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Discussion Starter #1
I never thought I would write a book based on history but I am considering it. Here's the concept - my recently released book The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt is doing pretty well. It is a novel in 11 consecutive stories that build to a conclusion. All the stories are based on folklore and legends from my hometown, a Pennsylvania Dutch community in the Allegheny Highlands. Already I am getting emails from readers saying, please write more. I thought I was out of ideas but then I started thinking about something.

During the Civil War there was an elite unit of sharpshooters formed called The Bucktail Regiment. It was the first such regiment that men had to pass a sharpshooting challenge to qualify for. The Elk County Rifles, part of the regiment, were from my home town. They fought in most of the major battles of the Civil War and distinguished themselves at Gettysburg. I've downloaded a lot of articles about them and found three books online that I ordered and have been reading (one is a collection of interviews done in 1906 of actual survivors of the regiment.) My idea is a story-within-a-story using the characters from the Whiskey Bottle stories one of whom starts doing research on an ancestor who was part of this regiment.

Now here's my dilemma, a LOT is known about these people and Civil War buffs can be extremely pedantic. If I plan to construct a fictional character to operate in this world, how much grief am I going to get? How dogmatic are other historical fiction writers about your characters? Do you mostly choose periods that are shrouded in mystery or do you try to be as accurate as you can without screwing up your story?

Am I crazy to try this?
 

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You're not crazy at all. And I think Civil War buffs will support you in your idea, so long as you are generally faithful to the times and the unit. Just make it clear that this is fiction. Historical fiction. Not history. This does not mean you won't get a grouse or two along the way from a purist ("His rifle would have had such-and-such a sight on it, not the one you've got."), but you'll never satisfy the most niggling, even if you would write a straight, non-fiction history. In other words, stay as faithful as you can, and then take whatever liberties you need, would be my advice.

I've got one historical fantasy out and I'm working on my next, so I know the issues you're dealing with. Good luck!
 

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Thanks, Carl. I am really fascinated by these soldiers and what I want to do is to tell their story in an entertaining and easily accessible way that people who would not read an actual history book will read. They were very, very unique and extraordinary men. At Gettysburg their Colonel was killed when he and 4 other men tried to take an entire Confederate regiment!
 

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I grew up south of Pittsburgh in the Black Hills. I'd love to tell you that they'd be forgiving, but I'd be lying. They will delight in belittling any author, particularly a female author, who doesn't get every single detail just right. It makes them feel better about themselves. It makes them feel like they're some kind of experts. They'll send e-mails around with jokes at your expense, and that sort of thing. Trust me, I know these people. That said, it sounds like an interesting idea. Just do your research very, very thoroughly.
 

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vrabinec said:
I grew up south of Pittsburgh in the Black Hills. I'd love to tell you that they'd be forgiving, but I'd be lying. They will delight in belittling any author, particularly a female author, who doesn't get every single detail just right. It makes them feel better about themselves. It makes them feel like they're some kind of experts. They'll send e-mails around with jokes at your expense, and that sort of thing. Trust me, I know these people. That said, it sounds like an interesting idea. Just do your research very, very thoroughly.
Thanks. I know what you are talking about. Fortunately I have a close friend who is a historian from the area who has agreed to read anything I write ( he helped a lot with the background for the Whiskey Bottle stories, too.) This will be a challenge but I'm so intrigued by them. I just found this photograph taken at their 1914 reunion. Some of them are wearing their caps with the Bucktails still on them:

 

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Hi, Kathleen--

I've published one historical novel, Halestorm; it's set during the American Revolution and fictionalizes the life of the legendary spy, Nathan Hale.

He was the ideal hero b/c we know enough about him to provide an incredibly exciting plot -- far more enthralling than anything I could invent -- but not enough to constrain a writer's imagination. I could have him fall in love, participate in various scenes at various places, or interact with the characters I invented without violating established history (or even history only buffs of the era would know).

But I forestalled such complaints as worry you with an extensive "Author's Note" at the end of Halestorm. In it, I listed those facts we know about Nathan vs. the fictional elements I added.

To my surprise, at least one reviewer publicly praised the Author's Note, and many more have written me privately to thank me for it.

I strongly recommend you include such a note with your novel.

Best,

Becky Akers
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Becky Akers said:
But I forestalled such complaints as worry you with an extensive "Author's Note" at the end of Halestorm. In it, I listed those facts we know about Nathan vs. the fictional elements I added.

To my surprise, at least one reviewer publicly praised the Author's Note, and many more have written me privately to thank me for it.

I strongly recommend you include such a note with your novel.
Yes, I think that is a good idea and have been thinking about that. Thanks for the advice!
 

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I tried to be as accurate as possible about the eras I wrote about, but my characterse are fictional. Some mention of "real" people is peppered throughout the series to add history.

I don't know anything about the history you are talking about, but it sounds like you have gotten some good advice from people who do know it. I would just make sure to do that author's note!

I also think it is good that you bought books instead of just relying on the internet. I did the same regarding the bohemain artist era in Paris/Montmartre (yes, Montmartre was already technically part of Paris but the people living there refused to accept it at that time).

Also, historical fiction is a broad genre. Some of it is books where the history is the major part of the work, others are written where the era is a backdrop. Mine is the latter. If you are dong the former (and it sounds like you are) then you will have even more research ahead of you than I did. Good luck with it. When it is something that interests you it is really fun to learn!
 

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vrabinec said:
I grew up south of Pittsburgh in the Black Hills. I'd love to tell you that they'd be forgiving, but I'd be lying. They will delight in belittling any author, particularly a female author, who doesn't get every single detail just right. It makes them feel better about themselves. It makes them feel like they're some kind of experts. They'll send e-mails around with jokes at your expense, and that sort of thing. Trust me, I know these people. That said, it sounds like an interesting idea. Just do your research very, very thoroughly.
This is true. I don't write historical fiction, but I live in Gettysburg, so I've seen this firsthand. However, if your research is solid (and I'm sure it will be), you'll win over a lot of people. There are several well known female researchers.

I looked up the photo for the Bucktail monument at Gettysburg and realized I park my car there when I go hiking with my dog on the battlefield. I'll have to check out the statue's cap the next time I'm there.

Harry W. Pfanz wrote several good books about Gettysburg. He's a former historian for the Gettysburg National Military Park. Buffs consider him an authority. The Gettysburg Magazine also has good, scholarly articles by reputable sources. Your library might have the magazine. It tends to take forever if you order anything from the publisher -- I think it's run by very old people.
 

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Kathleen Valentine said:
I never thought I would write a book based on history but I am considering it. Here's the concept - my recently released book The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt is doing pretty well. It is a novel in 11 consecutive stories that build to a conclusion. All the stories are based on folklore and legends from my hometown, a Pennsylvania Dutch community in the Allegheny Highlands. Already I am getting emails from readers saying, please write more. I thought I was out of ideas but then I started thinking about something.

During the Civil War there was an elite unit of sharpshooters formed called The Bucktail Regiment. It was the first such regiment that men had to pass a sharpshooting challenge to qualify for. The Elk County Rifles, part of the regiment, were from my home town. They fought in most of the major battles of the Civil War and distinguished themselves at Gettysburg. I've downloaded a lot of articles about them and found three books online that I ordered and have been reading (one is a collection of interviews done in 1906 of actual survivors of the regiment.) My idea is a story-within-a-story using the characters from the Whiskey Bottle stories one of whom starts doing research on an ancestor who was part of this regiment.

Now here's my dilemma, a LOT is known about these people and Civil War buffs can be extremely pedantic. If I plan to construct a fictional character to operate in this world, how much grief am I going to get? How dogmatic are other historical fiction writers about your characters? Do you mostly choose periods that are shrouded in mystery or do you try to be as accurate as you can without screwing up your story?

Am I crazy to try this?
I think pedantic is a rather negative word. ;)

Historical Fiction readers are extremely picky and it isn't just about the Civil War. Many of them know the history of the periods they read about and they are willing to research it if they don't. It might be an extremely interesting writing project and there are a lot of people out there who read Historical Fiction and Civil War Fiction in particular. However, if you do it and don't stick extremely close to the facts, they'll eat you alive.

It takes more than being "generally faithful" though. Writing Historical Fiction is one heck of a lot of work. They'll forgive small variations from the truth covered in Author's Notes, but if you vary much you will have lost them far before they get to the notes. Another consideration is that you would, from the sound of it, also be writing War Fiction. In that case, you have to get the weapons and tactics of the period and the regiment right. This can be easier said than done if you don't have a background in it, and it is a subject upon which people tend to be extremely picky.

That shouldn't necessarily keep you from writing it, but just go in knowing that this is a kind of fiction that is really hard work and more time consuming than most.

ETA: I have also received a lot of praise and thanks for my Author's Notes and other end matter. If you do find it necessary to vary at all from history, that is the place to explain why. However, the thanks I have received most is for using them to give my research material, list characters who were historical (most of mine are), and make other explanations.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
This is all very interesting and I appreciate the input. HAGrant, I bought your book on ghosts and have been reading it a bit at a time. Interesting stuff.

JR, I know that you know more about this genre than most people do so your input is valued.

I've found two more books that I just ordered (I'm spending a lot on this project before I even know if it is going to work!) But, of course, that is important. One is the published diary of a woman who grew up in Gettysburg and was a school teacher before the war and then a nurse who met a "Bucktail" in a hospital and subsequently married him. I'm looking forward to reading that one (her name is Salomé, how could I resist her?)

The other one is a detailed history specifically of the Elk County Rifles written by a member of the local historical society, so I have my work cut out for me. If nothing else I am in for some fascinating reading.

I recently finished Kiana Davenport's The Spy Lover which contains many VERY graphic battle scenes, one at Gettysburg, and, trust me, I don't want to get THAT graphic. I'd never be able to write as graphically as she does!
 

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Kathleen Valentine said:
This is all very interesting and I appreciate the input. HAGrant, I bought your book on ghosts and have been reading it a bit at a time. Interesting stuff.

JR, I know that you know more about this genre than most people do so your input is valued.

I've found two more books that I just ordered (I'm spending a lot on this project before I even know if it is going to work!) But, of course, that is important. One is the published diary of a woman who grew up in Gettysburg and was a school teacher before the war and then a nurse who met a "Bucktail" in a hospital and subsequently married him. I'm looking forward to reading that one (her name is Salomé, how could I resist her?)

The other one is a detailed history specifically of the Elk County Rifles written by a member of the local historical society, so I have my work cut out for me. If nothing else I am in for some fascinating reading.

I recently finished Kiana Davenport's The Spy Lover which contains many VERY graphic battle scenes, one at Gettysburg, and, trust me, I don't want to get THAT graphic. I'd never be able to write as graphically as she does!
I don't think that glossing over the horror of battles like Gettysburg is a good idea, but that's me. I write war fiction. What the people in such wars suffered (and do suffer) deserves the truth. It's something I'm a bit passionate about, I suppose. That doesn't mean that someone who flinches from the graphic nature of battle shouldn't write historical fiction, but I would suggest thinking twice about writing about a main character who will spend his time in battle if you feel you can't write about what they were like.

I apologize if that sounds critical, but I very much object to prettying up the horrors of war.
 

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I apologize if that sounds critical, but I very much object to prettying up the horrors of war.
I agree. If you are going to write about war, tell it as awful as it was.
 

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My civil war series is built on my own characters but factual events, regiments, people.

If your "Buck Tails" weren't at Chickamauga, don't put them there. If you want to promote one to be captain of Company D, Pennsylvania Reserves you might still be on decent ground or pull the names of real men from the rosters and have your characters interact with them. I've used real company officers for the regiments I've put my characters into but none of them have been main characters, I've just wanted to place more reality into the stories.

I've found that civil war buffs (me) want to see a basis of research, reality of the topic, and a following of real events. One of the principal complaints from buffs about the Movie rendition of Killer Angels was the movement of Chamberlain's 20th Main from Little Round Top on day three to the center for Picket's Charge. This is the kind of thing that produces questions from buffs. It didn't happen.

You might use http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;idno=waro0029;node=waro0029%3A3;view=image;seq=212;size=100;page=root for looking up unit reports if you are going to write about any of the engagements the Bucks were involved in as you might find fodder for story telling. I rely on these a lot.

ETA: You might also not only familiarize with basic military rank in the war, how one became a soldier (you volunteered, not enlisted), some reading on maneuver and the weapons used (finding out what weapons the Buck Tails were issued, not all units received the 1861 Springfield rifled musket) but it is the little details like this that will gain the attention of someone who delves into minutia like this.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I have no intention of "prettying up" battle scenes but I'm not going to spend pages describing guts pouring out onto the battlefield and heads exploding like dropped watermelons either!

phil1861 said:
My civil war series is built on my own characters but factual events, regiments, people.

If your "Buck Tails" weren't at Chickamauga, don't put them there. If you want to promote one to be captain of Company D, Pennsylvania Reserves you might still be on decent ground or pull the names of real men from the rosters and have your characters interact with them. I've used real company officers for the regiments I've put my characters into but none of them have been main characters, I've just wanted to place more reality into the stories.
Thanks, Phil. I am acquiring a ton of detail about this regiment and lots of pictures too. My intention is to have one young man who grew up in the farming community I wrote about in the Whiskey Bottle stories and who was a woodsman and logger working in the Allegheny National Forest when Thomas Leiper Kane put out his call for sharphooters for his regiment. My guy is not going to advance very far in rank. I'm lucky because I already introduced T.L. Kane in my first book because of the viaduct he commissioned two decades after the Civil War when he was head of a railroad company so the tie-in is consistent.

I appreciate everyone's comments and suggestions.
 

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Not sure you need bloodied scenes, but knowing what happened in the combat and how it was carried out, formations, commands, will ground your realism for the time period.

If you have an iPhone, someone has made Hardee's Tactics as an animated app and will have information on how a regiment or brigade was formed for movement. This was one of the manuals both sides were schooled in at West Point (Hardee resigned his commission and went south).
 

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I moved one event, Elizabeth Woodville leaving sanctuary after the death of her husband, a couple of months. I explained in the Author's Note that the change in timing worked better for the story. I took a lot of flack for that. FROM MY FATHER!!

I'll look forward to reading your book. It sounds interesting.

 

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phil1861 said:
Not sure you need bloodied scenes
Especially if you're in a shap shooter's POV. When I go to the range, I need a telescope to see whether or not I hit a target at 100 yards. A sharpshooter doesn't necessarily get to see the blood of his kill.
 

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Kathleen Valentine said:
I have no intention of "prettying up" battle scenes but I'm not going to spend pages describing guts pouring out onto the battlefield and heads exploding like dropped watermelons either!

Thanks, Phil. I am acquiring a ton of detail about this regiment and lots of pictures too. My intention is to have one young man who grew up in the farming community I wrote about in the Whiskey Bottle stories and who was a woodsman and logger working in the Allegheny National Forest when Thomas Leiper Kane put out his call for sharphooters for his regiment. My guy is not going to advance very far in rank. I'm lucky because I already introduced T.L. Kane in my first book because of the viaduct he commissioned two decades after the Civil War when he was head of a railroad company so the tie-in is consistent.

I appreciate everyone's comments and suggestions.
Well, there are degrees of graphic-ness, I will give you. I get an occasional complaint about the graphic nature of the violence in my novels. I suppose I tend to feel that if a main point of the novel is battle or the character's reaction to and survival of battle, you can't slight the battle descriptions, but we all have varying tolerance. I don't think you can write about war or people who took active part in it without bloodied scenes, but you can shorten the descriptions. Of course, I think my descriptions are shortened. Not everyone does. ;)

I would also strongly suggest if you do decide to go through with the project to find some re-inactors with authentic weapons or good reproductions and get them to let you handle the weapons. You can't know what it feels like to pick up a weapon and carry it if you've never done it.

ETA: Gertie's comment is pretty typical. I moved a long-since destroyed castle 40 miles from its real location and took unbelievable flack for it.
 

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vrabinec said:
Especially if you're in a shap shooter's POV. When I go to the range, I need a telescope to see whether or not I hit a target at 100 yards. A sharpshooter doesn't necessarily get to see the blood of his kill.
That assumes that the battle was nice and stayed put--nice and distant, which rarely was what happened in the Civil War. ;)

Of course, a sharpshooter would have a different perspective on battle than an infantryman which is a valid point.
 
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