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Fantastic History #10: Come and Write with Me–When the Fiction Becomes the Source by Christopher Kastensmidt

Reading through the articles here at Fantastic History, I can relate. I’ve been working with The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe for twelve years now, and I’ve certainly faced every challenge mentioned here along the way: historical fidelity, anachronisms, researching in a foreign language and all the rest. The Elephant and Macaw Banner (let’s call it EAMB for short) is a series based on sixteenth-century Brazil: a period marking the beginning of European colonization and a massive clash of cultures along the coast.

Similar to what Tim Powers does in his works, I rigorously follow historical events, while at the same time mixing in the supernatural. In this case, my supernatural elements include creatures from Brazilian folklore and miraculous powers associated with pajés (native shamans) and religious characters (like Jesuit missionaries).

The Headless Mule, a well-known Brazilian myth (artist: SulaMoon)

About 90% of my research is in Portuguese, with the other 10% English and Spanish. The sixteenth-century is by far the least-documented period in Brazilian history. For one, Brazil had no printing press at the time (they were, in fact, illegal in the colony until the nineteenth century). That means that works from the period only got published if they somehow made it back to Europe—a rarity. There are about a dozen relatively reliable first-hand accounts from the period and not a lot of in-depth secondary works. While that has made my research a challenge, it has also created an interesting reverse effect, where the fiction itself has become a reference.

To support that conclusion, I’ll have to provide a little bit of history. The series has passed through multiple stages over the last twelve years, which I’ll try to summarize here.

Phase One: Prose

I started work on the stories in late 2006. I read some 20 books before I wrote the first story, a number that would quickly surpass 200 as I made my way through the series. That first story was published in Realms of Fantasy in 2010, and after a Nebula nomination in 2011, the stories soon reached an international audience. They were published in several languages, including a series of pocket editions in Brazil.

To my surprise, the stories were quickly adopted in schools as an alternative method of introducing several cultural elements, including: folklore, slavery, colonization and others.

A school play based on A Parlous Battle Against the Capelobo, the second story in the series (school: E.E. B. Professora Erica Marques)

Phase Two: Adaptation

Parallel to the stories being launched, I began working on adaptations. The first of these, a graphic novel, came out in late 2014. Thanks to sponsorship through a government program, the graphic novel was donated to hundreds of public school libraries in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.

A flashback to the Kingdom of Ketu, in modern-day Benin, from the graphic novel adaptation (artist: Carolina Mylius)

The graphic novel format is extremely accessible to young readers and helped the series reach an even greater audience. In 2015 alone, I participated in over 30 events and school visits in the states where the donations had taken place.

Phase Three: Interaction

In late 2017, I launched a table-top RPG based on the world of the stories. It was a success beyond my greatest expectations, selling out in just four months. Half of the copies went to public schools in eight states. The RPG gave me a chance to synthesize my (at the time) eleven years of research into an accessible and interactive format. I was able to present historical details such as measurements, currency and professions alongside statistics for fantastic creatures.

Pages from the RPG (art by Marcela Medeiros and Cássio Yoshiyaki)

Just seven months after launch, I know of dozens of schools which are already using the RPG in the classroom to teach students about folklore and sixteenth-century history. I receive almost weekly messages of people telling me how they’re studying history for the first time in their lives, so that they can create their own adventures in the setting.

The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG in the classroom (school: Dom Walfrido Teixeira Vieira EEEP)

Phase Four: Community

The biggest surprise has been adoption by the community. The RPG is quickly becoming a reference in the area and has brought many readers back to the source material. It paved a clear path for people to tell their own stories in the world, in turn giving them a sense of ownership. That feeds back in a loop, with the community creating material for itself, thus expanding the universe and inspiring new creators. The fans are actively participating in every aspect of the future of this universe, providing feedback and ideas for future products. It has been a marvelous and humbling experience.

Examples of fan-written content for the EAMB RPG (content by Jan Piertezoon, Gustavo Tenório and Arthur Pinto de Andrade)

For those looking to know more about ABEA, the stories are available in individual editions at the moment on Amazon, but I recently signed a contract with Guardbridge Books (yeah!), and we’ll be replacing those with a definitive, revised edition in electronic and print formats. That edition will be launched at the World Fantasy Conference in November. Catherine’s Comment: !!!!

The stories are also available in Spanish, through Sportula, in Chinese, through Douban Read, and Portuguese, through Devir. The RPG should be out in English in 2019, and other products are on the way, such as a video game based on the RPG.

My thanks to Catherine and Fantastic History for the chance to publish this article. Congrats on the wonderful blog!

July 2018 Update

Hello everyone. July breezed by dizzily as this author moved from event to operation to event. Let’s dive in.

The first weekend in July saw some good friends, my husband and I attending CONvergence in Minneapolis. There I was on a couple of panels, and did a reading and a signing. It was really awesome to see old friends and make new ones.

I came home for a quick and minor surgery and took off the very next day to Washington. Bryon and I were off to see Hatsune Miku on her world tour, for both enjoyment and future novel research. She and her fellow vocaloids rocked the house. We also saw some monuments and memorials, because when you’re in Washington DC, it’s what you do.

And my final exploit for the month was to participate in the Imagine Other World with Authors event, where I met a lot of great indie writers. It’s really interesting to compare the world of conventions with the world of indie author shows. I feel like I’m getting a real education in the opportunities available to hybrid authors

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Naturally, I’ve been writing. I’m still plugging away on Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science, trying to finish it off. I’ve also started on some other large projects, but haven’t done enough on them to really call them anything yet.

Big announcement: in August, my novella The Ground is Full of Teeth comes out in Alembical 4 from Paper Golem Press. This novella, written in 2016, is a Southern Iowa Gothic were-novella, partly autobiographical. I will let you figure out which parts are real and are not.

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Upcoming in August? It’s looking pretty quiet over here. I’ve started being a professor again, and I’m buckling down to that and finishing my current WiP and getting rolling on some new stuff. Wish me luck.

Fantastic History #9: Name Dropping by Kurt Wilcken

I think one of the first alternate history books I ever read was Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos, set in a world where 20th century technology was based on a fusion of science and magic. There’s an intriguing passage at the very beginning where the narrator directly addresses the reader:

“You probably do not live in worlds radically foreign to ours, or communication would be impossible…You too must remember Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, Watt; the chances are that you too are an American. But we have diverged at some point. Have you had an Einstein? And if you did, what did he think about after his early papers on Brownian movement and special relativity?”

That passage has always stuck in my imagination. Although Einstein never comes up again in the story, his mention here establishes a point of similarity between the fantasy world and ours: Einstein existed and was a significant figure in both. And at the same time, his mention suggests that there are differences too, and invites the reader to speculate on what those differences might be.

I will admit to doing a fair amount of “name dropping” in my own creative works–often little more than in-jokes for my own amusement and maybe of those who notice, but sometimes to offer, as Pooh-Bah says, “corroborative detail to give verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.”

My webcomic, Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine, is a pulp-era adventure set in an alternate version of 1935 where dirigibles and electric autogyros soar above the skyscrapers of Manhattan and where rockets travel to the moon and beyond. My main characters are Hannibal, a two-fisted scientist in the Doc Savage mold, and Ginger DuPree, a gutsy girl reporter following in the tradition of Lois Lane and Hildy Johnson from His Girl Friday. But I always wanted to give my readers the sense that there were other heroes in this world besides my main protagonists and that there were other adventures happening off-panel.

For this reason, I decided that in my world, Charles Lindbergh would be the first man to walk on the moon, in a rocket built by Charles Goddard. In one adventure where Ginger traveled into space to battle the Cat-Men from Mars, mention is made of “Lindbergh Base” located in Mare Tranquillitatis, (where Apollo 11 landed in our universe). And although this was largely a throw-away reference–like Einstein in the Operation Chaos passage, Lucky Lindy makes no other appearance in the story–the choice was appropriate. I found out in later research that Lindbergh was interested in rocketry, and after he gained celebrity and fortune crossing the Atlantic, he helped Goddard get financial support for his rocket experiments in the desert. You’d think I planned it that way.

These things don’t always work out that conveniently, though. In another story, I had Hannibal traveling into the Himalayas and looking up a Sherpa guide who has worked with him before. “Going to try for Everest again?” the guide asks him. I originally intended to have Hannibal laugh and say, “No, I thought I’d give Sir Edmund a shot at it this year.” But then I wondered, was Edmund Hillary a knight before he climbed Mount Everest, or was he knighted as a consequence of it? Looking the matter up, I found that the knighthood came afterwards; and that Hillary didn’t conquer Everest until 1953, nearly twenty years after my story takes place. With a sigh of regret, I cut the joke.

Sometimes the reference can grow beyond just a casual name-drop. The current story in my webcomic involves Hannibal’s father, the noted inventor Nikola Tesla, and in researching the man I found all sorts of factoids to work into my plot: the “Peace Ray” he tried to invent which he hoped to make war obsolete by disintegrating battleships; his device for operating ships by remote control; his ambitious plan to broadcast electricity like radio waves; the early computer built in the sub-basement of Grand Central Station designed to handle switching for subway cars. Some of these will just be bits of flavor, but some will become important plot points as the story progresses. And sometimes I don’t know myself which will be which.

And sometimes all these bits remain beneath the surface. For the “Cat-Men from Mars” story, the climax involved a battle in space between the invading Martian armada and a fleet of rockets from Earth. I thought it would be cool to have Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in command of the Earth defense fleet. In our timeline, Mitchell was an aviator who served as commander of the US Army’s Air Service in France during WWI. Both during and following the war, he was a vocal and determined advocate of air power, to the annoyance of his superiors, and was ultimately brought before a court-martial for insubordination. He was right about air power, but he was still found insubordinate. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor vindicated his theories and predictions, and today Billy Mitchell is regarded as the Father of the modern U.S. Air Force.

I decided that for my history, Mitchell played the game of military politics a little better and managed to avoid the court-martial. He still annoyed his superiors in the general staff, though, and so got shuffled off to the newly formed U.S. Army Space Corps following the Lindbergh moon landing, which was considered a position of little importance…until the Martians invaded the moon.

I had worked up a nice little backstory for Mitchell, but little came of it. By the time I got to that part of the story, I was nearing the climax and really wanted to finish things up. I didn’t want to impede the plot further by introducing a new character, so Billy Mitchell wound up appearing in only a single panel, and that one was so small that I couldn’t really draw a good likeness of him. In the end, the reader had no way of knowing that he was anyone significant, or that someday there would be a spaceport in Milwaukee named after him. But I did.

I suppose in that case my appropriation of a historical figure amounts to little more than an obscure and highly-indulgent in-joke. Still, I think that such name-dropping serves a valid purpose. It establishes points of similarity which anchor the fictional world to the real one, as well as benchmarks which give a sense of how they differ.

At least that’s my excuse.

***

In his secret identity, Kurt Wilcken is a Ninja Cartoonist. He attended Iowa State University, where he drew political cartoons for the Iowa State Daily and sold photocopied comics out of his backpack. He went on to write and draw comics for Innovation, Antarctic Press and Radio Comix. He has illustrated children’s books and occasionally blogs about subjects ranging from science fiction to comic books to weird Bible stories. He currently publishes a Pulp-Era adventure comic, HANNIBAL TESLA ADVENTURE MAGAZINE, on his website.

Fantastic History #8: Researching Recent History by Dan Stout

Researching Recent History

I should begin with a confession: As a writer, I don’t have much in common with any self-assured, elbow-patched master of the craft. Instead, I chase after topics like a puppy chases lightning bugs, leaping at every new flash, spinning mad circles in the summer twilight before collapsing exhausted onto a soft carpet of a freshly-mowed lawn.

In other words, I suffer from a short attention span and an inclination to naps.

These traits helped shape the creation of my debut novel. TITANSHADE is a murder mystery set in an alternate world with 1970s technology. This setting immediately appealed to my inner puppy because A) it blends the familiar with the unknown in fun and flashing-light ways, and B) I thought it would make my life easier, leaving more time for naps.

So I dove into the novel headfirst, chasing the flashing lights and assuming I’d have to do minimal research. After all, there’s no shortage of information about the 70s, and hey– I’ve even got first-hand knowledge! How hard could it be, right?

I think you see where this is going.

Halfway through the first draft, I realized my catastrophic miscalculation. Yes, I’d experienced the 70s… as a kindergartener. My expertise was limited to juice boxes and show-and-tell, not the inner workings of a homicide investigation. Even worse, when I finally started my research, I found that very few sources addressed the day-in, day-out drudgery suitable for noir fiction. In order to make any headway, I knew I had to find a different approach.

Death at the Disco

Let’s take a simple example: a patron has been found dead at a popular nightclub. Our goal in this scene is to create a vivid sense of setting and to convey the forensic science of the investigation.

Just like today, nightclubs in the 70s ranged from high-end to grungy. (The cocaine-fueled decadence of Studio 54 was worlds away from the intentional squalor of CBGB, for example.) Because we’re writing fantasy, we also need to reveal the rules and norms of the world in a way that seems natural. We need to find small details, short asides that feel like background flavor to the reader, but actually do the heavy lifting of world-building. And when it comes to recent history, these are the kind of details it can be surprisingly hard to turn up.

There’s no shortage of articles about the discos and dance halls of the 70s, but almost all of them were written decades after the fact. Retrospective articles are fine for some things – want to know when Studio 54 opened its doors? Easy! – but it can be a mistake to rely on them for a true feel of what life was like at that place, in that time.

We run into the same issue portraying the forensic team investigating the crime. Hop online and you’ll find a wealth of resources about forensics. But almost all of them showcase current technology and theories. It seems the 1970s fall into that narrow range of post-computer, but pre-Internet, a period of time for which surprisingly few archives are available online.

From the Horse’s Mouth

The most direct method to learn about recent history is to talk to the people who lived it. Reach out to family members or friends of friends to see who might be willing to share their story with you. These people are treasures, rich sources of history and experience. But they can sometimes put a spin on their experiences or find that their recollections have become clouded over time. Memories are great, but even better are contemporary accounts.

Contemporary accounts are less tainted by nostalgia and tend to be focused on the level of comfort and short-term concerns. Conveniently, that’s what most fictional characters are interested in, as well.

One of the most effective methods I’ve found is to track down the technical manuals and travel guides from the era. Travel guides are covered in more detail in Fantastic History #3, and are great resources often filled with the small details that can bring a setting to life, such as the real cost of daily items, or tips on how not to get pick-pocketed.

In our example of a murder that takes place in a disco, we’re better off looking beyond the mainstream, and finding sources that were targeted to a niche market. Fanzines and gossip columns described the activity in the clubs with more relish than would ever appear in a traditional newspaper column. Often viewed as ephemera, these sources were only rarely saved. Finding them requires scouring second-hand bookstores and haunting university library book sales.

For topics like forensic procedures, the best source is often contemporary technical instruction. Especially valuable are texts geared to the general public or introductory texts intended for trainees in the field. Some of these manuals are available in digital form, but the vast majority are not. Back to the second-hand stores! (I wish I could make that sound like work, but it’s way too much fun.)

A much easier resource to locate is contemporary photos. These images give a glimpse into the sights (and implied sounds and smells) we might encounter in any given setting. Ranging from snapshots to artistic explorations, photos have been preserved more frequently than paper items. Collections are readily available online, covering everything from Chicago nightclubs to life on the NYPD.

Putting it Together

Getting the period-specific details right is only part of the equation. A fantasy setting gives us some leeway; as long as things “feel” like the late 70s, the readers will be along for the ride. A bigger issue is the possible ramifications that magic and other technologies might have on the historical setting. These need to be thought through as much as possible, their “what if?” blending with our research to create an immersive experience.

It’s not always easy to focus your inner writerly puppy, but the hard work pays off. Discovering first-hand accounts and sliding into the mindset of an era allows us to highlight the wonder and strangeness of the times, while also giving readers enough essential information to follow the narrative. So if you’ve got a story set in a recent historical era, go ahead and do the work. Talk to people who lived it, dig up original sources, and plunge into the images and stories that informed life in that place and time. There’ll be plenty of time to chase lightning bugs when you’re done.

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Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan’s stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Mad Scientist Journal. His debut novel Titanshade releases in March 2019 from DAW Books. To say hello, visit him at DanStout.com.

June 2018 Update

Hey guys! June was pretty good. I had a lovely month of vacation, which started promptly at the beginning of the month, and I buckled down to some serious book writing. I am happy to report that The Pawn of Isis is now in the hands of Curiosity Quills, awaiting its final fate. Hopefully I will have news on that front soon.

This month was great for local book appearances. M&M Book Stores in Cedar Rapids has begun sponsoring local authors, so Beth Hudson and I hung out there on June 9th. A whole bunch of authors from the Shohola Press Abandoned Places Anthology–Chris Bauer, Doug Engstrom, Ransom Noble, Shannon Ryan and myself–spent June 30th at Beaverdale Books, where we read from the anthology, met a lot of people, and had a generally great time. On the whole, a pretty good month.

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In case you hadn’t noticed in the navigation line, I’ve started a new part of this blog called Fantastic History, where awesome guests come in to write articles about writing history and fantasy at the same time. If you are a fan of this genre, as I am, you may well recognize some of the names. Definitely read some of their work.

I should also mention the podcast I’m part of–The Unreliable Narrators–just posted its 150th show. Congrats and a shout out to my friends Chris Cornell, Chia Evers, and George Galuschak. We are a great team. Also a shout out to all our wonderful guests for 150 shows.

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What’s coming up in July? A lot of stuff. First of all, I will be at Convergence from July 5th until July 8th. If you’re in Minneapolis that weekend, I will be there too! Then, after I take a quick duck into the hospital for some outpatient surgery, Bryon and I are off to Washington D.C. to take in the Hatsune Miku North American Expo. Not only is it fun, but it is also research for a future writing project. Finally, I’ll be back in Marion, Ia for the I.O.W.A. (Imagine Other Worlds with Authors) event. Looks like a busy, traveling July.

Writing-wise, I still plan to have my first draft of Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science ready to go for beta readers before I head back to Kirkwood in August. I’ve also started playing with ideas for a serial entitled Samuel and Amanda for the moment, and have begun laying the groundwork for The Wisdom of Thoth, (Klaereon Scroll Series #3). AND I plan to put out a self-published collection of shorts. Those of you who have been keen for some of the stories I’ve been reading in public over the years should have some soon.

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Have a great July, and I’ll see you again in August.

Fantastic History #7: The Creative Spark in Ancient Worlds by Rachel Marks

Every story has been written. Every tale has been told. As you look at history you begin to see how true this idea is. At this point, as artists, we’re all basically re-creators. There is nothing new under the sun. What one man leaves behind another picks up and reshapes, and this is especially true in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. From Harry Potter, to Star Wars, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, most well-know speculative creations have been inspired by, or seem to echo ancient mythology, a historic culture or a historical event. According to George R.R. Martian, Game of Thrones was inspired by his fascination with the War of the Roses. Tolkien was inspired by his love of ancient language and Norse and Celtic mythology. And the much maligned/loved Twilight could easily be seen as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

After I finished work on my debut series (The Dark Cycle), I found myself in a slump with a very real case of writer’s block. I had several projects in the baby stages but nothing that had enough meat on its bones to allow for me to really dive in as my next big challenge. I went back and forth between projects for several months and just couldn’t make any of them work. I decided to take a break in writing and focus on research. Just research. Because that’s my sandbox. I would soak in information based on ancient culture, historic wars, colonization and change, and I would go into my sponge time with no preconceived notions. I’d just take it all in and see what my subconscious did.

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Irish-Celtic mythology/culture, and Norse as well (having a grandma who sprouted from each of them), with a solid knowledge base on both of them, and so I naturally gravitated towards those. I knew that I wanted to write something with an ancient feeling, but told in a modern setting. I planned on laying out a few paths I could possibly walk down as I started taking notes.

Within the first two weeks of soaking, I had a new main character waving at me, a mythology structure rising to the surface, and a very real mood I wanted to create; all the bones I needed to build the new world of Fire and Bone. A world woven through with ancient Irish Folklore, wrapped in the mood of a dark European faerie tale, with a twist of sassy modern wit.

I was surprised how quickly my writer’s block was broken by simple historical research, my mind opening to new ideas from old stories and ancient imaginings. And while I may not have had all the details laid out perfectly, I had a baseline to jump off of. I was finally weaving a story again. A new story sparked because I couldn’t get the vision of what I’d read out of my head; I felt the plight of the old gods clashing with the new as the East met the West through Rome, I saw the image of a god transforming into a raven, I marveled at stories of children abandoned in the woods by parents who feared the illusive fae. Because they had faith that not setting out fresh cream for the pixies brought fate’s mischief, that a sickly child was a changeling. Superstition was the order of the day. And the gods walked among us.

The inevitable story questions rose: what would that look like in modern day? And how would the ancient gods of Erin, of Albion and Prydain play with us now, if they could? The answers to this author’s inspiration came from the past.

Maybe yours will as well.

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Rachel A. Marks is an author and artist, a cancer survivor and the mom of four awesome humans. She’s the author of the bestselling Urban Fantasy series, The Dark Cycle. And her new book Fire and Bone was one of SyFy.com’s most anticipated books of 2018. You can read more about her on her website: www.RachelAnneMarks.com

Fantastic History #6: A Time Traveler’s Guide to Avoiding Anachronisms by Wendy Nikel

We’ve all read them: modern words, phrases, inventions, or brand names that somehow sneak their way into settings that are supposed to predate them. Language is constantly changing, as are the ways that we use words, so if you want your period piece or time travel story to sound authentic, it’s important to take note of which words your characters use. A manor in the year 1400, for instance, isn’t going to have any doorknobs (invented in 1878); a child in the 1860s isn’t going to carry around a teddy bear (invented in 1902); and sadly, no one in the 19th century is going to be snacking on chocolate chip cookies (invented in 1933).

Though anachronisms can be used to infuse humor into a piece of fiction (i.e. The Emperor’s New Groove, A Knight’s Tale, the Monty Python movies, or any Mel Brooks film), when a story is shooting for historical accuracy, these elements can throw the reader out of a story faster than a ’52 Corvette (first produced in 1953).

While editing THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX, the second novella in my Place in Time series, which is set to be released on July 10, my editor found a word that didn’t seem quite right for the 1893 setting, which sent me on a search down a research rabbit hole into the word’s etymology and usage in history. The word in question: stalker.

My initial thoughts circled around famous serial killers. After all, Jack the Ripper dated back to 1888, and I knew I’d seen him referred to as a stalker, as was H.H. Holmes, who stalked his victims during the very World’s Fair which I was writing about. But just because we nowadays refer to them as stalkers doesn’t mean that’s the term that was used in their day. So, I turned to one of my favorite resources to seek out an answer: Etymonline.com

This online etymology dictionary is a quick way to search those words which seem a bit suspect. For instance, when I searched “stalker” it came up with this definition:

So while the word technically was in existence during the 1890s, the definition wasn’t the one I’d intended and could cause confusion for my characters. The modern-day character who was using it would think that he was referring to someone who obsessively harassed a person, while my character from the 19th century would think it was simply someone prowling around to try to steal something.

This sort of changing language isn’t at all uncommon. The word “awful,” for instance, used to mean “worthy of respect or fear, striking with awe.” World War I wasn’t referred to as such until World War II was underway. This is one reason why it’s a good idea, when researching for a novel, for historical fiction writers to read primary sources: newspapers, articles, journals, and books that were written during that era – not just for the details of the setting itself, but for how language is used, in order to make your dialogue and narrative sound more authentic.

Listed below are some bonus resources which may be useful when trying to write accurate historical fiction:

Historical Currency Conversions
Google Books Ngram Viewer
Word Spy
The Phrase Finder

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Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and various e-zines and anthologies. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, was published by World Weaver Press in January 2018, with a sequel following in July. For more info, visit wendynikel.com

May 2018 Update

Starting off with another image from Catrina Horsfield, this is the logo for Team Lucy. I have had tattoos and bookmarks printed for both sisters now. If I see you at a convention, just ask. I also still have some of the The Vessel of Ra bookmark/bracelets left, and some cover cards and bookplates. Yup, I am officially swag-a-licious.

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When last we talked, I had a date with Demicon in Des Moines on May 5th. The con was book-ended by a fantastic visit to Iowa State to see an old friend retire, and give my husband Bryon a chance to once again perform Kermit the Frog for the Rainbow Connection Experiment, and the celebration of my mother-in-law Phyllis’ 92nd birthday.

The con itself was great. There was an author meet and greet a well-attended reading, a chance to kibbitz with some local and indie authors, and this fantastic karaoke party. It was a great weekend, so thanks a bunch, Demicon.

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Wiscon was my other exciting trip of the month. Every year I take the pilgrimage with my good friends Dan and Lisa, and if it’s a very fortunate year, my friend Yolanda also joins us. This was a fortunate year. I was involved with some great writers at Wiscon at a reading, participated in a comic book panel, and attended the signout. I love Wiscon, and I’ll see you all back there next year.

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An unexpected series of events last month caused me to shift my focus, and I am now finishing The Pawn of Isis. Abigail Rath Versus Blood-Sucking Fiends is making the agent rounds again, and I hope to come out of my two-month vacation with The Pawn of Isis in the hands of my publisher, and Abigail Rath Versus Mad Science ready for whatever the future holds for it. Tomorrow I go on vacation, and I will be a full-time writer for a couple of months. Living the dream!

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Next month, right out of the shoot, I have a signing with Beth Hudson at M&M Books in Cedar Rapids. M&M is a new bookstore on Edgewood in town, and they are proving to be super friendly to writers. That will be from 11 am – 1 pm on Saturday, June 9th. If you’re around, come visit. And if you can’t come to our signing, consider attending their grand opening on June 2nd.

On June 30th, five writers from the Abandoned Places Anthology will be reading at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines from 2 pm – 4 pm. There will be a chance to pick up the anthology, which has my story “Mark Twain’s Daughter” in it. This will be a chance to meet Chris Bauer, Doug Engstrom, Ransom Noble, and Shannon Ryan, all amazing writers. Oh yeah. I’ll be there too.

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And next month will bring the lowdown on living with a retired chemistry teacher (Bryon retires after 33 years in education), news from the world of Chinese drama (yes, I’ve been sucked into Ice Fantasy, and now I’m diligently seeking out a similar buzz), and the lowdown on my big summer party, aka my fake family reunion. Stay frosty, my friends.

Fantastic History #5: Don’t History Yourself into a Corner by Chia Evers

As J. Kathleen Cheney said in Fantastic History #4, “If you set a book in NYC, in London, in Paris…a gazillion readers will point out every little thing you get wrong. If you set a story during WW1 or WW2, during the American Civil War, during the Napoleonic Wars…enough readers will know that era to spot any glitch.”

Unfortunately for me, I’m writing a book set in London. During World War II.

Well, shit.

In the years (more than I care to consider) since I started this project, I’ve studied everything from medieval magic to Hitler’s “vengeance weapons” to the black market in WWII London to the history of the Metropolitan police. But nothing broke the narrative loose for me like reading John Gardner’s Suzie Mountford mysteries and figuring out that my protagonist, Josephine “Feeney” Marston Grove, didn’t have to be a civilian consultant bound by what I thought were the rules of female protagonists in World War II narratives—she could be an active participant in the investigation.

Let me back up a step. My book revolves around a series of supernatural murders in London in World War II. I originally thought it would take place during the Blitz (September 1940—May 1941), but shifted the time frame when I realized that the Yanks didn’t arrive until 1942, and there were few air raids between then and 1944, when the Germans launched the Little Blitz and the V-weapons. And I originally had a hard-drinking detective, estranged from his wife and children, investigating the murders with the assistance of a young woman whose only real qualification was being the granddaughter of a (male) specialist in occult history.

Only he bored me. And she didn’t.

So, I thrashed around for awhile, trying to figure out how my detective—now known as Detective Chief Inspector Arthur Whelan, and happily married with two daughters who love him—fit with the snarky Ms. Grove, whose damp depression rapidly evaporated when she was given a role of her own. Enter Suzie Mountford—a young woman in charge of her own destiny, who takes a lover and pursues the most depraved criminals in wartime London.

I already knew that women had served in the Metropolitan Police since the 19th century, in civilian and volunteer roles, and as constables since World War I. But I’d historied myself into a corner by focusing on what they were officially allowed to do in the Met—represent and protect the interests of women and children, with a particular focus on vice (prostitution) and underage and female prisoners. Suzie helped me read my sources with fresh eyes—see what British women were already doing in the criminal justice arena, and how they might have contributed even more in the chaos of war. And that led me, eventually, to Keith Simpson’s 40 Years of Murder—the memoir of a Home Office Pathologist, who notes that a Woman Police Constable arrested a murderer just a few years after World War II—and Murder on the Home Front—written by the woman who served as his assistant throughout the War. Those books, along with specialized histories of the Metropolitan Police, and particularly of women in the Met, helped me build a bridge across my preconceptions and get myself out of my history corner.

All of which is to say that my fear of those gazillion readers who might call me on my bullshit also helped me convince myself that the protagonist of my heart couldn’t be the protagonist of my book. I wouldn’t trade a moment of the research I’ve done, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson or three about not allowing what I think I know to blindfold me against the possibilities.

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Chia Evers is one fourth of Unreliable Feed, a graduate of Viable Paradise XIII, and a writer of novels and short stories. She is also an attorney and a communications associate at the MIT Media Lab.