Today we have a guest post from Michael Seeley, something I’ve been meaning to post for… FAR too long. Sorry Michael! Anyway, let’s find out how Michael suggests how historical fiction authors can balance the market away from thrillers and modern romance.
We all know that thrillers and modern romances are the biggest sellers. They dominate the markets, and it seems to be what all our friends are reading. But what if you’re not into the newest spy-chase novel and the modern romance isn’t your thing? For me, the draw of historical fiction has always been stronger than the idea of writing-for-profit in a genre that will probably sell better. But, that leaves historical fiction writers at a disadvantage.
Or does it? What can we as author of historical fiction do to balance the market for us?
First off, you must try to use what’s currently popular. What do you see in movies/other popular books/popular culture? For me, a military historian, a prime example of this is works on Rome and ancient Greece. The ancient world is hot right now. It’s sexy. Films like Gladiator, 300, Alexander, Centurion, The Eagle, and many more capitalize on that. They may not be exactly factual (but neither, strictly speaking, is historical fiction), but they do increase the public’s care and concern for history. For me, that means that works on Rome and ancient Greece will sell better. In fact, I’m in the process of planning a novel set in that age.
This works for other subgenres, like historical romance as well. Look at Downton Abbey and the like. Romance itself is timeless; make money from that. If you see that the Middle Ages is catching the public’s eye, use that to your advantage. Right now, Victorianism is ripe for writing. With Steampunk (a fantastic genre that is easily mixed with historical fiction), Sherlock Holmes, and others making a dent in pop culture, take advantage of it. Tailor your work for the public.
Although the money is fun, all authors also long to be remembered in their works. They want to have a lasting impact on their world. Don’t you? I’m just finishing Mary Renault’s masterpiece, The Last of the Wine. It’s set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young soldier and student of Socrates. The protagonist, Alexias, falls in love with an older student and another philosopher, Lysis. The book tells the story of these men’s love, their lives, and the tragedy that is war. But what’s more is that it was written in the 1950s. At that time, being a homosexual was not only unpopular, it could be ruinous to one’s career, to one’s very life. Renault wrote the work in part to paint a larger picture of the issue.
She wrote the book because, as a homosexual, she was tired of the backlash. She wanted to show that, throughout time, homosexuals were just as capable of doing great deeds, of being human. Her works all touch on this and other social issues.
So can yours.
Do you care about the environment? Look at Victorian England and the damages just beginning by the Industrial Movement. How about immigration — do you find immigration policy today unfair? Look at Ellis Island. Use your genre to shed new light on an issue you’re passionate about. The beautiful thing about the past — the thing which let Renault get away with such commentary in an age of repression — is that everything is in a different context. In the age of kings and revolutions, actions are different than today. Looking into the past gives us the freedom to be critical, to be un-shaking in our critique or our praise for once was and is now lost. Your readers will make the connection. Your book can truly change your world.
How often have you read a story that sounds just like all the others? I can’t tell you the number of times. It seems like people are becoming more and more unoriginal. But you, as an author of historical fiction, have access to thousands of years and millions of stories waiting to be told. As authors in this genre, we have the license to find the gems in the past that get lost.
Recently, I was researching a famous general from the Napoleonic Age, but he almost never made it to manhood; as a child, he almost suffocated to death by pretending to be a dog. He got stuck in his family’s doggy-door, and because he was pretending, he refused to use his voice. All he did was bark. And his parents laughed at their funny son. Until he passed out. And turned blue. Obviously, he lived, but anecdotes like this are beautiful. You simply can’t make some of these things up!
Now, I’m not telling you to steal your stories. But, unlike those spy thrillers that sound the same, we have millions of people’s tales waiting to be redone. Research. Add your own voice. Change things. But draw from that amazing well that history gives us. You can then write a new story that will capture and inspire.
So, if you’re sick of people complaining of the power popular genres, use your tools. Write to fit what’s popular, use your historical lens to change the world, and bring amazing stories from the past to life.
Then see those run-of-the-mill thrillers compete.
At an early age, Michael Seeley found himself devouring books about the past. Then he started writing his own. His first novel, The Faith, is the opening to a trilogy about revolution and regicide. His second novel, Duty, asks what might have happened if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo. His collected short fiction, Men of Eagles, offers new perspectives on the wars of the Napoleonic Age. Michael has found inspiration from the winding alleyways of Paris, the tall forests of Norway, and the impressive Acropolis of Athens, but he currently resides in the Midwest with his beautiful wife, listening to the winds whisper across the prairie. Find more about his work at http://bit.ly/10Pn9WQ and http://amzn.to/10Pnc52 .
I picked up the Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks from the library last night and have already worked through it and the select exercises provided within. I found it to be a great book because it’s practical, pragmatic, and from the viewpoint of an agent who knows what it takes to make a good story.
There were four exercises in particular that I found helpful: Historical, Emotional, Rebellion, and Wanted.
The Historical exercise was all about picking an era and writing a short blurb about someone during that time. Since I’m working on a Civil War book set in my hometown of Columbus, OH, this felt like it should have been a natural fit. I think because I assumed it should be easy, I think I made it difficult! Here is what I came up with, unedited:
It’s just after the Civil War and a teenage girl has been helping with the effort. A staunch Unionist surrounded by Copperheads at school, she despairs of ever fitting in. When she stumbles upon a wounded soldier, she helps him home to take care of him. His memories are gone, but little by little she realizes he might be a Confederate prisoner escaped from Camp Chase.
Something about this felt super flat. But it was more important to get the idea out there, so I went with it.
Then I tried the Emotions exercise, where you were tasked with taking some emotions you remember from your teenage years, and applying them to a character. This is the result of that exercise:
A Unionist teen is rejected by her Copperhead friends now that the war is won. She buries herself in preparations for Lincoln’s funeral procession [to avoid wallowing in sadness] when a wounded Confederate soldier falls into her lap, forcing her to confront ideas of what’s right and fair as she nurses him back to health.
This feels like it has a little more meat to it, if only because it feels more… human. There are emotions involved, people hurt and needing help, and you get a hint of the protagonist’s personality.
The Rebellion exercise was interesting because it is a lens where you think of a time when you tried/felt like rebelling against your parents…
Forced to stop associating with people she considered her friends, ______ resents her father for breaking her apart from them. She hates these people for following the new rules even while she makes excuses for them. She feels alone, betrayed, unheard, discarded, trapped, rejected, and yet somehow, aloof to it all if it will help her deal.
I didn’t really like that one. It felt kind of whiny.
The Wanted exercise was fun because it’s all about writing a want ad for your protagonist…
Average-looking, gangly 18-year-old female, unaware of her ability to make anyone feel at home. Questionable manners, average command of English, with a twang from childhood living in countryside. Staunch Unionist, but former friends with Copperheads. Logical-minded. Annoyed by inconveniences. Caring, but clumsy about showing it. Tendency to speak bluntly. Only daughter with younger brother, expected to be responsible and calm while mother fights illness and father returns from war.
I don’t know. Writing all of this out makes me realize how much work I have to do to really get back into writing. I’m fighting my looming frustration and sadness, trying to stay positive about this new book attempt and that I’m not a terrible writer. I have a lot of doubts right now, and as long as I don’t think about them, I can write. As soon as I think of my readers, however, I seem to freak out!
Anyway, feel free to send me your thoughts about these exercises! Email me, comment on Facebook, or here at the blog.
Oh dear, oh my! It seems my beloved Feedburner is being killed. This the internet service that allows those of you who read this blog to do so via RSS and email.
To ensure all 107 of you subscribed via Feedburner continue to get my updates, you can do the following:
Please make sure those are the accurate links that you click by checking against the text versions. Feedburner is being really weird right now.
Thanks to Edwardian Promenade for notifying her audience (including me) about this!
In other news, I just finished reading a fantastic teen historical fiction book over the weekend. What have you been reading?
Originally posted at http://worderella.com/2012/09/how-to-continue-following-worderella-via-email-or-rss/
Every once in a while, I get into a major writing slump. I despair of ever putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for my fiction because I am convinced I am the most unfortunate waste of authorial intent ever. EVER. This feeling can last anywhere from a day, to a couple of weeks, to an entire dreaded season. Sometimes, when the sun shines on a Sunday morning I wake up and remember I have a cure for this writerly depression.
Movies. And not just any movies. Movies about writing and writers. I have three favorite movies that I watch in succession that never fail to make me feel better. No, not just better, but excited to write. Excited about life and recording it in fiction, exploring the emotions and thoughts of these people who speak to me in my dreams and daydreams.
Stranger than Fiction
Because every writer has some sort of mania about their characters. I often dream about mine, and the idea that they can actually come to life, that they are walking around separate from me in time and space and physical-ness is just fun and inspiring.
Alex and Emma
Because it’s nice to have the reminder that you know what? Sometimes your readers don’t like your original idea, or character description, or ending. Take a moment, step back, find a good beta reader, and make changes.
You’ve Got Mail
Because the soundtrack is amazing, the characters are cute, there is witty dialogue, and when the movie is over you want to be typing with emphasis at your computer as if you were writing to the person with which you are falling in love.
And as a bonus, sometimes I like to throw Music and Lyrics in there too. Because it’s goofy, it emphasizes the importance of having outside influence on your creative inception, and Drew Barrymore is adorable.
As a quick reminder, you might be interested in the promotions below.
The audiobook version of Haunting Miss Trentwood will be discounted from $19.95 to $5.95 (even less to audible.com members) Saturday August 25 to Sunday September 2.
The newly released behind-the-scenes chapter called The Seance from Haunting Miss Trentwood is free on Kindle today, Tuesday August 28. Please leave a review on Amazon, it would be so appreciated!
When I first typed the title to this blog post, a Freudian slip occurred and I typed “touch” rather than “tough.” Seems to me both are accurate when it comes to romance, heh. Anyway, I’ve been thinking lately about how people make decisions, and why.
The fact is, romance is a tough decision for some people. “Timing is everything,” I always hear people say. But romance is so more than just timing. Romance is about personalities, wants, needs, desires. Conversation. Physical attractiveness. Mental and emotional attractiveness. Financial compatibility. Family traditions, cultures, expectations. Friends.
Romance, or rather, a meaningful romantic relationship, is a tough decision when you consider all these factors! Yet, people date all the time. People find someone to date, to spend time with, to hang out with friends. People break up with, cheat on, abuse and take advantage of those they date as well.
Those aren’t the relationships I like to write about. Part of the reason why I write (young adult) quirky Victorian romances is because the culture is more accessible to me, from a relationship-longevity standpoint.
Don’t get me wrong, just because people stayed married (legally-speaking) for decades only to be truly separated by death, doesn’t mean they didn’t have problems. Well-born Victorian men were notorious for cheating on their wives because they were told it was their nature, they were expected to have a mistress. On the other hand, Victorian women were fed the bull that they were the reason society was as civilized as it was; that the men who courted them would treasure them and therefore they should do their best to give him a wonderful home. Sounds like Mad Men a little, doesn’t it?
I’m stereotyping and simplifying, of course.
The fact is that despite these factors, I choose to write quirky Victorian fiction because I’m allowed to fantasize about a time when men and women made commitments to one another that were meant to surpass time and aging and death and famine and cheating all that. My idealist teenage-reader-mind soaked up Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery, Janette Oke, Jean Ferris, Ann Rinaldi, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell… these classic women wrote about heroes who took time to get to know their heroines and determine they were a match.
Not just financially (thank you, dowries), but emotionally, personally, familial…ly… The motivations behind the romances in my books are people are looking for a match. Not a perfect one, for sure, no one is perfect. Even the phrase “don’t look for someone perfect, look for someone perfect for you” implies this person is imperfect and these imperfections may, one day, make you want to throw a vase at him. But there is something fun and magical in reading a story about two people who just might have finally met each other and recognized kindred spirits. It’s something I hope for my friends, family, and myself.
So romance is a tough decision, right? But with the right person, things align. And in a perfect world (that is, fiction), we get to relive those moments over and over again.
For those of you who haven’t yet read Catching the Rose or Haunting Miss Trentwood to see just how I write about meaningful romance, you might be interested in the promotions below.
The audiobook version of Haunting Miss Trentwood will be discounted from $19.95 to $5.95 (even less to audible.com members) Saturday August 25 to Sunday September 2.
The newly released behind-the-scenes chapter called The Seance from Haunting Miss Trentwood will be free on Kindle Monday August 27 to Tuesday August 28.
As I’ve been working on The Rebel’s Touch and Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales, I’ve begun to notice a pattern: I tend to write about young-ish women who have lost a male authority figure in their lives. I did the same thing with Catching the Rose and Haunting Miss Trentwood. The fact is, the topic fascinates me.
You see, my father has played a huge role in shaping my life. For the longest time, his morals were my morals. His rules were my rules. His ideas about relationships were my ideas about relationships. To think of a life not shaped by my father, or any male authority figure, boggles my mind. I explored the idea of what happens when a girl doesn’t have a father to protect her from an arranged marriage she doesn’t want; how does she take care of herself when her mother can’t help her (Catching the Rose)? I explored the idea of what happens to a girl whose father had shaped her daily existence due to his illness but when he finally succumbs she has to pick up the pieces and start living her own life (Haunting Miss Trentwood).
The short story I’m reworking for Atlanta & the Lion is unnamed as yet; it might be called “The Friendly Suffragette,” or “Killing with Kindness,” or “A Smile with Arms.” The heroine has lost her grandfather, and she has joined the suffragette movement as a way to fill her days. The tactics of the other women don’t seem to be making headway, so, she tries something radical: she offers hugs to those who need them.
First off, as an aside, can I tell you how frustrating it can be, writing historical fiction, sometimes? I was halfway through writing the story when I realized I didn’t know if the word “hug” was something someone would say around 1913. Thanks to the internet, I now know the word “hug” was first used to mean “affectionate embrace” as early as the 1650’s. So phew.
I’ve had a couple people comment that Haunting Miss Trentwood is unsettling because it’s about a father dying and haunting his daughter. Totally understandable. The beginning of the book is a true gothic tale but it descends into silliness fairly quickly once Mr Trentwood starts quipping his one liners. I learned from that book to establish the level of silliness as soon as possible so the reader knows what to expect.
In The Rebel’s Touch, I keep paring back the plot. First, it was to be about the Underground Railroad. The heroine, Tempest Gray, was to have stumbled onto a group of slaves and their guide at the shore of the Ohio River. She gets kidnapped, and discovers that the man who kidnapped her has no memory… but when he touches her, he remembers something. Throw in a greedy father and mother who want to marry her off to the local rich man who has access to food stores despite the blockade on the Confederacy, and you have one convoluted, confused mess of a book.
The Rebel’s Touch is no longer about the Underground Railroad. A shame, because I bought a bunch of books on the topic and am now somewhat of an amateur historian in regards to Ripley, OH and its Underground Railroad celebrities. The book is now set somewhere in Kentucky, Lexington, I’m guessing, because I will be there this fall and so will have access to their libraries and historians if I can plan everything properly. It’s still about a girl who finds a man without a memory… but in the days after the Civil War, and thus is a story about the American Restoration. As always, I’m beginning my journey with this book by hunting and gathering images to inspire me, which you can follow on Pinterest.
The first sentence goes something like this:
Everyone else remembered it as the day the president died, but Tempest Gray remembered it as the day the man with no memory fell from her tree.
Looking forward to the restart of this adventure. Not sure where the father-daughter relationship will come to play, but since the theme has emerged in my other works, I expect it will manifest soon.
Apartment Therapy wrote this great blog post about home organization using the Berenstein Bears, which inspired me to write a similar post, but about writing. First off, the Berenstein Bears was a favorite of mine. I loved that the little sister got to do everything the little brother did, and listening to my mother read about the spooky old tree. Let’s take a look at the eight things Apartment Therapy mentioned and see how they apply to writing.
That is what I learned from the Berenstein Bears. Do you have any children’s books that inspire you to think again about your writing and publishing process?
P.S. Don’t forget about the Belinda’s Birthday Giveaway! 27 free ebooks and audio books as prizes to celebrate my 27th birthday. Not interested? That’s all right, we here at Worderella would appreciate you spreading the word for us. Deadline is midnight on my birthday, August 10.
I was going to write a big post in response to Chuck Wendig wanting us writers to care less. It’s a great post; I love his irreverence and I mean to pick up his books soon because I think I need a good laugh and his blog always makes me chuckle.
But then I looked at the calendar and realized my 27th birthday is eleven days away! Huzzah. I think.
I want to do something special for you guys. I’m not receiving gifts this year, but I figure someone should! Why am I not receiving gifts? Well, I’ve been trying to purge, I don’t need more stuff!
There are 27 gifts (seven audio books, twenty ebooks) that you can win in a multitude of ways:
Submit your entry today! The giveaway submission window will run from August 1 to August 10 (my birthday). I’ll be dancing on my birthday, so give me 72 hours after the submission window closes for me to announce and contact the winners.
I have succumbed, finally, to the beast that is Pinterest. I avoided it for so long because I didn’t need yet ANOTHER social media outlet to take up my time… but this one might be beneficial to my writing, for once! You see, Twitter and Facebook… it’s so easy for me to get lost in commenting, retweeting, liking, etc. That isn’t about writing. These actions don’t support my imagination for what my characters are wearing, where they are located, etc.
Pinterest, on the other hand, is quickly becoming a visual scrapbook of the images I used to inspire Haunting Miss Trentwood. I’ve been going back over my old links, posting images about the house Mary lives in (which actually exists). It’s a lot of fun to revisit the book.
I’m going to start another board soon for The Rebel’s Touch to help jump start my writing for the story. My friend Caitlin gave me some great feedback that I need to put into practice, but in the meantime, I’m working on the Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales anthology. Since this anthology is more like a literary magazine collection, I’m working on each story and poem in doses so I don’t freak myself out and stop writing again.
Anyway, I’m excited to use Pinterest to help me write again! If I don’t already follow you, post your profile in the comments. And tell me other ways I can use Pinterest, I’m all ears.