Category Archives: Historical Fiction

Writing an Epic Family Saga by Novelist Linda Spalding

Posted by January 10th, 2014

The Purchase 2

The following is a guest post by Linda Spalding about her historical novel THE PURCHASE, winner of the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Prize for Fiction. The book tells the story of Quaker Daniel Dickinson and his family, and their new life at the Virginia frontier – where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested. 

Here Linda talks about intertwining the story of antebellum America with family history to create an epic family saga. 

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Every family is an epic. Even a single generation has so many stories tucked away that ten thousand pages would be required to tell them all. A family is the perfect proof of chaos theory – the one where a butterfly causes a blizzard in Florida or an airplane crash in the arctic. Your mother tickles you on your left foot while you snooze in your cradle and you develop an allergy to walking barefoot on grass in your middle age.

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David Anthony Durham on His Landmark Epic Fantasy Trilogy

Posted by January 9th, 2014

acaica trilogy

I am so thrilled to have author David Anthony Durham on the blog today. His ACACIA series made me fall in love with the epic fantasy genre: The trilogy’s breathtaking, multi-layered story, innovative take on magic, and daring vision of human frailty meant we had to add it as an epic fantasy Landmark Title on our genre map — next to titles by George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. 

Here David answers questions about craft and genre in the ACACIA series.

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NG: In the first ACACIA book we encounter a dynasty that ruled the known world for 22 generations. We’re talking about a large canvas: a complex geography, a slew of different cultures, and quite a bit of history to invent and deploy. It’s a truly “epic” fantasy. How did you manage to keep track of all this information as you were writing? Where do you start when you have such a huge task on your hands?

DAD: I start in several places at once. At the core of it all is the Akaran family, the father and his four children and the reality of the dynasty he’s leaving to them – and the guilt and unease he has about the horrible legacy that their wealth is built on. I knew from the start he was sitting on some major secrets, and what could be worse for a father that loves his children than knowing that his empire sells children – other people’s – into slavery? Once I had that idea I had to figure out who they traded with, and why those people would want an unending supply a child slaves. So, one thing – family dynamics – quickly expanded into larger and larger issues.

Map from the first Acacia book.

The map featured in the first Acacia book.

Also, there was the map. Wouldn’t be an “epic” fantasy without one, right? Doodling it out was another way the world took shape. Filling in the continents and the climates and features all gave me clues to the types of societies and races that would live there. The more I doodled the larger the map got. I tried to circle the continent with oceans, but then I got to wondering what was beyond those oceans. And so I got the ships out – big ones – and went sailing.

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Is My Book Historical, Traditional or Epic Fantasy?

Posted by January 7th, 2014

fantasy_what_is_epic_fantasyThe fantasy genre has a complex and diverse landscape–and incorporates the kind of assortment of tropes, conventions, and magical creatures that can make you head spin. The challenge of writing fantasy comes from having a good overview of the genre, knowing to nod to what’s come before, and build upon it. In fact, one of the SF/F editors I talked to recently said that the two most common mistakes writers make in submissions are that they either try to reinvent the wheel and, unbeknownst to them, write a story that has a plot similar to one of the all-time SF/F classics or they rely on genre paradigms that were the rage decades ago and are no longer popular. If you want to be published today, you have to be familiar with what’s published today as well as know your ABCs when it comes to fantasy: J. R. R. Tolkien, Mercedes Lackey, George R.R. Martin, Philip Pullman and so on. You have to be fluent in fantasy.

That’s why we wanted to spend some time on the epic fantasy genre–a pretty “hot” genre of late, and demystify the small but significant ways in which is differs from other fantasy subgenres such as historical and traditional fantasy.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Larry Winfield

Posted by January 6th, 2014

Larry Winfield author photoIt’s such a pleasure to have member Larry Winfield as our first Member Spotlight of 2014. A longtime Book Country member, Larry recently published his novel BANJO STRINGS on Book Country. He stopped by to talk to us about his writing and his wide range of other creative endeavors.

LS: Tell us about your path as a writer: how did you get started, and what’s brought you to where you are now?

LW: Uh, it’s a very twisted path. I wrote a few poems in high school that got published in the campus literary magazine, and in senior year (1974) I was an Associate Editor. And then I didn’t write another thing for 8 years. I moved to Chicago, got into theater, tried to start a band, worked as an illustrator, then in the early 80’s I let the acting, the band and the artwork go and started keeping a journal, and by ’88 I had a small chapbook of poems in a few stores in Hyde Park, Chicago.

In 1990 I discovered the Chicago poetry scene and spent a dozen years as a venue host and sometimes a featured reader, listening to great poets and writing almost every day. In 2002 I moved to the west coast, in part because of 9/11 (a long story), and tried to get into the Los Angeles poetry scene, but it was just too scattered. I hung out in the Santa Monica/Venice scene for a while, but it wasn’t happening with me living downtown. Anyway, by 2005 I’d discovered podcasting and created Sundown Lounge an updated version of my pirate radio show The Rent Party (part of that long story). Around the same time I was thinking of a couple story ideas, and Scott Sigler had recently broken huge with his first podcast novel. So I started putting up audio chapters at Mevio as I went, my own performance piece of a live novel, even though it was a few months between episodes in the middle. By the end, though, I had over 60,000 individual hits and some chapters in the hundreds of downloads. Nice. I ended up revising the novel into a “2013 edition” that I’m working to release as a podiobook, eBook and a printed (or POD) paperback.

LS: Along that route you found Book Country. How did that happen?

While writing and recording the first podcast version, I looked for writers groups to submit chapters and some of my poems to for feedback and review. I stuck with Author Nation and Authonomy mostly, then the Nation went down last year, and I found you guys on a Google search. The first manuscript was done by then so I uploaded the eBook to the Horror section, and it made the spotlight list, so thank you for that.

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A Downton Abbey Special: Wendy Wax on Writing about Downton Fans

Posted by January 2nd, 2014

while_we_were_watching_downton_abbey

The New Year is bringing us a new Downton Abbey season starting on January 5th. And while we’re stocking up on pop corn and squeeing with excitement about the Sunday premiere, we also thought we needed to do something special on the blog to celebrate the return of Downton to our screens.

Last year, we talked about the controversial and tragic Season 3 finale. Now we’re gearing for the new season with a guest post from author Wendy Wax, whose novel WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY has riveted many a Downton fan. Here she’s talking about how writing with a Downton Abbey backdrop has changed the way she thinks about her readers. 

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I try not to think about my readers too much while I’m writing. Not because I don’t care about or appreciate them—I do!—but because worrying about how a reader might react to a character, scene or even a bit of dialogue can—and has!—caused my word flow to screech to a halt.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Mimi Speike

Posted by November 25th, 2013

mimi_speikeToday we have one of our most seasoned Book Country members, Mimi Speike, as our guest. We caught her at an opportune time–as she’s making final revisions to her historical fantasy series and is preparing to launch them into the world. 

NG: When did you fall in love with writing?

MS: I wrote in school, of course. I didn’t start writing for my own pleasure until around 1984. An idea got hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I’d always read. I began to examine style, particularly that thing called flow. I started writing Sly! and fell so in love with the somersaults that you can turn with well-chosen words that I’m still at it. This is the greatest game there is.

NG: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about yourself as a writer? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome?

MS: I’ve learned to follow my gut. Screw rules. My Intrusive Author style is universally despised, apparently. But, that’s my voice. I’m sticking with it.

Biggest challenge? The one we all face: self-doubt. Once in a while, I manage to subdue debilitating insecurity, only to be seized by its equally evil twin, unabashed arrogance, no improvement in terms of objectivity. I don’t think in terms of overcoming. I try to balance the Jekyll and Hyde of my authorial personality, and let it go at that.

NG: How did you go about cultivating your writing style, and what role humor plays in the SLY series?

MS: I admire nineteenth/early twentieth-century lush description. I try to emulate it. That whole out-of-fashion scene-setting really turns me on. I also adore exceptional grace of phrasing; I think of it as a musicality. I scour the classics for vocabulary, sea terms in particular. I have a pirate episode in Sly! What do I know of the sea? Nada! Two Years Before The Mast, set two hundred years after my period, furnished information on shipboard routine. That has to do, until I lay hands on more timely material.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Historical Fiction Writer Renee Gravelle

Posted by October 15th, 2013

Renee Gravelle Author PhotoOne of the very first books I read on Book Country was Renee Gravelle‘s WIP FIRES OF HALCYON. I am a sucker for well-researched, thoughtful historical fiction, and FIRES OF HALCYON is this and so much more. FIRES OF HALCYON is the story of four families living in the village of Fredonia, New York, in the mid-nineteenth century, right in the midst of intense social change–the temperance, women’s rights, abolitionist, and Spiritualist movements are in full swing all around these characters. Drawing on deep research into German immigration and American social reform of the 1800’s, Renee is in the process of drafting an historical novel that is warmhearted, intriguing, and just a little bit frightening. Read on to hear what Renee has to say about joining Book Country and working on FIRES OF HALCYON.

First off, what brought you to Book Country?

This summer, I met an author who’s writing about [the children’s author] Margaret Wise Brown. She told me about Book Country. I thought it was worth a try. Expecting an anonymous vastness in which being noticed would be difficult, I found a delightful cozy intimacy instead. The requirement that new members post a review before they can submit their own work for review guarantees their active and important participation from the start. And welcoming e-mails and invitations open up a banquet of connecting and discussion opportunities from which members can choose.

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How Did You Know You Were Ready to Self-Publish? Perspectives from Book Country Members

Posted by October 9th, 2013

ready to self publishIn traditional publishing, you know your book is ready to publish when your editor tells you it’s ready. “When is my book ready?” is a trickier question when you’re self-publishing. Today, we share how Book Country members knew when their books were ready to publish.

Book Country Historical Romance writer Ellise Weaver said of her decision to self-publish her novel THE GOVERNESS: “After seeing some of my author friends’ success and tell of their earnings, I thought to myself, ‘Why wait?!’ I didn’t put it off any longer.”

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The Perfect Antidote to Writer’s Block: Reading!

Posted by October 8th, 2013

When you have writer’s block, is it okay to read instead of write?

I liked what Book Country members had to say in response to Molly‘s recent post on the “How do you break out of writer’s block?” thread. Atthys Gage reassured Molly that reading “cannot help but make you a better writer,” and Carl E. Reed expanded the list of acceptable procrastination techniques to include “cooking, physical exercise, dreaming . . . Everything is grist for the mill when you’re a writer.”

Molly, Atthys, and Carl are onto something. In the book WE WANTED TO BE WRITERS: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Michelle Huneven (with whom I studied in graduate school) says that she starts the writing day by reading “something–usually fiction I admire–until I get itchy and want to make fiction myself.” Over the weekend, I tried this, spending a big chunk of time relaxing with a few historical novels. I felt guilty reading instead of writing, but by Sunday evening, I’d not only read two really fabulous books, I’d also logged 5,000 words on my WIP. Not bad!

Ella Berthoud and Susan ElderkinBibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin definitely endorse reading as a cure–and not just for writer’s block. THE NOVEL CURE is their compendium of books-as-cures for all manner of ailments: low self-esteem, unemployment, and, of course, writer’s block. The authors recommend I CAPTURE THE CASTLE (by Dodie Smith) for ridding yourself of writer’s block. Here’s why they chose it:

The remedy for writer’s block inflicted upon the novelist father in I CAPTURE THE CASTLE is nothing short of genius. But–darn it–to tell it would be to give away one of the plot twists in the unutterably charming novel. Mortmain, as he is known by his second wife, Topaz, achieved great critical success with an experimental novel called Jacob Wrestling. But he has not been able to put pen to paper since an unfortunately incident involving a next-door neighbor who foolishly intervened when Mortmain brandished a cake knife at his first wife while they were having tea in the garden. He ended up spending three months behind bars, writer’s block set in, and the family has been penniless ever since.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Historical Romance Writer Ellise Weaver

Posted by October 7th, 2013

Ellise_weaver_authorEllise Weaver is one tough lady: five years ago, after a bout of breast cancer, she found her calling as a writer. Since then, she’s been telling stories about love set in the Victorian age, some of which she recently self-published. We’re catching up with the Idaho writer to see how the whole process has been going–how she’s written and marketed her books–as well as what she has in the works for the future.

NG: It’s very nice to have you on Book Country, Ellise! What have you been up to lately–both writing-wise and life-wise?

EW: In three months, I published three volumes of my book, THE GOVERNESS. Agonizing and intense as it was, it was also liberating and invigorating. I had set a goal to have the entire book published by the end of summer 2013. In order to accomplish this goal, I split the book into three volumes and tackled one per month.

Life has become rather busy with family and their needs, especially since my husband’s heart attack in August. He’s doing well, but it’s put a stop to any writing for right now. I’m still planning on releasing PIRATE BRIDE next spring.

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