novel, it probably doesn’t matter what happens to the contents of the chamber pot, or how the street below must have smelled. That’s not what the story is about. But if some disease is what brings the two characters together, then the unpleasantness of that disease is important to the story and should be included.

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    Shulamit May 9, 2013 at 5:45 am #

    30 years ago, I was babysitting for a precocious 5yo. She asked about the Bible. I was young, and naive. I said, well, open it anywhere, and I’ll read you the story you point to. (I did that for myself, often.)

    She opened it to where David is ogling Bathsheba, and trying to send her husband off to get killed in the war, etc.

    Yah, we definitely do not share everything with children. Things do need to be chosen for age appropriateness.

    But when writing for adults, I think it is the author’s duty to treat their reader as an adult. Not every book has to be harsh and disgusting! But if the story calls for it, then avoiding truth is not respecting the reader.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2013 at 8:36 am #

      Shulamit, you are so right. Noah’s ark comes to mind for me. There are soooo many adorable, cartoon-like depictions of the cute elephants, giraffes, and the like for children and adults enjoy those, too. The reality? Hmmm…

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    alli May 9, 2013 at 5:45 am #

    Love stories where the ppl faced difficulty romeo and juliet yada but real life very few happy ending even the disciples were marytred so sometimes stories are left without resolutions

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    Susan Karsten May 9, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    How fun to read there’s another Sir Walter Raleigh fan out there! An amazing hero, that man. Something I omit in my stories is trips to the necessary. Travelling without access to washing one’s hair makes my skin crawl.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      Susan, did you see the PBS series where modern people mimicked the lives of the Pilgrims? At the end of the time, they showed filthy water running from the showers when they were finally able to return to the present and bathe properly. One cast member admitted she didn’t realize how dirty she was. When everyone around you is dirty, you don’t notice, I suppose. But like you, I am very, very grateful for soap of all descriptions!

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    Susan Stitch May 9, 2013 at 5:52 am #

    Haha– that is exactly why I’ve stopped writing my historical novel (which, of course I’m sure will be a top seller). I find that I’m so fascinated by the real life stories and hardships, that I can’t figure out what to write. I have become so excited by the research that I realized I’m writing a textbook on life in that era instead of a story others would like to read.

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      Tamela Hancock Murray May 9, 2013 at 8:42 am #

      Susan, you are sure to develop the discipline to eliminate extraneous facts as you continue to write. I know from experience how easy it is to blow an afternoon on the Internet trying to find out if a theater in the 1920s had blue or red velvet chairs. Some writers might say, “Who cares?” but I say, if you can find out, why not be as accurate as possible. Since you obviously love research, I recommend that you stick with your project. Use the research to put yourself in the frame of mind for your story. While you don’t have to share every fact, readers will appreciate a writer who loves the era. Go for it!

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        Carole Lehr Johnson May 9, 2013 at 10:48 am #

        Tamela, I know how it is to search something to death! In my current manuscript I have been known to spend many, many hours trying to find out how they cooked bread in 17th century England. My writing buddy tells me I am spending too much time on these rabbit chases … I just can’t let it go!
        Thanks for a great post.

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    Angie Dicken May 9, 2013 at 6:05 am #

    You live in such a rich historical area! I read a Reader Digest volume on The 20th Century, and was sobered to the fact that it wasn’t all glitz and glamour at the turn of the century….actually, that was such a little part of it.
    One historical story that I choose to think upon the fiction over the fact is that of Lady Jane Gray in the 1500’s. She was a pawn for the Protestants to obtain the British throne, and the movie does a fabulous job of creating a sweet romance in her arranged marriage. After I watched it, I searched history books, and there is nothing that proves their love. Sad!! I’ll choose to believe it, though! Ha!
    Have a wonderful day!

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    Meghan Carver May 9, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    I love the Middle Ages and King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Still do! I’m sure life was another whole level of difficult then, but I prefer to live with my illusions and imagine myself a princess with one of those cone hats with the silk draping off, my knight in shining armor riding out over the drawbridge to protect me. 🙂 Thanks for the daydream today, Tamela! (Or is it? Time to say good-bye to my own knight as he rides out to provide for us….)

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    Martha Rogers May 9, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    I love the research that goes into writing historical books. Of course with historical romance you want a happy ever after ending, so that’s what the reader gets. However, that doesn’t mean we omit all “reality.” In my new release, I read a number of first hand accounts from survivors of a Civil War POW camp at Pt. Lookout, Maryland, a northern camp. I tried to make the scenes there as real as possible with the cruelty, stench, and starvation because it had a bearing on the story.

    It’s fun to do the research, but some of the things we find don’t have to be included in our novels to give us a story. Like Timothy said, unless something has to do with the actual plot and story line, we don’t need to know about throwing the chamber pot contents out the window.

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    Laurie Alice Eakes May 9, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    As an historical novelist, I do sometimes joke that I write speculative fiction as much as any science fiction author.

    So much of what we read in history books is colored by the bias of the author, finding facts to support his theories or preconceived notions, how hard things were is difficult to guess. Probably worse and often times better.

    Example, someone I know got dinged on a contest because she was told her heroine wouldn’t have been allowed to own her own business. Um, no, that’s not true. Of course she could, yet we are told women were completely suppressed. Not true.

    Readers read for escape from the toils of every day. They want a happily ever after to keep them entertained and give them a belief that things can work out. So why would we want to write about dirt and scratching out a living? Who wants to read it? I see descriptions of books where it sounds like it’s all hardship with nothing happy happening, and it doesn’t get bought or borrowed and read by me. No thank you. Reality is hard enough.

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    Jennifer Major May 9, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    A few weeks ago I mentioned to an American writer friend that I live in a town founded by Loyalists and REDCOATS! Yes, I can occasionally be a button pusher. Yes, we are still friends.

    One must remember that in writing historical fiction, there are many versions of the same event. It is said that the victors write the history. What is rarely noted is that the vanquished did not disappear entirely from the story, but must carry on as footnotes and after thoughts. The British did not give up their claims lightly, and truth be told, they hung on. Yes, they did keep the cold parts of North America. I kinda wish we still had Florida.
    One book that is worth its weight in gold for me is Peter Nabokov’s “Native American Testimony- A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations From Prophecy to the Present, 1492-2000” an anthology of written testimonies and dictated accounts of Native Americans from early contact until 2000. It is heart breaking to read what those people thought when invaders came over the hills.

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      Jenni Brummett May 9, 2013 at 11:11 am #

      Jennifer, speaking of Florida, you’ll have to read my Historical Romantic Suspense when it enters the world of published novels. ;-). It’s set in 19th century Key West during the height of the shipwreck salvage industry, way before snowbirds infiltrated the area during the winter.

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    Steve Myers May 9, 2013 at 7:09 am #

    Keeping It Real but Honest

    I think there are two challenges for Christian Fiction writers in Historical genres. One challenge is the secular world and/or our country (specifically the USA) of scholars reinventing history to fit their political agenda. I’m talking about academic social progressives who are teaching a different history than perhaps the accurate and factual history we boomers (and older) grew up reading. (i.e, your thesis statement “the possibility that our early settlers may have practiced cannibalism.”)

    When writing (and for me reading Historical series or novels) the writes I admire are Jane Austen on one hand and someone like Janette Oke on the other. Painting pictures of real time periods for worse or tolerable and yet the grit and determination (dare say hope and faith) of those living through them. I’ve noticed in the Westerns of Harlequin Love Inspired novels the feel of challenging eras and yet the hope of love within them. Even when marriages were out of necessity, arrangement, or the result of a husband or wife passing from illness, childbirth or hostile attack in the harsh realities of the frontier.

    As you know Tamela I have been experimenting with writing Historical Romance after penning a few Contemporary Romance manuscripts. What I lean towards most is accuracy of the times including the gritty challenges and yet with the eternal sense of optimism (of those living in those times) without the benefit of interpreting their experiences by our present history and therefore reinterpreting by what the social progressives are doing. Not having that agenda (and wanting to stay accurate to history) even within a Christian Perspective seems more honorable and ethical.

    I, for one, am writing about people in Texas towns based on the letters, interviews and conversations I had with my grand parents and great grand parents from my earliest memories of childhood to my teens when listening or later interviewing them about their lives. And, from my 20s to 40s as they aged, wanted to talk more and began to share legacy items such as journals, letters, photographs, and reflections on their lives, those of their siblings, cousins, friends, and extended families. Then, I have gone to research on the actual eras (a present WIP in 1925) dealing with the last years of silent film before sound was developed and workable (in 1929).

    The goal is to be historically accurate of the setting and technology but through eyes forward and not my present world interpreting theirs or reinventing theirs as anything but what they knew at the time. Lena Nelson Dooley had an interesting story and setting in Golden New Mexico a year or two ago (Love Finds You In Golden New Mexico) that was painted quite real (of hardships) and yet in depth of characters that was both believable and hopeful, even in the midst of challenges and struggles. I think that is the key to a good Historical Novel or series.

    One that starts to retell history differently as in a political agenda, however, challenging conventional wisdom, is where my suspension of disbelief is interrupted and therefore no longer buys into the story. I call that ‘story-interrupted.’ Speculative or Science Fiction can get away with that (such as Cowboys and Aliens, at least in theory. In response it was a box office disaster). But in historical romance there’s not much wiggle room to where if something is presented through rose colored glasses readers loose the suspension of disbelief and either put the novel down or loose value with the story or characters.

    I don’t believe I could read a novel about Virginia (the way I have of writers like Earl Hamner) and buy into a revisionist theory of cannibalism like those of the ‘Donner party,’ made more for horror genres than Romance, for example. I don’t believe the two themes could mix in Historical (and leave a reader with hope or optimism). In a secular series, perhaps, but that, like Cowboys and Aliens, is a real gamble if readers will buy into it or tune out.

    Contrast that to “Little Women.” And I have to preface that I came late in life to actually reading (and started by seeing the 1994 movie version with Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, & Susan Sarandon.) I did not see it until late night channel surfing in 2012. Then read the book. Real, gritty, but in the suspension of disbelief to buy into it historically and later feel a sense of hope and optimism through compelling characters even through the struggles of that time period.

    My thoughts for what they are worth.

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    H.G. Ferguson May 9, 2013 at 7:35 am #

    I write in the mid-1750s, French and Indian War western Pennsylvania. My aim is to be as true and accurate as I can. I found it a challenge in representing Native Americans most of all, for there are two camps: the Christian Right wants to make them all bloodthirsty savage wild demons in human flesh, and the Liberal Left Revisionists want to present the opposite, i.e., peaceful innocuous gentle folk who did not know what bloodshed was until the conquering European Christians taught it to them and destroyed their beautiful native cultures. Both of these extremes are bunk. The truth is there were good people and bad people on all sides in that conflict. My aim was to present everyone as just people, period. Not always the easiest of tasks! I have good Natives and evil Natives, good colonists and evil colonists. Because that is the truth. As Christians we are charged to uphold the truth. As writers also of historical fiction or fiction set in historical times, let us keep to that admonition.

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      Jennifer Major May 9, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      H.G., I really liked what you said “The truth is there were good people and bad people on all sides in that conflict. My aim was to present everyone as just people, period.”

      Well said.

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        H.G. Ferguson May 9, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

        Thank you, that’s much appreciated. Examples: Montcalm was a good and noble soldier of France. Braddock was a bigoted, blundering idiot. Dunbar was a craven coward of the first order. Shingas was a wily adversary if you were British. If you were not, you feared the name of Rogers and his Rangers. George Washington learned war the hard way, which would pay off later. The vile Vandreuil concocted La Guerre Sauvage. The Seneca who adopted Mary Jemison lavished upon her not unspeakable torture but unspeakable kindness. A war party interrupted a funeral and scalped the corpse of the girl being buried for psychological effect. And on and on it goes. Again, thank you!

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      Jennifer Major May 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      A very close friend of mine is Mohawk/Oneida/Tuscarora and is a walking encyclopedia of her Iroquois history. She and her sister took me on a research trip to the Navajo Nation last summer. (Long story, it’s on my blog) I got to speak to quite a few elders because of their previous relationships with my friends. I was also told point blank that I’d never have gotten the stories I got without my friends’ influence.

      Getting EVERY SINGLE detail is critical if one has any hope of being taken seriously.

      Oh, and as you can probably tell by my picture, I have Cree blood. Seriously. I do.

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    Dina Sleiman May 9, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    I think what you are saying is true of historical romance, but not historical fiction in general. I’ve read a lot of very gritty books, and I found them fascinating. Examples: Year of Wonders, The Crimson Petal and the White, Daughter of Fortune, and Beloved. The kind of historicals that make the Oprah book club. Examples in Christian fiction would be some of Siri Mitchell’s older historicals, Ginger Garrett’s medieval series, The Shenandoah Sisters books by Michael Phillips. Those sorts of books stick with you for a lifetime.

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      Heather Day Gilbert May 9, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      Yes, Dina–two words: LES MISERABLES. Why is that such a HUMONGOUS hit in the real world? Why do people relate to that NON-cleaned up, gritty story? Because sometimes we see echoes of that horrid past in the PRESENT. How can we learn from history if we give a revisionist view of it, just as bad as any secular history curriculum?

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        Anne Love May 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

        Great example. Great point Heather.

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    Susan Karsten May 9, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I so agree with Laurie Alice (above) in that history books, and historical fiction books, are colored by the biases of the author. A great example of this is the fascinating life of Anne Boleyn. According to some, she was a fine reformed protestant, but read something from the perspective favoring the queen she usurped, and she’s quite something else.

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    Carol McClain May 9, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    I don’t read Christian historical because in my mind, it isn’t historical–just whimsy. For the same reason, I don’t read Amish.
    But I do love historical. The John Jakes bicentennial series hooked me. I love Phillipa Gregory. And my stories don’t have to have happy endings. (Think The Other Boleyn Girl).
    The history taught to me in grade school left me cold, but true historicals delight me. I want to see history played out for real in someone’s life.
    And I do want a hero. That person doesn’t have to be rich, and not always kind–think Scarlett O’Hara.
    Cotton candy will not be read by me.

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      Heather Day Gilbert May 9, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      I agree with you, Carol. If you’re talking about a HISTORICAL historical, not a historical romance, let’s keep it real. I read historicals to have my eyes opened to some new time period, not to blissfully act like nothing’s wrong. Um…Dickens springs to mind. Why is he a classic? Why is Hardy a classic writer? I wish we had more classic-type historicals in the CBA, to be honest. Something I can sink my teeth into, characters and situations that will stick with me and ring TRUE and not contrived to fit around a romance. I think this explains the popularity of rather bleak books like THE KITCHEN HOUSE (which I feel skewed history somewhat, yet many loved it).

      Some people READ for the grittier details because they want to feel like they’re living that time period. And I agree w/so many comments above. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the tough situations. Do we just skim those difficult things, like when the concubine got killed and cut into pieces, singing “Lalalala?” God put that in there for a reason. Life is hard, and He knows that. He gives us examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly, so we can relate in our own lives, and learn to be victorious. And my Viking historical may never be published in the CBA, because I did base it off the sagas, trying to show how Christianity was victorious over paganism…but there were some tough things they had to deal with, and it wasn’t candy-coated. I don’t write that kind of book because quite honestly, I can’t read it. And I totally understand that many do not agree with this, and don’t write this way. To each his/her own–I’d just love for the “realistic” contingent of readers to be better represented in the CBA.

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    Marci seither May 9, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Great post. I totally get the conflict. I just finished a historical fiction project geared toward 4th – 6th graders. It is based on true parts of California history starting in 1849. The topic of the Donner Party picnic always comes up in CA history. I didn’t talk about the Donner Party specifically, but thought about what it would have been like to be on the party that made it to the summit to rescue them. I wrote about how that would have effected a person. My main character ( a boy) asks the teacher-Edwin Markham-someone who was Pearly Monroes teacher and ended up becoming a notable person after the Gold Rush- why Charles Stone ( a real person on the party) sits across the school yard and watches the kids play tag. The response is that Charles Stone is trying to get rid of the images that still wake him up in the middle of the night from what he witnessed at the summit. Pearly asked his teacher how he knew that since Charles mostly kept to himself and Edwin responded by stating.. “I asked him.” Charles Stone made a few appearances in the book and was true to what I imagined someone to be like after that experience. I didn’t talk about the Donner Party..They can look that up and read Patty Reed’s Doll. I just helped them look at an unpleasant part of history from another person’s POV. Charles Stone added a lot to the book, even as a minor character because of his authentic interaction with my main character.

    The BEST resource for writing historical fiction is to go to museums and find a docent. Docent are usually passionate about their subject, they are volunteers who love learning and talking to people. If they don’t know the answer to a question, chances are they know someone or a resource that will help. I have been invited to archive libraries, had access to original documents and learned so much about my subject ..sometimes even being told..”I don’t know, but that is a great question to ask”, all because of talking to docents before I started my research.

    Thanks for your post!

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      Jenni Brummett May 9, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      When I was on my research trip in Key West I spent a long afternoon in the library with dusty files and the amazing Historian of Monroe County. Time very well spent.

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    Susan Stitch May 9, 2013 at 10:38 am #

    this whole conversation makes me think of the wizard in the musical, Wicked. He says,”Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history. A man’s called a traitor or liberator. A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist. There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist”

    The only way to know what really happened was to be there. Second best thing is to read several accounts from first hand sources. Since that is almost always impossible, we conjecture and pray that God will direct our words!

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    Jenni Brummett May 9, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Tamela, have you visited the Shirley Plantation along the James River in Virginia? I still have vivid memories of my time there 24 years ago.
    I’ve used a wonderful series of books about Key West history by John Viele for my novel.
    I would also highly recommend The Reshaping of Everyday Life and Where We Lived by Jack Larkin. They’re wonderful resources for historical research of early America.

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    Jeanne Takenaka May 9, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Tamela, what an interesting post. I love how you show both sides of knowing or not knowing. 🙂 For me, I like knowing details but not focusing too much on them. For me historical details balance out the stories and help me to relate to the characters better. But I don’t like a lot of the harder aspects of history spelled out in gory detail. I’ve always been fascinated by history, which is why it’s hard to take two pre-teen boys to exhibits like “King Tut.” I want to read, they want to skip past all the interesting placards that fill in the “story” or details of the exhibit items.

    Reading about Harriet Tubman fascinated me as a girl. Her bravery and courage to risk her life and body to help other slaves know freedom.

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    marci seither May 9, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Family genealogies are also a great insight..esp if you can get ahold of letters. My family tree is traced back to Quakers coming at request of William Penn. The prayers and diary notes are incredible and something I would have not been able to find in a history book. I think the big key is when it comes to have to be creative!

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    Rachel Smith May 9, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    There’s one thing about omitting facts that drives me absolutely mad. And this is history’s fault, not readers. Interracial relationships in antebellum Louisiana. That’s the historical I have finished, the one that semi-finaled in the Genesis last year, and nobody was willing to take a chance on it. I had one agent tell me it was flat out historically impossible. She was not a Southerner. Sorry, but I have mountains of evidence saying otherwise. Google the Cane River Creoles, for crying out loud! And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

    Every historical story I want to tell runs into this same problem. With people not believing my facts are real, or not accepting that my characters can be true Christians and be Catholic or Russian Orthodox at the same time. Even Michael Phillips couldn’t get away with having true Russian Orthodox characters. He had to work around it and make up this elaborate backstory to explain it away. I accepted it at the time, but now I see it for what it is and it’s sad.

    On the one hand it’s not a surprise that I’m writing science fiction now, and loving every word. Some facts are concrete, some aren’t true but accepted as part of the genre, and the ones I create are accepted by readers without question so long as I do my world-building right. I can create whatever I want, do whatever I want, and make my characters whatever I want. I accidentally created a hero who’s bi, and I have the freedom to explore how that made him the man he is.

    On the other hand, it’s the last genre I ever thought I’d write. But I also never thought I’d be inhaling paranormal romance either and giving in to my long-buried desire to create werecats. There’s something about the thought of a purring man that I find incredibly sexy. (yes, I’m a cat lady)

    And I do have a book to recommend to every historical author, particularly those writing in the Victorian period. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It was the Bible for running the upper-class Victorian household. If you’re writing late Victorian especially this books is a must have. It’s a treasure trove. I also recommend anything from Dover with Tom Tierney’s name on it for clothing research.

  24. Avatar
    Steve Myers May 9, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    I wonder if you Tamela and/or Steve Laube might comment on the Historical or Whimsy of Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP? How well it succeeded or fell short and why?

    What missed (Historically) or was missing (for my personal thoughts) were the faith components (or lack thereof) with the white exclusive women’s group and of both the Celia Foote and Skeeter Phelan characters. Faith (and the church) played a significant role in the black characters but MIA in the others. Historically, however, Stockett really seemed to hit it right.

    Second question is if THE HELP could have been written in a CBA publication (as is or edited) or strictly fitting into the ABA world of publishing?

  25. Avatar
    Effie-Alean Gross May 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm #

    In school, I didn’t like studying history. Until I started writing historical romance from the WWII era, I thought history was learned facts, dates, and boring biographies. Was I ever wrong! History is fascinating.

    Writers cannot include every interesting detail, but I haven’t deliberately omittted a fact because it didn’t line up with my philosophy.

    I’ve run across a few facts that I wish I didn’t know. For instance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt slipped out the back door when 400 rabbis marched on DC to draw attention fo the plight of European Jews in 1943.

    Stories that inspired me as a child include: Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (Scottish author) and The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner.

    Now, for research tools in my own writing, I use books, the internet, live interviews, phone interviews, old letters, biographies, and a lot of prayer for guidance and wisdom.

    My two historical novels are: Foxtrots and Foxholes (with an agent); and Empty Frames (work in progress). The first covers all of the war years and the latter focuses on Hitler’s stolen art…trophy art that is returned to owners and heirs. Both are Christian novels with a Jewish theme.

    Thank you for the opportunity to post a response to your blog. I met Steve Laube at ACFW conference in Dallas.

    All the best,
    Effie-Alean Gross

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