Saturday, August 25, 2018

Why I Write Historical Romance by A.M.Westerling

It’s pretty simple, actually – I love history and I love romance. The love of romance is a slam dunk – who doesn’t love a Happily Ever After?! But what is it about history that’s so appealing to me?

I suppose my appreciation of history started with the fact I grew up on the Alberta prairies where most of the cities and towns are new by historical standards and were built within the last 150 years. Certainly there are native artifacts ie teepee rings, buffalo jumps and petroglyphs and pictographs that date from thousands of years ago but other than that, there simply isn’t anything old here.

Then the summer I turned 15, my family and I visited Europe. My grandmother’s 80th birthday plus visiting other relatives in the Netherlands were the main reasons for the trip but my parents made sure we did a fair bit of touring. What an eye opening experience it turned out to be! I loved visiting the museums and old churches and it amazed me as I stood in these buildings that hundreds of years ago, people stood in the very same spot. What did they do? What did they think? How did they live their daily lives? I really felt a connection to the past.

We saw some glorious sights that trip like the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Sacre Couer in Paris, and the palace in Versailles. One of the places we visited that really stands out for me, though, was the Castle of Vianden in Luxembourg.

There’s an opening in the middle of the solar floor that looks down into the main hall. I remember standing there while visions of beautiful maidens and gallant knights on horse back swirled through my mind. How romantic!

But let’s face it, there’s a lot to be said for modern plumbing, central heating and modern health practices. (Me visit a dentist one hundred years ago? No thanks!) However, you can visit times past through the pages of a book or a website and imagine how it used to be. 
I still love visiting historical sites. My long suffering sweetie has come along with me while I’ve checked out fur trading forts like Fort St. James in northern B.C, Fort Whoop Up in southern Alberta, and the hills of Custer’s Last Stand in Montana. We’ve visited Brigham Young's summer house in St. George, Utah, driven to old pueblos in New Mexico and visited Indian ruins in Arizona. 

Custer's Last Stand, the hill where he died.
Brigham Young's summer home

We've visited places in Europe too numerous to name, although I will share a couple. We spent a lovely day wandering through the Viking village of Ribe plus spent two nights in Falsled Kro in Denmark, a 16th century inn (!) all in the name of research. Haha, now that was a tough job, let me tell you. *wink*

Falsled Kro

Researching my novels for me is a fun past time and I love how it gives me story ideas. For example, in A Heart Enslaved, the hero Thorvald plans to sell his slave Gisela and use the money to clear his name of a crime he didn’t commit. Through my research I discovered that in Viking society, criminals could pay restitution to their victims and therefore be cleared of any wrong doing. For The Countess’ Lucky Charm, I learned a bit about the North West Company and the early fur trade in Canada. In Her Proper Scoundrel, I discovered Bristol and its place in the slave trade. 

Find A Heart Enslaved HERE, Her Proper Scoundrel HERE and The Countess' Lucky Charm HERE  , all at your favorite online store.

Barkerville Beginnings was more personal for me as I’ve visited Barkerville a couple of times and I could really picture it in my head. As a living museum, the gold rush town really came to life and as I researched, I could place people and shops, hotels, etc. within the actual setting. 

Here I am on Barkerville's Main Street

Find Barkerville Beginnings at your favourite online store HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Total Immersion

Why write historical fiction? This is a deep question. The 1980’s, when I first started writing, was a low point for the genre. I remember querying ever so many agents and getting replies which said “only a small market for historical fiction.” That was discouraging enough, but not so much that I stopped working on those novels, driven by the writing demons as I was.   

Like everyone else who will reply to this question, I started young reading historical fiction, following the books my mother took out of the library. She was a voracious reader of both history and science fiction, and I became one as well. I began early, and remember writing a short story about the Princes in the Tower back in 8th grade that got an “A.” (My story successfully creeped-out  the class, too, which was even better.)

I could say that my love of history happened because I’ve often lived in old houses—several with disturbances of the kind that are often labelled “ghost.” I could talk about the love of my important elders for history, their familiarity with the past, and the way the past was always present in discussions about politics, or about how trips were taken to view gravestones, battlefields, Indian mounds, and museums. 

I could dwell on the lit professor grandpa that I adored. His study fairly breathed of old books, tweed, leather, pipe smoke and things past. A large oil painting of the Canterbury Pilgrims overlooked his desk, a beautiful obsidian spear point that had emerged during the spring plowing at the family farm in upstate NY sat beside his typewriter. All of these objects had stories, and he shared them with his children and grandchildren. At home, that wonderful quote of William Faulkner’s “The Past is never gone. It’s not even past,” was a statement of fact. 

The truth is more that I’ve never felt truly comfortable with the noisy, gasoline era into which I was born. Cars were something to get around in, but not by me beloved. Every time a tree falls in the creation of a road or a new development, I feel a terrible sense of loss.

I’ve often spoken of what I write as a kind of time travel, because for me that’s what it is—a way to be present in another place and time, to smell and taste that world, to deal with the hardships and the inevitable dirt and sweat, the blood and the loss, that is the genuine past.  The “romance” died quite early for me because I read and read and read, ever deeper into my chosen subjects. 

Living inside another time and place, or inside another culture, is truly an immersive experience; I love the scuba sense of diving in and swimming around inside these deep waters of history. Originally, I wrote from my own European-American perspective, and my books were set in 18th Century Europe or England or the colonial US.  The time shift alone caused me to change my perspective. I sometimes get nasty reviews because the 18th Century characters about whom I write do not behave up to the highest standards of the 21st Century. I always want to reply to these folks that I don't write these stories to make them comfortable. I write to show them as much as I can of what I've learned about what was--the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Maybe I'd be richer if I sugar-coated, but taking the trip into the past and taking my readers along with me is always far more important than whatever is currently P.C. If you want to read about the 18th Century people, expect to meet  men who have "patriarchy" firmly entrenched in their heads and women who have no other recourse than to accept or attempt to circumvent whatever their menfolk, their churches and their society dish
out. Englishwomen, as every reader of Jane Austen ought to know, could not inherit property until quite recently.

By Tom Walker~Available at

In Genesee, and, later, to a far greater extent, in Fly Away Snow Goose, I had another task. here I found I had to shed the Euro-based colonizer culture into which I was born so that I could inhabit (as far as I am able) a life-way with a totally different outlook. The Tlicho tribe in Fly Away Snow Goose were historically a nomadic, communal people, living in small groups that got even smaller in winter--who shared food with one another. They disapproved the kind of willful ignorance of their environment, the braggadocio and "me-first-ism" that is  rampant in the capital-driven European cultures which almost overwhelmed them. 

Instead of "conquerors of nature," the Tlicho strove to always to be in "right relationship" with the earth and her creatures, to eat and/or to make use of every piece of any animal they killed. They saw the spirits in the sky and in the earth and water all across the enormous terrain they traversed every year, following the caribou. Everyone had to pull together, or the group might not survive the long frigid winters where starvation was a very real threat. This experience, this total immersion has changed my outlook on the world in a fundamental way.  

Now, it's as if I've put on an entirely new pair of spectacles.

~~Juliet Waldron

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Finding the Facts by Katherine Pym


Sir David Kirke

Research is a powerful thing. It opens the eyes and expands the mind... that is, if you find sources that don't conflict with each other. For instance, when writing Pillars of Avalon, we found David Kirke was to be knighted by King Charles I in Scotland. David was an Englishman, not a Scotsman. He resided in London with his wife and family. If he were to be knighted in another country, would he be a knight of Scotland or England? This brought about a lot of digging through the annals of history. Deep faraway history.

King Charles I
King Charles I was in need of money. His kingdom in chaos, Parliament gave him fits when he wanted more taxes, so he dismissed Parliament. Since he was the sovereign and believed in the divine right of kings, he proclaimed to rule alone.

He still needed money, so he started knighting men. Once dubbed, the new knight would register their names (even as the register was notoriously in error), and pay their fees. Many refused to do so. As a result posterity lost sight they had been knighted, even as they signed their documents and letters as John Doe, Knight.

When in Scotland, new knights were mandated to register their names with the Lyon King in Edinburgh. Those knighted in England were to register with Herald's College in London. The fee was extensive, upwards to £108, and pretty hefty for that time.

Since the king was in Scotland, and he did not like David very much, he decided to knight him in a country that did not like the English, and the fact, if he registered his knighthood with the Lyon King, he would be considered a Scottish knight.

Digging into who was knighted and where, I found David's name as one who had been honored in Scotland. Then I found a list of who had been knighted alongside him, but the list did not include David's name.

The Kirke's family crest
This is when a historical story becomes fiction. I could not go to Scotland or England to search the archives, data that may have burned in London during the great fire of 1666. I had to work with what I found, sometimes going back several centuries, sometimes in conflict with other data. I could not verify this but if a reliable source mentioned David as being knighted in Scotland, I went with it. I had him defy the standing process and have his certificate registered in London so that he would be considered an English knight. Even if it did not appear in the register.

So, we have Sir David Kirke and Lady Sara Kirke. His knight bachelor did not extend to his sons, even as Lady Sara requested King Charles II to extend it, but from my records, there is no record of him acknowledging or honoring her request.

Many thanks to :

Shaw, William Arthur & Burthchaell, George Dames, The Knights of England, Volume 1, a complete record from the earliest time to the present day of the knights of all the orders of chivalry in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of knights bachelors. Printed and Published for the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, Lord Chamberlain’s Office, St. James’s Palace, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906

And Wikicommons, Public Domain 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Why I love Writing Historical Fiction

I spoke to my sister-in-law the other day and she couldn't understand how I could write novels that required so much research. I said "I love the research." Digging out those little gems of history and daily life, how people dressed, what they ate. Did women really not wear underpants in the eighteenth century (my preferred time period)? They didn't! Apparently this made it easier for the women to use the necessary (toilet) with all those stiff layers of clothing.
A fact that shocked me: the English washed their clothing in urine. They used urine for its acidic properties. I learned that on a visit to Shakespeare's parents' farm in Stratford-upon-Avon.

When I wrote my first novel, now titled Escape the Revolution, I wrote the story before my research and had to change so much, but found I enjoyed ferreting out the details. In my tavern I had a bar. I discovered there weren't yet drinking bars in 1790, so I had to change it. Pot-boys scooped out ale or beer from barrels in the kitchen and poured the drink into tankards to be served directly to the table. I triple checked these facts.
I still find many famous authors who put bars in their stories long before they appeared in history (the Victorian age).
I love the challenge of getting my details right. Of putting my heroines in a situation where they can't whip out a Smartphone to call for help. They must use their wits. Nothing is simple without modern conveniences.

In the days before the Internet (Yes, young people, there were those days) I utilized the library system for my research. I lived near Washington DC and traveled there to the Library of Congress Reading Room, an excellent resource. I was fortunate to be able to use their comprehensive library.

How fast does a horse travel in one day? (about fifty miles). Marriage rules and restrictions, the calling of the banns. All these things you must take into consideration when writing historical fiction. There were odd customs/fashions for women, such as mouse-fur eyebrows, and when they lost their teeth, a cork ball was stuffed in the cheek to fill out the face. Early in the 18th c. men wore rouge on their lips and cheeks, huge wigs--as did women--and high heeled shoes.

In one novel, Rose's Precarious Quest, I had a character who was a doctor in 1796. I had to request rare books by a Dr. Hunter to gain knowledge from that era. I also came across a fantastic website put out by Colonial Williamsburg on eighteenth century medicine. Domestic Medicine. I learned about the humors of the body (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) and how they must be regulated to keep one well. The strange, often deadly remedies (as in mercury and white lead) used to heal the sick. However, the poisonous Foxglove plant was turned into Digitalis to successfully treat heart disease.

For my Canadian Historical Brides story, On a Stormy Primeval Shore, I had to research the province of New Brunswick. I must applaud my wonderful research assistant, Nancy Bell, who found me reproductions of historical documents on the internet.
 I learned so much about who settled this territory, who the native tribes were, the Acadians, Germans, Scots, English and the Loyalist Americans who fled the American Revolution. The struggles these people went through in a harsh climate.

It's a good thing I love all these details, the thrill of research. However, it makes me a picky reader when I catch the historical mistakes made by other authors.

To purchase this book and my previous novels  Amazon and All Markets

For more information on me and my books, please visit my website:
Diane Scott Lewis grew up in California, traveled the world with the navy, edited for magazines and an on-line publisher. She lives with her husband in Pennsylvania.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Why Historical Fiction? by Victoria Chatham

I freely admit to not having started off as a history buff. I found it the most boring subject when I was at school and never could remember dates, or the succession of kings or who ruled what country in Europe. It didn’t matter to me at all as the subject had no relevance to my life at the time.

It wasn’t until the early 80s when I read Sharon Kay Penman’s novel The Sunne in Splendour that I had a shift in interest. In this book, Richard III and the Wars of the Roses came to life for me in a very profound way. From reading anything that caught my interest from Danielle Steele to Louis L’Amour and anything and everything in between, I started raiding my local library’s history section. I read Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy, Umberto Eco, loved Wilbur Smith and later Ken Follett. I read all the Mazo de la Roche Jalna series pretty well back to back. Those books documented a slice of life and social history as did R.F. Delderfield’s A Horseman Riding By series or H.E. Bates’ Darling Buds of May which was made into a successful TV series.

I returned several times to the books of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, reading them from a totally different aspect. Austen was a must-read at school and, at that age, I had no idea what a treasure trove of minutiae they were. The same applies to Heyer. The first of her
books I ever read was Frederica (which I consider her best) but then I collected and read all her Regency romances without ever considering that they were, in fact, history books. A stylized history, maybe, but history nonetheless. Second readings of many of her titles gave me a whole new appreciation of the Regency era (1811 – 1820) beyond ladies' dresses and gentlemen’s sporting preferences.  

I started digging around in non-fiction history books, checking for myself anything I queried whether it was a style of dress or manner of speech and found I loved the research. At that time in my life I had no more thought of writing a book, historical or otherwise. But, in those odd and forgotten facts I came across snippets of past lives that really fascinated me. How other people lived, loved, and the events that surrounded them came to life in an amazing way. It was those people I wanted to write about and now I do.

Victoria Chatham