Where Dreams Meet the Business of Writing

Posts tagged ‘historical fiction’

Jeepers Creepers – IWSG


Every month, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. “These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.”

Remember, the question is optional! (But I usually try to go with their question.)

November 6 question – What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled in researching a story?

The awesome co-hosts for the November 6 posting of the IWSG are Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie!

first flight


A writer’s browser history – it’s funny, but this subject just came up in my writer’s group a few days ago. One of the members is writing a psychological thriller. She was telling us about how she’s creating a board about her serial killer, similar to the ones shown in police departments in crime shows. She was joking about hoping that the police never show up on her door with a search warrant for any reason, laughing about what they’d find when they entered her office. She’s going to be doing some blog posts about her progress with this, and wants to put a disclaimer somewhere on the board – ‘Honest, I’m just a writer!’

From there we started talking about how our browser history would look to anyone examining it.

Best poison for…

How to dismember…

How deep to bury…

How long to freeze…

Alas, lately most of my writing lately has been historical fiction, so I can’t think of any fascinating things that I’ve had to research. Most of my searches lately have been of the ‘When was this phrase first used’ category. Or, what type of clothing was worn in X? When were bicycles first used? What movies were showing in 1934? What books were published in 1848? How long does it take to churn butter?

‘Jeepers, creepers’ is one of phrases I had to look up. More of a fact check instead of research. This frequently comes up in my writing group. One of us will use a phrase and some asks – was that even used then? Out come the phones as people frantically start googling the term.

I did that myself. I was reading a children’s book, set at the time the Wilber and Orville Wright were about ready to have their first airplane flight. The phrase was used a few times in the book. I thought – that’s too early. That’s a 1920s phrase.

I was wrong. The phrase came into popular use much earlier and was used in 1903.

These little pieces are all tidbits that I need to know. And they’re interesting to me – however, I doubt any of these searches quality for the strangest thing to google prize. I am interested to read some of the other posts today, to see what odd things that other authors have had to research.

Living in the Past


Today I’m writing for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s blog hop. The first Wednesday of each month, we write in inspiration to a question posed by the group’s administrators. We don’t need to write in response to the question posed, but I like to use their query as the springboard for the monthly post.

This month the OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question is: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

The awesome co-hosts for the June 5 posting of the IWSG are Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte!



Living in the Past

In true Gemini eclectic fashion, I read and write in many genres. A little children’s. A little contemporary. I dabbled with some romance that didn’t go too far. I plotted out a mystery – or rather, started plotting out a mystery. Lots of nonfiction and magazine articles get their share of keyboard time. But my all-time favorite genre? The one that sings its siren song, luring me to its shores?

Historical fiction. The days of the past. The eras long gone. Those are the stories that I long to tell.

Sometimes an old vintage photograph kicks off the tale. Many times an old postcard. A name inscribed on the flyleaf of a hundred year old book. Sometimes it’s simply touching an embroidered piece that starts the story unraveling. I touch the threads that an unknown woman touched fifty, eighty, or a hundred years ago. My mind drifts and I wonder…Who made this? What was she like? What were her hopes and dreams? What was her life like?

That’s all it takes. In a flash I’m living in the past. I dropped into 1850, or 1910, or 1934.

Who needs Marty McFly and his time-traveling DeLorean? All I need to teleport me to another time is a dish, a cookbook, a photograph, or some other memorabilia that began its life many years before I drew my first breath.


Any other historical fiction authors here? In April I started a weekly newsletter – Pages of the Past – celebrating historical fiction. Each week I have an author spotlight on a historical fiction author, along with a Reading Roundup of 2-3 books from different eras. If you’re an author and are interested in being interviewed for an author spotlight, email me at texastrishafaye@yahoo.com. Right now, I’m scheduling authors for July and August. Also, if you have any books you’d like featured, email me and let me know and I’ll get it scheduled into the next newsletter for that era.

If you’d like to take a look to see if you’re interested, here’s a link to the May 31st newsletter.




When I think of pioneers, I think of wagon trains headed to the west. To the Oregon Trail. To Texas. To Kansas. I don’t think of wagon trains headed to California. To me, born and raised in southern California, California’s largest immigration was in the dust bowl years of the 1930s, a la Grapes of Wrath style. Although, to be honest, I’ve been in so many adobes and early missions that I know that California began far earlier than the post-depression years.

On Facebook a few weeks ago I saw an interesting shot of Cajon Pass. Now I travel Cajon Pass every time I’m back in California visiting family. THIS is the Cajon Pass that I know now. (It’s not usually this bad. This is a post-accident shot, although, Friday afternoon traffic heading up the hill and to Vegas for the weekend gives this shot a close run for its money.)

cajon pass now

But this is the shot I saw of Cajon Pass on Facebook – many years earlier than what I remember of it.

cajon pass then.jpg

Pioneer life. It’s so much more than reading Little House on the Prairie and reading about the Gold Rush days in California.

Here’s a site that gives an interesting brief history about the pioneers that started the Oregon Trail.


Here’s a few days account from Diary of George Edwin Bushnell: TRIP ACROSS THE PLAINS IN 1864:

June 13th (Mon.) Passed 5 Indian graves, about 7 ft. from the ground on scaffolds. Near the Junction House, we passed 262 wagons today.

June 14th (Tues.) Came up a storm last night, rained nearly all night, and today the road Is wet and muddy. Passed the 0 Fallen Bluff trading post 55 mi. below the Julesburg upper crossing of the South Platt. Saw 2 Indian villages, and camped near Alkali Springs.

June 15th (Wed,) It rained hard all night last night, and we were all wet this morning, and lay by till 10 o’clock. Met a long train of Mormon wagons. There is 300 on their way to Nebraska City for goods. Camped 2 mi. below Lone Tree crossing 35 mi. below Julesburg.

You can find his diary, along with many other written accounts and recollections at Diaries, Memoirs, Letters and Reports Along The Trails West

Prepare to settle in for a while. Once you start clicking and reading, it may be hard to return to real life.


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celebrating historical fiction, sign up here.

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Language and Idioms

Join us in the 2019 A to Z Blog Challenge as we celebrate historical fiction. These posts will also be shared in the weekly newsletter, Pages of the Past, which debuted April 5th.


Language and Idioms

Was It Even Used Then?

Words and phrase can be something that easily trips up historical fiction authors. Common phrases used today can easily sneak into our period writing. I was caught on this just last week. I brought a snippet from an early 1930’s short story to my writing group. In it, the characters went to one of the just released Shirley Temple movies. One of the members asked, “Would they have called it ‘the movies’? I remember my Grandma always talking about going to the ‘picture shows’.” Yikes! She caught a good one, one that had slipped by me completely.

Granted, some instances are fairly minor and may not raise many issues with readers. But sometimes it can be a glaring problem. I’ve also seen where readers report that an issue was major enough that they shut the book and don’t read any further.

What do you do if you’re unsure? One of my favorite sites is the Online Etymology Dictionary. You can search a word for its earliest known use. For instance, if I type in ‘heebie-jeebies’, I learn:

heebie-jeebies (n.)

1923, said to have been coined by U.S. cartoonist Billy De Beck (1890-1942), creator of “Barney Google.”

So, I can definitely use this in my short story set in 1928. While the word most likely wouldn’t have been used in 1922, if I’m writing a tale set in that year, I can probably still get by with it. It’s going to be close enough to the time period that most readers would still feel as if they’re in the time. However, Mittie Ann, the girl that came to Texas in the 1850’s in a covered wagon definitely wouldn’t have used that phrase.

How Much Period Language to Use

Another part of language that becomes a balancing act is how much period language to use. M.K. Tod, on A Writer of History, speaks of using dialogue in historical fiction. He writes:

Dialogue – dialogue that is cumbersome and difficult to understand detracts from readers’ enjoyment of historical fiction. Dip occasionally into the vocabulary and grammatical structures of the past by inserting select words and phrases so that a reader knows s/he is in another time period. Don’t weigh the manuscript down or slow the reader’s pace with too many such instances. And be careful. Many words have changed their meanings over time and could be misinterpreted.

In ‘7 Tips on Accuracy and Authenticity’, Susanna Calkins, with a Ph.D. in history, talked about how accurate her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was going to be. She wrote:

When I was first dreaming about my story, even before I had worked out the plot or characters, I knew one thing for sure: By gum, this novel would be accurate. Every detail, every word, would be accurate. Historians everywhere would use my book in their classes and would revel in my accurate tale.

That idea lasted about two seconds.

Not only would using accurate language make my story unnecessarily pendantic and cumbersome, but many seventeenth-century words and phrases don’t translate readily today. Certainly I could say “The footpad bit the Roger, tipped the cole to Adam Tyler, and then took it to a stauling ken.” But I have a feeling modern readers might not understand that I was saying that a thief has stolen a bag, passed it to a fence, who in turn sold it to a house that receives stolen goods. Unless my editor let me write a companion volume with glossary and explanatory footnotes, this isn’t too feasible.

Just as in life, where sometimes an issue becomes a balancing act, so is it in writing historical fiction. We need to use enough language of the times, to help frame the time period and help the reader feel as if they’re really there in the midst of the tale, without being so accurate that as Susanna Calkins says, it becomes “pendantic and cumbersome.” And, we also want to make sure that the phrases we’re using to help set the tone of the story are accurate and of the period we’re writing.

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celebrating historical fiction, sign up here.

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Juvenile Historical Fiction

Juvenile Historical Fiction

Little House on the Prairie.JPG

Juvenile – because historical fiction is for kids too, not just adults. How many of us grew up immersed in the past via Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books? Or Island of the Blue Dolphins? Or…

Two popular contemporary series are the American Girl novels and the Magic Tree House series. Many of the popular current works contain elements such as time travel or historical fantasy. My own thinking is – if it enthralls the reader and keeps them reading, I’m all for it.

What Do We Do All Day has a terrific post with 25 books to read after – or instead of – Little House on the Prairie books. They’ve compiled an excellent list other historical tales to entrance young readers.

Here is a site with recommended historical fiction picture books. I’m long past the picture book reading phase, but so many look interesting that I’m making a list to take to my local library. I foresee an afternoon in my future where you’ll find me camped out in the children’s section basking in a pile of historical picture books.


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The elusive story ideas – where do they lay in wait, ready to spring forth and germinate? They surround us. Ideas for historical stories, too. For what is historical fiction but a story that’s set in the past instead of current or future times.

Many writers I talk to have an abundance of story ideas. They complain instead of not having enough time to write the stories they want to. I commiserate with them. I, too, have more ideas in mind than I’ll probably ever finish. About three years ago I finally put them together in a document and named it ‘Backburner Books’. A lady I spoke with last week keeps her ideas on index cards. And the massive pile of cards is threatening to collapse.

But yet, there are times when despite the wealth of ideas that swirls in an eddy around our existence, we have trouble coming up with an idea. Here’s a few places where I find ideas for plots, characters, or settings.

Cemeteries: I love visiting cemeteries. The older the better. Often as I’m wandering through the graves, I’ll spot an intriguing name that leads down the path to a story. I met Mittie Ann at Medlin Cemetery in Trophy Club, Texas. I’ve wanted to write her story since, and I have a notebook full of Medlin research. I’ve written some short stories and articles about her, yet the book remains on my ‘Backburner’ list. Through my research I also discovered other fascinating women that I’d love to write about. Some day.

Vintage Items: A trip to an antique store, museum, or merely perusing all the collectibles and antiques that fill my shelves hands me more story ideas that I can write in a year. I finger the embroidered dishtowels made from feed sacks and wonder about the woman that made them so many years ago. ‘Don’t Call my Handiwork Frivolous’ won first place and got me a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card at our local writer’s conference last year. A name on a flyleaf in a vintage book led to another story. A depression-era milk glass candy dish started off another tale. Old cookbooks – I’ve written more than one story using a vintage cookbook as the jumping off point to start a new tale.

Photographs and Postcards: That’s all I need is a handful of old photographs and postcards and I’m off and running. An added plus, is that they’re in my budget. But with the internet now, you don’t even need to actually purchase them. All you need is for the photos or postcards to spark an idea.

Research: Ah, the rabbit hole of research – so much fun. When I surface sometimes days later, I not only have the research I was after for my current idea (sometimes, often I’m still lacking and need more!), but I come out with another handful of ideas for other stories or books.

Chance or overheard conversations: Sometimes all you need is a chance conversation, or an overheard snippet, and *whammo* you’re off and running. What if….? If he or she said….

Old Publications: Old newspapers or magazines provide awesome story ideas. I had a copy of some 1904 issues of Horticulture magazine. When I was browsing through them, I found a fascinating report of a Mr. Lawson that feigned grief over his wife’s demise to get a floral pillow delivered. Imagine the florist’s surprise when a very much alive Mrs. Lawson opened the door. Mr. Lawson was sentenced to a month in the House of Correction over the charge of the larceny of one bunch of Lawson pinks. I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind and a short story, William’s Blunder, was born.

Television Shows or Movies: Sometimes one scene or one line will prompt a whole scenario in your brain. Not a replica of the show or movie that you’re watching, but an idea can germinate from your entertainment. One of my favorites is Josh Gates in Expedition Unknown. Oh my! The fascinating snippets of information that he unearths and the unique places he visits, and amazing people that he finds. After watching one of his hour long shows I have another few leads to either write about, or work into one of my current works in some way. I often joke that I want his job. Until we reach an episode where he’s eating bugs or other drinking some unimaginable concoction – or diving in frigid water that will kill you in less than a number of minutes if you didn’t have the proper gear. Then, I’m perfectly fine sitting at home behind my computer writing stories about people, places, and items from the past.


Here’s a link with some wonderful writing prompts and ideas for historical fiction writers. I haven’t used any of these yet, but there’s easily a half dozen photographs that I’m dying to use in some way.


Ana Howard wrote a nice article – 5 Tips: Gathering Ideas for Historical Fiction


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celebrating historical fiction, sign up here.

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lawson article.jpg


Genre Definition of Historical Fiction


Genre Definition of Historical Fiction


The definition of historical fiction seems easy enough – it is fiction and it’s historical. Yet, the term can mean different things to different people. All the subgenres that exist today can complicate the matter even further. Add to that about how readers have their own interpretations and perceptions of the genre, and we end up with a really mixed bag.

Personally, I find that I tend to write most of my historical fiction works anywhere from 1850-1940, with the 1930s being my all-time favorite decade. I think of this as historical fiction, but then I find myself chatting with Peggy Harrison, who along with her co-author Jay Hosler have three copper age novels – Rockslide, Spirit Chamber, and Ring of Fire. Now that is historical.

I was at one of my writing groups, and had a snippet of a 1930s short story I was working on. One of the ladies commented that she didn’t like historical fiction – but she was enjoying reading the excerpts I brought in because she was caught up in the story about the women from the past.

At a writing workshop a few weeks later, I was chatting with another attendee. The talk turned to the familiar ‘What do you write?’ conversation. I replied, “A variety of works, but I’m finding myself drawn more and more towards historical fiction.”

When I started explaining how I started with some family stories, and then wanted to start telling the tales of vintage items, her frown turned to a look of curiosity.

She told me, “I’ve never liked historical fiction. I always thought of it as just the old romance bodice-rippers.”

The Historical Novel Society states:

I will mention that my journal, the Historical Novels Review, has a working definition, which we use for consistency purposes in deciding which books to review. To us, a “historical novel” is a novel which is set fifty or more years in the past, and one in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience. Most autobiographical novels would not fit these criteria. Not all people agree on this definition, however, and even we occasionally break the rules. Some readers go so far as to say that a novel should only be called “historical” if the plot reflects its historical period so well that the story could not have occurred at any other time in history.

A story set fifty or more years in the past – that seems to be a fairly universal parameter. But then I find myself thinking – Woodstock was 50 years ago this August. Granted, as an 11-year old girl I couldn’t have gone to Woodstock and I only remember vague references to it. But still, that’s in a time period I remember. I don’t know if I like the idea that something I have memories of qualifies as historical.

On that thought, come back and join us tomorrow when we look at the differences between history and historical fiction.


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celebrating historical fiction, sign up here.

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