Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Write Historical Fiction Without Really Trying - Guest Post by Christie Stratos

I'm very pleased to have met Christie Stratos. We actually met serendipitously after I posted one of my very first #TBTWriter stories (Confessions of a Sugarholic). She reached out to me and was eager to participate. Since then, she's shared a bunch of her writing throwbacks, complete with funny pics. You can check them out here.  I'm told that she'll also be posting one this Thursday. Yay! 

I eventually picked up Christie's book, Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, and couldn't put it down. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started to read it because I had never been a big fan of Victorian-era or historical books in general. I always suspected that they were boring and dry, but after having read Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, I can tell you that myth is bunk! I was absolutely and totally addicted to this book from the very first sentence. Whenever I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and dying to know what was going to happen. As the story unfolded, it became darker and even more haunting (my favorite!). Now that I know that Victorian/historical books can be enjoyable, I seem to be reading them all the time now.

After that, we partnered on a few projects, including the GoIndieNow: Women in Publishing/Exhibiting Strong Leadership panel, and the editing of my latest book, The Nightmare Birds via her editing business, Proof Positive. So, as you can see...I'm very pleased to have met Christie and I'm excited to share her guest post about writing historical fiction with you today. Enjoy :)

How to Write Historical Fiction Without Really Trying

I never thought I would write historical fiction. In fact I specifically thought while reading a Sharon Kay Penman book, “I could never write historical fiction. It’s way too hard.”

Then I sat down to write Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, my debut novel that takes place during the Victorian Era: 1840-1861.

“I’ll just write the book for now and do the research later,” I thought. That was my plan so that I didn’t get bogged down in basic research and slow my creativity. Note the phrase “basic research”. I really wasn’t planning to include enough Victorian-specific objects or traditions to need to do much research at all.

Wrong again!

I found that I couldn’t more forward through some parts of the manuscript without checking to see if something was possible, whether it existed, or if it was believable for that time period. And when I did pigheadedly plow ahead prior to doing research, I heavily regretted it later because I had to do massive rewrites to make that section fit into the Victorian period (for example, using candles for nighttime lighting in a home instead of the time period appropriate oil lamps), and sometimes the consequences of that lack of research spread their tentacles farther through the book than I’d anticipated. I then had to clean up and sometimes drastically alter multiple parts of the book.

Then something strange happened. I got excited about inserting exact descriptions of real things that existed in that time period as well as only using accurate terms and words that were used then. It became one of the most exciting parts of writing the book. I changed words like “rug” to “floor cloth”, found out how Victorians cleaned a wood floor, researched exactly what kind of materials were used to make wallpaper and far more. While these things sound trivial, they’re part of what makes the book authentic, realistic, and visually accurate. And now the same excitement has spread into writing the rest of the four books and three short stories in the Dark Victoriana Collection.

And so without meaning to love writing historical fiction – or rather without meaning to write anything more than fiction that was generally accurate for the time period – I ended up with a 10-year publishing plan that revolves around historical fiction in different time periods. Because getting those details right so that you feel you’re really in the time period is more than just satisfying – it’s fulfilling.
Awesome post, Christie. Writing historical fiction is something I'm definitely interested in, so this certainly gives me hope. I can't wait to read your upcoming book - Locke and Keye!

Christie Stratos is an award-winning writer and editor who holds a degree in English Literature. She is the author of Anatomy of a Darkened Heart, the first book of five in the Dark Victoriana Collection. Christie has had short stories and poetry published in Ginosko Literary Journal, Andromedae Review, 99Fiction, and various anthologies. An avid reader of all genres and world literature, Christie reads everything from bestsellers to classics to indies. 

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