Tag Archives: period fiction

Why I write period fiction

Don’t read this blog if you don’t like history and if you don’t like history what’s wrong with you.

Somewhere in my schooling I heard, from whom I no longer recall, that history is not about dates and legislative acts. Who cares when the Homestead Act was passed. History is about the people and the times. I can relate to that.

Before I tell you why I write period fiction, let me offer three great biographies about people and their times. “Cleopatra” by Stacy Schiff will make you feel you are in ancient Egypt and you will learn more about Cleopatra than you will from any movie. “Jesse James, Last Rebel of the Civil War” by T.J. Stiles is the most thorough study of Jesse James I have read and there are scenes in the book that still haunt me. “Black Count” by Tom Reiss is a revelation about the father of writer Alexander Dumas. If ever a story ever cried out for a movie this is the one.  The story about the Black Count is too detailed, too rich, and to exciting to go into here. All three books are great reads for taking you to another time and place.

And that is why I write period fiction. I want to escape to another time and place. I have no interest in writing contemporary fiction (my short stories an exception) because it is not an escape. When I wrote “Loonies in the Dugout” about a fictional character observing a true story about the 1911 New York Giants baseball team it gave me the chance to go back in time and learn about 1911 New York. I loved the research about buildings, events at the time, the people of the time. I had the opportunity to make true life characters like Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Damon Runyon, Bat Masterson, and of course Charlie Faust come to life again. They are long dead. I never had a chance to meet them, but by writing about them in my story I was bringing them back to life. I was a kinder Dr. Frankenstein.

Then because I liked my two fictional leads, Chester and Eveleen, I set them in 1922 where they solved the true life murder of William Desmond Taylor, a silent film director, in the book “Loonies in Hollywood.” Once again I brought to life people I would have liked to have met and I solved a murder that to this day is unsolved. I won’t say I had inside information, but I met years and years ago someone who was  involved in the Hollywood scene at the time. My ending is purely fictional though. Although . . .

Then because I loved studying the flapper era with all that jazz, prohibition, speakeasies, and the movies, I gave Chet and Eveleen another chance to solve a murder in a novel that will be released this spring. It takes place in 1927 and though Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields, Clara Bow, Adolph Zukor, among many others, grace the story along with two fictional characters so important in my previous book, Detective Tom Ziegler and Clancy, my favorite flapper, this story, unlike the other two is not based on a true story.

So if you like history, period fiction, and reading, my Amazon page for my e-books are here. http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38



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How much research is too much for a fiction writer

Everything in life is a delicate balance. Diet, for example, is one half healthy foods and one half junk food. Eat lots of fruits and veggies along with cookies and potato chips. No matter what, everything is a balance in life. Obviously anything can be overdone. Too much fruit is as bad as too much chips. Balance, balance, balance.

The question for writers, especially for those who write period fiction like me, is how much research is too much? When does your research reflect a cumbersome narrative in your story?

My first e-novel “Loonies in the Dugout” takes place in 1911, mostly in New York City. The backdrop for the story is baseball and that part was easy. But how did people in New York get around? What was the fashion? What was the slang? What were the events of the day? What was in the news in the summer of 1911? How does one get from the Braddock Hotel to Greenwich Village?

I came across how the phrase ’23 skidoo’ originated. It came about because of the wind patterns at the triangular shaped Flatiron building in New York as men would go there and hang out hoping to see a gust of wind blow a woman’s dress up, showing an ankle, or perhaps, even part of a calf. It was so bad a couple of policeman were assigned to the area to chase the men away who were lurking about. The word they used was ‘skidoo’ as in scram. I don’t know where the 23 came from as it was going on in 1911.

I thought it interesting so used it in my story in a comical way. The trick was to blend it into the story so it seemed natural, not forced. An item you find can’t be used for its own sake, it must fit, otherwise it needs to be dropped. This happened when I discovered there was a devastating heat wave that summer. Many people died. I tried to use that in the opening chapter as it fit thematically with how the book would end. But I cut it, leaving it on the editing room floor, as it were. It got in the way of the narrative.

One trick I learned when coming across interesting facts, such as a woman who was hung in England a few centuries ago, but did not die, was to have a character tell the story. I love these odd little tidbits, but there must be a reason for a character to tell the story. In this case I had John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, tell the story to my lead character, Chester Koski. He was trying to make a point to Chester. I used the same tactic in “Loonies in Hollywood” set in 1922.

But whatever research you encounter, it must blend into the story. Readers notice misspelling, they notice grammatical flaws, and they will notice when a writer’s research is getting in the way of the story. You must have the same critical eye to your research as you do your proofreading of spelling and grammar.

My e-books are found at Amazon. This link is not working. I guess I will have to do research, but you can go to Amazon, Google my name in search and I should show up. I hope.

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