Thursday, April 19, 2012
Guest Author Heather Webb: Choosing a Historical Fiction Topic, or Any Other Topic for That Matter
By Heather Webb
Double the guests this week! I'd like to welcome Heather Webb to the blog today. I've noticed a lot of similarities between historical fiction writers and fantasy writers the last few months, and it's made me curious about their process. Like fantasy authors, they have to create a world, yet they have to somehow manage all the true facts and sometimes actual people as well as plot. I was very interested in how they choose where and when to write, and Heather was gracious enough to answer that for me. (and honestly, they're great tips for crafting any story)
Heather is a historical fiction writer, freelance editor, and blogger. When she’s not writing by the glow of her coffee pot light, she is chasing her gremlins, ogling kitchen gadgets, and flexing her foodie skills. You can find Heather at her blog Between the Sheets for editing services, writing tips, and the occasional slew of recipes. Twitter @msheatherwebb, Facebook, or at Pinterest. She's currently polishing her debut historical novel set in Revolutionary France and the opulent Napoleonic era. She will be seeking representation this summer.
Take it away Heather...
When Janice asked me to discuss how historical fiction authors choose their topics, it got me thinking. What inspired me to choose my own subject? How do other hisfic authors decide on the perfect story from the past? And ultimately, aren’t we all inspired in similar ways? I boiled down a history nerd’s (and other nerds) inspiration into these main categories:
Ancient objects live and breathe; they carry the ghosts of the people who once loved them. A painting, a restored ship, a broken pocket watch, or velvet ball gown—they all have stories to tell.
New places elicit a sense of the exotic. When we step outside the bounds of our normal lives, the veil of responsibility is lifted. We’re less inhibited, less bogged down. Our minds shift gears to absorb the fresh experience, the details of the new surroundings. With all of that fascinating gook swirling around in our heads, a creative idea may be born.
What could be more interesting than ourselves—our lineage, our family tragedies and scandals, our joys? The added bonus of looking into our own genealogy makes this method of finding a topic all the better.
WHAT YOU KNOW
In the case of a hisfic writer, what they know may not be about their own experiences, but about an internal database about a certain era, country, or specific theme through time. When they mix historical facts with conditions of the human spirit, and add a dash of story-telling—voila! A topic materializes.
It goes without saying that movies, songs, and old photographs are terrific sources of inspiration.
RESEARCH & SPARKLING MOMENTS
Often while digging for something else—references for a current WIP, a do-ma-thingy on Amazon—a magical, sparkling moment, a tingle of excitement creeps down your spine. This little fact about say, eighteenth century warships, sets your head ablaze with an incredible new series about a pirate captain and his feuds with the British navy. Sparkling moments are one of the most exciting ways of uncovering a book idea.
DREAMS (OR NIGHTMARES)
The best topics are derived from our subconscious selves, when our guard is down and our creative minds can wander freely.
THE SUBJECT CHOOSES YOU
You wake up one morning, go about your normal routine, and a voice starts yammering in your ear. You don’t know where it came from, but it’s there and won’t go away. Open the door and let them in. Have a few conversations with them, do a bit of research and your subject has chosen you.
Are these methods of inspiration so different from other genre writers? What inspires your book topics?
BECOMING JOSEPHINE: THE FIRST EMPRESS A young woman of Martinique has her hopes for love dashed when her haughty Parisian husband abandons her during the tumult of the French Revolution. Narrowly escaping death in the blood-stained cells of Les Carmes prison, she emerges to reinvent herself as the woman known as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. But Josephine’s youth is fading, and she must decide between a precarious independence and the unwelcome love of an intense but awkward suitor; a man who would become the most important man of the nineteenth century—Napoleon Bonaparte.