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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.

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This week only you can get two award-winning true stories about love gone wrong from James Rada, Jr. The Kindle version of A Love Returned is free this week!

CoverTrue love can take tragic turns

Here are two award-winning true stories from James Rada, Jr. This short work shows that history can be just as interesting, and sometimes, stranger than fiction.

A Love Returned (Associated Press 2003 Best Feature Story)

Steve Shaw finds a 30-year-old girl’s class ring at a Boy Scout Camp in 2003. He sets out to discover the owner and return the ring. He hunts down clues and slowly uncovers a decades-old love story that takes some surprising turns before its surprising conclusion. Steve also finds out that some loves never die.

The Death of Young Lovers (Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association 2015 Best Local Column)

Charles Twigg and Mary Grace Elosser were to be married on January 1, 1911. However, while sitting alone in a closed room on New Year’s Eve with Grace’s mother just in the next room, the couple was somehow killed. Just how they were killed and by whom remained a mystery for weeks as investigators sought information and witnesses. The case generated national headlines until the answers finally came from a cat and a rabbit.

Both of these stories were among the most popular articles I have written. I got dozens of calls about both of them.

“The Death of Young Lovers”, in particular, had a lot of excited readers. It ran in two parts, but apparently a lot of people missed the note at the end of the first part telling readers that the second part would tell what actually happened to the dead lovers. I got calls and e-mails from people asking me to tell them what had happened, or chastising me for leaving them hanging.

I hope you enjoy the stories as much as I did. They both hold a special place in my heart. If you do download a copy, please leave a review on Amazon. It will help me with my future marketing efforts.

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charlatan-9781400136070-lgI wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I bought Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, but the topic caught my attention. I have to say that I loved it. It was a narrative type of non-fiction that I like to read and Pope Brock can tell an intriguing story.

Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.

In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.

Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.

I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.

Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.

So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.

dr-_john_r-_brinkley

“Dr.” John Brinkley looking like a medical professional.

I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?

Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.

One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.

When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.

Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.

When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.

I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.

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image_681x432_from_275,3664_to_2509,5082I bought The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars awhile back. It finally worked its way to the top of my “to read” pile. I wish I had read it sooner because I really liked it.

The main story involves the identification of a dismembered corpse. Once the body is identified as William Guldensuppe, which leads to two suspects, Augusta Knack, Guldensuppe’s lover, and Martin Thorn, Knack’s lover. However, it is much harder for the police to figure out which of the two suspects committed the murder and whether the other was a willing participant or a dupe.

While the pursuit of the murderer makes an interesting story in itself, the secondary story of how the newspapers played up the story to the point of actually becoming part of the story is just as interesting. Reporters planted evidence, interrogated witnesses, and enlisted their readers in the search for missing body parts.

This was the age of “yellow journalism” with the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer competing against each other to be number one.

The story flowed like a bestselling mystery and kept me interested throughout. I kept bouncing back and forth over which of the two suspects committed the murder.

Collins also does a great job of setting the scene. He puts you in the period with colorful descriptions of life in the city.

I found after reading the book that I was searching the Internet looking for the newspapers and books mentioned in the book.

Last To Fall CoverI generally love the layout and design phase of a new book. Psychologically, I know that the book is nearing its release date so I’m getting excited about seeing the finished product. Mentally, I get some down time from writing a book to transferring that design to a layout and helping plan a cover. I’m still working on a book, but I’m not writing so that area of my creative psyche is getting a break while I still get to be creative and productive.

That said, the layout and design of my new book has been a rough one. I really like the cover image. That all came together pretty easily. However, I ran into a couple snag expanding that cover to front-spine-back version. Getting the spine in the right place has been tricky. It didn’t take long to fix, but usually I have never needed to fix it before.

The bigger snag has been laying out the interior. I have always had little to no problem getting a typical book set for publication. That’s because there’s little creativity involved compared to a tabletop book size. My book, No North, No South…, was my first oversized book. It worked out all right because the design was relatively simple for a tabletop book.

My upcoming book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Death of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, has been much more challenging. There’s a lot of variety in the book and very few pages that don’t have some sort of graphic element on it. There’s different sidebars and call-out quotes that are presented in different ways. There’s tricky pictures that look fine until you prepare them for publication and suddenly they look pixelated, or worse yet, you don’t see the pixilation until you see the proof.

However, the biggest headache has been the bleed photos. They will look great, particularly the two-page spreads that are 11 x 17 inches in size, but the program that will be printing the book doesn’t like them. It can print them, but I have had to make all kinds of adjustments to get it to work. I’m waiting to see how it looks in print to see if too much of the photo is lost to the page gutter and it destroys a beautifully centered image.

So, I’m waiting nervously to see the proof. Some changes will need to be made. I knew that because I needed to see the book printed before I could decide on those changes. When it’s done, though, and in bookstores, I expect it to attract lots of attention.

Another newspaper – The Oakland Republican in Oakland, Maryland –  picked up my “Looking Back” column on a monthly basis last week. I’m pretty happy about that because I love researching the stories and writing about them.

For example, I found a story about a man who was called the “Champion Miner of the World” in the 1920’s because of how fast he was at mining coal. I wrote about his story for The Republican, but in researching it, I found out that this man’s son, was a frontline reporter in WWII who won a Pulitzer Prize. He also got his reporting start at another newspaper that carries my column so I had two columns from one idea.

Right now, four newspapers – The Catoctin Banner, The Gettysburg Times, The Cumberland Times-News, and The Oakland Republican – carry my column, though at one time it was four. Even though multiple papers carry the column, I write different columns for each paper. It’s sort of a hybrid between a local column and syndicated column.

It certainly would be easier if I could just publish the same column in multiple newspapers, but I don’t think it would be as fun.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind being able to get another couple newspapers to carry the column, hopefully, in places that I’m not too familiar with. Then I get the joy of discovering of the interesting people, stories, and places in that area.

Here are the links to the newspapers if you want to search them for my Looking Back articles:

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9780770436209_custom-91ae188bedae87f8b4facaf730d081f9dd842434-s6-c30I remember picking up paperback books when I was a kid that were filled with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoons. I loved them! Those little snippets of information peaked my interest about the world around me and instilled in me a fascination for the odd and unusual. This summer, one of the stops on my family’s Great Smokey Mountains vacation was to visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. I had hoped that it might spark curiosity in them as well.

So when I saw, A Curious Man by Neal Thompson, my curiosity kicked in. Why hadn’t someone written about Robert Ripley before? I purchased the book and enjoyed it immensely.

It is the story of Robert Ripley’s journey from struggling newspaper cartoonist to cultural icon. He came from a poor family and was teased for his buckteeth and stutter. It is a true rags to riches story because Ripley also had talent, determination, and a strong work ethic.

A Curious Man also paints a picture of a talented man whose passion for travel and oddities gave way to a life of excess and then obsession.

Ripley conquered newspapers, books, radio, television, the speaking circuit and museum circuit. Even with the help of the staff that he eventually had, I am still amazed that he could do as much as he did and still travel for months at a time.

Along the way, readers get a good picture of life during an interesting time of American history—the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and WWII. They watch the rise and beginning decline of the newspaper industry.

I found the book easy to read and enjoy. I also liked the Ripley-style callouts of interesting factoids throughout the book that Thompson called “Believe It.”

If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that it continued too long for me after Ripley’s death. The battling over the Ripley empire after his death held little interest for me.

A Curious Man made me start looking around for those old paperbacks again so that I could read more about the wonder of the world.

My first Goodreads drawing for autographed copies of The Rain Man has ended. Congratulations to the 10 winners randomly by Goodreads from the 1,751 people who entered. I have to say that it was easy enough to do. Goodreads sent me the list of the winners once the giveaway ended. I’ll be sending out the copies tomorrow. The second stage is that, hopefully, these winners will read the book and post reviews on websites and blogs.

For anyone interested, I have another giveaway going on for my newest book, Beyond the Battlefield: Stories from Gettysburg’s Rich History. There is still time to enter. The giveaway ends on Wednesday. Just follow this link and enter:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Beyond the Battlefield by James Rada Jr.

Beyond the Battlefield

by James Rada Jr.

Giveaway ends April 16, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Hackers 1 CoverI e-published my first book under a pen name the other week. I’m not sure why, but it felt like a big deal to me. I think it is because I gave it so much thought before I did it.

The main reason for doing so was because most of my writing this century has been either history or historical fiction, which has all been published under my real name, James Rada Jr. However, if you look at my bibliography, you’ll see a few titles that just don’t fit in—a Christmas story, a couple fantasies, and a young adult novel.

So when I completed my latest novel, which was what I plan on being the first in a series and started thinking about another young adult series, I started thinking that the covers just wouldn’t look at home on my current web page.

Then I noticed that an acquaintance of mine, Jeffrey Savage, not publishes his young adult fantasies under J. Scott Savage while his mysteries are still by Jeffrey Savage.

I liked this approach. It doesn’t try to hide who the author is, it simply uses the author’s name as a brand name so that a reader will be able to quickly tell whether Jeff’s books are fantasy or mystery.

I created my first pen name, J. R. Rada, to do the same thing. I’ll use this name to publish any young adult or fantasy novels I’ve got in mind. The trick now is that I have to create a whole different identity for this pen name, such as Facebook page, Twitter account, web site, etc. Anyone interested in reading my historical fiction will be able to find links to my current sites on the new pages.

The discouraging thing is that I’ve started to build some momentum using my familiar name and this feels like I’m starting from scratch. Hopefully, it will all be worth it in the end.

My fourth Looking Back newspaper column debuted today in the Gettysburg Times. It was a fun story about when people used to horse race through Gettysburg as if it were a racetrack.

I hope it sets the tone for the types of stories I’ll be looking for the column. It’s fairly easy to do with the other newspapers I write Looking Back for, but in Gettysburg, the Civil War battle overshadows the history of Adams County. I sort of feel like I’m facing a bit of an uphill battle to show people how interesting the history of area was.
Then again, before the first column had even run, someone who had seen the promos for the column contacted me with a great story idea that I’m sure I’ll be able to turn into a column.

If you’d like to take a peek at the column, check it out here and let me know what you think about it.

Here are the other newspapers I write “Looking Back” for:
• The Cumberland Times-News
• The Chambersburg Public Opinion
• The Catoctin Banner

Though I write the column for multiple papers, it’s not considered syndicated. Because of the nature of the column, each one is original for the newspaper. It’s more work for me, but it makes the columns more pertinent and more interesting to the readers. Judging by the feedback that I get from readers of the other newspapers, they appreciate the effort. Hopefully, the readers of the Gettysburg Times will, too.

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