Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Devil is in the Details by A.M.Westerling

At the start of every book, I spend a few weeks researching the time period before I even start putting pen to paper (so to speak!). The more I know about it, the easier it is to write the book. I don’t include everything I’ve discovered but just enough to give my readers the flavour of the period I’m writing in. I enjoy the research aspect of writing historical romance so it’s no hardship to spend days trying to find the needed information.

For every book I write, I keep a letter size file folder and in it are my character arcs, notes to myself and print outs of material I’ve found online that I think might be worthwhile to have in hard copy, particularly if it’s something I can use for other books ie names.

I have a number of history books and sometimes I’ll buy one or two if I think it’s useful to my current project. In those, I’ll use Post It notes to mark the pages I need to refer to frequently. Also, I spend time on line, and I book mark interesting websites.I tend to stay away from Wikipedia.

I also keep an extra Word file and I’ll copy and paste pertinent research info into that, including the website URL. I’ll have this file open while I’m working on the ms itself. Here’s a picture of my Barkerville Beginnings file, with everything from cover art to the manuscript itself to the notes and websites. 

I’m more of a pantser but I always have certain scenes that I know I will be including. For example, in Barkerville Beginnings, it’s the opening scene with Rose and Edmund where he threatens to take Hannah, Rose’s four year old daughter. In A Heart Enslaved, my Viking romance, it’s the scene in the slave market where Thorvald has to decide if he’s going to sell Gisela or not. I’ve learned over the years not to spend too much time plotting because invariably my characters run the show.

If I’m not sure about something, I will add CHECK to my manuscript  to remind myself to look into it further during the edits and revisions.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Juliet Waldron on Plotting

When I saw the April topic of plotting and how we go about it for this month’s Canadian Brides blog, I smiled to myself—or maybe it was more of a grimace. This is because I started my journey as a writer by creating historical novels which were biographical fictions. That is, they were novels based on real people and events. That particular discipline forced me to do in depth research and then hang the characters, like wet laundry, on whatever plotline I’d assembled from all the collected information. It required keeping timelines and matching dates of journeys, letters, diary entries, births, conceptions, (even legislation and campaigns, both political and military in the case of A Master Passion) to the locales where my characters were situated and what they were (or might) have been doing.

The difficulty with a story like Fly Away, Snow Goose is that I have to not only build characters, but also devise a believable plot, as history has not directly provided one. In this case, it has to be something that might have happened in the real world of the period, which is Northwest Territories, Canada, in the early 1950’s. So first thing, the digging for sources began. I started by collecting several ethnographic studies and have been glad that I approached the story in this manner. That allowed me to place the stories of residential school survivors, my next study, in the proper context.

I was a child myself during the early 50’s, but how very different my material world was from those of these 1st Nation’s characters!  The Tlicho people of 60+ years ago were practically born on the move. For them, “home” was a huge territory through which they seasonally traveled, on the footsteps of the migratory animals they fed upon.  Walking, as a lifeway, was central not only in their day-to-day world, but to their legends—the Power named “Walks Far” or “Always Walking,” is a central figure of their genesis stories.

When John Wisdomkeeper suggested tackling the issue of the residential schools, we both knew that this would be a difficult telling, a story of abduction, captivity, abuse, escape, and survival. The experience of the school, so alien, so full of shame and pain, will haunt them. Their journey will be a hard, lonely, dangerous walk--an ordeal, a cleansing, a reconnection to who and what they really are--as they search for food, shelter, along the trails that will lead them back to the autumn campground.

Katherine Pym, the author preceding me, has told of her admirable ability to organize research and shared many excellent methods to keep the myriad details she’s uncovered close to hand.  By contrast, I’m utterly disorganized. There’s a pile of notes – written—yes!—on paper. There are scrawls in notebooks and on random pieces of paper beside my keyboard. Post-it stuffed books line the wall behind me, where they either trip me up or fall over whenever I push my chair back and stiffly totter off to the kitchen in search of another cup of tea.

Like a horse taking a “beauty-bath” in the dust, I roll about in the information I’ve collected until it sticks. Maybe a cow would make a better metaphor for my writing style.  I eat, ruminate, and then hope that when my fingers hit those keys, something honest—instead of s**t—appears on the page.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Plotting: Historical Fiction with Real or Fictional Characters

Release Date: July 1, 2017

To write a story of a real historical person is quite different than writing a novel of a fictional character. These two types of historical fiction travel in parallel plottings (for lack of a better word). Their twains rarely meet.

I’ve done both. Each type has its own challenges. With the real person, you know how the story will end. With fictional characters, you must face a stiff challenge to find a good plot with a satisfying ending. 

Oh, you can insert a real person in a fictional protagonist’s world, but that’s not the same. You are only showing a vignette of the real to give your protagonist more dimension. 

The storyline of a real person follows a person’s life. The plot must center around what that person did with his/her life, their mistakes that affected their well-being and that of their family members. Because we are following a real person, his/her actions create the plot.

The storyline of fictional characters are affected by historical events and how they manage through these events. The author must create a plot that will keep the reader interested. To do both of these, the research must be correct. 

When I begin a new project, I dive into a plethora of data. Since my expertise is one tiny decade in the 17th century, and Pillars of Avalon takes place between London England & Ferryland Newfoundland/Labrador during the period of 1628 and 1675, my latest WIP (of real people) required a great deal of research. 

Then, I know a lot of shopkeepers in the 1660’s London but knew nothing of the sack trade (trading fish for goods). I had studied ships of sail and how they were built and sailed upon the sea, but little of fishing boats plying upon the grand banks off Newfoundland. The mansion Calvert had built in Ferryland, NL is now an archeological dig. There are some letters that describe the old mansion but little else. 

As a result I had to research almost every sentence, slog through published books from the mid-17th century to today. I ran into duplication, brazen verbatim copies of original books, data that did not coincide with the rest, as if that author did not like history and tried to change it. My co-author, Jude Pittman, helped me through this immense amount of data. 

Keeping data organized:

  • As I run across good data for the storyline, I make notes on the manuscript per year, adding where to find the data. When I use the data, I strike through the sentence or paragraph. Later I remove this note and put into an archive document, just in case I must refer to it again. 
  • For hard books, I insert post-its on the pages that are important, with a small comment or two. 
  • I rarely use wikipedia but hard sources. 
  • When I run into a pdf file book, I read through it and on a word document, make notes attributing the event per the pdf page number. (PDF book pages are always different from the PDF page numbers.)
  • I use links from museums and newspapers.
  • And I write notes on paper that will fit in a 3-ring binder. These notes keep me right on names, the color of eyes and hair, where my people lived in London. This data also helps from duplicating names and characterizations from past or future stories. These pages are referred to until the paper starts crinkling.  

And that’s how I plot.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Plotting with history’s constraints, by Diane Scott Lewis



Writing historical fiction is not for the disorganized. I intended to specialize in one century and prefer the eighteenth century. I read numerous books on that period in preparation. However, my first novel was so complicated, and covered such a long period, I had to create a chronology of the years people were born, died, had children, and so forth, so I’d know how old people were and what event in history might be in the background.

I relied on libraries and reference books I'd collected. I studied so much on this time-period, I can pick out inaccuracies in other authors’ works, but I’m sure I’ve made several myself.

Now, with the internet there are so many sites, blogs, and documents that cover the Georgian era, it's much simpler.

I had a superb on-line diary to consult, written by a man in the eighteenth century, which told of government activities, agriculture, when the price of sugar soared, and so on. Then the web hosting service, GeoCities, was discontinued, and I lost that valuable resource. If it’s in their Archives, I can’t find it.

I have post-it notes all over my computer and desk to remind me of things to add to my various novels. I send myself emails from my phone when an idea strikes me and I’m not home.

When I started my story on New Brunswick, I began with my usual method—a pantser not a planner. No outlines for me! I write by the seat of my pants, then I go back and see what my characters require, because now I know who they really are. For this novel, I read the history of the colony and decided where to place who and which events would shape the characters in 1784 and a couple of years beyond.

Often you write something, then discover it couldn’t have happened at that time. I’ll mention a city, then find it wasn’t developed until twenty years later. New Brunswick has long, harsh winters, and I needed to work around that. I’m originally from California, where things rarely freeze, so it was a learning experience for me, and my bride, Amelia, who comes over from Plymouth, England. And poor Amelia has no central heating, electric blankets, or other modern conveniences. She doesn’t know how to gut animals for eating, and there are no supermarkets with fresh food. Still, I like that my characters can’t grab a cell phone to call for help; they must learn to use their wits, develop courage, or perish.

Just recently I realized I couldn't use the fort I'd chosen for an assailant to have been stationed. It hadn't been built until twenty-two years after the "assault". I dove in for quick rewrites.

As my writing continued, more ideas came for the story arc: what huge event would rock her world, historical or otherwise?  Which man will catch her fancy and change her life?

I have websites bookmarked, a map on my desk, books stacked up, and Nancy Bell to help with all the research required to sound authentic.

 New Brunswick’s history is fascinating and I hope I gave the colony a proper showcase as well as keeping readers entertained.
For more info, please visit my BWL Author Page
or my website: www.dianescottlewis.org

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tracking details in the Historical Novel, by Kathy Fischer-Brown

cover photo by Janice Lang
This topic has been on my mind ever since I saw it some months ago on the schedule for April’s blog. It got me thinking: Am I plotter or a pantzer? For all the many years I’ve been writing for publication, I have come to see myself as a pantzer, someone who basically sees the story unfold like a mind-movie but who relies on inspiration and on the characters to tell their story. Outlines, story boards, and the like just never caught on.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about how different authors construct their novels, and I’ve tried some of their methods. I’ve used index cards and index cards in multiple colors. I even downloaded a few computer programs that claim to be “everything you need in one application to plan, plot, write, edit, keep track of characters (complete with bios and photos), convert into any number of formats, write your synopsis, and on and on. (I don’t recall if they went so far as submitting for you, but I imagine that’s not a far-fetched concept.) But for some reason, I always want to approach my stories from inside the characters.

All well and good. Every author who’s ever written a book has his or her own method of constructing their stories. In many ways, all share as many similarities as they do variances. It all boils down to getting from point A to where you want to be by the time you type “The End.”

But what about writing historical novels, which present a unique and often frustrating set of conditions? You have characters who have made themselves known—often by keeping you awake night after night while they babble on and on about their lives, loves, and aspirations; distracted by their prattle while you drive to the supermarket; offering brilliant scenes and dialogue while your dog endlessly sniffs around posts and mailboxes for messages before taking that last whiz of the night; or those genius bits of dialogue while you’re in the shower. And, even if you retain half of that of that inspired magnificence, none of it ever translates onto the page.

So, there you have your characters…dressed and accoutered in authentic garb with tidbits of their surroundings and everyday details to flesh out their lives…while actual history is happening around them. You want them to cross paths with the army sweeping down from the north, or be in a particular locale where history happened, or interact at a dinner with some luminary from the past.

How do you do it?

When writing my very first ever historical novel, I stumbled
upon a method that has worked for me ever since. I use a calendar. Back then in the days before online research sites, I managed to create a calendar of the summer of 1777 using a macro feature in an early DOS version of WordPerfect. Today, there are plenty of sites (here’s one that I like: http://www.calendarhome.com) that give you the option of generating calendars from any year, from “the year one.” In the eons since, I have found lunar and solar calendars (here’s one of my favorites: http://www.rodurago.net/en/index.php?site=details&link=calendar) that contribute to creating scenes where the moon was full (and what time it rose and set). Through diaries from the period, I found when the weather was fine or rainy or anything in between, and I dropped that information into the calendar for a particular date, along with the historical events. So, if I wanted a character to make a trek to visit an actual historical personage on a particular evening during a full moon, I had that information right there on the calendar.

Of course, sometimes, you need to “fudge” the actual facts to coincide with the events of the book, as well as for dramatic effect. For example, in The Partisan’s Wife, I had envisioned a scene with Anne (the heroine) and her husband Peter riding in a carriage north along Bowery Lane in New York as a full moon rose over the East River. The scene was amazing to write, since, due to the number of modern high rise apartments and other buildings on the East Side of New York, I doubt many on the ground on the Bowery today have seen a sun or moon rise over the East River in over a hundred years. And anyway, the moon rise on that particular date was at around 4:00 in the afternoon, when the daylight was still in full swing.


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the DevilThe 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 Love Author 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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Writing a Story with a Historical Setting by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey

 Writing Historical Novels

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday Books We Love Ltd is publishing twelve historical novels, one for each of the ten provinces, one for the Yukon Territory, and one combining the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We Canadian authors were asked to pick one of the provinces or territories to write about or to do the research on for a non-Canadian author. I chose the Yukon because I have been there twice and love the beauty and history of the territory. The following is a quick summary of how I write my historical novels.

When I was in school I was told that Canada was too young a country to have a history and what it di have was boring, so I learned the history of the United States, England, France, ancient Greece and many other countries. Since then I have read many historical, non-fiction books written about Canada and have found that my country does have a long and exciting history. I decided to write a series of historical novels about Canada. My first two novels in the series are: West to the Bay and West to Grande Portage.

     Some writers have a historical period that they like to set their stories in. I don’t. I never really know what year or time period I am going to write about when I start to research a historical novel. So the first thing I do is begin reading non-fiction books looking for some historical event or person who grabs my attention. If it is an event, then I try to learn all I can about that occurrence: when it happened, what happened, who were the famous people involved, who were the ordinary people involved. Once I know that then I have to figure out who is going to be my main character and how that person is going to take part in that event.

     If it is a legendary person I want to include in my story, I have to decide how much action that person will have and how that person will know or be related to the main character. I don’t write a novel with a well-known person as my main character.

     When I have decided on the event or person, I read about the time period so that I make sure I have the food they ate, the clothes they wore, their transportation, and their home and furnishings correct. It also important to make sure that their speech is right for that time. Words that were first used in the 1850’s cannot be spoken by people in the 1750’s.

     I don’t outline my novel but during my research I write down all the details that I can find about the time period to make sure I have the incidents that happen in order. Then I decide on my characters and weave them through the history. If I include a well-known person, I have to find out about their lives and their families and how I can weave them into a story that does not suggest anything that will ruin their memory.

     As the story progresses it is important to keep track of the details that I am including or a secondary story line that I am setting up. If I have a character thinking about something or starting something or saying something at the beginning of the book that leaves the reader hanging, I write it down on a piece of paper to make sure that I clear it up before the story ends.

     I enjoy researching the history and sometimes spend more time on that then is necessary. But I don’t mind. I want to be sure my account is as correct as I can make it.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pantser or Plotter? by Anita Davison

1908 Ford Model T
As an historical author, I am definitely a plotter and use writing software to help me keep track of character's chronology, physical appearance and birthdays etc.  This is even more important regarding historical research as it's easy to get things wrong and mention something which had not yet been invented in my particular time frame, from household items to idioms. This is particularly relevant in my Canadian Historical Brides story as the beginning of the 20th century was a period of great change in both Canada and England.

As an example, I discovered that in 1905, when my story is set, the motor car had arrived in England as an exciting new innovation. Recognising they were here to stay, the government made specific rules about speeds and legislated for vehicle registration. In fact in 1904, Earl Russel camped all night outside the council offices in London so his motor car could bear the first registration number of A1. So having my affluent middle-class characters racing round the city in a motor car and being able to park it anywhere they liked, is an exciting element of the story.

Not so in Prince Edward Island, where the motor car wasn't quite so popular.  In 1866, Father G.A. Belcourt shocked everyone by driving a steam powered horseless carriage through their St. Jean Baptiste Day picnic. It must have taken a while for islanders to recover as the next motor car to arrive was in 1900, when a group of Charlottetown businessmen bought a charabang type vehicle, again steam powered, which carried ten people and offered rides at 10 cents. 

In 1901 it was joined by a personal, gasoline powered motor car and by 1908, there were a grand total of seven motor cars on the island. These early vehicles were vile smelling and much noisier than modern ones, thus their existence provoked angry letters sent to newspapers complaining that these vehicles were unsuitable for the narrow country roads and more importantly, their backfires upset the horses and many bolted, causing near-accidents. 

This is possibly apocryphal, but some people declared they were afraid to travel to town on market days for fear of being injured when motor cars spooked their horses. Church attendance dropped and families stopped visiting each other - all this blamed on seven cars!

Public opinion counted on the island, and with Canada as a whole was experiencing economic depression, most people saw these noisy metal machines as extravagant toys for the rich. Thus between March 1908 [the same year Anne of Green Gables was published]  and 1913, motor cars were actually banned on the island and few of the population apparently missed them. Even then, different townships had different rules so the motor car still wasn't welcome everywhere. One story tells of a man who had to put his motor on a flatbed in Summerside and take it to Charlottetown where he could drive it round the streets. This didn't change until 1918.

In order to make my story authentic, my heroine won't be dodging motor cars on the Charlottetown streets!  

Island Magazine
[This source is particularly fascinating as it includes local stories]

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Plotting by Ron Crouch

Generally, when I start writing a story, it’s already inside my head. Not in its entirety, but I have a pretty good idea of the main theme. Because of that I don’t (as yet) suffer from writer's’ block. I am not daunted by a blank page. Because computers are such fickle things (my wife tells me it’s not the computer) I’ve taken to writing out my chapters by hand before heading to a word document.

I have to remind myself who the characters are and write down their names and how they are interconnected to the other characters. I make note of such details as their eye colour, whether or not they are left or right handed. How they take their coffee and so forth. As the story progresses this becomes more and more important. Readers will spot a discrepancy as though the details were written in red ink. Sometimes I’ll keep an exercise book for each novel, or lately, I re-use the plain side of a previously printed document. Each writer will obviously have their own methods, likely most would find my haphazard methods confusing.

I’m always thinking of new ways to do things, what worked for me on one novel, I’ll likely change on the next. When I go to bed I think about how the next chapter is going to come together, how all the characters within that chapter will relate to one another. How that chapter will lead into the next and onward towards the end of the story. When I’ve finished the story I go back and check the details against my original notes.

Writing a story is the easy part. For the Brides series I have a pile of researched material, some of which may never be used, however, the knowledge gained from the journey was worth the effort.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Reviews for His Brother's Bride

By Patsy on Kobo: 5 Stars
"War is terrible, no matter when or where it takes place. This book takes us through the last phase of the 1914-18 world war. Annie works hard on her parent’s farm near the Bonnechere River in Ontario, doing her fair share, and more, of the daily chores alongside her siblings. Her father is a puritanical man who is strict almost to the point of being cruel at times and Annie’s mother can’t accept that she is a simple farmer’s wife A friendship develops between young Annie and George, a Barnado’s orphan. Along with his only brother, Peter, he was sent to work on a neighborhood farm. To Annie’s parent’s displeasure a friendship develops between the young Annie and George and before he goes off to the battlefront, that friendship develops into love. Inevitably Annie promises to wait for him. But as happens in wartime, dreams are shattered. George exerts a promise from Annie that should he not return she take care of his brother Peter. A promise Annie must keep"

By Amazon Customer on Amazon" 5 Stars
"Today I sat down and read His Brother's Bride, set in Ontario, the second offering in the Canadian Historical Brides series. The life young Annie Baldwin leads is fraught with the social niceties insisted upon by her mother and absolute obedience to her Bible-thumping father. But life is about to change for everyone with the outbreak of World War I. Young men are enlisting and, with both her brothers having signed up, more farm work is in Annie's future. But so is George Richardson, a Dr. Bernardo's orphan boy. Annie has practically grown up with George and his brother, Peter, both homed with different sets of neighbors. War damages them all in one way or another, but love grows regardless. The routines of farm life, the changing of the seasons, and relationships, are thoughtfully presented by Nancy M. Bell's deft hand. A most enjoyable read which I highly recommend."

By Curious Reader on Amazon: 5 Stars
"His Brother's Bride takes place in rural Ontario, Canada, during World War I. The novel vividly depicts life on the home front and the horrors of that war, including shell shock. I'm also sure the author has experience with farm life because her details easily recalled my past visits to farming relatives. A character using the phrase 'land' reminded me of my grandmother. But even without the war, the past wasn't happily nostalgic. Annie, the novel's rebellious heroine, befriends two orphaned brothers brought over from England to work as indentured servants. The class division was real. So were the narrow social views that Annie struggles against. Her prim relatives forbid her growing romance with one of the brothers. But which brother? That question raises the suspense as the story goes along and makes it a romance story that isn't quite conventional.  This is the second book I've read in this Canadian Historical Brides Series. It makes me eager to read the rest."

By UnicornGirl on Amazon 5 Stars
"I was completely riveted to this book, reading it late at night, in the middle of the night, and any chance I got. Nancy Bell does a splendid job of staying true to the era in this well-researched historical romance, yet keeps the momentum going right to the end. Particularly memorable was her depiction of the shell shock that tormented the soldiers who returned home, as well as the injuries they acquired. I've read a few of Ms. Bell's novels, but this is by far the best. Thank you, Nancy Bell."

By SIL on Amazon: 5 Stars
"Staged in the Canadian countryside during WW1, Annie grew up as a farm girl, the daughter of a minister/doctor. She becomes attracted to a farm worker whom her mother figures is below the family's status. The story is tightly written and filled with tension and drama. The scene and chapter transitions flow smoothly and will keep you turning the pages. The author also does a wonderful job with descriptions. I could easily envision the vivid details, thanks to the author's well-crafted use of show don't tell. An entertaining story! I recommend it to readers that love history intertwined with romance."