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BookCoverPreviewI came across this post yesterday, and with the title “There’s no such thing as historical fiction,” it certainly stopped me. I mean, if there’s no historical fiction, then what have I been writing for years?

Here’s the post by Paul Lynch on Literary Hub so you can read for yourself. If I’m reading it right, it is saying that historical novels aren’t about the history but about exploring universal truths.

“Let’s suppose you are a novelist writing fiction set in an historical era. Ask yourself this question: What reader from 1817 would recognize themselves in a novel written 200 years later? That reader would collapse in a cold swoon and wake up bereft and bewildered,” Lynch wrote.

He says that the accurate creation of history “is an act of prestidigitation.”

“Of course, we read the “historical novel” and marvel at its simulation of the past. But pay attention and you will see the historical novel can speak with cool clarity about what is timeless in the present,” Lynch wrote.

With that, I think Lynch gets to his point, which is that history viewed through the prism of the present is tainted. This is something I see not only with historical fiction but also books that are touted as non-fiction.

I’ll go even further and say, it is the same problem that plagues the modern media. Events are reported through the biases of the writer. This leads to facts being left out, underemphasized, or overemphasized.

I think it is unavoidable. At the best, if you try to create an accurate portrait of the past, there will be things you don’t know and not even realize it. However, if you have done your best as an author to create a believable past and authentic characters, then you can be forgiven such mistakes.

The problems arise when you ignore information because it doesn’t fit within the narrative you want to create.

Sure, it’s fiction, but I learned a lesson in writing fantasy and science fiction that also applies to any fiction. If you want readers to believe, or at least accept, the unbelievable, you need to make as much as you can believable. This builds your credibility with the reader.

If you want to write about history, get as much right as you can.

So, while I disagree with the title of Lynch’s post, he makes some good points. There is historical fiction. Our job as writers is to make sure that it doesn’t become fantasy.

You might also enjoy these posts:

CanawlersFor just today and tomorrow, Canawlers (Canawlers Series, #1) will be a featured book on KindleNationDaily.com and Bookgorilla.com. As such, it will be available on Kindle for just 99 cents. You can start your journey on the bestselling series with a great deal.

This was my first historical novel and it continues to be my favorite. It also continues to be a reader favorite when I am out a festivals.

At a time of war, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was caught in the crossfire between two nations.

Hugh Fitzgerald proudly calls himself a “canawler.” He works on the C&O Canal transporting coal nearly 185 miles between Cumberland, Maryland, and Georgetown. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. The Civil War was in full swing and the canal, which runs along the Potomac River, marked the border between the Union and Confederacy. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Here are some other canal stories that you might like:

Remember, Canawlers is 99 cents just today and tomorrow so don’t miss this great deal!

david-mccullough-1776David McCullough’s 1776 was the first history book that I read as an adult and liked. I felt like I was reading a novel. The book opened my eyes a new writing opportunity. I had written three historical novels at that point, and I realized that non-fiction history could be just as interesting and fascinating as fiction.

The key for both engaging historical fiction and history is that they both should be about people so that readers have someone to identify with. Even if the book’s subject centers around an event, the story needs to be told through people associated with the event. When McCullough wrote about the Panama Canal, he told the story through the eyes of the canal planners and builders.

How much information do you have? This is your first consideration when deciding whether to tell a story as fiction or fact. Is there enough information available through newspaper reports, journals, official records, etc. to give you an understanding of the real people in the story?

Even though you are writing about real people, you can’t assume they will automatically feel real to a reader. People can act irrationally in real life, which you wouldn’t be able to get away with having a fictional character do. Biographical information on the characters will help you build a backstory for them, justify actions and give them a three-dimensional life.

If you can’t find enough information on the key figures to do this, then you will probably want to tell the story as historical fiction so that you can create a life-like character with information you choose.

How important is the history? If the story you want to tell doesn’t rely heavily on a historical person or event, then choosing to tell it as historical fiction can save you a lot of research. Gone With the Wind is a historical novel that is more about Scarlett and Rhett than the Civil War. While they are shaped by the war, the story is not about the war or a historical figure.

Can you work within boundaries? Writing history requires research to uncover the facts and history of your story and staying within those bounds. You have to be able to prove or at least justify what you write.

By justify, I mean that if history has chosen not to record a certain fact for a specific instance that you want, you may be able to infer it from the available information. For instance, I’m writing a book about a small, coal-mining town. The key figure in one scene is walking to the home of a student to check on the health of the student. Now, there is no record of the path he chose to walk or what he was thinking during that walk. But the town only had one road through it, so I know he walked down that road. Also, since he was walking to the visit the student and judging by his later actions, I believe that it is safe to assume that he was thinking about the student and the implications of what her state of health meant for the town.

Things like traditions, food and modes of transportation may all be taken for granted when being written about in records, but other sources of information can give you general examples of those things, which can then be incorporated into the book as long as there is a logical bridge that connects your subject with the extra information. If it’s a weak link, you may need to note it with something like: “It’s not documented, but…”

Your choice of narrative style for your book will affect the type of scrutiny your book will receive, how long it will remain on bookstore shelves and who will read it.

norweg6I’ve been teaching a class about writing historical fiction recently. During the class, I try to stress the importance of researching not only events of the era in which you are writing, but also how people lived during that era. Even if you don’t use all of the information you research, what you discover could influence how your characters act.

In addition, you can discover wonderful nuggets of information that can add to the richness of your story.

I was researching an article today about a woman who fought with the Norwegian Resistance during WWII. It’s an interesting story, but the articles I found only referenced her as Mrs. Jorgen Hartman. It is the newspaper style of the time to reference married women in this was. However, my article is about her so I started trying to find out what her first name was.

I started trying to find her husband’s name and then her father’s. I found a couple interesting things right away before I even found her first name. Her husband’s uncle was Nils Bohr, who helped make the atomic bomb. I’m still trying to verify this since I thought her husband was Norwegian and Bohn was Danish.

Then I discovered that her father was also in military intelligence, although he seems not to have done field work, but he was involved in some major operations.

Then I found Mrs. Hartman’s first name (Norma), but I also discovered that she seems to have left Norway in 1945 by herself and remarried later in the year. That means she was either divorced or a widow.

I’m still trying to find out what happened, but if she was a widow, it begs the question as to what happened to her husband since he also helped her in the Resisitance. Was he caught and executed?

So now I’ve got another thread to try and unravel and my article seems to be growing in scope.

The searching can be a pain, but it is also fun, particularly when you start discovering things like I am finding. So don’t skip on your research, you won’t regret it.

edgarallanpoeI am editing a book right now and thinking about how I would classify it. When I first wrote the book years ago, I considered it light horror, but now I’m not so sure.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the gist of the story is this: Because of how Lazarus of the Bible was resurrected, whenever he is about to die, his body steals the life force from the nearest person. During the early 19th century, Lazarus meets up with another resurrected being who was possessed by a demon at the time of his resurrection. The demon sets out to kill Lazarus and Edgar Allan Poe gets caught in the middle.

The bulk of the story is set during Poe’s lifetime, although there are modern-day scenes and scenes from Biblical times forward.

As I’m editing this, though, I realize just how much historical information is in the book, particularly about Edgar Allan Poe and his life. I did a lot of research and worked to weave my story around actual events in Poe’s life.

So I’m wondering if this could be considered historical fiction. It certainly isn’t what I consider historical fiction. It has a lot of fantastical elements in it. Something similar might be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. My story is not as heavy on the fantastical, though.

What are your thoughts? Would historical fiction readers be turned off by this story because it is too fantastic? Would horror readers be turned off because it has too much history? I’m trying to figure out how to market the book, but first, I need to be able to explain it to a potential reader.

Publication1For a limited time, I am offering three of my historical novels for free. If you’ve been reading my blog and enjoying the posts, here’s your chance to grab three free novels. By clicking on this link and signing up, you’ll be able to download Canawlers, The Rain Man, and October Mourning.

Canawlers is my favorite among the historical fiction novels that I’ve written. It follows the Fitzgerald Family as they try to keep their canal boat running along the 185-mile-long C&O Canal during the Civil War.

Midwest Book Review wrote, “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlersdocuments author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.”

I wrote this book after biking the C&O Canal with my wife. Up until that point, I had little interest in history, but I fell in love with the canal and wanted to tell a story set on it.

The Rain Man is set during the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood on the Potomac River. It was a devastating flood. If you ever get a chance to go to historic Harpers Ferry, there’s a building there with all the flood high-water marks on it. The one for 1936 is the highest mark on the building and well above the first floor. A flood like that seemed like a great setting for a novel.

This Rain Man is a mystery thriller set during the day of the flood as a Cumberland City police officer pursues a killer through a city that is quickly being submerged.

In the fall of 1918, Spanish Flu killed around 60 million people worldwide in two months. That was about 2 percent of the world’s population. People were terrified and with good reason. It is the deadliest disease known to man and no one knew how to stop it.

Now imagine that someone was deliberately aiding in the spread of the flu? That’s the idea behind October Mourning.

Reviewer’s Bookwatch said, “This is a very good, and very easy to read, novel about a famous, yet unknown, bit of 20th Century American history.”

There’s no trick involved here. I’m working on building my mailing list, and as a way to say “Thanks for signing up,” I’m offering these e-books for free. Their normal retail price would be $16. Enjoy them, and let me know what you think.

https://aimpublishing.leadpages.co/fb-hf-box-set-test/

Lock ReadyMy latest novel, Lock Ready, is a historical novel set on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the Civil War. It is the third book in the Canawler series.

I never started to write historical fiction. However, in 2000, my wife and I were living in Cumberland, Md., where the canal ended. We decided to bike the canal towpath one summer and sightsee and camp along the way. The C&O Canal is a national park that runs from Cumberland to Georgetown.

We outfitted our bikes for the long trip and set out for what turned out to be a five-day trip. The weather was nice and the trip is a pleasant and scenic one. There are hiker-biker campsites along the way where you can camp overnight. We took advantage of those a few nights and stayed in hotels other nights.

As we traveled, I consulted the towpath guide to check out what might be nearby to see. I soon realized that a lot of history had happened along the canal. The Battle of Antietam, the Harpers Ferry revolt and James Rumsey tested a steamboat along the Potomac. There were also interesting architectural features like the Paw Paw Tunnel, aqueducts and canal houses to look over.

Being a writer, I started trying to figure out what was the best way to tell the story of the canal in a way that would interest readers.

I started playing with some ideas even while my wife and I were still biking the canal towpath.

My breakthrough came about when I decided that the most-interesting time on the canal happened during the Civil War. While the Mason-Dixon Line is credited with being the border between the North and South, the C&O Canal was the border between Union and Confederacy.

Not only did canallers have to deal with the normal issues of living and working on the canal, but armies were traveling along the towpath. Canal boats were being burned and confiscated. Saboteurs were trying to blow up the aqueducts and burn the locks. Loyalties were tested.

With my setting decided, I realized I was going to be writing my first historical novel. I started researching the canal history and canal life. As I learned more about the people who lived and working on the canal, I started to get an idea of who I wanted the characters of my books to be.

They took shape and I gave them their individual stories and personalities that seem to have resonated with readers over the past decade.

The Rain Man CoverTo celebrate the release of the Kindle edition of The Rain Man, I am giving away 10 autographed copies of the paperback edition. It’s free to enter. Just visit this link and click to enter.

Here’s the story:

Raymond Twigg hates the rain because it gives the Rain Man power. It is a power to bring Raymond to his knees or drive him to deadly action.

As the March 1936 rains bring the St. Patrick’s Day Flood, the worst flood ever seen in Cumberland, Maryland, it also unleashes the power of the Rain Man on the citizens of the city.

While most of the police force is diverted trying to deal with the flooding in the city and the problems it is causing, Sergeant Jake Fairgrieve is called out to investigate a murder. Murders are unusual in Cumberland, but this one is more unusual than most. The dead man’s head has been crushed on the left side with no apparent weapon and the body is laid out on the street as if it was in a casket.

Jake throws himself into tracking this murder with no motive. The search keeps him from having to deal with his own fears about the approaching flood until he comes face to face with the Rain Man.

With the Jake trailing him, the Rain Man turns from hunted to hunter. He kidnaps Jake’s girlfriend, Dr. Chris Evans. In order to save Chris, Jake will have to face his own fears and the Rain Man in the flooded streets of Cumberland where the Rain Man is at his most powerful.

Good luck! I hope you win!

I recently read the Kindle edition of “The Hangman’s Daughter” by Oliver Potzsch. I didn’t know anything about it when I started other than the summary sounded interesting. The story is set in 1600’s Germany. It about a hangman, well really, an executioner since he does more than hang people. Jakob Kuisl does his job well, but when he is called upon to torture a midwife into confessing to murder and witchcraft, he balks. The midwife, Martha Strechlin, is his friend, and he doesn’t believe her guilty.

So Jakob does everything he can to slow down the foregone conclusion that Martha is witch and will be executed. He sets out on his own to investigate the murder, but not before other children in the town are murdered and found with a witch’s mark on them just as the first murder victim had had. Along the way, the son of the town doctor and Jakob’s own daughter become involved in helping him search out the real killer before Jakob will be forced to execute Martha.

I found the details of 17th Century life in Germany and the life of a hangman fascinating. Potzsch does a great job of weaving them into the mystery. I wonder if a hangman could have been so pleasant and heroic as Jakob, though, since a hangman was a pariah in his town.

The book was the first of three so far in the series. I have the second one, which I am looking forward to reading when I get a chance. However, if you get a chance, check out “The Hangman’s Daughter.”

Get 3 FREE E-books!

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