Monday, March 29, 2021

Accuracy in Historical Fiction: Does It Matter? by Ashley E. Sweeney

 In children’s literature, if a frog and a monkey wear striped pajamas and go on vacation to the moon, we think nothing of it. But give Wyatt Earp a cellphone or Calamity Jane a sports car and poof! Our credibility as an author is shot. 

Back when I was a reporter at a rural weekly newspaper in Washington State in the 1980s and 1990s, the Five W’s ruled first paragraphs. The thinking behind this formulaic style of journalistic writing is that if stories must be shortened due to space limitations, all the facts still appear in the story: Who/What/When/Where/Why. 

And our editor drilled into our heads: Check your facts. Get them right. Period. 

 You might ask: What’s the big deal? No ones cares. Or: Why attempt to “get it right”? I don’t have the time for that. 

I subscribe to the camp that authors have both a burden and a responsibility for being as historically accurate as possible, unless it gets in the way of the story (and, in that case, mention any discrepancies in the afterword). As authors, we want readers to trust us (and come back for more), which is why we can’t risk making reckless mistakes. 

 It’s important here to delineate the difference between material facts and immaterial facts. With material facts, i.e. what date was Abraham Lincoln sworn into office, there is no margin of error. What he ate for breakfast, what color socks he wore, or what time he retired that night are immaterial facts, and we, as authors, can color our manuscripts with our imaginations when writing in this type of detail. 

 How to do this? For each of my manuscripts, I begin collecting resources as soon as an idea surfaces. In the early stages of any manuscript, I amass 50-100 books on various subjects pertinent to the era and turn to librarians, historians, museum curators, authors, storytellers—and the Internet—to fill in holes. 

 Here are some other tips for sourcing data: *Visit locale/setting of novel, if possible, to flesh out all sensory elements *Read/research anything and everything about the era you are writing about: Literature Newspapers and Magazines Advertisements Maps Art Encyclopedias Photos/Film Diaries/Journals Music Census Data School, Church, and Land Records Calendars/Phases of the Moon/Tide Charts Almanacs and Catalogues Birth, Marriage, and Death Announcements Recipes *Visit museums/historical societies (actual or virtual) *Use print, digital, audio, and crowd-sourced material

In writing Answer Creek and Eliza Waite (and in my current work in progress), I fact-check myself constantly. Did matchsticks exist in the late 19th century? Who was president of the U.S. in the 1840s and 1890s? What were accepted practices for births and deaths in remote settlements? Where did pioneers access herbal remedies commonly used for constipation and ulcer? When did women get the vote in each of the states? Why were oxen and mules preferable to horses? How did men and women cook and bathe without any modern conveniences, especially on overland trails or in rural areas? 

When writing, I place a triple XXX as a placeholder to remind me to return to fact check that piece of information as I don’t want to disrupt the flow of writing to check every detail when creative juices flow. It’s easy to find this marker (or TK, i.e. “to come”) in document searches. On days when I don’t feel particularly inclined to churn out a thousand words or two, I use that time for historical research. It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process, but it can become very time consuming. 

Some authors fear they’ll get it all wrong and that fear stops them cold—this line of thinking is writer’s prison. If you’re scared before you put anything down on paper or computer, you’re compromised every time you sit at your desk. Days and weeks turn into months of procrastination. Your story dies on the vine because you’re worried that some aficionado/reviewer is going to tank your manuscript once it’s published. You’re not any closer to getting published if fear is crippling you. 

Instead, try turning that fear around and calling it confidence—confidence in your skills as a researcher and a writer, confidence that you’re aligning yourself with history and paying attention to detail, confidence that you will endeavor to get everything right (not just facts, but characters and settings and plot), but not at the expense of never getting anything down on paper or computer at all. Through this lens of confidence, you’ll turn prison into permission. You’ve got lots of time to check and re-check facts. 

 That’s why in my new manuscript, set in 1905 rural Arizona Territory, you won’t find my protagonist driving a Jeep, reading a book or magazine that wasn’t published yet, or saying something that wasn’t in vogue at the time. Every day, I find myself going down proverbial rabbit holes doing historical research—but that’s a topic for another newsletter! 

Remember what Thomas Edison said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” 

 So get to work! In the meantime, I’m back at it, too. Perched on my shoulder, my old editor keeps whispering in my ear. Check your facts. Get them right. Period. 

Find Ashley and her books HERE

Ashley E. Sweeney is the winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for her debut novel, Eliza Waite. A native New Yorker, she is a graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and resides in Tucson. Answer Creek, released in May 2020, is her second novel, and winner of the 2020 Arizona Authors Association Literary Award. She is at work on a third novel set in 1905 rural Arizona. Find Ashley’s books by clicking these links: Answer Creek and Eliza Waite Visit Ashley’s website HERE. Winner: 2020 Arizona Authors Association Literary Award Winner: 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award Finalist: 2016 Sarton Women’s Book Award Finalist: 2017 WILLA Literary Award

Monday, March 15, 2021

History and myths, the Paladins of Charlemagne - by Vijaya Schartz


The Curse of the Lost Isle series starts in the time of Charlemagne and the Viking Invasions and ends during the Crusades.Find these books on my page at BWL Publishing HERE

When Charlemagne ascended to the Frankish throne in 968AD, he designated twelve Paladins to help him rule the Frankish Kingdom. They were highly trained noblemen, expert swordsmen and fierce warriors. They, took a solemn oath of fealty and swore to abide by Christian rules. Some say they were the first chivalric Christian Knights. Others argue they were Charlemagne’s henchmen, extortioners and executioners… which, in these violent and troubled times might be closer to the truth.

Ending the Dark Ages, Charlemagne united Europe in the name of Christianity, against invaders from the north (Vikings) and the Saracens in Spain. He beat medieval Europe into submission and imposed strict Christian rule. He established schools, promoted education, the copy of illuminated religious manuscripts, art, architecture, and he also maintained a formidable army.

On the battlefield, after a victory, Charlemagne gathered the surviving enemy soldiers, made them kneel, and gave them a choice. Convert to Christianity and join his army, or be beheaded on the spot. Of course, many converted, giving the new faith lip service only. Better be a live Christian than a dead Pagan, right?

Still, a number of vanquished soldiers chose death over conversion. Pagan roots ran much deeper than Christianity in many places.

The Celts, in particular, gave Charlemagne a difficult time. Especially the small kingdom of Brittany (French Bretagne) a bed of Celtic culture and legends, the birth place of Merlin, the place where legends of Vivian the Fae, Morgan the Fae, Pressine the Fae, Palatina the Fae, Meliora the Fae, and Melusine the Fae, still flourish, among other myths.

To deal with these pesky Celts, Charlemagne nominated his trusted nephew, the Paladin Roland, to administrate the Marshes of Brittany on the western frontier.

Roland is still famous in France and throughout Europe. This is his statue in Metz, France, not on a church or historical building, but at the train station.

The story of Roland:

Roland sworn in by Charlemagne as a Paladin knight

Roland, and Olivier, his childhood friend, swore fealty together as Paladins of Charlemagne. Roland is poetically associated with his sword Durandal, his horse Veillantif, and his oliphant horn.

The Song of Roland written much later, lists the twelve paladins as Roland, Olivier, Gérin, and Gérier (killed by the Saracen, Grandonie), Bérengier, Otton, Samson, Engelier, Ivon, Ivoire, Anséis, and Archbishop Turpin ...

There is also mention of Fierabras (meaning proud with strong arms), a converted Saracen knight who seems to have served as the basis for the legend of Percival, of King Arthur’s legends. Yes, medieval romantic tales often tend to ignore chronology as well as historical facts and dates… unless you consider reincarnation or immortality.

While returning from fighting the Saracens in Spain, Roland, closing the long column through the pass of Roncevaux in the Pyrenees, was ambushed by the Basques. He sounded his oliphant horn, calling for help. But his conniving uncle at the head of the march pretended not to hear the oliphant and refused to turn back to help. Grossly outnumbered, Roland and his company fought bravely. Roland, at the end, broke his faithful sword, Durandal, on a boulder, so it wouldn’t fall into heathen hands. Roland and his company were killed to the last, in Roncevaux in 778AD.

Roland breaking his sword on a stone

On Christmas day in 800AD, in Rome, Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor of Occident by Pope Leo III. The great emperor died in 814AD. 

But his Paladin knights still fascinate modern youth and keep gathering fame in children’s books and videogames.

If you enjoy reading the heroic myths and legends of the time, I recommend The Curse of the Lost Isle series, based on the Celtic legends of Brittany. The first two books are set in Scotland during the Viking invasions. Then the story of this family of immortal ladies spreads to Luxembourg, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the middle East during the Crusades.

Princess of Bretagne, Curse of the Lost Isle, book 1
Currently $1.49 in kindle. Also available in paperback
Find it at your favorite online store HERE 

"Well-written and researched, Vijaya Schartz's "Princess of Bretagne' is a joy to read. Although it is a fantasy, Ms. Schartz deftly weaves in historical aspects and customs of those times. One overriding theme is the clash between paganism and early Christianity during the Dark Ages.... a worthwhile and entertaining read." 5 stars review.

Happy Reading.

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo FB 

Friday, March 5, 2021

New Book by Jan Cleere, Military Wives in Arizona Territory, Arriving March 1, 2021!


When the US Army ordered troops into Arizona Territory in the nineteenth century to protect and defend newly established settlements, military men often brought their wives and families, particularly officers who might be stationed in the west for years.

Most of the women were from refined, eastern-bred families with little knowledge of the territory. Their letters, diaries, and journals from their years on army posts reveal untold hardships and challenges. They learned to cope with the sparseness, the heat, sickness, and danger, including wildlife they never imagined.

These women were bold, brave, and compassionate. They became an integral part of military posts that peppered the West and played an important role in civilizing the untamed frontier. Combining their words with original research and tracing their movements from post to post, this collection of historical narratives explores the tragedies and triumphs that early military wives experienced.

Author, historian and expert speaker Jan Cleere writes extensively about the desert southwest, particularly the people who first settled the territory. Her freelance work appears in national and regional publications including Arizona Highways Magazine, Persimmon Hill Magazine, Phoenix Woman, Tucson Guide Quarterly, The Desert Leaf, Chronicle of the Old West, and Arizona Garden. In 2001, Jan received recognition from Arizona Highways Magazine for her article, "Hostess to the West," the life of Elizabeth Hudson Smith, a Black entrepreneur in Wickenburg, Arizona, during the early 1900s.

Visit her website at: