Sunday, August 30, 2015

History and fiction combined

Award-winning author Lucia St. Clair Robson recommended that when you start writing a book, start with a pivotal event. “Think ‘the trouble started when…..”

Robson wrote her first historical novel, Ride the Wind, while working as a public librarian in Anne Arundel County, MD. It earned The Western Writers’ Golden Spur Award for best historical western and made the NY Times and Washington Post bestseller lists.

I heard her speak recently at a meeting of the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Writers' Association (MWA). She stressed the importance of thorough research and accuracy throughout her presentation.

You hope your sources are correct. You want to come to a greater truth – to create a reality. You try recreating their whole world, language, clothing, and what is happening around them. She likes to make a map of the area and use pushpins as her characters move.  Moving with them, seeing what they are seeing.

“We put words into dead people’s mouths,” she said, emphasizing the need for empathy, as well as accuracy.
Lucia St. Clair Robson signs a
book  for Lois Halley

Robson learned the importance of organizing your research material early in the process. She has developed a detailed system. Each of her projects has a letter. Each source has a number, allowing her to show where she found the information for each book.

However, everyone has to do what works for them, she said.

You may have everything planned and outlined and then a side character may take over or your research may reveal something you didn’t expect. You may be surprised by new information you find. She often is.

Ride the Wind is the story of Cynthia Ann Parker’s life after she was captured at 9 years old during a Comanche raid. 

She's also written eight more historical novels. They are:

Walk in my Soul  includes Cherokee Indians, a young Sam Houston and the Trail of Tears.

Light a Distant Fire - explores the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians as they take up arms against forced removal from their Florida homeland in the mid 19th century.

Tokaido Road is set in feudal Japan.

Mary's Land is takes place on the Maryland frontier of 1638.

Fearless is about Sarah Bowman who joined Zachary Taylor's forces as a laundress in 1846 and went with them into Mexico. Standing almost six feet tall, she became a familiar figure, riding through the smoke and gunfire of battle to retrieve the wounded.

Ghost Warrior is about Lozen, sometimes called the Apache Joan of Arc, warrior and shaman. It is set in the last half of the nineteenth century.

Shadow Patriots, a Novel of the Revolution. In the American colonies 1776 is a time of critical confrontation on the battlefield and off as people must choose between their king and a new country.

Lona Queen and Lucia St. Clair Robson
talk about writing techniques
Last Train from Cuernavaca includes the 1913 Mexican society and rebel leader, Emiliano Zapata.

Her books also include romance, but she stresses that since love is a vital part of history, she always includes it in her stories, but it’s not the focus of the story.

Besides doing thorough research, Robson said most importantly, write the best story you can to please yourself.

Historical fiction varies widely and includes such books as:
Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan  Train, David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, Ellis Peters's Cadfael Chronicles, Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (2015 Maryland One Book), Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife and Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I’ve read most of those listed above and others. Historical figures and events become much more real in these books, even knowing that the book is fiction. The author’s imagination lets me think more closely about what people might have been feeling. The details help put me in that time and place.

Historical fiction uses setting as a backdrop to the story, surrounding characters with social conditions and period details. As seen in the short list above, they can focus on war, a specific place during a certain time-period, a murder mystery, special event or historical figure. But all show how society of the time and place affected the characters.

Historic fiction brings facts to life and Lucia St. Clair Robson does this well.

You can learn more about her at and more about her books at

1 comment:

  1. Nice article, Jo and nice list of suggested historical fiction titles!


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