Cindy Vallar

Author, Editor, & Pirate Chronicler
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Historical Fiction vs. History

History and historical fiction are necessarily not the same thing. The purpose of history is to narrate events as accurately as one can. The purpose of historical fiction is to enable a reader through the perspective of characters in the story to feel that she or he is present at the events. Such a goal obviously requires some modification of the events. - Andrew M. Greeley
Woman with parasol
(Source: Marie B's Designs)

HF References
Conferences Awards
Thoughts on Historical Fiction

My Favorites

Articles

Websites

Historical Novel Society

Reviews of Historical Novels
A Taste of HNSNA
23 July 2022
Virtual One-day Conference
Historical Novel Society North America


HNS 2022 UK Conference
2-4 September 2022
Durham, United Kingdom


Historical Novel Society North American Conference
8-11 June 2023
San Antonio, Texas
The Christy Award
The White Rose Resists by Amanda Barratt
A Portrait of Loyalty by Roseanna M. White


Military Writers Society of America
2021 Gold Star Winners
A Quiet Cadence by Mark Treanor
The Cotillion Brigade by Glen Craney


2021 Walter Scott Prize
The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel


Aspen Words
Literary Prize

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich


2021 International Booker Shortlist
At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut


The Dayton Literary Peace Prize
We Germans by Alexander Starritt


Saudi Historical Fiction Awards


Thoughts on Historical Fiction

The place where the novel differs from the straight history is in the extent to which the "web of imaginative construction" is indeed imagined, or made up, if you will. The historian will tell you that Caesar traveled to Gaul. The novelist will tell you what he (most likely) ate, drank, thought, and felt along the way.... On the pages of A General History [of the Pyrates] the reader will see the bare bones of the story, the "certain fixed points" which I have used as a skeleton for this book. With this outline I have done what the novelist can do and the historian cannot, fictionalized the historical events and, I hope, come somewhat close to the truth of these three remarkable people. - James L. Nelson


I read a manuscript recently in which a seduction scene was brought to a frustrating halt as the author carefully enumerated the articles of clothing the hero was removing from his mistress, the fabrics they were made of and how they were worn. The promise of illicit sex on a beach sadly translated into a V & A catalogue entry. Historical novelists must remember they are novelists first and foremost, for whom history serves merely as a prop, a source of plots and characters and intriguing curiosities. If the past is another country, historical novelists are not so much the tour guides as the PR people who create the alluring adverts which beckon us in. We need to do the research in order to thoroughly immerse ourselves in the lives and times of our characters, in order to avoid merely writing modern novels in period dress, or -- and there should be a special circle of hell for this -- novels which patronise people from societies we perceive as more primitive than our own. But we must never become slaves to it, we must be prepared to jettison, disorder, conflate, to play as fast and loose with the facts as we need to to create good fiction. - Sarah Bower, Co-ordinating Editor (UK), Historical Novels Review


History strives for reality, for what is provable, documentable. Historical fiction should strive for the story that underlies reality and thus become an imagined reality. - David Nevin in A Note on Methods and Sources in 1812


Father Greeley's clarification between historical fiction and history appears in the Author's Note of Irish Love, one of his Nuala Anne McGrail stories. James L. Nelson defines the difference in the Historical Note for The Only Life That Mattered. Sarah Bower, in her farewell Letter from the Editor column, shows how history can interfere with the story. History and fiction often conflict with each other, even while they complement each other. I believe historical fiction is a stepping stone to history, for the historical events recounted in a novel can, and do, lead readers to discover the truth behind the fiction. I also believe reading historical fiction provides us with a deeper understanding of our past.

I attended many history lectures in high school and college, but rarely did the instructor present the course material in a way that fascinated me and begged me to learn more about the time period. On the other hand, historical novels did just that! As a child, my mom recommended I read one of her favorite children's stories, Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan. It tells the story of how Norwegian children smuggled gold bullion past the Nazis to a freighter bound for Baltimore. Snow Treasure introduced me to World War II and, in high school, I read several of Leon Uris's novels. Mila 18 and QB VII  led me to learn more about the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust at a time when these subjects were glossed over in history and social studies classes.

Over the years many historical novels spurred me to study the history behind the novels. Those listed below evoked a strong desire in me to learn more about the historical events around which the author crafted his/her story.

The Snow Mountain by Catherine Gavin
Romanov Dynasty & Russian Revolution



A Woman Called Moses by Marcy Heidish
Harriet Tubman & Underground Railroad



Angel in the Rigging by Erika Nau
U.S.S. Constitution & War of 1812



Woman with a Sword by Hollister Noble
Anna Ella Carroll & American Civil War



Captain Blood by Rafael Sabtini
Jacobite Uprisings & Piracy



Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson
Cynthia Ann Parker & Comanches



Trinity by Leon Uris
Ireland's Great Potato Famine & the Easter Rebellion of 1916

Over the years, I have also read many historical romances, but my favorite novels are always those that emphasize the history over the romance. It is why I describe The Scottish Thistle and my works-in-progress as historical novels intertwined with love stories. Both are key elements of my stories, but the reader encounters far more history than is commonly found in historical romances. While nurturing the love between the hero and heroine is an important theme in my books, they sometimes spend long passages of time apart or do things contrary to the normal roles of men and women in formula romance. For example, the Rising of 1745 separates Rory and Duncan for much of the time in the The Scottish Thistle. Alexine, the heroine in The Rebel and the Spy, exhibits many traits expected of a young woman living in New Orleans around 1812. Her brother, who raised her, is a sailor, privateer, and smuggler. Lucas, the hero, soon discovers that Alexine has many other traits that society would frown on if they knew the truth.

When I write my stories, I strive to make history, time, and place come alive for readers so they feel as if they stand in the midst of the battle or feel the roll of a ship's deck beneath their feet. To achieve this sometimes requires modifications to history. Whenever I do alter historical details, I make note of them in the Author's Note at the end of the story.

Alan Gold, an Australian author of historical novels, echoes my feelings in the Author's Note of The Pirate Queen, which recounts the exploits of Irish pirate and chieftain Grace O'Malley and her momentous meeting with another extraordinary woman of her day, Elizabeth I of England.
When creating a fictional work based on real characters, a novelist is often torn between real-life events and the needs of the narrative. In the case of Grace O'Malley, so little is known of her that liberties could be taken without too much risk of offence. Nonetheless, this is a work of fiction and so I have altered and omitted certain minor details of Grace's life for the sake of the plot, and ask any scholar with knowledge of Grace and her circumstances to please forgive me.
Some authors and readers take exception to such changes, but I make the changes so that history doesn't take precedence over the story. If I wished to do the opposite, I would write nonfiction rather than fiction.

If you are thinking of writing historical fiction, here are a few suggestions that will assist you in breathing life into a time and place that no longer exists in our world today.

1. Language is one of the most important tools writers use. Its importance in historical fiction is paramount. Avoid using modern terms, especially when a character speaks or thinks. Choose words your characters would be familiar with in his or her time period, rather than relying on a comparison or descriptor you would use. If your character has a specialized trade, such as a seaman or lawyer, learn that profession's specific vocabulary so your character comes across as actually being what he or she professes to be.

2. History doesn't just mean the events that occurred in a given age. It also involves culture, clothing, food, and every other aspect of life during that time period.

3. Don't rely on the "facts" you uncover while reading a historical novel. Use what you learn about the historical period or event as a stepping stone to discover the truth behind the fiction. The facts within a story may not be accurate. Use primary accounts or trustworthy secondary resources to gather information.

4. Today, we often tend toward using words that don't offend others. When writing historical fiction, it's okay to use politically incorrect words common to the times in which your story unfolds. (The same holds true for topics unpopular today, but commonplace in the past.) Don't overload characters' dialogues and thoughts with them. Rather pepper the story where they are most appropriate to provide the flavor a reader needs to be in that time period.

5. Remember, that story takes precedence over fact. If you need to fudge a bit on the timeline to write a more compelling fictional account about a historical event, that's okay. You're goal is to write a riveting tale that transports readers back in time to a place where the story's setting is far different from the readers' world.

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Keepers from my Collection of Historical Fiction

Christmas at Carnton
by Tamara Alexander

The Only Life That Mattered
by James L. Nelson

Eye of the Red Tsar
by Sam Eastland

Philip Nolan
by Chuck Pfarrer

The Pirate Queen 
by Alan Gold

Lady of the Glen
by Jennifer Roberson

The Hammer of God
by James Hunter

Scaramouche & Captain Blood
by Rafael Sabatini

The Stricklands
by Edwin Lanham

The Deadly Lady of Madagascar 
by Frank G. Slaughter

Bowdrie & Bowdrie's Law
by Louis L'Amour

Red Winter
by Dan Smith

There Is a Wideness
by Mark McAllister

Years
by LaVyrle Spencer

Angel in the Rigging 
by Erika Nau
Children of the Mist, The Clansman, 
Gold for Prince Charlie, Macgregor's
Gathering,  & The Wallace
by Nigel Tranter


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Online Articles on Historical Fiction vs. History
(updated 5/18/2022)

50 of the Best Historical Fiction Authors Writing Today by Ann Foster (BookRiot, 16 November 2018)
7 Elements of Historical Fiction by M. K. Tod (Inside Historical Fiction, 24 March 2015)
10 Absolutely Incredible Women in Historical Fiction by Alex Myers (Huffington Post, 10 April 2014)
10 Thoughts on the Purpose of Historical Fiction by M. K. Tod (Inside Historical Fiction, 14 April 2015)
300: Separating Fact from Fiction by Dr. Kaveh Farrok
20 Things about Vikings that Make Zero Sense Historically by Natasha B (The Things.com, 20 January 2020)
2018 Readers Survey compiled by M. K. Tod


Accuracy vs. Authenticity: 5 Tips for Writing Immersive Historical Fiction by Andrew Noakes (The Creative Penn, 26 September 2018)
The Agonising by J. D. Davies (J. D. Davies, 27 August 2018)
Ali Smith Wins Baileys Prize -- Historical Fiction is on the Up by Sally O'Reilly (The Conversation, 4 June 2015)
Animating History: the Challenges of Writing an Historical Novel about Josephine by Sandra Gulland (Sandra Gulland, 10 July 1993)
Art in Historical Fiction Interview: Michael Dean by Stephanie Renee Dos Santos (Historical Novel Society, 14 June 2014)
Art in Historical Fiction Interview: Susan Vreeland by Stephanie Renee Dos Santos (Historical Novel Society, 31 May 2014)
The Art of Historical Fiction by Andrew Pepper (Culture NorthernIreland.org, 3 November 2012)
Authentic Profanity: An Author's Guide to Swearing in Historical Fiction by Tim Hodkinson (The History Quill, 7 February 2020)
Authors Are Readers Too by M. K. Tod (A Writer of History, 19 June 2015)


Bartering with the Facts: How a Novelist Solves a Historical Problem by Samantha Harvey (Publishers Weekly, 16 November 2018)
Beautiful Lies: Facts vs. Story in Secret History Fiction by David Mack (LOCUS 2, February 2018)
The Beginning of Medieval Historical Fiction: Ten Novels from the 19th Century (Medievalists.net, 4 March 2015)
Blending Fiction and History: What Works? What Doesn't? by Paula L. Fleming (Writing-World.com, 2004)
Book Winner Hilary Mantel on Historical Fiction by Hilary Mantel (The Guardian, 17 October 2009)
Booth Library Professor Discovers History through a Novel (Journal Gazette & Times-Courier, 15 July 2013)
But a Fable Agreed Upon: The Problem of Truth in History and Fiction by Richard Lee (Historical Novel Society, 2000)


Can the Language of Historical Fiction Ever be "Authentic"? by Dr. John Yeoman (Clio's Children, 24 June 2010)
Captain Blood: The History behind the Novel by Cindy Vallar (Pirates and Privateers, March-July 2009)
The Case for Author Notes in Historical Fiction by Cindy Vallar (Solander, May 2011)
Characteristics of a Historical Fiction Novel by Judi Brown (HubPages, 20 August 2015)
Criticism of Naval Historical Fiction: a Guide for New Authors by J. D. Davies (JD Davies, 30 June 2014)


The Dead Are Real by Larissa MacFarquhar (The New Yorker, 15 October 2012)
Defining the Genre: What are the Rules for Historical Fiction by Sarah Johnson (Historical Novel Society, March 2002)
Dipping Into History by Terry Whalin (The Writing Life, 20 April 2006)
Do It Yourself Historical Fiction by Steven Leibo (University of Albany)
Donít Shoot Holes in Your Credibility by John Rains (Writing-world.com, 21 August 2003)


Editorial: Black Sails, Historical Accuracy, and the Pirate Genre in Hollywood by David Fictum (Colonies, Ships, and Pirates, 7 February 2016)
Edutainment: Is there a role for popular culture in education? by Malcolm Jack (The Independent, 15 January 2010)
Evolving World of Publishing by M. K. Tod (A Writer of History, 29 October 2020)


Fact or Fiction? by M. K. Tod (8 December 2020)
Fashion Hits and Misses from YA Historical Fiction Book Covers (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) by Laura Perenic (The YALSA Hub, 26 February, 1 April, 15 April, and 6 May 2014)

Favourite Historical Research Resources by K. M. Pohlkamp (A Writer of History, 14 May 2020)
Film Meets Fact -- Why Is Historical Accuracy Important? by Sam Wallace (Nouse, 13 January 2016)
The Five Top Challenges of Writing Historical Fiction (And How to Overcome Them) by Andrew Noakes (The Historical Quill, 2 August 2019)
5 Writing Tips from Mary Sharratt by Mary Sharratt (PW Tip Sheet, 5 October 2012)
Front Row: Writing about the Past (BBC Radio 4, 12 August 2009)


Guardian Books podcast: Historical fiction (The Guardian,17 February 2012)
A Guide to the Best Historical Novels and Tales by Jonathan Nield

 

He Disagreed with the History, but He Liked the Story by William Rainbolt (University of Albany)
Hilary Mantel on the Secrets of Successful Historical Fiction by Rob Attar (History Extra, 22 May 2019)
The Historian: Historical Fiction (The Historian, Spring 2013)
Historians and Novelists Fight Turf Wars -- Let's Flip the Narrative by Christopher Kremmer (The Conversation 15 June 2015)
Historical Fiction -- How, What, When & Why? by Triskele Books (Writers & Artists: The Insider Guide to the Media, 2019)
Historical Fiction Blurs Facts and Entertainment by Carrie Ruth Moore (Daily Trojan, 23 January 2013)
Historical Fiction or Fictionalized History? Problems for Writers of Historical Novels for Young Adults by Joanne Brown (ALAN Review, Fall 1998)
A Historical Fiction Roundtable (Penguin Books UK, July 2011)
Historical Fiction: Who Rules, Researcher or Story-teller? by Caro Clarke (Caro Clarke)
Historical Fiction Reader Survey by Mary Tod (A Writer of History, 2018)
HISTORICAL Romance vs. Historical ROMANCE by Kalen Hughes (History Hoydens, 21 June 2010)
Historical Texts as Literature? We Do Well to Praise EP Thompson by Ann Curthoys (The Conversation, 11 June 2015)
History through Fiction by Ira Socolo (SpeEdChange, 22 January 2010)
How Archival Fiction Upends Our View of History by Lucy Ives (The New Yorker, 20 May 2016)
How Historical Fiction Went Highbrow by Jay Parini (Atlantic Magazine, May 2009)
How the Historical Novel Has Changed! by Catherine Savage Brosman (Chronicles, 27 June 2018)
How to Do Research for Historical Fiction: Balancing Fact and Fiction by Writer's Relief Staff (Writer's Relief, 3 March 2010)


Is Hilary Mantel's View of Historical Fiction out of Date? by Clair Armitstead, The Guardian 4 April 2017
Is Historical Fiction an Effective Tool or a Genre Fraught with Bias and Exaggeration? by Abigail Dotterer, The College Reporter 9 September 2018


Keeping Historical Figures Real by Mary Sheeran (A Writer of History, 2 April 2020)


A Literary Tour of Historical Y.A. by Jen Doll (The Atlantic, 10 January 2013)
Looking Back -- 13 Insights on Historical Fiction by M. K. Tod (A Writer of History , 13 February 2018)


Making Historical Characters Your Own by David B. Coe (Magical Words, 15 March 2010)
The Master of Historical Fiction by Allan Massie (Standpoint, April 2010)
Matters of Fact: Seven Keys to Writing Historical Fiction by Jamie Hannigan (MovieMaker, 4 August 2017)
My Annoyance with Historical Fiction by Carrie Lofty (Salome's Corner, 26 March 2007)


On the Frontier: The Intriguing Dance of History and Fiction by Tom Griffiths (The Conversation, 9 June 2015)
Outlander: 10 Things That Are Historically Accurate (And 10 Things That Aren't) by Alyssa Avina (ScreenRant, 24 April 2019)


A Passion for the Past: 2011's Best Historical Fiction (All Things Considered, 24 December 2011)
Personal Diaries Are Treasure for Writers of Historical Fiction by M. K. Tod (A Writer of History, 18 November 2021)
Portraying Women in Historical Fiction, Part 1 and Part 2 by M. K. Tod and Gina Buonaguro (A Writer of History, 8 February and 10 February 2022)
Preface (to the Historical Nights Entertainment) by Rafael Sabatini (The Life and Work of Rafael Sabatini, 2008)

Prithee, How Should I Tackle Historical Fiction, Fair Lady? by Nicola Morgan (Help! I Need a Publisher! 15 January 2010)
Publishing Revolution: Historical Fiction Evolves in Digital Age by Robin Maxwell (HuffPost, 10 February 2010)
Publishing Trends and Why My Novel Didn't Sell to the Big Five by Michelle Cameron (Words & More, 25 March 2019)


The Real Vikings: The Early Medieval World Behind the Historical Drama by Howard Williams (HistoryExtra)
Research Flaws in Romance Novels by Anne M. Marble (Writing-world.com, 2001)
The Research Monster -- or -- Down the Rabbit Hole by Janis Susan (Ladies of Mystery, 12 July 2018)
A Research Primer for Historical Fiction Writers by Erika Dreifus (Writing-World.com, 2004)
Roger Hudson Discusses Plausibility in Historical Fiction by Roger Hudson (Julie Lomoe: The Creative Crone, 12 March 2010)


Sarah Johnson on Current Trends in Historical Fiction (A Writer of History, 28 October 2021)
Seven Rules for Writing Historical Fiction
by Elizabeth Crook (Elizabeth Crook)
Seven Tips from Napoleon for Historical Fiction Authors by Margaret Rodenberg (A Writer of History, 18 August 2021)
Sir Joseph Banks and the Aubrey/Maturin Novels of Patrick O'Brian by Jeremy Strong (Corilis, 2013)


Ten Rules for Writing Fiction (The Guardian, 19 February 2010) [part two]
Ten Rules for Writing Fiction by Rose Tremain (Go Into the Story, 26 March 2010)
Ten Themes Shared by Historical Fiction and Science Fiction by Annalee Newitz (Gizmodo, 17 November 2011)
Those Pesky Little Rivet Counters by Anne Gilbert (Writer's Daily Grind, 16 February 2009)
Thoughts on Accuracy in Historical Fiction by Lynne Connolly (Sappho Sings, 22 March 2009)
Top Tips on Writing Historical Fiction from Historical Novelists by Andrew Noakes (The History Quill, 23 August 2019)
Treading Warily through History by Tessa Harris (HuffPost, 14 February 2013)
The True History Behind HBO's The Gilded Age (Smithsonian Magazine, 20 January 2022)
The True History Behind the 1917 Movie by Meilan Solly (
Smithsonian Magazine, 20 December 2019)
The True Story behind the Harriet Tubman Movie by Meilan Solly (Smithsonian Magazine, 30 October 2019)
The True Story of "Operation Finale" by Patrick Sauer (Smithsonian Magazine, 28 August 2018)
The True Story of the Battle of Midway by Meilan Solly (Smithsonian Magazine, 28 November 2019)
The Truth Is Better Than Fiction: Accuracy in Historical Fiction by Kristen McQuinn (Book Riot, 19 March 2018)
The Truth Is Quieter Than Fiction
by David O. Stewart (Publishers Weekly, 6 November 2015)
Tyburn Academy: The Role of the Historical Novel in the Classroom by Conor O'Donnell (Auburnpub.com, 9 April 2019)


The Uncertainties of Writing a Historical Novel by James Champ (The National, 12 October 2010)


What Are You Willing to Fudge in Historical Fiction? by Boyd and Beth Morrison (A Writer of History, 12 May 2022)
What Django Unchained Got Wrong by Lonnie G. Bunch III (Smithsonian Magazine, 14 January 2013)

What Do Authors of Historical Fiction Owe to History? by D. B. Jackson (A Dribble of Ink, 18 June 2012)
What Does Historical Fiction Mean? by Pippa Brush Chappell (The History Quill, 12 August 2020)
What's Fact and What's Fiction in Harriet by Rachelle Hamptom (Slate, 31 October 2019)
When a Spiffy Literary Vehicle Turns out to be a Book of Lemons by Trace Edward Zaber (Tales of the Blue and Gray, 2001)
Why Historical Fiction Is Important for 21st-Century Kids by Ellen Klages (Brightly, 2019)
Why Historical Fiction Will Never Go Away by Justin O'Donnell (Publishers Weekly, 9 September 2016)
Why I Became a Historical Novelist by Hilary Mantel (The Guardian, 3 June 2017)
Why Is Christian Historical Fiction So Popular? by Mike Duran (MikeDuran.com, April 2012)
Why Is Holocaust Fiction Still So Popular? by JTA and Emily Burack (Haaretz, 29 April 2019)
Writing Backward: Modern Models in Historical Fiction by Anne Scott Macleod (The Horn Book, 6 January 1998)
Writing Historical Fiction by John Gorman (Twilight Times, 2002)


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Sites devoted to Historical Fiction
(updated 5/10/2021)

A - G

Antique Words

Baroque Explorations

Bygone Days

Carla Nayland Historical Fiction
Caz's Reading Room
Christian Historical Fiction
The Coffee Pot Book Club
The Copperfield Review
Cowboy Kisses

A Darn Good Read
Discovering Diamonds

Enchanted by Josephine
English Historical Fiction Authors


Favorite Historical Research Resources
Forthcoming Historical Novels

 
Grace Elliot
H - Historical Fiction

Hearts Through History
Herstory Novels
Historic Naval Fiction
Historical Belles and Beaus
Historical-Fiction.com
Historical Fiction Daily
Historical Fiction eBooks
 
Historical Fiction for Children
Historical Fiction Forums

Historical Fiction Reader
Historical Fiction Reviews
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Historical G - H Z

Historical Novels.info
 
Historical Novels Review Online
Historical Novel Society
Historical Readings & Reviews
Historical and Regency Romance UK
Historical Saga Novels
Historical Writers' Association
Historically Obsessed
Historically Speaking
History and Women
History from a Woman's Perspective
The History Girls
The History Quill
History Undressed



I - O

Let Them Read Books
 
Living the History

Magic of History

Novel PASTimes
Novelhistorian
P - T

Passages to the Past
Past and Present Reads
Past Times Books


Reading the Ages
Reading the Past
Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

Scottish Romance and HF
Sepia Tinted Windows

Two Nerdy History Girls
U - Z

Unabridged Chick

The Word Wenches
A Writer of History
Writing History / Writing Fiction

Writing the Renaissance





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Copyright © 2003-2020 Cindy Vallar

Home About Me Appearances & Book Signings Editing Services
Excerpts of My Stories Gallery: Clan Cameron Gallery: Rebel & Spy Gallery: Scottish Highlands Workshops
Gallery: Thistle's Scotland 1 Gallery: Thistle's Scotland 2 Historical Fiction vs. History My Interviews & Other Writings
My Research Resources My Reviews & Website Awards Pirates & Privateers Recommended Books to Read
Recommended Research Links Workshop Offerings & Schedule





Contact Me Sign My Guestbook Subscribe to my T&P Newsletter