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!