Writing Contests historical non fiction

susanna-calkins-writer-authorThere’s a funny sort of tension that occurs when writing historical fiction: Is it possible to achieve total historical accuracy while still telling a great story? Can’t one do both? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not so sure.

Full disclosure. I have a PhD in early modern English history, the period in which I set my historical mysteries, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate and From the Charred Remains. So as a historian-turned-novelist, I’ve thought a lot about how to craft a work of historical fiction. I’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way, and made some surprising discoveries as well.

When I was first dreaming about my story, even before I had worked out the plot or characters, I knew one thing for sure: By gum, this novel would be accurate. Every detail, every word, would be accurate.murder-at-rosamunds-gate-novel-cover Historians everywhere would use my book in their classes and would revel in my accurate tale.

That idea lasted about two seconds.

Column by Susanna Calkins, who has had a morbid curiosity about murder
in seventeenth-century England ever since grad school, in those days before
she earned her Ph.D. in history. The ephemera from the archives–tantalizing
true accounts of the fantastic and the strange—inspired her historical mysteries.
Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (Minotaur/ St.Martin’s Press, )
featuring a seventeenth-century chambermaid, was published in 2013. The
second in the series, From the Charred RemainsConnect with Susanna at susannacalkins.com or find her on Twitter.

Not only would using accurate language make my story unnecessarily pendantic and cumbersome, but many seventeenth-century words and phrases don’t translate readily today. Certainly I could say “The footpad bit the Roger, tipped the cole to Adam Tyler, and then took it to a stauling ken.” But I have a feeling modern readers might not understand that I was saying that a thief has stolen a bag, passed it to a fence, who in turn sold it to a house that receives stolen goods. Unless my editor let me write a companion volume with glossary and explanatory footnotes, this isn’t too feasible.

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