Sunday, July 20, 2008

Defining the Historical Novel

I'd like to read the sage advice of some of you seasoned authors about narrowing down the historical genre by definition. I run across writers, including myself, that struggle with what to exactly call their historical novels when querying agents or publishers. It appears they want something more precise than simply 'historical fiction'.

In my novels I have strong elements of love along with suspense. But they are not formula, you know, girl mets boy in chapter 1 and by chapter 3 they are married, and the entire book is from the girl's point of view. My novel that I am submitting is from the hero's point of view mostly, but also includes the point of view of my heroine. One agent asked me after I had queried her, 'Is your book historical romance, historical suspense, historical romantic suspense, historical adventure, historical intrigue, or just historical'. It got me thinking, what exact category my historical falls into. Now when sending out proposals I refer to the novel as a romantic historical.

Another point. I've never been clear on the reasons why the industry, especially in Christian publishing, prefers novels that center solely on the female lead. I've read a few of these novels and found myself longing to know what was going on with the male character. I could not get inside his head, understand his motivation, and I wanted more from him than just being a prop. I wanted him to be 'the quintessential hero' and swoop in and save the woman he loves from peril.

Does it not seem to you that we need a resurgence of the male hero as well as the female? Isn't that what gets women's hearts pounding when they read novels or watch movies like Pride & Prejudice? Yes, the novel is from Elizabeth Bennett's point of view, but did not Darcy grow into an unexpected hero? And what about Sense & Sensibility? Colonel Brandon saves Marianne in more ways than from a storm. He saves her from the storm of heartbreak, poverty, and loneliness. His love for her is patient, reserved, and constant.

The photo above is from the 1935 movie 'Captain Blood', one of my favorites. It's a good example of the strong hero and the wise heroine, both deeply in love but separated by class, social stigma, and politic circumstances. A favorite scene is where Captain Blood sword fights the notorious Captain Lavasseur to save Arabella from his evil clutches. If you have never read the book, and enjoy an old read, I highly recommend Raphael Sabatini's novel. He wrote a series of novels based on the hero Captain Blood.

Earlier this year,
I received a message from a fellow author who offered to read the first couple chapters of my novel in progress. I thought I had made it clear that the story is a historical with elements of romance and suspense. She thought she'd be reading as sampling of a lusty historical romance, and so with that mindset, even though she said I am a talented writer, she was disappointed it did not fall into the industry's definition of an historical romance. She suggested I throw out the beginning, about the hero, his patriotism in the Revolution, his capture and escape from the British, his inheritance, and his journey to England. Instead she told me to write it solely in the female character's point of view. If I do that it will be an entirely different novel.

I never set out to write formula fiction or historical romances. I never had the thought to join Romance Writers of America. Interesting though, Nora Roberts writes a lot of her stories from the male point of view, such as the Chesapeake stories with the Quinn brothers. She once told me, 'Rita, write a darn good story. That's what publishers want, and don't worry about all the rules.' Notice she said 'don't worry'. In other words do not fret or become paranoid about them. However, as one author commented on this blog , it's important to follow the publisher's guidelines.

Please post your comments on the writing of historicals.

How do you define your historical novel?

Are there publishers out there who will publish historicals that are NOT formula romances?

Has the feminist movement killed our fantasy of the Knight in Shining Armor?

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Few Thoughts

I have a couple things to blog about today. An author, generous with her time, offered to read the opening chapters to my new NIP (Novel in Progress). On my homepage, I have two novel offerings, and beneath the synopsizes I have 'Author Comments'. I wasn't 'blue' but I was feeling somewhat discouraged. You know those thoughts we writers deal with...'is my book any good? Maybe the reason my submissions are getting rejections is I suck'. Those kinds of crazy things.

Terri sent me back her comments and here is what she said. I know she hadn't set out to stroke my ego, but was clearly honest in her assessment of my work.

For my website:
From the first chapter, BESIDE
TWO RIVERS promises to be a very compelling story. It is beautifully and sensitively written, with masterful descriptive passages. I was immediately drawn in by interesting characterizations in an evocative setting. Wonderful handling of romantic elements. Great portrayal of the historical period. Love the opening poem. I look forward to reading the completed book!

Then she added some words of encouragement to me that lifted me out of a slump.
Off the record, I must say that your writing is so far superior to a lot of what I see in many historical fiction books currently being published. It's tight, not overworked or 'sappy', with judicious placement rather than overuse of adjectives and adverbs, and believable dialog, rather than what I so often see.

I'm sharing this not to toot my own horn. Rather I want you, as a writer, to do your best to think positively about your work. Give yourself a peptalk if need be. Think about the areas where you are the strongest. Also stick to your own style. Don't try to write like everyone else. Don't overwork your manuscript. And lastly, write first and foremost because you love to write.

Next, I've been getting a lot of comments from readers about the artwork I use on my blog, home site, and on Stepping Stones Magazine for Writers. Many of us use music to inspire us. I do, and I listen to a classical radio station out of England when I am at my keyboard. The soaring musical scores cause my heart to flutter and the words pour out. Art can does the same, but in a gently subtle way. Portraits especially, give me a visual of characters, place, setting, and time. They aid in research for clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, etc. I've include on this blog just a few of my favorites.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Writer's Portfolio: Part II


There are a few things you will need to purchase for your portfolio. First a large three-ringed binder and a pack of clear plastic page protectors. You can get a good deal on the protectors at office supply store
s like Staples, Walmart, and Office Depot. You can use separators for each category if you wish, or simply print out a page for each.

Here are some suggested categories for your portfolio.

  • Website
  • Books
  • Book Reviews
  • Newspaper Clips
  • Interviews
  • Events
  • Articles
  • Business Card and Fliers
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Photos
  • Query letters and replies
  • Book Proposals
  • Character Profiles


Go to your website and print out the pages. Next print out a page that says “WEBSITE”. Slip your pages into the plastic protectors.

Find every book review written about your work and every interview, and print them out. Do a search through the Internet. You may be amazed at how many reviews you were not aware of, for example the ones on Amazon.

Print out all the things you have in the above list. Gather them together and put each piece into a plastic page protector. Organize the categories whatever sequence you wish.

Take your portfolio along to events and lay it o
pen on your book table. You will be surprised at how many people will want to look through it, especially if you put photos in it. For each person that buys your book at a book signing, you could ask to take a picture with him or her to add to the portfolio. And when at conferences, try to get some photos taken of you with some widely published or best selling authors.

One thing is for sure, you will not regret putting this together.

A final word. Graphics are very important. People gravitate to them. Consider doing a few pages of images that reflect the world of your story. Here are some samples I use to depict my first novel, The Rebel's Pledge.

Newgate Prison

Monday, July 7, 2008

What Does This Writer Need?

Jane Bookman strode into her office and opened her desk drawer. An unorganized assortment of papers, sticky notes, and clippings got in her way as she rummaged for a pen. She sighed at the clutter and wondered what to do with it.

Shrugging her shoulders, she sat down at her computer to go through her files. Here are a few reviews she saved, and an endorsement from a well-known writer. She logs on and puts her name in the search box. Several pages appear. She sees a new review has been posted on Amazon for her book. Here is another at The Historical Fiction Review, and another on Denise’s Pieces. Today is the first of the month, and as promised her article on writing a great mystery novel has been posted on The Writer’s Desk website.

As she glances over the article, she sips of her coffee. Her husband made it early this morning before he left for work. The hazelnut flavor mixed with Splenda and Creamora is just perfect. The phone rings. The events coordinator at the library invites Jane to Meet The Authors Day on the fifth. Excited inwardly, but maintaining her calm professional voice, she accepts. “Bring your work with you, you know, some reviews and articles you have written,” the librarian said. “People love to see things like that, and it will help your book sales.”

What is Jane to do? Her work is scattered and unorganized.

Jane needs a writer’s portfolio. A writer’s portfolio is a collection of a writer’s career history. It shows the depth and quality of an author’s work. It shows the seriousness of his or her craft. It is the writer’s showcase. The writer’s portfolio will aid a writer in future submissions to publishers and agents. It will give an extra touch to their table at a book signing. It is a PROMOTIONAL TOOL to build the writer’s name and image by giving readers deeper insight into the life of the author. By giving our readers a glimpse into our world, that we just don’t sit down and write a book, they will see the many facets to our lives as authors; the creative as well as the business side.

A writer’s portfolio is also a keepsake, so that years from now when old and gray, we can pull out our portfolios and take a walk down memory lane with our grandchildren. I am a firm believer in leaving a legacy to my children, my grandchildren, and the great grandchildren in future generations. Just think how wonderful it will be for your descendants to have your portfolio of work, all your book reviews, your articles, press releases, newspaper clippings, and the events you attended.

More on this tomorrow.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Emotional Rollercoaster

Last week, I finished a final draft for a new historical novel, printed it out, put it in a box, and saved it to a disk. It's a great story. A love story. A story of self-sacrifice. A story of trusting that still small voice that speaks into ones soul that leads to truth.

As I said in a previous post, I had thought this book was finished more than a year passed, until a couple literary agents went out of their way to make some suggestions for changes. I've made tremendous changes and brought the word count down. I've begun submissions. I know that getting a literary agent is not easy. It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack these days. But if you roll around enough, dig deep with your hands, toss out the chafe, you'll eventually find that shining silver needle. If you want it bad enough, you won't give up until you do.

So, July has begun with submissions and with work on a new historical set along the Potomac River and the green vistas of Derbyshire. July has also brought a new issue to Stepping Stones Magazine for Writers. A Canadian war novelists shares her ups and downs with publishing. A few new releases are announced. A new feature this month is contests...not writing ones, but where authors have contests going on their websites where readers can win free books. Author Camy Tang won the July bookmarker contest. Links to writing related sites and blogs.