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Posts from the ‘United States historical novelist’ Category

On Book Trailers, by Kathleen Benner Duble

I love movies. I love going to the movies rather than watching a movie at home. In the movie theater, you are surrounded by the darkness and the big screen looms large in front of you. At home, there are phone calls, chores, kids and other things to distract me. In the theater, I have nothing to divert my attention. I am completely and wholly present. So I am sure you can guess that when I go to the movies, I have to be there for the previews. I want to see all the trailers, all the upcoming attractions that may divert me for a few hours in the future.

Movie trailers work for me. They draw me in and encourage me to see the movie. Do book trailers work, too?

There has been a lot of speculation on whether book trailers are an effective marketing tool. I don’t have the answer. That said, I know there are many books I have picked up because I liked what I had seen­ – not what I had heard. I read The Missing by Margaret Peters Haddix because of her amazing trailer. I have picked up Girl Stolen by April Henry because her trailer scared me half to death.

I also believe that there are a few elements that will make a book trailer work and a few that will make it flop. So here goes:

1. No book trailer video should be over a minute and a half. Unlike the Hollywood trailers, you are NOT making a movie. You have made a book. So your trailer should be short and to the point – like your writing.

2. Summarize your book quickly and creatively. You are a writer. This is what you do best. It amazes me when I see a book trailer and the writer has practically written a second novel for the trailer. I am NOT interested in reading the book on a video. Give me a quick synopsis. If you can do it, three sentences or less. Make your words sing and get me interested fast!!!! As an example, see my trailer for Phantom in the Snow at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj8Px1RsBbg.

3. Borrow footage from someone who can shoot. We are not moviemakers, so as writers, we have to rely on people who are. Professional videographers are often happy to lend their outtakes as long as you give them credit. In Phantoms, Jeff Thomas, who does extreme skiing video footage, kindly lent me his outtakes. They were far better than anything I could have done.

4. Don’t put faces in there if you can avoid it. Readers like to envision characters on their own. Good looks are relative. And if you chose a face unwisely, you may lose readers. Leave the imagining of your characters to them.

In this crazy world of book marketing, I believe book trailers have their place. They may not be the most effective tool in your arsenal but they are a tool that can be useful just the same.

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Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website: www.kathleenduble.com

Kathleen Benner Duble’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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QuestThe Sacrifice     Motor City ShakedownThe Barbary Pirates: An Ethan Gage Adventure

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Random Thoughts About Writing Historical Novels, by Stephanie Cowell

This is my twelfth and last blog post for Writing Historical Novels. I have been so very happy to contribute to it and hope that my journeys in writing have added something to yours. So I’d like to conclude with a few random thoughts about technique, inner purpose and this profession of ours. I am writing to myself as much as to you.

ONE: THOUGHTS ON WHERE AND HOW YOU SET YOUR SCENES. As much as possible, set your scenes in a different place or, if in the same place, in a different time of day. Somewhere in my drafts I make a list of all the places a character could go so that as the plot is going forward and the characters deepening, we are also touring their world a little.  In my novel Claude & Camille I have at least 20-30 settings in Paris or its suburbs alone: his studio, her parent’s expensive flat in Paris Ile St. Louis, the Pont Neuf bridge, a crowded restaurant, a café, his bedroom, a bookshop, art galleries, museums, the art studio, the streets, etc.  In this way I show their whole world. You could also change something in the room: make it emptier, or more crowded, or make something missing.

TWO: CHARACTER BUILDING. I find this thought on building a character invaluable. It is by Donald Maass from his book Writing the Breakout Novel. “Every protagonist needs a tortuous need, a consuming fear, an aching regret, a visible dream, a passionate longing, an exquisite lust, an inner lack, a fatal weakness, an irresistible plan, a noble idea and an underlying hope.” Since I found this a few novels ago, I ask these questions for every protagonist I create. It helps to make them real. I make lists and fill in the answers.

THREE: BUILD MYSTERY INTO YOUR NOVEL. Even if it is not a mystery, withhold certain information for suspense. End every single scene with the reader wondering what will happen next. I especially used this technique in my novel Marrying Mozart, which is written from six points of view, with the central question of which of the four sisters will marry Mozart.

FOUR:  MY OWN PERSONAL CREED ABOUT WRITING HISTORICAL NOVELS. A great deal of writing a novel is slowly discovering its innumerable parts and depths and colors and place and people and moving them around with joy and deep fascination to lay them out in the most compelling way it can be told. Then you slowly reveal it in drafts, paragraph by paragraph, deepening and moving order and revelation until it finally falls together in a perfect form for the reader to enter the story and live there. You discover novels more than write them.

FIVE: GIVE YOURSELF A ROUND OF APPLAUSE. I notice that we novelists never give ourselves enough credit for what we are doing. I have met hundreds of people who sigh and say, “If only I could write a novel!” Then they say, “Oh, but I have no time,” or something like this. Most of you have probably written novels or great parts of one. That is hard to do and takes a lot of discipline.

SIX: ON WRITING CAREERS. There are enormous writing careers and tiny ones. There are books which sell hugely and are lost in time. There are great writers who saw little of their work sell and then are discovered. Nobody can write just as you do. Dig deep into your heart. Most of us want bigger, grander careers. Some of us get them. Most of us have more modest ones. No one can write your novel as you can. The work of writers with both kinds of careers gives enormous pleasure to readers.

SEVEN: MY THREE FAVORITE WRITING BOOKS. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner.

EIGHT: BRING THE PAST TO LIFE. Put a map of London 1800 on your wall or whatever time or place you wish. Live there and come back to our time bringing us your novel of the people you knew and the things you came to love so we can love them too.

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Stephanie Cowell’s author website: www.stephaniecowell.com

Stephanie Cowell’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet     Fortress of Spears (Empire)Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Traveling To Research For My Historical Novels, by William Dietrich

As a journalist, I had to go to the place I was writing about.

It works for fiction, too.

When I write historical novels, I want to feel the heat and cold, smell the markets and sea, walk the old parapets, caress the iron of the cannon, heft the slave chains, finger the sword hilt and even sample the food. There’s a restaurant in Trier, Germany, which serves ancient Roman recipes.

I enjoy travel. Research takes me places I wouldn’t otherwise go, and forces me to notice things I might otherwise miss.

Sometimes serendipity lends a hand. I arrived near Newcastle, England, to research the story of a young Roman woman on Hadrian’s Wall… only to learn there was a university lecture that very evening about that very subject.

A livestock disease meant there were pyres of burning animals as I explored, lending a grisly March mood to Hadrian’s Wall.

I took a guided tourist jaunt in the hills above a Tibetan town, only to have a Himalayan squall drive us into a Buddhist nunnery – which inspired a new location for my thriller Blood of the Reich.

I was pleasantly surprised to find signs in Israel pointing out that Napoleon marched this way and that, a useful aid in exploring for The Rosetta Key.

While I didn’t like the lack of air conditioning in a humid summer stay at Antigua’s English Harbor, a colonial British naval base, it did give me a feel for the humidity that my hero experiences in The Emerald Storm.

Everything is potentially useful. A urinal at a Portsmouth naval museum had a poster above it on historic sailor alternatives to toilet paper.

Unless you have unlimited time and money, research travel should be carefully planned. I usually have an outline of my novel. I buy guidebooks and plot out forts, castles, palaces, historical neighborhoods, museums, and battlefields. This often requires driving. Nowadays I bring along a GPS, but I’ve had plenty of misadventures in the past, like trying to reach a Crusader castle and finding myself the wrong way in a Jordanian town with goat herds, market stalls, and swarms of curious children surrounding me.

I read ahead to gain direction, and buy more histories when I’m there. Guides and maps are easy to buy on site and almost impossible to find at home. Museum bookstores are goldmines. I look not just for historical first-person accounts, but guides to local plants and animals that my characters might encounter.

Local guides can provide wit, color, and insight. That quaint Irish harbor? No longer a seaport because overharvesting of oak trees for warships started erosion that silted it up. History becomes not just political, but environmental and social.

Stop and stroll. What does the place feel like? How does the light reflect? How turgid is the water, what size is the old tree, what do cobblestones sound like (rolling suitcases are a substitute for wagon wheels and horseshoes) and how about wood smoke, beer halls, and garden plantings? How dim is the lighting?

That lovely dress weighs forty-five pounds? That musket is as clumsy as a two-by-four? I interviewed a historical re-enactor in Britain who described being run over by a horse in a mock battle.

Can you find a night sky away from electric lights? Or walk a battlefield instead of drive it to get a sense of its size?

Your impressions will worm into your book.

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William Dietrich’s author website: www.williamdietrich.com

William Dietrich’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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The Barbary Pirates: An Ethan Gage AdventureBlood of the ReichHadrian's Wall: A NovelNapoleon's Pyramids (Ethan Gage Adventure)     The Leopard Sword (Empire)

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Choosing A Setting For A Historical Novel Series, by DE Johnson

Choosing a compelling setting for a historical novel can be challenging, particularly for a series. An author intending to write a series has to be sure the setting is enough to carry more than a single book. Each new book must illuminate new events, people or places. (Given that most publishers want a series to remain pretty stationary in terms of locale, that means new places within the overall setting.)

I should note that not all historical novels use events the way I do. I suppose it’s the teacher in me that wants to illuminate a bit of history along with an entertaining story, but many historical novels are more about the feel of the era, rather than the events.

As for me, here’s how it worked:

When I started researching The Detroit Electric Scheme, I was pretty sure I wanted to use the early automotive industry as the major backdrop for the book, but as I came across more and more information on the early electric car, I decided to focus the story there. My protagonist became Will Anderson, the son of William C. Anderson, the real president of Detroit Electric, America’s most successful electric car company. DE made electric cars from 1907 to 1939 and became the number one manufacturer of electrics in 1910. I discovered that the tipping point from success to eventual failure for electrics came in early 1911, so I set the book to end at that point.

I also looked for mileposts to use in future books. Fortunately, Detroit has a colorful history that provided me with lots of options. (Back to my point about publishers and locales – I wanted Will to chase the antagonist of the second book to Panama, where the building of the canal would serve as Backdrop II. St. Martin’s Press wanted Will to stay in Detroit, so that book never got written.) Book two, Motor City Shakedown, was originally planned as the third book in the series, and takes Will through the first mob war in Detroit history, a real bloodbath between the Adamo and Gianolla gangs.

I kept my eyes and ears open while I was writing those two, looking for a compelling setting within the Detroit of 1912. I kept hearing about this place called Eloise Hospital, which served, among other things, as the Detroit area’s insane asylum for nearly a century and a half. Every other person I talked to around Detroit had some memory of Eloise – usually a relative they had to visit. The memories were uniformly frightening to the individual, with the exception of one man who fondly remembered Sunday picnics on the lawn. (He didn’t have a relative on the inside.)

Eloise became the setting for a significant part of Detroit Breakdown, which focuses on mental health treatment a hundred years ago. This was a tipping point from containment to treatment, as psychoanalysis started to come into its own.

Eloise Hospital stretched over 900+ acres, with seventy-five buildings and over 10,000 patients and inmates at one time! It was a city unto itself, with farms, bakeries, canneries, sixteen kitchens, a fire department, police department, and a cemetery (which today holds over 7,000 graves, none of which are marked other than with a number, and no index or map has survived). Now I just had to figure out how to get Will inside Eloise. (It wasn’t too challenging, given his lack of stability.)

When I finished that book, my options were feeling limited. There was the massive salt mine under the city, which I thought would be interesting, but not enough to carry a book. I could go back to the underworld, but I felt I got enough of that in the second book. Then I realized I had never taken a good look at Detroit politics of the day, and I hit on two major scandals. In the summer of 1912, all but one Detroit aldermen were caught in a bribery sting, elaborately planned and carried out by the detective agency of William Burns, known at the time as “America’s Sherlock Holmes”. At the same time, campaigning was in full swing for the presidential election as well as for a amendment to the Michigan constitution to allow women the vote. (Can you imagine it? Women voting? Many – including many women – couldn’t.) The election was peppered with the kind of voter fraud that can only be found in the Third World these days, and in the end the amendment was defeated. Michigan women had to wait seven more years before they could vote. As I had set up Will’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Elizabeth Hume, as a suffragist, I was able to fit them into this story as well.

So, four books covering the rise and fall of the early electric car, Detroit’s first mob war, a huge insane asylum, and political corruption, all taking place between 1910 and 1912. All events and/or places I find compelling.

“Now what?” you may ask.

The answer – a book set in Chicago.

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DE Johnson’s author website: www.dejohnsonauthor.com

DE Johnson’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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Motor City Shakedown     Hannibal: Enemy of RomeThe Winter Palace (a Novel of the Young Catherine the Great)

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

On Receiving Feedback As An Aspiring Novelist, by Gary Worthington

The best thing that happened to me at the beginning of my writing career was being asked to join a local writer’s group. I was lucky in that I was asked to join at just the right stage when I had been writing seriously for a short time and that the group was a good one.

I doubt anyone has the ability to write first or even second drafts of stories that are so perfect they can’t be made better. Usually there are numerous possibilities for improvement, especially if the writer is a beginner. I can’t emphasize enough that you need unbiased, constructive feedback from people who are knowledgeable enough to tell you exactly what’s wrong and give you suggestions on how to improve it.

My wife, who is an English literature teacher, typically reads my initial drafts and provides detailed comments. I’m lucky to have this type of “in-house” help. For most writers it’s not a good idea to have your relatives provide your editorial help. They’re likely biased in that they don’t want to say anything that might hurt your feelings, and even if they read a lot of books, they probably won’t be able to tell you precisely what you need to do to make improvements.

It’s best to join a good writers’ group, either in person or online. It’s crucial that the participants be supportive of each other, and that their critiques be well meant. I’ve heard of groups where the members were competitive with each other and some of the comments tended to be devastating put-downs. You want people who are not only knowledgeable about the basics of writing, but who also genuinely care about each other and sincerely try to be helpful.

At the time I started writing historical fiction, online groups weren’t yet available. Our own group rotated the venue among the members’ homes, usually meeting weekly. Some of the authors wrote fiction and some wrote nonfiction. We took turns reading our current work aloud. When a person finished reading, the others would offer comments and suggestions on the piece.

There were usually anywhere from three to six people at a session, though four was the typical number. The membership changed somewhat over the years, largely because one of the permanent members was an English literature professor who occasionally invited one or two of his more promising students to join us. All of the participants had enough knowledge of the craft of writing to offer constructive suggestions on the others’ work. Almost all, within a few years at the most, found outside publishers for their books, at least one received a significant literary award,and another was later published regularly in the New Yorker.

I was privileged not only to benefit from long term constructive feedback from these talented writers, but I was also fortunate in finding good people to read and comment on my completed manuscripts. Since my novels are set in India it was important to have my work read by people from that country so they could point out any errors in background details, any flaws in my understanding of the culture or any inappropriate depictions of how Indians would be likely to act the situations in my scenes. For each of my books I was able to find willing volunteer readers who had grown up in India and who were highly literate in English and therefore able to provide the useful critiques I needed. I’ve also had friends who were glad to proofread sections of the manuscripts to spot typographical and obvious grammatical errors.

Of course, it’s also possible to hire freelance editorial help. If you aren’t able to find suitable volunteers, then if at all possible you should pay for such a service, after checking references from others the editor has helped, to ensure you’ll get your money’s worth in the type of critique you need.

The main point is that it’s an absolute necessity to obtain good quality editorial assistance in some form before offering your work to the wider public. No exceptions.

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Gary Worthington’s author website: www.garyworthington.com

Gary Worthington’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

     The Kirilov StarThe Kennedy ConspiracyPowder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Researching To Write A Historical Novel, by William Dietrich

Start with history, add your five senses, and conclude with heart and mind.

That’s my formula for researching to write a historical novel; a genre that requires a combination of accuracy and inventiveness. In the case of my Ethan Gage novels, I have a fictional American interacting amusingly with famous real people but I have to make it convincing.

The Ethan Gage novels move sequentially in real time, meaning that unlike a James Bond or Sherlock Holmes tale, we know what year it is. Ethan’s adventures are tied to the events of the day.

My first step, then, is to read general histories of the period and create a timeline for, say, 1803. What was happening, and where?

A decision is then made to send my hero on an adventure in a particular place. That means more reading of what was going on during that particular episode, plus biographies of people Ethan might meet there.

Some of this history, while impressively researched, is dull as told. I read boring books so you won’t have to. I take notes off the books of lively incidents, curious personalities, witty quotes, and colorful locales so only the ripest fruit can go into my novels.

From this I work up an outline. Since Ethan must plausibly affect history while remaining an outsider, and because I need a dramatic conclusion, I must map out the story to make he sure he can get from Point A to Point B by the recorded date in history.

I can invent, but only in the context of a real world with real events.

The research will continue as long as I am writing the novel. Answering new questions as the story progresses can be as simple as looking things up on Wikipedia to tracking down reprints of memoirs written centuries ago.

I try to travel to the places I write about. Museums, castles, forts and churches can be tremendously useful, as are photographs taken of the locale.

I’m also trying to find out how things look, sound, smell, taste and feel. Historical re-enactors can show me what a musket sounds like, kicks like, and how much gun smoke it generates. I can watch smiths, craftsmen, eat period foods, and study clothes. I’m reminded how big a horse is, and how smoky a hearth smells. Novel writing requires visualization, so I’m building a movie in my head.

Historical novels don’t require a ‘message’ but the biggest problem in writing a book is deciding what it’s about.

That’s where the heart and mind comes in. Part of researching is plumbing oneself. What would a key character desire? What would they feel in a historical situation? What would their actions mean about how we live our lives?

That’s what gives a novel depth. By thinking about a book so long, you begin to discern its meaning. You create a world that seems almost tangible.

Then, by the end, you’ve read enough to map out where the hero goes next.

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William Dietrich’s author website: www.williamdietrich.com

William Dietrich’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Barbary Pirates: An Ethan Gage AdventureBlood of the ReichHadrian's Wall: A NovelNapoleon's Pyramids (Ethan Gage Adventure)     The Silver Eagle: (The Forgotten Legion Chronicles No. 2) (Forgotten Legion Chronicles)Auslander

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

My Daily Writing Habits, by Stephanie Cowell

For many years of my writing life I worked a day job, as so many of us do. I had a great deal of energy then, and used to go to sleep before 11pm and wake up at 6am to write for a few hours before going into my office job. I also wrote on office downtime and sometimes stayed late at the office to write. I only had a typewriter (I was a single mom and computers were a luxury) so I used to type at home and retype to the computer.

I went to the library for research during lunch. I had very empathetic work colleagues, so lunch stretched a long time. I read research materials on the subway going to work and sometimes walking across the long New York City midtown blocks. I was so desperate to write. I lived in the worlds I wrote. I edited printouts while walking.

There is a marvellous small book called Writer with a Day Job that I heartily recommend.

When I finally quit my day job, life seemed incredibly luxurious. It took me at least a year to begin to live at a normal speed.  My pattern is to get up around 8am and work for 4-6 hours, depending on my work-in-progress.

People ask me about when I research. I have a general familiarity with the period and place where my novel is set when I begin, so some of my research is already done. I knew the Elizabethan period very well when I wrote my first novel Nicholas Cooke but I researched along the way. I knew something about the work of the impressionists when I started Claude and Camille and a little about Monet but I had some familiarity with his water lily paintings. About 75 research books later, and after a few trips to Paris and Giverny, many museum visits in American and Europe, and two or three years of studying French, I knew a great deal. All this research occurred during the time of the writing, so I was discovering it as the same time I was writing the book. I’d read about a certain street or garden and say, “I could have him walk there!” I found his life situations in my research.

I rewrite a lot. I can write a scene forty times and throw it away, or keep one sentence and use it in another place in the book.  At some point in the book I put my history books away and just write. I hope by then I am fully inhabiting the spirit of the characters and the world. I have several unfinished novels.

When writing goes well, I stay off Facebook; when it’s lagging, I’m checking it.

In a way I miss my day job. It’s nice to talk to real people in the day.

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Stephanie Cowell’s author website: www.stephaniecowell.com

Stephanie Cowell’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet     Garden of VenusEquinoxThe Tenth Gift

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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