Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Historical Fiction Round Table Discussion – July-August Edition

Welcome back to the July-August edition of the historical fiction round table discussion. We have an interesting and diverse panel of authors, each with their own unique perspective and insight. To learn more about an author and their books click on their name and you will be taken directly to their Amazon author page. And so, without further ado, let me to introduce our panel of authors:

Featuring our panel:

Weina Dai Randel is the author of The Moon in the Palace, a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee, a RITA Awards finalist, and a RT Book Reviewers Choice Award nominee. A native of China, she holds an M.A. in English from Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas.


AntoineVanner was dubbed the “Tom Clancy of historical naval fiction” by the author Joan Druett.  A prolific author of historical fiction, his most recent novel, Britannia’s Amazon, is book 5 in the Dawlish Chronicles. He has lived in 8 countries including Nigeria, which sparked a lifelong fascination with Africa.


Marie Laval is the author of the Dancing for the Devil Trilogy (The Dream Catcher, Blue Bonnets, Sword Dance) published by Áccent Press. She studied French History and Law and lives in Lancashire, Northern England, where she balances her busy family life with her passion for writing and her occupation as a teacher.

LindsayDowns has been an avid reader ever since he was old enough to hold a first edition copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake in his lap. A resident of Central Texas, he started writing romantic suspense since 2012 and is a proud member of Romance Writers of America.



Ruth Hull Chatlien is the author of Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale, about the ordeal of Sarah Wakefield during the Dakota War of 1862, and The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. An Illinois native, when she's not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or studying Swedish.


Panelists, thanks for joining us! (Heart emoji) Please start by telling us where you were born:

Weina Dai Randel:  Wenzhou, China

Marie Laval:  Amiens, Northern France

Lindsay Downs:  Germantown, PA

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  Kankakee, IL


What is the first book you read that took you to another time and place?

Weina Dai Randel:  Books by Jin Yong, a Chinese writer. I read them in middle school. 

Antoine Vanner: “Nada the Lily”  by H. Rider-Haggard, his novel about the rise of the Zulu nation under its leader Shaka. I was hooked and I started all over again once I’d finished. I was staying on my grandfather’s farm that summer and I made myself my own assegai and roamed fields and hillsides, imagining myself a Zulu warrior.

Marie Laval: Angélique, Marquise des Anges  by Anne Golon started my love affair with historical romance

Lindsay Downs:  Angélique, Marquise of the Angels  by Sergeanne Golon.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: Little Women. I first read it in 2nd grade, and I remember being very confused by some of the things the March sisters did but loving the book all the same.

Two writers on this panel fell in love with "Angélique, Marquise of the Angels".

Who is the first writer that inspired you to become a historical novelist?

Weina Dai Randel:  The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell

Antoine Vanner:  C.S. Forester’s magnificent Hornblower novels. In every case he brought the past credibly alive.

Marie Laval:   Alexandre Dumas, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Wilkie Collins and MR James.

Lindsay Downs:   Jane Austen. Even though at the time she was writing contemporary her books are now considered historical.

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  Gwen Bristow. I read Celia Garth when I was in high school and absolutely loved the spunky title character and her struggles to survive the Revolutionary War with her life and ability to love still intact.


Cecil Louis Troughton Smith (27 August 1899 – 2 April 1966), known by his pen name Cecil Scott "C. S." Forester, was an English novelist known for writing tales of naval warfare such as the 12-book Horatio Hornblower series, depicting a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic wars. Photo source: Fair use, Wikipedia. 

What are you reading right now?

Weina Dai Randel:   1984 by George Orwell

Antoine Vanner: The Barbed-Wire University, by Midge Gillies, about methods of coping with the experience of being a prisoner of war in WWII.

Marie Laval:    I just bought three novels from Daphné du Maurier I first read years ago: My Cousin Rachel, which is being re-released at the cinema, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek. Now the big question is which one shall I start with?

Lindsay Downs: Nothing at the present. Judging for a contest.

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  That Certain Age by Beatriz Williams, set in the 1920's. This is the second of her novels that I’ve read, and I enjoy her evocation of the Jazz Age.


What is your particular approach to researching and writing?

Weina Dai Randel:  I usually read articles on journals and then buy the books in the notes. Sometimes I send the titles to my local library and they get them through ILL. As for writing, one thing we all do is sit down and spend hours in front of the computer. 

Antoine Vanner: I’ve been reading history ever since I could read. The period 1850-1918 is my especial favorite and I know its dynamics and personalities well. It’s in this period that I set my plots, linking them to real events, and these plots drive my more focused research. I’m a member of one of the largest private libraries in the world, and that gives me superb access to what I need.

Marie Laval:  I buy maps, travel guides, and read everything and anything related to the setting, the plot or the characters that I can lay my hands on! I take lots of notes and make big folders for every story. Of course, I don't use half of it, but it's there, as background information if I need it.

Lindsay Downs:  If I get to the part of a book where I need to hunt something down I stop and do research.

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  So far, all my books have been about real people, so I start by reading biographies and general histories of the period. Once I feel that I have a handle on the events of their life, I create a general outline. Then, as I draft, I’m constantly running down the specific period details I need. Like what breed of chicken a settler would most likely raise in Minnesota in 1862.

Old maps are an important tool of historical novelists.

In your opinion, what characters in history have not been written about enough?

Weina:  Smart Chinese women, who refused to sell their souls and their bodies to the society. I probably will not write a book about courtesans, no matter how famous they were, because there are many books about them already.   

Antoine Vanner: The Thirty-Years War has always struck me as under-represented in historical fiction, not just for its scale and destructiveness, but for such remarkable characters as Gustavus Adolphus and Wallenstein. Early in the next century, Charles XII of Sweden and Marlborough, and their wars and adventures and intrigues, are also rich ground lying fallow.

Marie Laval: Oh dear, that's a tricky question. Sorry, I can't answer that one. I have no idea!

Lindsay Downs: I’m really not sure as all of my characters are from my mind. I try to avoid using real people for fear of getting facts wrong. That being said, I would like to see more historical fictions books involving the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And not the ones most frequently talked about, for example Jefferson, Franklin, Adams.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: I don’t think American history gets enough coverage because, for some reason, publishers think readers don’t care. Our history is relatively short, but there are many wonderful untold stories. That’s why my first two books focus on Betsy Bonaparte (an American who married Napoleon’s baby brother) and Sarah Wakefield (a survivor with her two young children of the Dakota War of 1862). They’re women whose stories demanded to be rescued from oblivion.

Thomas Jefferson would make an excellent subject of a historical novel. Source: Wikipedia, Fair Use

If you could go back in history and relive an event, what would it be?

Weina Dai Randel: One thing that comes to my mind this moment is the burning of books by the First Emperor of China, Qin Shihuang. It would probably be too dangerous to be present, so I'd like to have a peek within the safety of a chariot.

Antoine Vanner: To be at Little Round Top with Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine on the second day of Gettysburg. It’s a superb example of a man’s entire life made worthwhile by a single moment, rising to a challenge and tilting the balance of history. When I stood there some years ago I was overwhelmed.

Marie Laval:   It's not really an event, but I would love to attend a fête at Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV, see the fountains and the fireworks, dance at a masked ball and listen to music by composers Lully, de Lalande, and Charpentier.

Lindsay Downs:  Waterloo to experience it and what the soldiers had to go through. Reading about it is one thing, living it another.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: I would go back to Sweden in the 1890s and find out what my ancestors’ lives were like, discover why they emigrated to Canada, and perhaps take the journey with them. The only way I have of getting closer to my heritage is to study the Swedish language, which I started to do earlier this year.

The court of Louis XIV, the Sun King, would be fascinating to witness.

What is the hardest thing about starting a new writing project?

Weina Dai Randel: To have a concept that's so intriguing that when I mention it to my editor she would say, “Write it, Weina, I want that book!”

Antoine Vanner: Refining the plot before I start. I believe in “Planning the Work and Working the Plan” I want to feel that the plot is about 80% correct when I start, with the remaining – scantily defined – 20% subject to modification as the writing proceeds. It works most of the time, though on one occasion a book had to be massively reconfigured when I was half-way through.

Marie Laval:  I think it's knowing that it's going to take months, if not years, to get it finished. I am by nature a very impatient person, and writing is a very long process for me.

Lindsay Downs: The first paragraph followed by the first page. After that it gets easier.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: For me, the task of building up emotional momentum for a project is very difficult. Research doesn’t excite me the way writing does, so for the first several months, trying to get hooked on the new project is a bit of slog. But once I can start playing with the outline and character sketches, I usually pick up steam.


Where did the inspiration for your current project come from?

Weina Dai Randel: While I was having breakfast at a writers’ conference I happened to mention a strange thing that happened to me, to which one of the ladies said, “Weina, you are looking for an idea for a book, right? That's a good idea!” The other lady said, “I just took a workshop about dual time, why don't you make it a dual time?” And that’s how I got the inspiration!

Antoine Vanner: Always from actual events and personalities from the 1880’s. They provide the stage on which my puppets perform, and the background to their actions (I’m beginning to sound like Thackary here, who several times addressed the reader in similar terms in Vanity Fair.)

Marie Laval: I can pinpoint the exact moment when inspiration struck. I was visiting the beautiful John Ryland's Library in Manchester, and in the room where the ancient manuscripts are displayed was an interactive computer with lots of information about illuminated manuscripts and Paris in the Middle Ages. I sat down, started scrolling down the screen, pulled my notebook and pen from my handbag, and started writing. So although it's not an actual historical novel, medieval history plays an important role.

Lindsay Downs:  As with most of my books the first one in the series starts out as a “what if”. As in ‘What if a young lady…” that’s all I can say about this project without giving the story away.

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  My next book is still in the early stages, but it’s probably going to be about Dolley Madison. She was a character in my first book The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. She was one of the few people to befriend Betsy Bonaparte during a period when society threatened to turn its back on her. Everyone loves Dolley Madison, particularly for her heroism in the War of 1812, but there are some dark patches in her story that aren’t as widely known. I’m interested in finding a way to explore those without destroying the beloved parts of her image.

Dolley Madison 

Why did you choose your era?

Weina Dai Randel: The era is not important to me at all. If I pick an era, that's because the story and characters scream to me. Since they come from that period, I faithfully follow. 

Antoine Vanner: I’m fascinated by how much change—societal, technological, and economic—occurs in the span of an average lifetime and how people cope so well with it. The second half of the 19th century, which saw the second wave of the Industrial Revolution, was just such an era. The protagonist of my series was born in 1845 and dies in 1918, while his wife is born in 1855 and dies in 1946. They both grow up in the mid-Victorian period, but go up on their first flight just before WWI and one of them lives into the nuclear age.

Marie Laval: So far my historical novels have taken place in the 19th century at the time of Waterloo, or during the 1840's. I can't really explain why, it's a period I’ve always been very attracted to.

Lindsay Downs: I didn’t pick Regency. It picked me back in 2011 when I penned my first book set in that era.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: I'm more attracted to the psychological aspects of individual stories. It just so happens that I have chosen three women who lived in 19th century America. It’s an interesting time because women were starting to realize that they needed more equality, but their lives were still terribly circumscribed. However, I don’t know if I’ll stick with this century or move on to something else. It all depends on which historical personage grabs me by the throat and says, “Tell my story so I’m not forgotten.”

What is your favorite “writing drink”?

Weina Dai Randel:  Does water count? I drink 2 liters of water every day.

Antoine Vanner:  Black coffee, but strictly rationed!

Marie Laval: Tea or black coffee during the day, and in the evening it's either tea or a glass of wine at the weekend. 

Lindsay Downs:  Coffee

Ruth Hull Chatlien: Homemade cappuccino using organic, decaf, French roast coffee beans! While drinking decaf runs against the stereotype of writers, I had to go off caffeine for medical reasons and now I don’t miss it!

Homemade cappuccino sounds like a delicious writing drink!

What is your favorite “writing snack”?

Weina Dai Randel:  70% dark chocolate. I eat that to reward myself, or just to be happy.

Antoine Vanner: The guilty pleasure of digestive biscuits, even more strictly rationed!

Marie Laval: Cake or biscuits (preferably chocolate!) in the afternoon, and if I’m having a glass of wine in the evening, then I'll have to have some cheese - the smellier, the better!

Lindsay Downs:  Potato Chips

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  I don’t think I have one. If I’m engrossed in the writing, I tend to plow through and not stop for snacks.



Which authors have influenced you the most and why?

Weina Dai Randel: Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy made an indelible impression on me in the sense that everything could be as the way they seem, but nothing should be as the way they turn out. Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha told me the narrative itself should be as seductive as the characters. And Geraldine Brooks. I want to write like her.

Antoine Vanner:  Henry Fielding for the sheer exuberance of his writing, Thackary for his ability to make flawed characters still lovable, Dickens for his humor and for plots that initially appear anarchic, but are in fact intricately constructed. I’ve reread Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago  countless times since I first read it at 15. But I owe a personal debt to a naval novelist, Douglas Reeman who died recently. Hearing him talk at a local bookshop resolved me to settle down at last to writing seriously. He was inspirational. He may not have remembered me, but I’ll never forget him.

Marie Laval:  Alexandre Dumas, Barbey D'Aurevilly, Colette, Joseph Kessel, and poets Jacques Prévert and Aragon, because they've all made me dream, think, cry, or laugh

Lindsay Downs:  Again I turn to Jane Austen, the way she brought her characters to life on the page.

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  Charlotte Brontë, for the way she influenced me in a subconscious way. Sharon Kay Penman, for renewing my love of historical fiction. And while I was writing Blood Moon,  I fell into a funk [at the brutality of the Indian Wars]. Kate Quinn’s books rescued me and helped me to insert some episodes in which I had fun with my characters, which lightened up the story. Now those scenes are some of my favorites in the whole book.
  
Jane Austin is a perennial favorite of historical novelists.

What is your favorite historical movie?

Weina Dai Randel:  Farewell, My Concubine by the Chinese director Chen Kai Ge.

Antoine Vanner:  Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, based on the Thackary novel. Everything is just right – the script, the music, the superb candle-lit scenes, the terrifying final duel, the sense of real people in a real world that’s gone forever. No less than the whole movie, I regularly watch out-takes from it on YouTube and am always inspired.

Marie Laval: The Count of Monte Cristo, without a doubt. It's got everything - love, greed, revenge, mystery, treasures. I particularly loved the TV series with Gérard Depardieu, Ornella Muti and Jean Rochefort.

Lindsay Downs:   Emma and Pride and Prejudice

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  Right now, I’d probably say Lincoln  starring Daniel Day Lewis. I especially loved Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln, who was a difficult personality and hard to like.

Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in "Lincoln".



If you could have dinner with any historical personage, who would it be and why?

Weina Dai Randel:  Empress Wu, or Wu Zetian, the main character of my two novels. I want to meet her and see what kind of a ruler she was, so I could confirm that the Confucian scholars were wrong about her and I was right!

Antoine Vanner: Abraham Lincoln, possibly the most impressive and admirable man I know of in history. And a great raconteur and humorist to boot!

Marie Laval: Napoleon Bonaparte. I have a great admiration for the man, for his incredible ambition, vision and work capacity. He achieved so much, not all good of course, but so many of his reforms are still in effect in France.

Lindsay Downs:  Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington, for no other reason than to share a simple meal with a great man. Then of course, Jane Austen for tea. Just to be in her presence would be reason enough.

Ruth Hull Chatlien:  I think I would choose Lincoln. I’d love to pick his brain about that mysterious blend of pragmatism and idealism that informed his decisions. I think human beings are incredibly complex and do things from such mixed motives. That’s a trait I like to explore in my writing.

Wu Zetian (624 – December 16, 705), also known as Wu ZhaoWu Hou, and during the later Tang Dynasty as Tian Hou, referred to in English as Empress Consort Wu was a Chinese sovereign who ruled unofficially as empress consort and empress dowager and later, officially as empress regnant (皇帝) during the brief Zhou Dynasty (周, 684-705), which interrupted the Tang dynasty (618–690 & 705–907). Wu was the only Empress regnant of China in more than two millennia.

Where do you go for inspiration? Do you travel?

Weina Dai Randel: I just stand by the window and let my mind run wild – yes, I do that a lot!  I'd love to travel, anywhere around the world is fine with me, and I would love to live there for a few months in order to feel the culture, eat the food, and make friends.

Antoine Vanner:  I’ve been travelling all my life – I’ve been to over fifty countries but I’ve lost count due to some breaking up or reconfiguring! But it’s not just travel and reading and experience that inspires, it’s every aspect of living. One’s whole life has been a preparation for the moment you sit down to write the first line of your book.

Marie Laval: Ideas for stories pop into my mind all the time - at work, whilst walking, listening to some music or watching a TV program. I don't really need to go very far since there are beautiful, inspiring places near where I live. It's my birthday soon and my birthday wish is to spend a day on a canal boat!

Lindsay Downs: No I don’t travel. Costs too much and now a days is too dangerous. However, I would love to visit England.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: I take research trips for my books, which can be a source of inspiration. When I visited Fort McHenry in Baltimore during my Betsy Bonaparte research trip, I suddenly felt like I was channeling her emotions. I felt Betsy’s terror so deeply that I began weeping in the midst of the NPS ranger’s presentation about the siege of Fort McHenry, and that experience strongly informed one of the chapters in that novel.

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the location of a furious British naval battle witnessed by Francis Scott Key, who penned America's national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner" as a result.

What is the je ne sais quoi that makes a novel unforgettable?

Weina Dai Randel: Surprisingly, it's the language. It flows so naturally, imperceptibly, like water, that it nourishes you and you drink all in without knowing it.  

Antoine Vanner: The fact that the book answers the questions that listeners to storytellers in markets or around cooking-fires have asked since time immemorial: “What happened next, and should I care about the characters?” A plot that does not prompt these questions will never be remembered, even if the reader has persevered to finish the novel with gritted teeth.

Marie Laval: The characters and the magic that happens between them.

Lindsay Downs: Suspense. Since I write regency romantic suspense those two elements have to blend perfectly for me to keep going back to the book again and again.

Ruth Hull Chatlien: Characters that come to life vividly and play out some compelling aspect of the human dilemma for us.

Open book, free image on Pixabay.

Readers: thanks for joining us on this latest installment of historical fiction round table. If you have a specific question for any of our panelists, please enter them in the comments section below. To learn more about the authors, please click on their names above and you will be directed to their Amazon author page. Check back here later for the next installment!😻😂💕👯😹



Monday, May 15, 2017

Historical Fiction Round Table Discussion – May-June Edition

 "Persons attempting to find a motive in this blog post will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."

 —Mark Twain

Welcome back to the May-June edition of the historical fiction round table discussion. After a short hiatus we're back with an interesting and diverse panel of authors, each with their own unique perspective and insight. If you have a specific question for any of our panelists, please enter them in the comments section below and we will attempt to get an answer for you (and not just on Wikipedia). To learn more about an author and their books please click on their name and you will be taken directly to their Amazon author page. So pour yourself a cup of coffee, or if the hour permits, an adult beverage of your choice. Chocolates are encouraged but not always mandatory. Good humor is mandatory, but not always encouraged.  And so, without further ado, let me to introduce our panel of authors:

Featuring our panel:

Tamara Eaton is a "western woman" who lives in the wide open spaces of America’s desert southwest, the setting of her work. Weeping Women Springs is her first novel and her forthcoming project, The Waiting Shadows, recently won first place in the Ink and Insights Writing Contest.


Alison Morton is the author of RETALIO, the sixth book in the Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service, an MA in history, blogging and drinking wine in France with her husband of 30 years.


 Cindy Thomson is the author of 8 books, including her newest novel, Pages of Ireland, the second book in her Daughters of Ireland series. She also writes genealogy articles for Internet Genealogy and Your Genealogy Today magazines, and short stories for Clubhouse Magazine.


Kerry Lynne is the author of The Pirate Captain, Chronicles of a Legend and Nor Silver the 2013, 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Historical Fiction Finalist Award. Kerry is a native of Michigan, a former teacher with a lifelong interest in history, writing and sailing.

Shelly Talcott is a prolific author who writes in several genres but finds historical fiction her favorite. A lifelong Midwesterner, she feels a sweeping familiarity with the plains and the people who call it home. She loves history, reading, writing, animals and a well-told ghost story, but not necessarily in that order.

  
Panelists, thanks for joining us! (Heart emoji) Please start by telling us where you were born:

Tamara Eaton:  Montpelier, Idaho
Alison Morton:   Tunbridge Wells, UK (a former spa town)
Cindy Thomson: Ft. Riley, Kansas
Kerry Lynne:      Pontiac, Michigan,
Shelly Talcott :  Walsh Colorado

What is the first book you read that took you to another time and place?

Tamara Eaton: Charlotte’s Web took me to another place where magic happened in words spun by a spider.

Alison Morton: Heidi by Johanna Spyri. There I was on the high alp, with the goats, the mountain, the air.

Cindy Thomson:  A time slip story set in New England where a present-day boy finds a message scrawled inside a dresser drawer from a boy who lived during the time of the pilgrims. The idea that the past could intermingle with the present was planted in my mind back then and inspired me to learn more about history.

Kerry Lynne:    It’s a tie between Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, and Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red books.

Shelly Talcott: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. AMAZING! It was like winning the lottery when I found that book in the library…maybe even slightly better. 

Charlotte's Web, with its beautiful, evocative pictures by Garth Williams, has been influencing generations of children.

 Who is the first writer that inspired you to become a historical novelist?

Tamara Eaton: Anya Seton is the first historical author I had to read. I loved learning about historical people and events in story form.

Alison Morton: Robert Harris, author of Fatherland

Cindy Thomson:  One of the first was Jane Kirkpatrick

Kerry Lynne:  James Michener’s Hawaii and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind were my two all-time favorite historical novels (I read them every summer from about 5th grade on).

Shelly Talcott:  Again Mary Stewart. Even though the King Arthur legend isn’t what some people would call “historically” accurate or even provable, it still took me to another time period and made me want to tell stories that take place in the past.


Robert Harris is one of the greatest living writers of historical fiction.

What are you reading right now?

Tamara Eaton: Bruce Holsinger’s A Burnable Book—well researched and well written novel set in Chaucer’s England. Chaucer features as a secondary character, but the poet John Gower is the main character.

Alison Morton: I just finished Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson – fabulous writing! On to the next in series.

Cindy Thomson:  I’m listening to an audiobook: The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

Kerry Lynne: I’m vacillating between the Poldark series and Patrick O’Brian (it seems I can’t get away from the series, doesn’t it?)

Shelly Talcott: Obsession by John Douglas. I have a huge variety of interests when it comes to reading so right now I’m reading a true crime but next week it might be a biography or a novel.

In your opinion, what are the necessary ingredients that create a breakout novel?

Tamara Eaton: A breakout novel in the historical genre needs to be well-written and well-researched with characters that come alive for the reader no matter what time period they are portraying.

Alison Morton: Luck, plus obviously a commercially attractive, perfectly written and topically themed book.

Cindy Thomson:  Relatable characters, a plot that keeps readers turning the pages, and descriptions that make a reader feel as though they are actually in the story, experiencing what the characters are experiencing.

Kerry Lynne: First and foremost, it has to be “novel.” The author needs to find a way to make the work unique, a stand-out from all others, while at the same time not being so different as to be unpalatable to the reader.

Shelly Talcott:  Fragile, slightly flawed characters. People that we can relate to. People that when we read we can either ‘become’ them or really feel strong emotions about them. Whether the emotions we feel are positive or negative does not matter so long as it makes your heart literally pound and your stomach get butterflies. A story that you think about for days or long after you finished reading it.

In your opinion, what causes a novel to fall flat?

Tamara Eaton: If the characters don’t grab me, or there are long sections where nothing happens I soon lose interest. The story must pull me forward so I want to know what happens next (even if I know the historical events which transpired). The characters acting or speaking in modern ways throws me out of a story.

Alison Morton: Being outside a commercial genre, plus poor writing, a boring story and sloppy research.

Cindy Thomson: Too much description, a cast of characters that is difficult to follow and understand.

Kerry Lynne:   Flat characters. There’s no story working with cardboard cut-outs.

Shelly Talcott:  When characters are too flat, when they lack depth. We all have such complexities to our character. No one is completely ‘good’ and most people aren’t completely ‘bad’, so if a story is made up of people that are entirely predictable and one-sided then it’s hard for me to relate. If every bad guy or gal is always bad and never has any guilt or empathy and every ‘good’ guy or gal never thinks or does anything shocking or wrong then the story won’t work for me.

If you could go back in history and relive an event, what would it be?

Tamara Eaton: When I think of going back to a time period, I’m intrigued with the women’s suffrage movement and their diligence over the years to reach their goal.

Alison Morton: So many! I would love to have heard Cicero speak. Yes, he was a famous lawyer and orator, but his influence on Latin language and literature was so immense that his ideas, style and form resonated through European languages, especially prose, for the next two millennia. A lot of our academic approach today reflects his style.

Cindy Thomson: Tough question! I had to think on this awhile. History is often chronicled by tragedies and wars, and who wants to back to that. Learn from them, yes, but relive? Nope. But there are things that we can’t experience anymore that I would like to relive. I would like to see America as the first Pilgrims saw it, unspoiled. As for an event, I will just pick one of many. I think I would have liked to witness the voting and debate of the Declaration of Independence. There must have been a mix of pride and anxiety in that room.

Kerry Lynne:  The more I study history, the more I realize I want no part of going back to live it. At the same time, we also have to realize that fifty years from now, WE’LL be history.

Shelly Talcott:  Wow! I love this question. There are so many though that it’s hard to choose. When WWII ended. I think that would have been an amazing day to experience.


To portray America through the eyes of the Pilgrims would be a fantastic feat for any historical novelist.

What do you think are the historical periods we’ll be reading about in 2017 and beyond?

Tamara Eaton: I think WWII is popular and continues to be, but I also think people will go farther back to the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Of course the Tudor period still holds its sway over readers.

Alison Morton: Probably 20th century, plus some 19th century as this is what the main publishing houses are producing.

Cindy Thomson:   I don’t know, but I hope it will include some different eras. In my opinion as a reader there has been an onslaught of WWII and Civil War. I would like to see more set in the Middle Ages, especially the early non-British Middle Ages, more in the American Revolutionary Era, and perhaps more pre-Depression 1920’s.

Kerry Lynne:   Well, in one of the writing groups I belong to, I saw someone talk about the historical fiction they were writing which took place in the 1970’s. Is it really “history” if we actually lived it?

Shelly Talcott :  The Tudor period, The Elizabethan period, WWII era, the list goes on and on. I’ve come across several new historical novels that I’m dying to read. One takes place in ancient Rome and the other takes place on the Titanic so I will be traveling all over time.

American history from the 1970's will soon become part of the "historical fiction" pantheon.

What is the hardest thing about starting a new writing project?

Tamara Eaton: The first thing that comes to mind is finishing it. LOL But actually creating a new world unless it’s something I’ve written about before.

Alison Morton: Realizing the first 10 words are only the first 10 of 100,000!

Cindy Thomson: For me it’s plotting. I can easily get characters and a setting I like, but only a bit of the plot. Working out at least a rough outline before I write beyond the first chapter is helpful, maybe even critical for me, but I am at heart a seat-of-the-pants non-plotting writer so it’s a bit of a struggle.

Kerry Lynne: I have been living and working with (more or less) the same characters for over a decade, so my biggest problem in starting a new work is waiting for one of them to step forward and say “Start here.”

Shelly Talcott:  For me it’s focusing on one thing. I will start writing one book but all these other ideas and characters just keep popping in my head so I find myself grabbing three or four notebooks and starting on several stories at once when I should be focusing on the one so I can finish it.


How has writing about history changed your perspective about history?

Tamara Eaton: In some ways I’m astounded about how little we know of everyday lives of people who lived within a hundred years ago, let alone the more distant past, but the biggest lesson is there are multiple views of any event.

Alison Morton: It hasn’t really changed it. The academic recording and study of history is a fully fact based approach and historical fiction an interpretive one. Events happened in the past and history is our attempt to examine it. Although there are factual markers here and there, we’ll never really know what happened.

Cindy Thomson: It has taught me that we should pay attention. There are so many lessons applicable to today if we will only look. There is truth in that old adage of history repeating itself.

Kerry Lynne: I’ve learned that, through the millennium, we, as human beings, haven’t changed that much. We have the same hopes, fears, desires, motivations and needs as we did at any other point in time. I guess that’s why we keep making the same mistakes.

Shelly Talcott: I think I use to romanticize history quite a bit. But when you write a historical novel you have to research the time period and you learn things that are not very appealing. So, for me, learning some of the things I did from my research was like learning a magician’s tricks. Sometimes the ‘magic’ is best left a bit in the shadows.
  
The more you learn about history the more you see the less appealing aspects of it.

Why did you choose your era?

Tamara Eaton: I’ve written a WWII era novel and currently I’m writing one set in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

Alison Morton: I’ve been a serious ‘Roman nut’ since I walked on my first mosaic at the age of eleven. I chose alternative history because I wanted to explore the ‘what if’ of women running a Roman society and doing daring deeds within it.

Cindy Thomson: I first became interested in the early Christian period of Ireland years ago when I attended an Irish festival and saw a display on St. Brigid. While I’ve written in other time periods (all history fascinates me) this time period seems to inspire me the most.

Kerry Lynne:   Hmm, the mid-18th Century chose me. I wanted to write about pirates and I had a FMC who was a Jacobite War vetern. There wasn’t much choice.

Shelly Talcott:  I have always been fascinated by Henry VIII.  Since I can remember I would find the nearest library and check out every book on him and his wives. I think for me it was natural to choose the Tudor court as my setting because it has been in my imagination for so long.

The Roman Era will always capture readers' imaginations. 

What is your favorite “writing drink”?

Tamara Eaton: Iced water in summer or herbal tea in winter.

Alison Morton: Tea

Cindy Thomson: Tea

Kerry Lynne:  Dark n’ Stormy (first drank at The Pirate House in Savannah.)

Shelly Talcott :  Kombucha tea. LOVE it! GT Kombucha Trilogy. I always get some when I’m getting ready to write. If I don’t have any then I make sure to feel sorry for myself for a while then pick up extra the next day to make up for missing it the night before.

It's no wonder some writers love to partake of a "Dark & Stormy".

 What is your favorite “writing snack”?

Tamara Eaton: I usually don’t snack while I’m eating…chocolate!

Alison Morton: Chocolate (How predictable!)

Cindy Thomson: Fruit, nuts, popcorn…anything that doesn’t take long to prepare.

Kerry Lynne:  Anything that can be eaten with one hand (so I can keep writing with the other.)

Shelly Talcott : I’m not as picky on the writing snacks as I am about my writing drink. Anything I can grab quick and just eat while writing. A secret about myself I hate cooking. HATE it! So it has to be something already made or ready to eat.

Mixed nuts is the snack of choice of many historical novelists.

Which authors have influenced you the most and why?

Tamara Eaton: Barbara Kingsolver has been a big influence on my writing, because she writes a great story with a bent toward both education and social change without becoming preachy about her topics.

Alison Morton: How long a list do you want? From childhood, Rosemary Sutcliff (The Eagle of the Ninth), C S Lewis (Narnia), Anthony Hope (The Prisoner of Zenda), Georgette Heyer, Dennis Wheatly, Leslie Charteris, Frank Yerby, Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton. Now, William Boyd (Restless), all the current Roman writers. I’m an adventure loving old romantic, really…

Cindy Thomson:  C.S. Lewis because of his clarity in describing Christianity, Liz Curtis Higgs for her vivid descriptions of 18th century Scotland, Jane Kirkpatrick for the way she takes real events in history and fictionalizes them, Jules Verne for being so ahead of his time, E.B. White because I still marvel over Charlotte’s Web.

Kerry Lynne:    Diana Gabaldon has been my greatest influence. She was the first one which made me say “I wanna write like this!” She was also the first to give me permission to write the way my instincts wished, as opposed to how others were telling me to. Her influence has continued over the years in a number of ways.

Shelly Talcott :  Mary Stewart because she is so descriptive and her characters have such depth that I can lose myself completely in her stories. I also love Edgar Allan Poe for his dreamy and dark writing, and William Shakespeare, because there’s something about unrequited love that just rips my heart to shreds and leaves me thinking about the characters long after the book is over. I could name a dozen more that I love and the great thing is new authors are emerging every day so the thought of discovering new favorites is extremely exciting as well.

Diana Gabaldon continues to inspire many historical novelists.

What is your favorite historical movie?

Tamara Eaton: The King’s Speech was one of my recent favorites because I’ve worked with people with speech difficulties and this was a piece of recent history which inspired me to shed light on lesser known historical events.

Alison Morton: It’s a toss-up between Ben Hur and Gladiator.

Cindy Thomson:  Rob Roy

Kerry Lynne:  Gone with the Wind.  I realize all the flaws and anachronisms, but it was the one which really showed me the scope and sweep of history.

Shelly Talcott:  Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett. I also like Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

 
The King's Speech is a great work of historical fiction.
If you could have dinner with any historical personage, who would it be and why?

Tamara Eaton: based on my recent research for my current novel, I’d spend some time with Mother Jones [Editor’s note: Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837-1930) was an Irish born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent labor representative and community organizer. ] She must have had a fascinating life and was an inspiration to so many during the coal strikes. If not her, I’d dine with suffragettes Alice Stone Blackwell and her mother Lucy Stone.

Alison Morton: Hypatia of Alexandria. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy as well as a renowned mathematician and astronomer. She’d probably think I was a dunce, but I’d risk it. Tragically, she was killed by a Christian mob in 415 AD.

Cindy Thomson: I think I’d choose C.S. Lewis. I’d love to hear what his group of writer buddies, the Inklings, discussed in Oxford.

Kerry Lynne:  There’s a guy named Benjamin Stephenson. He fought in the French-and-Indian and the Revolutionary War, was a keel boat captain, was press-ganged by the Royal Navy, was a founding father of Illinois, was a familiar with all the “names” of the day, and had a bride who was ten-years-old. I think he would be fascinating to talk to.

Shelly Talcott:   Probably Mae West. Dinner would definitely be interesting. I don’t think there has ever been or ever will be anyone as witty and comfortable in their skin as Mae was. Yes I would love to have dinner with her.

No doubt dinner with Mae West would be an unforgettable experience.

Where do you go for inspiration? Do you travel?


Tamara Eaton: We travel each year to New Mexico and South Dakota. My inspiration often visits me in New Mexico, the terrain sends my imagination soaring to the past because it’s so easy to imagine the wagon trains traveling the plains and coming to the mountains where they turned south along the range.

Alison Morton:  I’ve clambered over the ruins of much of Roman Europe. Always inspiring to touch something that somebody made two thousand years ago or walk on marble slabs in a forum where great as well as small events took place. Imagine the fascinating conversations in the public shared loos in Ancient Rome!

Cindy Thomson:  Ireland inspires me, and I’d go back there right away if I could. There are other places I’d like to go as well, such as Wales. But nature in general inspires me so taking a walk outside works too.

Kerry Lynne: We sail on the Great Lakes every summer. That’s a great inspiration for this particular endeavor.

Shelly Talcott: I don’t travel much. Someday I would love to but right now the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. For inspiration I read, watch movies, day dream, or even just watch people. I can look at someone usually a stranger and a whole story starts forming in my head. I know that sound insane. I’m sure Miss West will have something uncensored to say about that during our dinner conversation.

To write her Daughters of Ireland series, Cindy has traveled all the way to the Emerald Isle.

Have you ever bought a historical novel based on the cover? If so, what was it that drew you in?

Tamara Eaton: I’m more of a blurb person than a cover person. If the cover gives me the flavor of the period, it will catch my attention so that I will read the blurb and if that hooks me, I’m sold.

Alison Morton: No and yes. A cover attracts, but then I read the back cover and a few paragraphs inside. All three have to work; the cover alone isn’t enough for me.

Cindy Thomson:  No. A cover might attract me, but I would not buy the book without first looking inside.

Kerry Lynne:   Good heavens, I don’t think so. I’d like to think I’m not that gullible. Neither do I get hooked in by all those “raves” on the cover. My method is to randomly open the book and read. Much better guide!

Shelly Talcott: Many times. The colors draw me in, reds especially and if the picture on the front looks dreamy or a little spooky or sad I usually look again. I’m also drawn to pictures where the scenery or the character or characters on the front look like there’s a storm or wind around them. Maybe that’s a Kansas thing. It’s always windy here.



Readers: thanks for joining us on this latest installment of historical fiction round table. If you have a specific question for any of our panelists, please enter them in the comments section below. To learn more about the authors, please click on their names above and you will be directed to their Amazon author page where all their books are listed. Check back here later in the summer for the next installment!
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