Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Finding the Story in History — Tips for Historical Fiction Writers by Anne E. Johnson

It's Wednesday!

A very special Wednesday, at that. 

5 Reasons Why:

1. Rate Your Story Judges Miranda Paul, Lori Degman, Melissa Gorzelanczyk, and Mira Reisberg (now former judge—see #4) are all heading to SCBWI-Los Angeles (#LA13SCBWI). Come meet us in the lobby (a birdie told me most of us like to hang out at the hotel bar...). Let the wild rumpus begin!

**If you're going, make sure to stop us and say hi! Email us ahead so we know to look out for you. We are so excited to meet so many RYS users in person!**



2. We have a brand new volunteer judge coming on board next month. PB, NF + YA fiction writer Katie Clark! (More to come in a few weeks.) We love Katie.




3. Mira Reisberg has now launched her own literary agency, Hummingbird Literary


Even better? If you score a 1 or 2 from Rate Your Story, you can submit your work to her. PLEASE make sure you're a good fit, however, and read her guidelines over and over before submitting. She is otherwise closed to submissions except for very specific days. Make sure you read her site thoroughly here!!



4. We have a special guest post today! RYS judge Anne E. Johnson is celebrating her new book's birthday! She's our resident "quirky" and "all things sci-fi" author, as well as the queen of historical fiction. We love her brain—it never shuts off!

More about Anne:

Anne E. Johnson has published fiction in many genres. Her works include the middle-grade paranormal mystery Ebenezer's Locker (MuseItUp), middle-grade historical mysteries Trouble at the Scriptorium  and The London Hurdy Gurdy (Royal Fireworks), noir sci fi series The Webrid Chronicles (Candlemark & Gleam), and historical romance novelette A Kiss at Vespers (MuseItUp). Her first chapter book, Launching the Lunchroom, will be released by 4RV Publishing in 2014. She has published over thirty short stories for both children and adults. Visit Anne's website to inquire about professional critique services or to learn more about her stories.

Finding the Story in History
by Anne E. Johnson

The first novel I ever completed was the middle-grade medieval mystery, Trouble at the Scriptorium, which I plotted and started drafting as part of the basic course at the Institute for Children’s Literature. Once the course was over, I finished and polished the novel, and it was eventually published by Royal Fireworks Press. 


I was so fond of the characters I created that I immediately began work on a sequel, The London Hurdy Gurdy, which Royal Fireworks also picked up and will hopefully release by the end of 2013.
Those two books feature a twelve-year-old servant boy named Harley and his unlikely friend Lady Margaret, twelve-year-old daughter of his castle lord. In preparation for writing, it was a delight to do research about the early thirteenth-century in England, life in the feudal world of castles and monasteries, and (for the second book), life in the big city of London. An even greater delight was taking those facts I amassed and turning them into a couple of fun, adventurous stories for kids. I learned that historical fiction is a balancing act in which the details of one’s research color and shape the narrative but mustn’t overwhelm it. 

As I plotted and wrote, I felt a duty to present accurate history in the context of lively entertainment. This included a certain freedom with how I used facts: for example, I invented the specific castle and monastery in Trouble at the Scriptorium, but based them on solid research about real, historical places. 
I suspect that my affinity for historical fiction stems from my background as a professor of music history, a subject I taught for fifteen years. This is not to say that I spun fictional tales when I taught, but (like any good biographer will tell you, for example), a heightened sense of detail goes miles towards keeping students interested in what they might expect to be dry historical background.

Since finishing The London Hurdy Gurdy, I’ve written two other works of historical fiction, both offering me challenges quite different from the Harley books. One is another middle-grade, but taking place four hundred years later, at the end of the Renaissance. That one is making the rounds of literary agents at the moment, so I won’t say too much about it.

But I do have a publisher for the other work: A Kiss at Vespers is my first romance fiction, my first historical fiction for adults, and my first novelette. Yet, with all those firsts, the procedure was remarkably similar to researching and writing the Harley mystery books for kids.

First, I had the joy of hitting the research library and discovering as much as I could about the east coast of Ireland---and trade with Britain---in the early eleventh century. And then there was the challenge of integrating that information into a compelling story with interesting characters, always keeping in mind that the historical setting was merely a context for that story and those characters.


Historical fiction, whether for adults or kids, is a very special genre, combining a lot of different skills I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey of developing. Someone recently suggested that I combine historical fiction with my other great literary love, science fiction. It’s an intriguing idea, and I’ll be sure to report back here if I ever try it!

MIRANDA: GREAT ARTICLE, ANNE! And now....

You probably forgot that above, I said there were FIVE reasons why it's a great Wednesday. 

Here's #5: 

We're OPEN to submissions a whole day early! But only for those people who mention that they READ THIS ENTIRE POST in their email submission. :)

Have a great week! See you in LA!

7 comments:

  1. HAVE A BLAST IN LA! And thanks for opening the doors a bit early!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wonderful post! Enjoy the conference! And, thanks for the critiques and for helping out the writing community!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Looking forward to meeting you all in LA! And thanks so much for all your help! You've been such a great barometer!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Have a great time in LA!

    Anne, I think I have a new PB draft that will be right up your alley. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great article. There's a lot going on over here. Have fun.

    ReplyDelete