Transportation of Prostitutes During the Civil War

Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts

Some of you are familiar with my short story mysteries featuring Clara, an engaging prostitute who plied her trade during the Civil War with men whose sexual preferences included “soft” fetishes—i.e., nothing painful, more like making love in caskets, lapping brandy from her bellybutton, or enjoying chocolate applied with feathers. (So far, no one’s complained about the lack of explicit sexual detail on the page!) And somehow, she was repeatedly embroiled in solving mysterious deaths.

Well, I’m working on another Clara story, and here are some bits of info I think you’ll find interesting.

The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell thomas lowry

I stumbled across this book some years ago in the gift shop at the Museum of the Confederacy and bought it, because who isn’t interested in sex? Since then, Thomas P. Lowry has become my favorite writer on the topic! However, I’ve also searched online. I won’t be giving specific citations, because many of these facts pop up in several writings.

The topic of prostitution isn’t as intensively researched and written about as many other Civil War topics, and one might assume that’s because it was a minor issue. Wrong! In 1864 there were 450 brothels in Washington and over 75 in Alexandria, Virginia. A newspaper estimated there were 5000 “public women” in DC and another 2500 in Alexandria and Georgetown—and this is just an example. Whenever army troops set up camps, nearby small towns were overrun with women in the sex trade.

One estimate was that 40% of soldiers suffered the pox (syphilis) and/or the clap (gonorrhea). These STIs were nearly as dangerous to soldiers as battle—which prompted military officers to take action. That often took the form of moving bawdy women elsewhere.

Ivanhoe ship
[Source]
For example, Major General William Rosecrans ordered that all prostitutes found in Nashville or known to be there be seized and transported to Louisville. What followed was that a recently christened steamboat, the Idahoe, was basically conscripted to move 111 of the most infamous of the sex workers. Louisville refused dockage to the Idahoe, and ordered them on to Cincinnati instead. Cincinnati also refused to accept them, so they were sent to Kentucky, but were turned away by Covington and Newport. Bottom line: they ended up back in Nashville.

Similar rounding up of prostitutes and forcibly transporting them to the enemy’s city by train was common between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC—which promoted women being spies. (But spying is for another day.) In any case, such transportation did not take into account the convenience, preferences, or comfort of the women. For example, one report on the women aboard the Idahoe said the women were in bad shape when they returned to Nashville: “The majority are a homely, forlorn set of degraded creatures. Having been hurried on the boats by a military guard, many were without a change of wardrobe.” Nor were they properly fed after the first three days.

civil war era train
[Source]
Bottom line: Prostitution during the Civil War is a fascinating topic to pursue!

Guest Review: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly.

hello universe erin entrada kelly
[Source: Barnes & Noble]

As a child, I dreamed of having a job where I could read children’s and middle-grade literature all day. Granted, I don’t get to do it all day, but one amazing perk of my job is I get to read over some wonderful new literature coming from that genre!

Most recently, I picked up Hello, Universe, the 2018 Newbery Award winner. Folks, this book is fantastic. I can absolutely see why Kelly won the award. The book follows four characters: Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, all of whom have varied personalities and backgrounds. Their stories collide when Chet, the neighborhood bully, plays a prank on Virgil that will change the course of all of their lives. See its description on Goodreads (I’ve deleted spoilers!):

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous Filipino family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends—at least not until Chet pulls a prank that puts Virgil and his pet guinea pig in danger. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

One of my favorite tropes (is it a trope?) in books is when multiple storylines finally converge into one and something clicks with the reader. The best example I’ve ever seen—not just in children’s literature, but in all of the books I’ve read—is Holes by Louis Sachar. Hello, Universe has a more low-key way of converging storylines (and it’s not a surprise it happens—read the dust jacket!), but it’s still satisfying in a way that I’m sure will delight its young readers.

Don’t just take it from me; there are so many starred reviews of this book that it’s hard to pick just one quote. Booklist and Kirkus are among its starred reviewers, which is a huge accomplishment.

Bottom line: Hello, Universe is a delightful book for lovers of children’s and middle-grade fiction. Check it out!

Read What You Write

day without reading day without breathing

It’s important for writers to practice their craft and to set aside a little time every day (or every week) to do so. But people can’t write if they don’t read—especially within their genres. Have you taken a look to see which books are trending or bestsellers in your genre? If not, I’ve put together some lists for you. The lists on which these books show up are in parentheses next to their titles. The books are listed in no particular order.

Fiction

  • Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vandereh (Amazon)
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (Amazon)
  • The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen (Amazon)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Amazon) (New York Times)
  • Girls of Glass by Brianna Labuskes (Amazon)
  • The Magnolia Inn by Carolyn Brown (Amazon)
  • The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler (Amazon)
  • What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon (Amazon)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (Amazon)
  • The Beantown Girls by Jane Healey (Amazon)
beantown girls
[Source: Amazon]
still me jojo moyes
[Source: Amazon]
  • Every Note Played by Lisa Genova (Goodreads)
  • All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin (Goodreads)
  • Girls Burn Brighter by Shoba Rao (Goodreads)
  • There, There by Tommy Orange (Goodreads)
  • Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami (Goodreads)
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (Goodreads)
  •  Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Goodreads)
  • Us Against You by Fredrik Backman (Goodreads)

reading quote

Nonfiction

  • The Sky Below by Scott Parazynski (Amazon)
  • Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (Amazon) (New York Times)
  • The Threat by Andrew G. McCabe (Amazon)
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (Amazon)
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama (Amazon) (New York Times)
  • The Broken Circle by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller (Amazon)
  • How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck by Avery Breyer (Amazon)
  • The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind by Barbara K. Lipska (Amazon)
The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind 
[Source: Goodreads]
The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris
[Source: Amazon]
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (Goodreads)
  • Fear by Bob Woodard (Goodreads)
  • Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon (Goodreads)
  • Not that Bad by Roxane Gay (Goodreads)
  • Fascism by Madeleine Albright (Goodreads)

reading quote

Poetry

  • Devotions by Mary Oliver (Amazon)
devotions mary oliver
[Source: Amazon]
The Witch Doesn't Burn in This One
[Source: Amazon]
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Goodreads)
  • Useless Magic by Florence Welch (Goodreads)
  • The Dark Between Stars by Atticus (Goodreads)
  • Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker (Goodreads)
  • Rebound by Kwame Alexander (Goodreads)
  • If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar (Goodreads)
  • Take Me With You by Andrea Gibson (Goodreads)

Remember: No matter your genre, don’t forget to read what you write!

read what you write

Goodreads Newbie

goodreads login
I’ve always read—of course. But I never got involved with Goodreads till 2018. And guess what? It’s great! 
 
I got involved by declaring a reading goal for the year. I figured 52 was a good number. In the event, I read 118 books last year. Who knew?

 

author by number goodreads
Among other things, Goodreads tell me is  who I read the most—not something I ever paid attention to. But going forward, I’ll check out those top authors for anything they have published recently. Goodreads also allows one to check other aspects of one’s reading activity.
goodreads
Looking at my reading in review, a couple of things I sort-of knew became absolutely clear. (1) My preferred escapist reading is Regency romance, especially Jane Austin fan fiction. (2) When I latch onto a writer, I read everything, whole series, in order.
At Goodreads, you can see what your friends are reading, rate books you have read, get involved in discussion groups, follow specific authors, and so much more! Among other things, Goodreads will tell you which books READERS choose as the best in various genres.
books goodreads
Check out Goodreads for yourself! Are you already using it? Let’s connect!

Inside Heather Weidner’s Writing Life

heather weidner author

VL: I’m delighted that Heather Weidner agreed to an interview. Her most recent publication, “Digging Up Dirt,” appears in To Fetch a ThiefIn addition, Heather has published two mystery novels and numerous short stories—and dogs show up frequently!


VL: Is the dog in your story in To Fetch a Thief based at all on your dog?

HW: It is. It’s based on my little female JRT Disney. She’s a bundle of energy, a great companion, and she always likes to explore outside. Thankfully, she’s not dug up anything strange.

heather weidner dog
Heather’s dog, Disney

VL: Disney is definitely cute! I can understand why you would want to put her in a story. But how did you come up with the actual plot for “Digging Up Dirt”?

HW: My husband is a realtor, and people are always leaving things in houses when they move out. That gave me the idea for the random things (that might not be so random) in the story.

 

VL: No need for a spoiler alert, but I will say I admired the variety of things left behind and how you tied them together. But back to your passion—I don’t think passion is too strong a word—for dogs. Do any of your other stories (or future stories) involve a canine companion?

HW: They do. In my Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery series, my sassy private investigator has a partner, Duncan Reynolds, and Duncan’s best pal is Margaret, the English bulldog. She’s a brown and white log with legs. She has two speeds, slow and napping. But she likes treats, and she’s a great companion.

I’m also working on another cozy mystery, and there is another Jack Russell Terrier in it. Her name is Bijou.

dogs murder perfect holiday season
Heather’s dog, Riley

VL: While you are producing stories involving dogs, what do you do with your actual dogs?

HW: There are two dog beds in my office on either side of my desk. If they aren’t roughhousing, then they’re napping.

heather weidner dogs

VL: Most writers are voracious readers. What types of books do you read?

HW: I love all kinds of mysteries, thrillers, history, and biography.

 

VL: What are you reading now?

HW: I just finished John Grisham’s The Reckoning, and now I’m reading Lee Child’s Past Tense.

 

VL: What’s your favorite book or movie that has an animal as a central character? Why?

HW: My early favorites were Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. I have always loved animal stories, and even today, I tend to read mysteries that have pet sidekicks. My favorite mystery authors who include pets are Bethany Blake, Janet Evanovich, Krista Davis, and Libby Klein.

 

VL: What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?

HW: I have three TBR piles right now. One’s on my night stand. I have one on a bookcase, and there’s another downstairs in the den. There are always more books than I have time to read. Most of the books in all three piles are mysteries and thrillers. There are a few biographies in the pile.

 

VL: Based on the locations of your TBR piles, I could probably guess at the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask anyway. Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?

HW: I can read just about anywhere. At home, I like reading on my deck in the early mornings. At night, I like reading in bed with two snuggly Jack Russell Terriers.

As for the writing part of your question, I tend to be a binge writer. At home, I write in my office or on the deck. But I tend to write or proofread whenever I get a free moment, so it could be at lunch at work or in the dentist’s waiting room.

 

VL: What’s next for you?

HW: I am working on the third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. It’s called Glitter, Glam, and Contraband. I am also working on a new cozy mystery set in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had a nonfiction piece accepted in the Sisters in Crime book marketing anthology, Promophobia, and that will be out next year, along with a short story, “Art Attack,” in the Deadly Southern Charm: A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology.

VL: You clearly have a lot going on! Thank you for taking time for this interview.

 

VL: Thank you, Heather! Congratulations on all you have done so far. No doubt we will see more of your writing in the future, especially Delaney Fitzgerald. Learn more about Heather Weidner below.


Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders are her novels in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her novella “Diggin’ up Dirt” appears in To Fetch a Thief.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.

Connect with Heather online:

Dogs and Murder: Perfect for the Holiday Season!

fetch thief inge weidner ormerod shomaker
I recently read To Catch a Thief. It’s a light and lively set of cozy mysteries: no violence on the page, no offensive language, and no explicit sex. And, what is just as important for me, amateur detectives and perpetrators know each other.

 

Four local writers each contributed a novella. And I am pleased to announce that ALL FOUR have agreed to write about it! Here’s the background info. Tune in for their guest posts on 12/7 (Heather Weidner), 12/11 (Jayne Ormerod), 12/14 (Rosemary Shomaker), and 12/18 (Theresa Inge).

Summary

To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, features four novellas that have gone to the dogs. In this howlingly good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs. These sleuths may be furry and low to the ground, but their keen senses are on high alert when it comes to sniffing out clues and digging up the truth. Make no bones about it, these pup heroes will steal your heart as they conquer ruff villains.

Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Jane Omerod, Rosemary Shomaker
L-R: Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Jane Omerod, and Rosemary Shomaker.

The Stories

“Hounding the Pavement”

by Teresa Inge

Catt Ramsey has three things on her mind: grow her dog walking service in Virginia Beach, solve the theft of a client’s vintage necklace, and hire her sister Emma as a dog walker.  But when Catt finds her model client dead after walking her precious dogs Bella and Beau, she and her own dogs Cagney and Lacey are hot on the trail to clear her name after being accused of murder.

 

“Diggin’ up Dirt”

by Heather Weidner

Amy Reynolds and her Jack Russell Terrier Darby find some strange things in her new house. Normally, she would have trashed the forgotten junk, but Amy’s imagination kicks into high gear when her nosy neighbors dish the dirt about the previous owners who disappeared, letting the house fall into foreclosure. Convinced that something nefarious happened, Amy and her canine sidekick uncover more abandoned clues in their search for the previous owners.

 

“Dog Gone it All”

by Jayne Ormerod

Meg Gordon and her tawny terrier Cannoli are hot on the trail of a thief, a heartless one who steals rocks commemorating neighborhood dogs who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But sniffing out clues leads them to something even more merciless…a dead body! There’s danger afoot as the two become entangled in the criminality infesting their small bayside community. And, dog gone it all, Meg is determined to get to the bottom of things.

 

“This is Not a Dog Park”

by Rosemary Shomaker

“Coyotes and burglaries? That’s an odd pairing of troubles.” Such are Adam Moreland’s reactions to a subdivision’s meeting announcement. He has no idea. Trouble comes his way in spades, featuring a coyote . . . burglaries . . . and a dead body! A dog, death investigation, and new female acquaintance kick start Adam’s listless life frozen by a failed relationship, an unfulfilling job, and a judgmental mother. Events shift Adam’s perspective and push him to act.

 

The Authors

theresa inge author

Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

heather weidner author

Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. She’s been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon | Pinterest | LinkedIn | BookBub | AllAuthor | YouTube

 

Jayne Ormerod

Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck. She has contributed seven short mysteries to various anthologies to include joining with the other To Fetch a Thief authors in Virginia is for Mysteries, Volumes I and II, and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

 

rosemary shomaker author

Rosemary Shomaker writes about the unexpected in everyday life. She’s the woman you don’t notice in the grocery store or at church but whom you do notice at estate sales and wandering vacant lots. In all these places she’s collecting story ideas. Rosemary writes women’s fiction, paranormal, and mystery short stories, and she’s taking her first steps toward longer fiction, so stay tuned. She’s an urban planner by education, a government policy analyst by trade, and a fiction writer at heart. Rosemary credits Sisters in Crime with developing her craft and applauds the organization’s mission of promoting the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers.

Instagram | Twitter

 

These four great authors should be on your horizon.

Where to follow the authors: see the individual bios above for links to their Facebook pages, Twitter, and websites.

 

Where to Buy To Fetch a Thief

24 Symbols

Amazon (Print / ebook)

Apple

Barnes and Noble

Books to Read

Kobo

Overdrive

Voices from the Past

anne frank house
Anne Frank House on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, Netherlands [Creative Commons]
I’m a fan of history—not so much the names and dates of battles and rulers, but the lives of ordinary people. I might say it’s a sociological and/or anthropological approach to history. I was fascinated by Anne Frank—what she wrote and how she lived—long before I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a few years ago.

 

smithsonian new anne frank
So, of course the cover of the November 2018 Smithsonian magazine caused me to snatch it up. Pages 39-88 are devoted to bringing us voices from the past, long silenced by war.

 

unforgotten smithsonian
This page summarizes the point of this coverage: Never forget, lest we repeat the devastations of the past. This month marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, so the publication is particularly timely.

 

voices past
The first article recounts the twisted path by which a Holocaust diary showed up in the United States. Renia Spiegel, a 15-year-old girl in a small Polish town, wrote a diary. Her diary survived her death almost by accident, and had a profound effect on the lives of others.
smithsonian anne frank
The diary was published in Polish in 2016, but is translated into English and published in Smithsonian for the first time. Renia Spiegel was a teenager, not a trained writer, but her words are as powerful an Anne Frank’s, conveying the commonplace, day-to-day against the backdrop and ever impinging horrors of WWII. The diary is a gripping eye-witness record of history in prose, poetry, and sketches.

 

becoming anne frank
Just after the diary translation, the article by Dara Horn is thought-provoking exploration of the contradictions in attitudes and behaviors that surround people’s reactions to Jews and Jewishness. It includes a quote from Elie Wiesel: “Those of us who went through the war and tried to write about it… become messengers. We have given the message and nothing changed.” Wiesel was a prisoner in Buchenwold when the camp was liberated in April 1945.
anne frank smithsonian
In Lithuania, beginning in 1940, Matila Okin kept a diary of her life and times as a Jew in wartime Europe. Her poetry was published in literary journals and her work solicited by editors, and several are included in the article, which also talks about the Catholic priest who hid Okin’s notebooks in the wall of the church before the Soviets deported him to Siberia.
voices past
The last of the articles quotes from diaries written in the Lodz Getto in Poland, but also U.S. internment camps, Bosnia during the Serbian aggression, Syria, Iraq, and considers the impact of today’s digital war diaries.

 

Bottom line: This Smithsonian makes clear that history isn’t dead—and testifies that it isn’t even past. Every writer should read it.

Guest Review: Any Man by Amber Tamblyn

[Warning: This blog talks about the incidence and aftermath of sexual assault and rape.]

Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Any Man by Amber Tamblyn.

any man amber tamblyn
[Source: Goodreads]

VL: How did you come to read Any Man?

CC: I’ve been a fan of Amber Tamblyn for a long time, but not for her writing — for her talents as an actor. When I found out this book was coming out, it piqued my interest immediately. Then I found out she was going to do a reading at Fountain Bookstore (down the road from me), and I knew I had to get it!

amber tamblyn fountain bookstore
Amber Tamblyn reading at Fountain Bookstore

VL: Is it typical of the books you read?

CC: Not at all; it’s much more intense than the books I typically read. From its jacket description, you can see why:

A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.


What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.

As bold as it is timely, Any Man paints a searing portrait of survival and is a tribute to those who have lived through the nightmare of sexual assault.

As you can see, it’s a dark premise. It’s shocking to read at some points, but Tamblyn does a really wonderful job of introducing lighter parts when you need them.

VL: What did you like best?

CC: Tamblyn began as a poet, so the book is written as a mix of poetry and prose. The writing is breathtaking, and she does a great job of conveying a lot of information and emotion in fewer words. So many pages gave me chills.

VL: What did you like least?

CC: It was hard to read such an intense book; at times I needed to put it down for something else. But at her Fountain reading, she talked about our society’s history of ignoring survivors of sexual assault/rape or sweeping their stories under the rug. I think this is an important story, and an interesting take considering a woman is the perpetrator.

VL: Would you recommend Any Man to family or friends?

CC: I would (and have), but I would do it with the caveat that it’s very difficult to read in parts. I’m careful with whom I recommend it, because you never know if this story will hit too close to home.

VL: Have you read other books by this author?

Tamblyn has several poetry books under her belt, but I haven’t read them yet. They’re definitely on my list!


Have you read Any Man? What did you think?

Historical Fiction

colonial heights high school
 
Yesterday, November 5, I met with Spotlight, the Colonial Heights High School club which focuses on literary and fine arts. I talked with these young, creative teens about fiction in general and historical fiction in particular.

 

Stating the obvious: in historical fiction, the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. What may not be so readily obvious is that beyond that, anything goes! Although this umbrella covers theater, opera, cinema, TV, etc., and my comments likely apply there as well, my focus has always been on the traditional: historical novels and short stories.
high school classroom
Historical fiction can be any genre and format. Romance, action/adventure, mystery, children’s literature, young adult novels, sci-fi, literary fiction, fairy tales, fables, satire, comedy, horror, even epic poetry—anything you can come up with is fair game. And it can be any length, from flash fiction to multiple-volume series.

 

steering craft ursula k le guin
The foundation of historical fiction is good writing. Therefore, start by mastering the craft. Ursula Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft is short, readable, and excellent instruction (although my personal opinion is that the sailing metaphor gets a bit trying by the end). But beyond that, consider what will give your writing authority and make it believable. So, here, in no particular order, are sample questions you would do well to answer.
cookbooks
What did people eat? People must eat. Beyond that, nothing is static. Food fashions change. The availability of various foods changes. Cooking methods and utensils change, how tables are set and what constitutes good table manners change. Even the timing of meals change—such as when the main meal of the day was eaten. And what was eaten: one example, a full breakfast is a staple of British cuisine, and typically consists of bacon, sausages and eggs, often served with a variety of side dishes and a drink such as coffee or tea. Prior to 1600, breakfast in Great Britain typically included bread, cold meat or fish, and ale. On an American farm table, pie for breakfast was common. You can search history of breakfast online and retrieve lots of valuable information by period of history and country.
historical fiction
How did people talk? The basic here is vocabulary, the words for ordinary objects and actions. Then, too, a word may not mean the same thing it once did. “Compromise” had a very different meaning for a couple in Jane Austen’s time compared to opponents in a political intrigue set in 1990. But phrasing comes into it, too: at some point, people became less likely to say “pardon me” and more likely to say “excuse me.” Besides the historical period, consider language specific to action; for example, carnival workers or mobsters.
value dollar
What did things cost? Everyone knows prices change. The basic point here is how much things cost during your time period. And perhaps even more interesting, what was bought? For example, in 1905 a household was likely to buy stove polish (at twenty-five cents a can). Or during the Great Depression in the United States, a man might berate his wife for “driving all over the county, like gas doesn’t cost ten cents a gallon.”  Inserting a few such details gives a story authority as well as richness—assuming you get it right. The latest edition of this book (the 5th) is available from Amazon, $155 new and $25 used. For your purposes, new probably isn’t necessary, and library discards come available for a dollar or two.
historical fiction
What did people wear? For example, did women wear underpants? Had bras been invented? Were corsets still in use? And related questions having to do with where the clothing came from, how much of it a person was likely to have, and how it varied by socioeconomic status.
mortal remains death early america
What was involved in birth, death, and marriage? Most historical fiction will touch on one or more of these nearly universal events. Where did births take place and who attended? What about funerary practices? Would bodies be embalmed, burned, put on a scaffold for birds of prey to clean the bones? For marriage, consider age, who consents, what the ceremony likely entailed. For women, what rights did she lose and/or acquire with marriage?
lindbergh baby newspaper
[Source: Timothy Hughes]
What was happening in the world at the time? Some awareness or mention of major events is unavoidable. For example, if your story is set in 1863, the American Civil War was a relevant event whether or not it was the focus of your plot, and even if your story is set in London or Paris. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby and finding the body in 1932 was similarly followed worldwide. For an excellent one-volume history of the United States, try Jill Lepore’s These Truths.

 

historical fiction
Doing your research. The above questions are just examples of things you need to know to make your historical work of fiction live for the reader. The list is endless: recreation and entertainment, mode of transportation and the time it took to get from place to place, weapons, toys, houses or whatever dwellings, how tall people were, hair styles. . . If you know the question you want to ask, online searching is convenient and inexpensive. Personally, any information I’m likely to want to refer to repeatedly, I like to have in physical books. Reading about the time of your plot is extremely valuable. And I find it fascinating. I have many books like the ones pictured above to get an overview of life during the period of interest, presenting answers to most of your factual questions in one convenient package.

 

Last but not least, read books written during and set in the time you’re writing about. Read extensively—meaning both a lot and broadly. It will give you a feel for tone, pacing, and (probably) things to avoid in your own writing!

 

BOTTOM LINE: Besides the foundation of good writing, historical fiction is built on research. Enjoy!
 

Netflix Originals Based on Books

It seems like everyone is watching television and movies through streaming services now — especially Netflix. Each of those streaming services boasts a wide array of original shows and movies, and of course some of those are born from books.

netflix originals based books

So many of those book-to-movie adaptations (or book-to-tv adaptations) are taking the world by storm. Here are a few to check out (keeping in mind I’m not counting comics like Riverdale or The Defenders). These are in alphabetical order by Netflix show/movie name.

 

Television shows/miniseries

A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Alias Grace, based on Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Altered Carbon, based on Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

Anne With an E, based on Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Girlboss, based on #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

Hemlock Grove, based on Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

House of Cards, based on House of Cards by Michael Dobbs

Kiss Me First, based on Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Mindhunter, based on Mindhunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas

Orange is the New Black, based on Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Shadowhunters, based on City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

The Last Kingdom, based on The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell

13 Reasons Why, based on 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

 

netflix book movie

 

Movies/Documentaries

A Wrinkle in Time, based on A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, based on The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Lovely Bones, based on The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, based on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

 

netflix originals based books

 

I’m sure there are movies and shows I’ve forgotten. Don’t see your favorite on the list? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook!