Sunday, July 31, 2011

Historical Fiction is a Dining Room Table, Part I: The Setting

Writing historical fiction is akin to building a dining room table. To build a table, you will need the table-top, of course, but in the next few posts I’d like to talk about its legs, because getting those right is tough. The four legs of historical fiction are: Setting; Plot; Dialog; and Character. Each individual leg must be straight and solid (of course), and you also must ensure that it lines of perfectly with the other legs. If any of the legs is the wrong length, or extends at the wrong angle, your table will be wobbly, uneven, or both.

(If I’m stretching the metaphor here, I do apologize. One of my betas noted that I hardly used any, and I’m trying to practice. The point is that you have to construct each of these legs in relation to each other. You can’t dump the entire historical setting in Chapter One and never return. And you can’t sketch out your protagonist in Chapter Two, and forget about it. You have to slowly reveal each to the reader.)

When I sat down to start The Midwife’s Story, I did so with a bit of an advantage over other authors of historical fiction – I’ve been writing about the seventeenth-century England for nearly fifteen years. (The downside of having this kind of background is you must constantly struggle to keep unnecessary details to yourself. Just because I dug up some obscure fact about the price of butter during the siege of York, doesn’t mean you need to know it.) If you haven’t got this kind of background and want to write historical fiction, don’t give up: Nancy Bilyeau developed her long-standing interest in Tudor history into a thriller set in Reformation England which is due out in January.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Welcome to A Bloody Good Read

Welcome to A Bloody Good Read
Hello, and welcome to A Bloody Good Read, new blog launched by me (Sam Thomas) and Nancy Bilyeau, another author of historical fiction.
I’m a professor in the history department at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, and the author of The Midwife’s Story: A Mystery, a historical novel set in England during the civil war between Parliament and King Charles I. The Midwife's Story is under contract with St. Martin's Press, and will probably come out in the fall of 2012.
Nancy's first book The Crown is will hit the shelves in early 2012, but is available for pre-order now. She  has worked in magazine publishing, and written prize-winning screenplays. (I’ll let her introduce herself in greater detail at her convenience.)
Nancy and I are starting this blog largely as a way of communicating with readers, other authors, and to sort out our own thoughts about reading and writing historical fiction. Because I wear these two hats – that of historian and novelist – I also will use it to discuss the relationship between writing history and writing fiction, and how these endeavors compare.
As in my fiction, in my early posts I’ll focus on the past. I’ll try to explain how I came to writing fiction relatively late in life (I’m in my 40s), and how I got from idea, to agent, to contract.