Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Challenges of Writing Historical Romance by A.M.Westerling

The biggest challenge I face as an author of historical fiction is placing my reader in a particular era without sounding like a history book. I enjoy research and it’s not difficult  to find the information I need. As far as finding websites, Google is my friend! I can find anything on Google but I do try and find sources other than Wikipedia. I also aim to let my readers experience the sights, sounds and smells of the particular era I’m writing in through my characters.

As well, l’ll search online for books pertinent to my story. I found three great books about Barkerville, all of them with pictures of this gold rush town at its height. It’s always easier to write description when you have an actual scene plus it’s easier to capture the atmosphere of the location. But I have quite a collection of research books, everything from books on Regency manners to castles to Norse mythology. A lot of my reference books are generic ie: Cassin-Scott's The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Costume and Fashion , Williamson's Kings and Queens of England, Litchfield's The Illustrated History of Furniture, and several books on herbs and edible plants.

 If all else fails and I can’t confirm a detail or fact, I will approach historians. I find they’re always delighted to help out an author. For Barkerville Beginnings I worked closely with Caroline Zinz, the archivist and librarian for Barkerville Historic Town and it feels like I made a new friend. In those cases, I will include a thank you in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book.

The two reference books I can’t live without are the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition and Brohaugh’s English Through The Ages. The reason these two are so important to me is that I try and use dialogue that reflects the period. Both of these books tell me when a word comes into usage. The other thing I do is use similes that reflect the period. Ie. “Her stomach churned like a twisting eddy on the Fraser River” (from Barkerville Beginnings) or “The words exploded from her as if from a fermenting keg left in the sun too long.” (from the Countess’ Lucky Charm). I also avoid modern terminology throughout the books so again, the two references listed above help me with that.
Finally, the third reference book I can’t live without and which is always within reach of my keyboard is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Human emotion and motivation hasn’t changed. We still feel love, anger, greed, joy, despair, fear.  We still face challenges whether it's finding enough money to pay the rent or passing that all important exam. We still want to help those less fortunate, still want to find our one true love, Perhaps some of us even want revenge.

And then I can write about it!                                                                                      

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Research by Juliet Waldron

Researching—that’s a part of this writing activity that’s fascinating to me in the 60’s full Spockian sense. :)

However, research, particularly at this early stage, can also be the thing which brings your story to a screeching halt just about the time the characters are beginning to speak. This is frustrating when it happens,  but how can you create believable dialogue if you don’t fully understand the context—the who, what, where, when--within which these characters ought to be?

Once you start digging into what you don’t know, there’s a pause in writing. You’ve got to haul out a book, or go hunting around online—enter the jungle of clicking around and hope you don’t pick up some electronic disease during your  search for knowledge.

Only after you have satisfied that “need to know” can you get back to the story again, now, hopefully armed with some better understanding. You can only hope that those characters, just now taking ghostly shape, will successfully shrug on this new mantle, this new layer of detail, and begin to speak through you more clearly.

There’s always a sense, for me, when I start a historical novel, I’ve got to enter another reality, get inside that skin of a place, a period. For this story, I’m venturing out of the European world and trying to find the entrance into that of another Tribe, as well as the business of reaching back in time. The early 50’s coincides with my own childhood, and it is occurring to me that here’s small bit of time experience I share with my characters. Nevertheless, the distance between my “Stone House” childhood and that of Sascho and Yaotl of the NWT Tlicho is wide.

In other historical novels I’ve written, I’ve thought a lot about the context, the time, the place, the material culture, the tools and technology, surrounding my characters. As mentioned above, Fly Away Snow Goose has an extra dimension of difference for me, in that I’m challenged to enter a culture with which I’m really not familiar.

The Iroquois, whose world I tried to enter in the course of writing Genesee, were a much more settled people. The Athabascans of NWT in the early 1950’s--in all their divisions and tribes --are a people whose world remained migratory, much like the world of the last ice age. Many families still seasonally followed the animals who give them everything—food, clothing, shelter, and tools—the caribou.

To help me understand, I’m turning to ethnographic studies of the kind where the social scientist becomes first of all, an apprentice to his subjects. And in the course of doing this research, and trying to dig in emotionally, I’m sometimes brought up against my own culture’s prejudices and preconceptions.

By the 1950’s where this story is set, the lifeways of the people of this fragile land were in flux, due to government policies dictated by a colonizing culture which enforced its will in many ways. The residential schools, designed to “kill the Indian” in the child, were Canadian law. Increasing numbers of whites and their agents, powerful, faceless mining corporations, were entering their land, violating treaty rights, taking possession, and leaving pollution behind. These unfamiliar entities claimed to own the ancient places and pathways of the De’ that the Tlicho and their neighbors had walked for the last 10,000 years.  It’s against the background of these upheavals that this story will be told.

For these brave children, it’s about resistance, about language and belief, but even more, it’s a way of seeing the world—not as “mine” or “yours”—but as a web of interdependent relationships. I could stumble around forever trying to get this right, but instead I’ll quote Chief Seattle, Leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish 1st Nations.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together; all things connect.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

History in Conflict by Katherine Pym

Pillars of Avalon due for Release July 1, 2017

My story is of David and Sara Kirke, 17th century plantation owners in what is now Newfoundland & Labrador. David was a wealthy London wine merchant who had branched into the fishery business off the coast of NE Canada. The story is really about Sara, an amazing woman who is considered the foremost North American female entrepreneur, but the historical data surrounds David. I could not ignore him. 

If you do much research, you’ll find discrepancies and downright errors. Since nonfiction authors show resources and say they are historians, the reader trusts the work. I’ve discovered some historical facts are in the eye of the beholder, and his/her ego. 

One source loved his subject matter so much, he had David Kirke die in Newfoundland and not in London like the other sources state. The Newfoundland soil is rocky and gravely. It moves, so the burial marker must have rolled down a hill or something. Kirke’s gravesite is now unknown.
Well, we may not know where David Kirke was buried (most likely under the floor of a London church, destroyed during the fire of 1666), but you have to go with the flow of other historical sources. David Kirke was not buried in Newfoundland. Local legend states Sara Kirke was buried near Ferryland, but the location is unknown. 

‘What is considered fiction when you write of a real person?’ I’ve been asked. Well, if you put words into their mouths that were not documented, that makes a piece fictional. If you give a character something significant to do, like help win a battle when he may never have been there, and it wasn’t recorded, that’s also fiction. 

I found several pieces of data on the Kirkes that have come down through the ages. Some conflict with each other. Some have data that has been written down verbatim from another document, and that original document seems to be in error. 

So, whaddya do?

I work to garner facts that repeat themselves over the spectrum of resources. When I come up with data duplicates I use that particular historical slant, even if I dislike it. 

In Pillars of Avalon, my Canadian partner, Jude Pittman, and I have had to research almost every sentence which takes an amazing amount of time. For instance, even as David Kirke is a London merchant, he was knighted in Innerwick, Scotland. 

Why is that, you ask? Well, I didn’t know, either. And where is Innerwick? 

All the texts I found stated Anderweek or Anderwick. Jude found Innerwick, not far from Edinburgh, Scotland. King Charles I was crowned King of Scotland in Holyrood (Edinburgh) June of 1633, which took David to Innerwick. 

While there, I had David explore the land. I found out the area is known for its fisheries and at this time, Newfoundland was well known for its cod fisheries. I have the data for what fish species are in NL but not along the coast of Scotland near Innerwick, so I had to dig deeper. What fish species did the fishermen hunt and what did they do with their product? To whom did they sell it? For less than a chapter’s worth of story, this particular research took several days. 

I can see why the big-bucks-historical-fiction-authors have a team of researchers at their disposal, but one must trust their team. Jude and I have only ourselves to rely on and I’m very glad I can trust her. 

Once a book is published, that’s pretty much it. The effort of removing a book from publication then fixing errors is not conducive to sales. Readers get confused. They no longer trust the authors’ works. 

You have to get your history correct the first time.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Researching New Brunswick- a surprising history

Available in Jan. 2018
When I was asked to contribute to the Canadian Historical Brides series, with the stellar help of Nancy Bell, I bought a book on the province’s history. I decided to set my story in the eighteenth century, a period I enjoy writing in, and picked the year 1784. From the book I learned that was the year the huge colony of Nova Scotia was divided in two, the western part to be called New Brunswick. This was my first surprise.

Coming of the Loyalists by Henry Sandham
Why the break? After the Revolutionary War, the numerous people who’d remained loyal to King George III had their property confiscated and risked arrest. Thousands of these Loyalists escaped north, into Canada, and the western portion of Nova Scotia. The colony swelled with a disgruntled population who needed land. They demanded their own colony, another capital.


I wanted to toss my characters into this morass, everything changing.

Nancy sent me several websites with old maps, documents on the settling of the Loyalists, so much to work in, or leave out.

Then I came across the history of the Acadian Expulsion, the original French settlers when the area was known as New France. Entire villages were slaughtered when the British took over. I just had to delve deeper into that period, and have an Acadian character, one whose mother lived through the expulsion.
Acadians by Samuel Scott

Of course, I couldn’t ignore the First People who were there when the French arrived, mainly the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet tribes. Every layer of settlement, wars, massacres, needed to be worked in without overloading the story.

The biggest challenge was to fit in my fictional characters with actual historical personages, the history timeline, and the extreme hardships of this as yet untamed wilderness. Also, what food was available in what season, and what items were shipped in. How did these people survive the long winters, and the political turmoil around them and I had to make sure I kept to the historical facts.

I hope my novel, On a Stormy Primeval Shore, will intrigue readers about New Brunswick and its varied history.

To find out more about my novels, please visit my BooksWeLove author page: BWL DS Lewis
Or my website: DianeScottLewis

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Challenges of Historical Fiction

by Kathy Fischer-Brown 
In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, Books We Love has published the first of 12 historical novels, each set in one of the provinces and territories. The Historical Canadian Brides series is funded by the Canadian government and will be covered by Publishers Weekly. The first two books, Brides of Banff Springs, by Victoria Chatham and His Brother’s Bride, by Nancy Bell, are already generating great enthusiasm and readership. Where the River Narrows (Quebec), the book I’m writing with assistance from Canadian BWL mystery, suspense, and thriller author Ron Ady Crouch will cover an interesting area of Canadian history that is as fascinating to research as it is to write.

As a writer of historical fiction (all but one of my BWL books are historicals, and that other being a fantasy), I have no problem with diving head first into the research. In fact, it is for me one of the more exciting aspects of the writing process. Finding source material can be challenging, but it is also inspirational. I can’t enumerate the incidents of finding a particularly interesting bit of history that not only sparks the need to find more information but, more important, gives my muse something substantial to chew on (and my muse loves to chomp on tasty morsels).

My biggest challenge in writing Where the River Narrows has to be the fact that, as someone who is U.S. born and bred (and having gone through an American education), I’m writing a book that has as its focus the American Revolution through the point of view of “the other side.” (Something not covered in great detail in our curriculum.) Then again, it’s always cool to learn new things, and my submersion in early Canadian history has been eye-opening. But getting into the point-of-view of my heroine, Elisabeth Van Alen, a young woman from a family of “Loyalists” or “Tories,” has been downright mind-changing. It’s been a real stretch to look at the incidents of the War for Independence from another perspective—and make it believable—when for my entire life, I’ve viewed the “rebels” as “patriots” as being in the right in their decision to break from British rule and set up their own country and government at the risk of their liberty and their very lives.

On the other hand, reading depositions and documents about the women who made perilous journeys from their homes to escape persecution—who sacrificed everything to join their men in exile with the hope that life would return to “normal” when the war was won by the Crown—has been a fascinating part of the process of building a story. Along the way, I’ve met some incredible people: re-enactors of the King’s Royal Yorkers (the regiment of loyalists established by Sir John Johnson, a historical personage and Canadian founding father who appears in the book), who devote their leisure time to recreating the lives of people I’m attempting to create in the pages of this book. Historians who have written extensively on the subject of loyalists refugees, and photographers whose work has been enshrined in the works I’ve been studying.

All in all, I’d say that this is and has been one of the more exciting projects I’ve been involved in to date.


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the Devil, The Partisan's Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, her latest release, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her Books We LoveAuthor page or visit her website, All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon, Kobo, and other online retailers.