Historical Kid Lit with Laurie Halse Anderson

If you work in a kids’ library, you probably know who Laurie Halse Anderson is. She writes all over the spectrum of children’s literature, including historicals like Independent Dames, Fever 1793, and the Seeds of America trilogy. She’s been around the block.

So I was excited by the opportunity to sit in on her breakout session at Alaska Writers Guild/SCBWI’s 2019 fall conference. Of course, the moment I sat down, I realized—ugh—I should have brought all our books from the library for her to sign. Oh well, hindsight’s always clearer than foresight. A little disappointed in myself, but excited nonetheless, I plunked myself down at the feet of the master and just about note-wrote my little hand off.

I’ll give you the condensed version of her tips of the trade, but if it’s at all possible, I highly recommend you get yourself to her next conference and listen in on the full meal deal. She says it so much better than I’m about to!

Without further ado, here are Ms. Anderson’s eight tips on writing historical kid lit:

Tip #1: Know why you’re choosing the story. What is your connection to this story? Why does this story and this era matter to you enough to put in the work?

Tip #2: Research as deep as the ocean, but with attention to the grains of sand on the shore. Voraciously study primary sources and squint suspiciously at secondary sources. Know about the foods, politics, beliefs, medicine, power structures, and more. You will research waaaay more than actually goes in your book. That is right and proper.

Tip #3: Find your research squad. Amid all your research, haul out new trade books on your story’s setting and carefully comb the footnotes and bibliographies. Once you’ve done your research homework and have written through several drafts, reach out to these people with specific questions. Find some way to compensate them for their time and expertise.

Tip #4: Primary sources are your secret weapon. Remember Tip #2? Stories change over time and people remember things differently fifty years down the road. As much as is possible, try to get your information from the people living through it (newspapers, journals, letters, etc). That said, also keep in mind that the sources you are reading are probably from the perspective of the elite (who are deep in their biases).

Tip #5: Organization is your best friend. Keep all your notes organized and accessible. Come up with systems for keeping your information straight. Write down every source used. This is not the place to be lazy. *glares at mirror*

Tip #6: Changes are not failures. They are part of the process. Your story will go through several drafts, changing more each time. It takes as long as it takes.

Tip #7: Details are only in your book if they move the story along. I once researched tons of information on feeding an army on the go in medieval Europe and then found a way to shoehorn in almost an entire chapter of a character excitedly lecturing (literally *lecturing*) about purchasing versus foraging versus pillaging, and how many pounds of food each soldier and every horse needs per day and like everything. It was only there because I thought it was cool. But it wasn’t. ☹

Tip #8: Just dive in. Don’t wait for the stars to align! Get crackin’ now!

Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to writing your historical. And while the talk was themed toward kid historicals, there’s no tip here that wouldn’t apply to any age category of historical—and many of them could apply to writing in general.

So until next week, no matter your genre, age category, or subject matter, go forth and happy writing!

Cheat Sheet: Prepping Your Work for Narration

Here’s our second week with audiobook extraordinaire, Melanie Francisco. If you missed last week’s post, On Being an Audiobook Narrator, you can find it here. Enjoy!

As I said last week, I feel like I have a handle on what kinds of writing professional editors let out of their publishing houses these days. Most of the things you want to do here should happen in the polishing stage of your novel. Here are my 5 best tips to help you get your best audiobook.

  1. Tighten the tension in your paragraph.
    1. The thing is most people “helping” you tighten your work don’t know what they are talking about. Here’s what you need to do. Delete all words that are implied by the action of the surrounding words. A sentence that reads: The dog yanked on the leash, pulling it taut until it popped out of Lacy’s hand. Becomes” The dog yanked on the leash until it popped out of Lacy’s hand. Because “pulling it taut” is implied by the action.
    2. Make your action verbs strong and delay the point of your sentence to the end. Simply put, in the real world something happens and then you react (or fail to react). It is this tension in every sentence, every paragraph, every scene, every plot that propels your work forward. Keep dragging your reader through your sentences, paragraphs and scenes to end with a punch. Rinse, repeat. Example: Maria wrapped Julie in a big hug, after carefully setting down the doll, when she heard the good news. Becomes: Maria carefully set down the fragile doll to wrap Julie in a hug when she heard the good news.
  2. Trust your narrator. Your narrator wants the best production. It’s their reputation on the line. They want more work, they want to sound good, they want you to sell a lot of audiobooks. They better they sound, the more books you are going to sell.
    1. If you are listening to your book, and they say something slightly wrong, it’s OK to let it go. It’s a balancing act between getting your prose accurately on the recording and the damage I’m going to do if I have to re-record that sentence. It breaks the flow; my voice won’t sound the same; and although you and your listener may not know in the moment that’s what happened, it’s why they won’t buy my next book, or yours. Make sure it doesn’t happen over and over again. I’m not changing your prose on purpose, I’m caught up in your world.
    2. On the other hand, for every hour of produced audio you hear, I’ve probably put in about 10 hours of work. Mistakes get made, things slip through. So, if there is a flub up, speak up. Big ones need to be addressed.
  3. Simple tenses for your verbs, simple present or simple past. I’ve found most editors put out simple past as the default mode. This will help you tighten your sentence tension. Helping verbs usually help you into the passive voice. I just cut them out. (See Tip #1.)
  4. Dialog Tags: Use them or use action. Missing dialog tags actually only happen in very short spaces in traditionally published books. I’ve read loads of them by now, when you include all of the auditions I’ve gone on. Just use the tags. Most frequently what I see, there is dialog, and then there is movement, exposition, or something else in between the dialog.
  5. Download Audacity, and read a chapter of your work into it. Ideally this should be done about 30 days after you think you’ve finished polishing your novel.


I do cheat sheets and technical tips every week on my blog, The Write Hobby.  Come join me. www.writehobby.blogspot.com

On Being an Audiobook Narrator

Hello, friends! We have guest posts this week and next, both from the ever fantastic Melanie Francisco- part author, part narrator, all awesome!

MicrophoneI wanted to be an actor growing up. I got my first taste of the acting life behind a curtain being a puppeteer in my church’s youth puppets programmers. This is also the same program that turned me into a writer, but I digress. I took acting classes in junior high school the first chance I got, which was in ninth grade, when I had an elective opening. And I loved every moment of being an actor, but I walked away in college for a multitude of reasons. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the semester I went and auditioned for every single production at my college and got, nothing.

I had known for a long time, that acting was a competitive field, and that “No” was heard far more frequently than “Yes.” I didn’t want to be part of the #MeToo movement. I was warned over and over again, to get any kind of regular work, you did what had to be done, you took your turn on the casting couch, and you kept your mouth shut. It was a path I did not want to walk down. So yeah, I was kind of glad to be out. There were things I didn’t want to do. And I figured, if I had any kind of talent, I would have at least gotten one of the background parts. I wasn’t upset about not getting any parts. I just took it as the universe’s way of telling me that I was meant to be on the path I was already on.

Twenty years later, in my capacity as a part time freelance editor, I was researching ACX as a possibility for one of my clients who can voice her own work pretty well. When I looked into what they had to offer, I cruised through the books available and I found one I wanted to narrate. And all of a sudden I realized, I already had everything I needed to try out. So, I did. I didn’t get that book, but I got a near miss in the form of a nice note from the author saying someone else had a bit more skill in pronouncing some of the French words. Since I don’t speak French, I understood and moved on. I found more books that I wanted to read. I auditioned, and auditioned. Like that semester in college, I set myself a time limit for how long I was willing to take the no, and then, I was done. After three more near miss rejections, I landed a contract on my 10th audition, not even a month after I started auditioning. By the time my kids got out of school and I had to shut down production for the summer, I had booked worked all the way through this February.

Working as a freelancer in this field, is much the same as working as a freelancer in any other field. The same set of challenges of trying to negotiate a reasonable deadline based on your ability. Having to learn on the fly a skill you didn’t know you needed until you already took on the contract. And not knowing if your work on this book, or that book, will pay off.

And it has many of the same rewards. I work from the comfort of my husband’s closet, I set my own schedule, and I take off the days my kids need me. I work on both fiction and non-fiction books.  I choose what I want to work on, although, honestly, I’m not all that picky about some things. (Which is my way of saying, there is definitely rated MA work on my profile for language, sex and violence.)  I’m extremely picky about other things, like what kind of theory is being proposed in the non-fiction world. If I can’t get behind the idea of the work, I just let someone else take that one. It isn’t fair to the author to get a halfhearted narrator, and it’s just a slog for me to read hours of stuff I don’t like.  I try to get a good idea of what kind of content I’m being asked to read before I audition, and I have never turned down a offer, yet.

I’ve read works published by independent authors and books that have been traditionally published. After a few such books, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the type of writing a traditional publishing house editor lets out of the door, and how any writer can get better at their craft. They are really great at putting the tension in a scene or a sentence. The job of an editor is to polish the writer’s work, to make the writer sound like the writer, but better. The work of a great editor is to convince a writer that they would sound better if they did a few simple things to strengthen their writing. It’s easy to lose tension in your work, but it isn’t hard to put it back in. You don’t need gimmicks, or to follow the latest slip-shod advice (ever tried to get rid of all of your adverbs.)

So stay tuned for next weeks’ Cheat Sheet…

Can’t get enough of Melanie and her wisdom? You don’t have to wait until next week! Follow her on Twitter  and check out her blog at . Happy writing!

3 Tips to Writing When Motivation Is Gone

Guest post! Our guest this week is Annah Searle, who is releasing a book on finishing goals this November! *toots trumpets*  She is also very kind and wrote up a guest post for me because she’s better at this stuff than me so you should probably grab a copy of her book. Thanks, Annah!

AnnahWith most people prepping their houses with pumpkin scented candles and red and orange leaves, any writer knows what November is really about. It’s a month of discovery, struggle, imagination, and lots of tears. November is Nanowrimo month.

If you haven’t heard of it, Nanowrimo (Nano) is an annual writing project where each member’s goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My first year of Nano, I was a young high schooler who had big hopes and little idea of what was ahead. I poured through the online Nano forums, reading to learn everything there was about writing. My character sheets were long, and I had the perfect plot arch.

November 1st, I hit the ground running. I wrote in class, at home, and anywhere I could. My characters were quirky and fun. The plot was moving along. As the days continued, my word counts progressively shrank. Soon, they halted altogether. What was this mess of a novel I had started? Nothing could be less coherent than these pages. All I saw were plot holes and drab characters.

Anyone who has participated in Nano knows a thing or two about motivation. Without fail, every year we hit the ground running only to sputter to a stop a few days or weeks in, exhausted. No longer are we motivated by exciting new prospects. Now, we trudge toward the finish line, begging for the pain to stop.

Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic here. But, honestly, motivation is a struggle in November. After years of projects, writing and otherwise, I’ve learned the motivation is a fickle thing. It only seems to be with me for a moment before it flits to another exciting venture, leaving me in the dust.

Because I know some of you are gearing up for the longest month of the year, in the next 600 words or so, I’ll give you three tips I use every day in writing and creation that work when I lack the motivation to write.

1. Don’t wait for your muse.

Growing up reading about writing, I find that writers over-fantasize about their muse. Yes, writing when you are in your zone is amazing, but it’s not as if a petite fairy sits on your shoulder whispering words of the soul. Writing is hard work. Inspiration can come, but it’s usually after you have already been working at it for some time.

Too many writers wait for this mythical muse before moving. Don’t wait for it! If you do, you’ll be waiting a long time. Inspiration most often strikes when you are already moving. So, take a step first. Write a sentence, then a paragraph. Keep writing until your trudging becomes a run. Only when you start running will you find inspiration waiting.

2. Break down your book.

When I struggle with motivation to write, typically it’s because I don’t know where I’m going with the plot or characters. My next step is a mystery, so I avoid writing altogether and find something else to do like the dishes or *whispers dramatically* YouTube. Nothing gets done.

Even as I write this article, I’m looking back at the outline I’ve created. Even writing a post this short, I use an outline, so I can write more efficiently. I’m not worrying about where I’m going with this article because I already know the plan. If I’m really struggling, I’ll break it down even further like this:

1. Catchy opening (maybe about Thanksgiving? Or a statistic?)

2. Transitional sentence

3. Personal story (Writing my book? My experience with Nano?)

When I break it down this small, I know exactly where I’m going. This same method works for fictional writing as well. If you hit a block, try breaking your scenes into smaller chunks. What should happen next? What characters are involved?

I personally love free-writing from character and plot development, but if I’m stuck, I outline the next scene or two in detail. Sometimes, writing just an outline of the next page is enough to get you back into the zone. Depending on how stuck I am, more or less detail will go into the outline. I might even go so far as to write their movements like this:

1. Stan walks (struts maybe?) to the table and sits down.

2. He observes the room around him.

3. Jessica enters the room.

Your characters may move like robots, but hey, you wrote something. Nano was never about making your writing sound beautiful. It’s about finishing. While you may cringe away from this outlining technique, using it will allow you to finish. Who cares if it’s a little ugly? Editing is for next month.

3. Defeat perfectionism.

Perfectionism is one of the top things that stops any goal in its tracks. Many a novel has been killed by perfectionism. With Nano’s deadline, though, expectations of perfection get quashed. The inner editor knows there’s no way to write 50,000 words and make it sound good.

In dispelling the inner editor, college worked in a similar way for me. If I had a project due the next day and I hadn’t even started on it, I would have to work as fast as possible. I had to settle for imperfect results to reach the deadline. Mistakes would be made, and while it wasn’t perfect, I got it done because of the pressure of a deadline. And, while these projects could definitely have been better, I’m still proud to have completed them.

Nano’s deadline is December 1. But, that’s a whole 30 days away. It’s easy to procrastinate when the end seems far away. To defeat procrastination and perfectionism, I suggest setting mini deadlines for yourself. Plan a task and deadline for each week. It’s easier to ignore perfectionism when you have such a big task ahead. Rather than making each word perfect, you just write to get words on the page.

Realize your book doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. It can be messy. A lot of beauty is found in messes if you know how to look.

I know perfectionism is not easy to defeat. If you work each day toward dispelling its influence, though, you’ll be well on your way to completing your novel.

You’ve got some exciting work ahead of you. By writing without waiting for your muse, breaking down your book into next steps, and defeating perfectionism, you’ll be well on your way to finishing. There will be tears, triumph, and the occasional sleepless night, but stay in it. If you put in the work, you’ll emerge December 1 with a messy and beautiful novel to call your own.

Annah Searle is a writer, dreamer, wife, and lover of life. She is the author of The Art of Finishing and The Art of Finishing Planner as well as the creator of the blog, The Art of Pure Living. She is also a notebook hoarder, bookworm, Netflix binger, and aspiring artist.

Writing Magic

This week’s post is by writer extraordinaire Laura Lancaster, Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild. She is fun, clever, and has excellent taste in apple juice. Behold her wisdom!magic cards

When I was 12 I learned a magic trick from my next-door neighbor. She showed me an ordinary quarter, put both her arms behind her head like a pitcher about to throw a curveball and scrunched up her face. Then she brought her arms forward and showed me her empty hands.

“See, I just pushed that quarter into my neck. In a few seconds, it will land in my mouth. It doesn’t hurt because it’s magic.” Then she reached into her mouth and tossed the quarter in a high arc. It bounced across the floor with a magical metallic ring.

If I ever see you in person, I’ll teach you the trick that turned me, a shy awkward tween into an awkward ham who did goofy magic tricks.

My favorite went like this: I placed the magic baseball cap in front of me on a table. I declared,“I can make three balloon animals in the time it takes most people to make one.”

Then I whisked a rubber glove from my ball cap, blew it up, held it on top of my head and yelled, “chicken.” I held it high and squeezed the fingers, “cow.” Then I let the air out and the glove dangled, limp. I slowed and dropped my voice. “Jelly fish.”

Even though my shows got lots of laughs, I made lots of mistakes. I once had an audience member stand next to me while I did the quarter trick. He looked behind me and learned the secret. Once I had a large audience and my mom told me I had turned away from the microphone and everyone in the back hadn’t heard a word. They applauded out of politeness.

Now I’m a beginning writer. I look back on my career as a teenage magician and I realize I had found my style, or genre, of magic, but I needed more tricks, practice and critique. Writing is no different.

magic levitationMagicians have to master stage presence, precise movement, and misdirection the way writers have to learn plotting, character creation, effective research, world building, precise prose and any number of other skills. If any of those elements are weak, the magic disappears.

Fortunately, if I, as a goofy, awkward teenager could learn magic tricks and face the nerves of performance, I can learn to write fiction.

I’ve learned from books, blogs and magazines, but one of my most helpful tools are writers groups and professional organizations. I even became the Vice President of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild Interior and I’ve found that even if you are not published, there are three reasons to get involved in the writing community.

Practice Makes Better-

Often writers organizations sponsor critique groups. If you are at a place where you can show your work to others, you ought to. Critique groups, whether online or in person, are a great place to start. You may find partners who understand what you want to do and help you do it better. Like magic coaches, they can show you where your patter is flawed, or when they saw the quarter hidden in your sleeve, so to speak.

Guidance In Going Big-

The community talent shows where I did my magic were a place to start, but to get noticed, you have to work a lot harder. Many writers groups sponsor writing classes or conferences and they’ll give you access to big-time writers who teach craft and agents who can advise you about your pitch or query letter. If you are considering hybrid, indie or self-publishing, many authors in professional organizations have done it and are willing to share what they know about publication options, promotion and sales. Magicians never reveal their secrets to the audience, but the most generous reveal their secrets to other magicians and it’s true of the writers you’ll meet at professional organizations.


Communication is possibly the hardest thing we humans do. We must have a clear idea in our own heads, then convey it to someone else. Miscommunications have caused professional ventures to fail, battles to be lost and families to split. No one gets it right the first time or all the time. How can we persevere long enough to become effective writers?

I’ve found that meeting regularly with writers is my most powerful motivation. When I meet with my critique group and I didn’t make a submission, everyone one reminds me that they want to find out what happens next, and I know it’s not just politeness, they want to help me write better.magic marbles

I have solved many a plot or characterization problem with other writers over coffee, writers I met at Alaska Writers Guild meetings, and I have helped them do the same. The topics speakers bring to monthly meetings and conferences, such as how to submit to an agent, help me, even if I don’t apply the lessons…yet.

Some people have said that writing cannot be taught, but most people would not say that about stage magic. Natural performers still need to learn skills through professional guidance. Natural storytellers have weaknesses that they must recognize and overcome. Every writer has been there. Keep working. Learn from those around you. Professional writers organizations can put those people around you. So when you watch David Copperfield perform an illusion or read Dicken’s David Copperfield, remember, you too can make your writing magical.

Laura Lancaster is a foodie, sci-fi aficionado and fortune cookie baker. She has been the Vice President in charge of the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild for the last four years. She is writing sci-fi novels and short stories. Find her on social media: Twitter: Phoenix40below Facebook: @Phoenixseries and blog: lalancaster.com

To find out more about the Interior Chapter of the Alaska Writers Guild email awginterior@gmail.com or go to www.alaskawritersguild.com/interior-chapter

The Pros and Cons of Big and Small Writing Conferences

Our guest this week is Brittany Maresh, a fellow word monkey trapped in the icebox.  (Woot! Alaska!)  I met Brittany at a writer’s conference and have been internet stalking her pals with her ever since. *coughs*  Plus, she knows more about conferences than anyone I’ve ever met.  Brittany is a total geek with amazing hair, cranks out embarrassingly fantastic wordcounts during NaNo, and teaches archery. Archery!  Not convinced of her super-coolness yet?  Read on…

conferenceWith the vast array of writing conferences that exist in the U.S., picking which one is the right one can seem like a Herculean task. There are so many factors in picking the one that is right for you. Today, we’re going to look at big versus small conferences – the pros and the cons of each.

We’ll start with the plus-side of a large conference:

As you can imagine, large conferences are a lot of hustle and bustle, business cards and handshakes, and searching for the right panel room.  With so much going on, you have to approach a large conference with a plan. The schedule is posted ahead of time, so you can pick panels and figure out which ones you need to show up early for to guarantee a seat, plot out quiet room time, and figure out which nights you need to head to your room a little early to slip into your formal wear for the fancier receptions, or into your mask for the masquerade.

With so many panels and opportunities, it’s very unlikely that you’ll have much down-time with nothing going on and nobody new to interface with. There’s always another panel to attend, late-night reading, open write time, or open-mic. There are workshops, sponsored room parties, and a seemingly-endless sea of new people to meet, and typically at least once chance to get all dressed up in formalwear.

You’ll find a panel on every subject you can imagine – from YA to picture books, beginner writing skills to advanced-level marketing.  Pitch-sessions and workshops come in all genre-ranges and experience levels, from junior agents just starting to fill their list to the top agents from the top agencies in the U.S. If you’re a writer, there’s something for you – something new, and someone new to talk to about it.

On the social side, there’s never a short supply of other writers to sit down and discuss the craft with, and if you’re brave, there’s always a lost writer or two looking for a friendly face. Be brave – talking to the lost writers is a great way to meet a new critique partner, or future best-seller.

And now to the pros of attending a small conference:

If hustle-and-bustle is the name of the game for the larger conferences, intimacy is the word for smaller conferences.  They might not have as much going on, but there is more room for adapting to the audience they’ve got, rather than the audience they expected. This is a place where you can ask a question and get an answer, not hope that you get a chance to ask.

Workshop and pitching at a smaller conference becomes much more personal – after all, when there are only 40 or 50 people in attendance, and four presenters, they start to see a lot of the same faces, and get a sense of who you are, what you’re about, and what they’d like to recommend you read or work on.  There are more chances to have an in-depth conversation with the professionals, and a lot better odds that you’ll make a few solid friends – people who go to the same panels, have the same genre interests, and will be great contacts to have later down the road.  Though you won’t meet as many writers, you’ll spend more time with the ones you do. This can lead to stronger, longer-lasting friendships and an easier networking experience.

You might only pitch two or three times, at a smaller conference, but you’ll be pitching to someone you’ve had a chance to talk to, gotten a chance to know, with a pitch you’ve had a chance to refine one-on-one with a professional.  You’ll get honest feedback, and with a bigger time slot, you’ll more memorable if you end up submitting to them in the future.

While there are less people to pitch to, there are often more chances to get help with a tricky synopsis, a crumbling query letter, or feedback on your first five pages. There are often group outings, with a chance to really get to know the guests that are invited along. Trips to book stores, or a museum, or the funky buffet down the road.  And beyond the cost for yourself – your meal, your train ticket into town, and so on – there is rarely an extra fee.

As to the cons of a large conference:

Big conferences are big opportunity – but you’re just one of hundreds of writers, and there is always someone who is more poised, more polished, and with better-sounding premise. It can be a little disheartening, and people can be a little more cut-throat about talking to the pros.  You have less of a chance to be an individual, and less of a chance to get to know the pros that are in attendance. While there is always something happening, it can be hard to prioritize, and you always feel like you’re missing out on something. With the panel levels varying widely – from beginner to pro – you never really know what you’re going to get when you sit down at the start of it.  There’s also a tendency to nickel-and-dime experiences. Paid meal-with-the-pros, keynotes, and pitch sessions add to the cost, as do mixers and formal events.

Big conferences are intimidating, and with the focused, eye-on-the-prize population a lot of them have, they can also be extremely discouraging and make a new writer feel like they’re so far behind, they’ll never catch up.

And the smaller conferences:

Small conferences are cozy. Intimate. And sometimes a little cliquey.  The people who have attended for years all know each other and most of the new people came in through one of the old. They already critique for one another, have in-jokes, and read each other’s works.  Breaking in and making friends can be a struggle, but once you’re in, you’re in for life.

There can be a lot less to do, and everything hinges on the presenters that are in attendance. If they’re no good at panels, there will be very few good panels. If they’re terrible with feedback, you won’t get much professional feedback. If none of the three or four pros in attendance do your genre, there isn’t another professional that will.

Final Thoughts:

Whether you attend a large or a small conference, are a beginner or an expert, the thing that will make the most difference is how much you put yourself out there. Take the opportunities that are presented to you. Submit a first page, a query letter, or sit for a critique.  Talk to the shy writer in the lobby before check-in, and the out-going out-of-towner looking to make new friends. Focus on learning, experiencing, and actively engaging in the experience. And remember, whether you’re at a large or a small conference, you can’t be everywhere at once, so focus on the panels you do make it to, and not the ones you’ve missed.

Can’t get enough of Brittany’s wisdom?  Follow her on twitter!  And while you’re at it, check out these other conference-going Alaskan writers: @SummerHugsBooks @Kate_Dutton @kirstenupnorth @ChristinaSeine @Stataliasbooks @NikkiHyson and @jwintersak

Matter of Factly Fictional

vikings Silverdale_Hoard_group_shotToday we have a guest post that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  (Even before I asked them to write it! I’ve been admiring from afar and all that jazz.)  Besides impressing me with their amazing ability to speak every language ever (including computers! They speak with computers, aahhh howww?), they always have the super coolest premises for their writing.  Let’s listen in as Antonius dispenses their wisdom!

Mary Poppins sang “Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”, but I would like to adjust that: “Just a spoonful of facts makes the fantasy go down”. What do I mean by that? I mean that by researching and using facts, it will strengthen both your other-world fantasy and any other fiction.

To me, fiction is about presenting something that rings true. Even when suspension of disbelief is necessary (“all/some humans have developed the ability to fly”), readers should be able to nod along with your world. How do you do that? Well, most important is to keep your world’s rules consistent–even if it is a consistency that the reader won’t spot for a while–and the second is to get inspiration from reality.

> Did you know that long before western Norsemen (current Norway/Denmark mainly) attacked England–which kicked off what is referred to as the “Viking Age”–eastern Norsemen (current Sweden) had traveled into Russia and other countries east of Scandinavia? By 1000AD, Norsemen had traveled as far as Constantinople and Baghdad, and traded with both Christians and Muslims.

“But,” I hear you object, “that’s all well and good for anything set in our world, but what if I write other-world fantasy?” Even then, says I. Get inspiration from various cultures, try to get an understanding for them, and see what you can use. What weird facts do you know, and can that help you build a richer world? You don’t even need to mention it, not always. If you know that the streets of your city are covered with cobblestone imported from a nearby kingdom and that the workers were convicts, that’s going to influence how you describe things.

> Did you know that Erik Håkonsson (957–1024), Jarl of northern Norway, and later Jarl of Northumberland, wasn’t born in wedlock? In fact, his mother was a thrall, though his father was a jarl. It wasn’t until Christianity had ruled Scandinavia for half a millennia that being born outside of wedlock stopped a child from inheriting from their father.

Now, you write fiction, not historical documents, so don’t write dissertations about the cool things you found regarding 15th century courting habits in the middle classes of Korea. You may, however, need to spread a few bits of fact in there to show naysayer’s that you do know what you’re writing about, and to support more unusual choices in characters or settings.

> Did you know that within their sphere, women were as powerful–if not more–than men? It was the land owner’s wife who had the keys to the food stores, and when the men were unavailable, it was up to her to defend the lands in case of an attack. Gender roles were firm, but women were not seen as lesser in the same sense that has been historically true in Western Christianity-influenced society. While parents arranged marriages for girls as young as twelve or thirteen (though generally with similarly-aged boys), a woman could divorce her husband for mistreating her, or mistreating their children, or for not keeping her satisfied sexually. Children were divided up between the mother’s and father’s family in case of divorce.

What counts as “unusual choices”? That depends on what you’re writing. As an example, let me present Helga Yngvesdotter (Helga, daughter of Yngve), a fictional character in one of my stories set in late 900s. She is far from the “rye blonde Nordic viking man” stereotype, but each step of the way I can “justify” if I ever needed to (and felt like giving anyone who’d object the time of day).

Her father was the Jarl of Håkeby (Håkeby existed at the time), and her mother was a Nubian raided from her homeland and sold as a slave in Constantinople. When her father and step-mother (her mother died when she was only seven, and her father remarried) were executed by the King’s men–as an example of what would happen to those that kept their faith true rather than converting to Christianity–she decided that since she had no brothers or uncles, the duty to avenge her father came to her.

Women would rarely be recognized as war leaders, but with the society as focused on personal strength and retribution, she could use that to gain the loyalty of the few of her father’s subjects who were still alive.

I at least enjoyed researching all the things that eventually coalesced into Helga, the last priestess of Ran, and I hope you will enjoy it too, once her story is published.

Antonius M. works with the literary speculative fiction genre, weaving threads of the human experience—historic and contemporary—on the loom of Scandinavian folklore. These experiences include trauma, mental health, first love, being transgender, and being a stranger. Their first publication is Solitary Duality in the anthology Summer Nights.