Quill and Ink: Writing the world

As I prepared to commit the act of madness that is called “writing fiction” I poked around to see what others were saying about it. I found that in a lot of genres there was much discussion about something called “creating your world.” It was generally agreed that this was important, and that the author had to walk a fine line in the early chapters of her/his book: the reader had to understand what the world was like, but not be bored by the details. I thought, “That sounds hard. I’m glad I don’t have to do that in Historical fiction.” I was wrong. I have learned that a historical fiction story DOES exist in its own world. There are, however, significant differences between the historical fiction world and the world of other genres.

First and foremost, historical fiction is supposed to be tied into “stuff that happened.” Whether set in Ancient Egypt, Tudor England, the American Colonies, The Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, Nazi-occupied Europe, or what have you, there is a historical foundation on which the author builds the “world.” This is harder than it sounds, because history is often a moving target, even though not everyone sees it that way.

Take the Battle of Gettysburg, for example. There is a very solid historical record of the events of that battle; on top of that foundation are layers of storytelling, which sometimes sharpens, and sometimes obscures, the actual events. Many of the critical events in the battle were fairly well known before Michael Shaara released his novel, The Killer Angels. [lest anyone think I am a Shaara critic, I love that book—it has inspired my own writing] Michael Shaara had to make decisions about what to include, and what to leave out or gloss over. The incidents he highlighted he did so dramatically: “Chamberlain’s Charge” and “Pickett’s Charge” for example. When the movie Gettysburg was made, based on Shaara’s book, those incidents lent themselves wonderfully to Hollywood dramatization. As a result, in the common consciousness, our perception of these incidents is colored by several layers of storytelling. A visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park, however, with a knowledgeable guide, might reveal that, well, those things probably didn’t really happen quite that way. Chamberlain’s Charge may not have looked quite so dramatic. Pickett’s Division was probably masked from Union fire until the last 100 yards; that’s how they got as far as they did.

Here’s the real problem: right now someone is taking violent exception to one or both of those last two sentences. History buffs tend to be passionate about their history, and oftentimes once they settle on an interpretation of events, they will defend their position against overwhelming odds…and against overwhelming facts and logic. [Incidentally, I am guilty of this as well] The historical fiction author can expect that any interpretation of events is going to upset at least someone.

Which brings us more to the point: in general, no one can know all of the events and relationships that affected a particular historical incident. The Duke of Wellington famously dismissed efforts to write a history of Waterloo as an impossible task. Even if a person was physically THERE, he/she could have only one, very limited perspective. And when one is talking about events that happened 100, 200, or 2000 years ago, there is an excellent chance that neither the author nor the reader was there.

The bottom line is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to perfectly replicate history. But that’s OK: I would argue that all history is, in fact, the interpretation of past events through the lens of the present. In order for an author to make the past understandable for a contemporary reader, the reader must bridge the gap between past and present; and the author must interpret those events. For me it often involves looking at conflicting sources, or piecing together a picture from incomplete sources, and asking myself, “What really happened? or “Could it really have happened that way?” A good example of this: my portrayal of the Battle of Princeton. Having had a chance to visit the site and walk the field, none of my sources made complete sense. I had to build my own version of the climax of the battle, based on my own knowledge and observations. Did I get it 100% right? Probably not. But I suspect I came pretty close, probably a lot closer than others, and I am happy with the result. Most importantly, I think I conveyed the ideas that Washington made an audacious move, that it was a near run thing, and that it was ultimately a dramatic victory.

That covers major plot points; but what about the overall look and feel of the world? I think most readers picking up a historical fiction book will appreciate that things will be different, so we authors have that going for us. In fact, I think they key is to highlight the critical similarities and differences between THAT world and THIS one. How do people communicate? What do they eat? How does it taste and smell? How do they dress? How do people stay warm/cool? How do they stay clean? Do they even bother? As the reader picks up these tidbits, he or she will subconsciously fit these into his or her existing mental picture of the time period. When done well, the reader consciously or subconsciously finds herself transported to a different time and place. And that is definitely worth the ride!

Times That Try Men’s Souls is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Times-That-Try-Mens-Souls/dp/1635030420/ or the iTunes Store at https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1094687106.

Spring arrives with inspiration in tow

It’s time to mow the lawn again. Some would consider that a bad thing, but I find it enjoyable. For one thing, I plug in my earbuds and enjoy some tunes, but more importantly, I get some of my best story ideas while walking back and forth across the yard.

This past week while about halfway through my front yard I had a flash of inspiration for Chapter 7 of A Nest of Hornets; an excellent plot point to bring a few threads together and perhaps build some suspense. Excellent!

Fortunately I am generally able to remember these ideas I generate while mowing. I dread the day, though, when I get multiple ideas. Maybe I should start mowing with my writer’s notebook in my pocket!

A new battlefield

Yesterday I finished Chapter 4 of A Nest of Hornets. In past novels I have placed my main character, Gideon Hawke, on many different battlefields. This time Gideon’s battlefield is very different: it is a dining room table in an elegant mansion, and he’s not sure who the enemy is…he’s not even sure there is a battle at first! Usually Gideon fights under the watchful eye of his friend, Andrew Johnston, but in this battle his only ally is his love, Ruth Munroe. Fortunately she is better prepared for this fight than Gideon!

While A Nest of Hornets remains deeply rooted in the history of the American Revolution, the plot gives me much more room to explore characters and dive into the divisive political tensions  that made the American War of Independence a civil war as well as a political revolution. I am enjoying it immensely!

Author Interview: P. Wish

I recently had the opportunity to interview author and blogger P. Wish. Here are my questions with her responses:

You wrote your first “official novel” when you were seven years old; tell us how that came about.

P-minI’ve always loved to write. I used to read a lot of fantasy when I was seven. I started writing my own fantasy story in a diary. I wrote one page per day. Over time, it became a book.

On your blog you recommend aspiring writers act out what their characters experience; what has doing so done to enhance your writing? Has that led you into any awkward or memorable situations?

My characters have personalities that are very different from mine. 3colorsHowever, I always manage to find something in common between us. I use that as the starting point to impersonate the character. Then, I think, ‘what would I say in this situation?’ I think that has helped me write better dialogue.

I seem to have developed a habit of talking to myself. I talk to myself in the character’s voice. Sometimes, I do it on the street without realizing what I’m doing. That does invite a few stares.

Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

Everywhere! I find inspiration mainly in fictional characters. Sometimes people around me influence me too.

Your books have amazing covers! What is your secret?

Thank you so much. I create them myself using Canva. I might hire a cover designer in the future but for now, I’m happy doing it myself.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I have a habit of writing down ideas when they come to me. That has resulted in many unfinished manuscripts on my computer. When I need inspiration, I read my old work. I put a twist on it and it works. Sometimes, I use the basic idea and create a completely different story around it.

I find inspiration in movies, as well. I’m a visual person. I relate to images easily. Sometimes when I watch a good movie or read a good book, I think ‘I have to write something like that.’. That’s how it usually starts.

If you woke up tomorrow as an animal, what would it be and why?

I think I would be a whale. A blue whale. I don’t know why but I’ve always thought of myself as a whale. I like whales because they’re big and mysterious.

LightDo you have any new projects in the works?

I’m currently working on a science-fiction thriller. It should be out early next year. I’m done with the first draft and am revising it. I’ll have some updates on my page soon.

Thank you for doing this interview with me. I enjoyed answering your well-researched questions.

Thank you for your answers!


You can learn more about P. Wish at the links below.

P. Wish interviews me:  http://www.pwish.net/blog/author-interview-robert-krenzel

Twitter username: @authorpwish

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorpwish

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+PWish

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/PWish?gvnc=1

Blog RSS Feed: http://www.pwish.net/1/feed

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13852944.P_Wish

Link to Kindle Store (US): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00WEZRM7I?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Linkedin: https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/p-wish/105/347/68b

Author Interview: Justin Bienvenue

I recently had the opportunity to interview “The Plasmatic Writer,” Justin Bienvenue. Here is our Q&A:

On your website you mention that when you were young your friends and family said you had quite an imagination. Do any particular incidents stand out?

There are a few in my mind that stand out. I remember my mother telling me that my teacher told her I was rambling on about a story in great detail. She told my mother I had quite an imagination and if he could write down what he can tell out loud that I could be quite the storyteller. I also remember telling my mom a story in the car once about animals and super powers if my memory serves correct and she asked me where on earth I came up with such an idea. I told her I made it up the night before and I just kept thinking of stuff. Back then as a kid I’m sure I made nothing of it but now when my imagination kicks into gear I embrace and make the most of it.

Crime and horror are recurring themes in your work. To what do you attribute that dark influence?

One thing I will note is that horror and crime are two of the most popular themes in our society today when it comes to reading and watching television. I see this and I make good on it since it’s popular. As to where I get my dark side? I’d say Edgar Allan Poe for one. I always mention him or bring him up but truly it’s hard not to mention the father of gothic poetry and macabre story telling. I have read several of his works and his sinister style just reaches me in such a way that I cannot help but try my own dark tales. As for crime that I’m not really sure, I’d say given all the crime shows and psychological books that have been on over the years I’ve taken a good sure of mental notes and used them for myself. It’s always good to take mental notes when you’re a writer as you never know when inspiration will strike.

Evil Eye PDHow did you come to write your novel Opium Warfare? What drew you to that place and time?

I had the idea for Opium already in mind and I knew I wanted it to have a warfare like effect in the sense that it was used to bring down a city or group. The title itself came to me after I came across the word Guerilla Warfare and for reasons I will never know opium popped into my head to which I then added warfare to it and a title was born. I knew briefly that China was associated with opium so as I did a little research and decided to go with China as my place. I didn’t want it to be too far back but felt that the twenties would serve as the perfect time period for the book. I picked Shanghai and it wasn’t until I did research after that I found that Shanghai was known for and is still known widely for opium. It all really worked out quite well.

How would you compare/contrast writing poetry versus writing fiction?

With poetry I feel there’s freedom, feeling and expression.  With poetry you can write it in many different ways and in any way you want. You can put your feelings into it and put your emotions into it and you can express yourself in such a way that it can define you or let people know your deep and meaningful. With fiction you have to do a lot of research and you really have to go in and do your work and think what you want to write before you write it whereas poetry I myself can write on the spot. I feel poetry is more flowing and not connected compared to fiction where you have to think as to whether or not an idea you have has already been done, you have to make it your own. With poetry it is your own right from the start.

If you could visit any one place in the world you have not already been, where would it be?

Well there’s a lot of places I haven’t been but I would say Rome or Egypt. I enjoy history and I love Egyptian history and I would love to see the Coliseum in Rome. I would really enjoy taking in all the history and learning more about the culture and times and it would more than likely spark ideas for some new novels.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m focused on promoting Opium Warfare and some of my other works. I know the saying goes a writer can help promote and market by writing that next work but Opium Warfare took a lot of work and it took a bit out of me. I am going to focus on marketing the books around the holidays and I will likely have some fresh ideas ready to go for next year.


Website: http://jbienvenue.webs.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ThePlasmaticWriter
Twitter: @JustinBienvenue
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/JustinBienvenue

Opium Warfare is available on Amazon @ http://smarturl.it/OpiumWarfare
It is also available on Createspace, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Scrbid and iBook

Justin’s interview with me: http://bookblogs.ning.com/group/iat-indie-author-tactics/forum/topics/interview-with-robert-krenzel


Being a part-time author has its challenges; like having to work a “real” job! My recent career change really slowed down my writing and made it less organized. Fortunately the other day I had a chance to assemble the bits and pieces of Times That Try Mens’ Souls and was delighted to discover that the first draft is almost done! A few more chapters and it will be ready for me to review and rewrite. I might actually make my late-November goal of getting the manuscript to my editor!

Now if you’ll excuse me, when I last left him Gideon Hawke was ankle-deep in snow and up to his eyeballs in Hessian grenadiers…

Author Interview: Bob Gorman

On this page I have interviewed several people whom I know because they are authors. It is a rare privilege to be able to interview Bob Gorman, who I knew BEFORE he published his new novel, “Newsmaker.” Bob is a friend, a talented newspaper editor, a non-profit executive, a church leader, and a pillar of the community; and it turns out he has quite a talent for plot twists and character development! So here is my interview with new indie author Bob Gorman:

Bob, tell us a little about your novel, “Newsmaker.” newsmaker

“Newsmaker” is my effort to give insight in to small town politics in the South during the 1980s when two historic trends were unfolding — the rise of black political power and the rise of the Republican Party. I do that through the lens of journalism, which is my background.

What inspired you to write “Newsmaker?”

I wish I had a better answer than this: in March 1994 I moved from South Carolina to New York and my family didn’t follow until that summer after my kids were finished with the school year. I had a lot of idle time on my hands. But I also had a lot of memories in my head of a complex region of our country that defies simple explanations of what black and white means. The fact I waited 20 years to finish the last 10 percent of the book says something about my dedication to my profession, family life, church, etc. But in some ways it says something about my inability to figure out how to get a book published.

How autobiographical is your novel? Is any of you hidden in those pages?

Authors should write what they know and I certainly know small-town journalism and politics. But the editor in the novel — Ted Forrester — isn’t close to me in his personal life. On the other hand, there are certainly a lot of his world views that mirror mine. “The Constitution guarantees a free press yet it doesn’t guarantee that every town will have a great newspaper. But it should.” Ted Forrester and I both believe that.

I am always interested in how characters come to be; in Newsmaker I was especially fascinated by “Big Jimmie” Morris, the corrupt, incompetent, overweight, Harley-riding sheriff. What inspired that character?

An actual South Carolina sheriff who fit that description, up to a point. He was featured in the New York Times in September 1982 for being under legal and political attack for his alleged incompetence. But after that, there is nothing in common with that sheriff and Big Jimmie.

How would you compare and contrast publishing newspapers versus publishing your own book?

Well, in my book, I am trying to explain “truths” rather than trying to write something that is true. I have much more of an agenda in my book than I ever did with my newspapers… and that is the challenge for journalists. How do you write about what has happened and what it means without narrowing your focus so much so that you end up supporting one view over another. I am old school on this, which is why I can’t stand to watch Fox or MSNBC. I really think an informed public will ultimately — sometimes after an election or two — get it right. Beating the public over the head with a political agenda every day is nothing more than holding the public in contempt.

Shifting gears…you have two hours to spend at any location on earth, sharing conversation and the beverage of your choice with any author, living or dead. Who is the author, what is the beverage, what is the location, and why?

The easy part is Scotch and the Carolina coast. After that I would be wrestling with choosing either Stephen Ambrose or David McCullough. I guess that pretty much narrows down the kind of books I find interesting. Of course, when I read Laura Hillenbrand I then think, “OK, that’s the best writer going.” They all have the ability to look at history through its nuances and tell a greater story. And they do it in simple language. I wish I were that good. Maybe I need to ease up on the Scotch.

What’s next? Is there another novel in your future?

Yes, but I wouldn’t even start it if “Newsmaker” doesn’t strike a chord. (Spoiler alert: The best murder weapon is an icicle — just make sure it melts soon after…) I would certainly be able to crank out the story more quickly because in writing Newsmaker I learned about the discipline necessary to think through the ramifications of what one character says and does and how that affects other characters 10 and 15 chapters later.
Thanks, Bob! I look forward to finding out more about that icicle!

You can learn more about, and buy, “Newsmaker” on Amazon at: Newsmaker by Bob Gorman

Gideon’s Dilemma

I have been writing about Gideon Hawke for some years now. When I last wrote I left him hanging–huddled against a river bank in December, 1776, fending off the Hessians so Washington’s Army could continue its retreat to the Delaware.

Aside from the fact that people are trying to shoot him, Gideon has a problem; he is deathly afraid of losing anyone else close to him. His desire to protect those he loves is in direct conflict with the need to fight a war. To win in combat, one must often dare greatly, and daring can come at a heavy price. That is a lot of weight to rest on the shoulders of a seventeen-year-old!

I have felt this kind of conflict myself, both as a soldier and as a husband and father; frankly I have felt it most pointedly as a Dad. I can not protect my kids from everything, but I have to let them try to fly. It’s terrifying! But as heartbreaking as it is to see them fail, more often than not they SOAR, and that’s a glorious sight!

I sure hope Gideon learns that lesson!

The Battle of Brooklyn

Colonel John Haslet's Delaware Regiment covering the American withdrawal to the Fortifications at Brooklyn.

Colonel John Haslet’s Delaware Regiment covering the American withdrawal to the Fortifications at Brooklyn.

As I work through a career transition my progress on “Times That Try Men’s Souls” slowed to a crawl. By happy coincidence, in the last few days I have reengaged and have refined a few of the pivotal chapters: those dealing with the fighting on Long Island, specifically the Battle of Brooklyn. As I put the finishing touches on that section, I realized that tonight marks the 239th Anniversary of the opening shots of the Battle of Brooklyn! Truly an auspicious sign!

God willing this time next year my readers will be able to mark the 240th Anniversary by reading about the battle from Gideon Hawke’s perspective.

Author Interview with Cynthia Vespia

Author Cynthia Vespia

Author Cynthia Vespia

Cynthia Vespia, “The Original Cyn,” is an author, screenwriter, and freelancer. She was nominated for a “Best in Series” award for her trilogy DEMON HUNTER.  I recently had the opportunity to ask her a few questions:

Darkness and death are common themes in your novels. To what do you attribute that dark influence?
In all honesty I had alot of tragedy plague my family at a young age, so alot of it is deep rooted in my past. Other than that I like to read darker tales like horror and dark fantasy.

You are a prolific writer; how do you manage to get so much writing done?
I think it’s probably because I started when I was a teenager. And at that time I wasn’t going out and partying like most high schoolers. I stayed home and wrote and that’s how the majority of my early work came about. Then as I grew into a better writer I went back and reworked a few of my first books, such as The Crescent, and repackaged them for publishing.

Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?
Real life. You run into alot of characters throughout the majority of your lifetime. Bits and pieces of these people inevitably latch onto your subconscious and then they wind up on the page. Where there are holes, or the character has to be or do something specific, obviously that’s where creativity comes in handy. Honestly creating characters is my absolute favorite part of writing. It’s like inventing a new friend.

Do you have a favorite character you have created? Which one and why?
I have a few. In my Las Vegas thriller Lucky Sevens my lead character Lucky Luchazi was an absolute joy to write. I think part of the reason was that I gave him some quirks that may come off as unlikable (for example he’s an alcoholic) but that gave him a depth of realism to work with. Also, alot of his mannerisms and dialogue were based on my own father so how could I not love him. Another character who stands out for me is the female gladiator Nadja in The Crescent. She’s compelling because she was ripped from her home and forced into slavery to fight as a gladiator but all the while she never gives up her strength. I like writing strong women. I like creating realism in my characters. I like creating characters!

Have you considered writing books in any other genres?

I learned a new term the other day, it’s hybrid-author. Simply stated it means that genres are mixing to give readers the best possible story. I do alot of mixed genre writing myself. But these days I am leaning more towards suspense with a touch of supernatural.

What has been the high point of your writing career thus far?

When you’re an independent writing it is difficult to know whether or not your writing is actually in circulation. Even with all the marketing, etc. it is hard to see if it is even making a dent sometimes. So I like to do conventions because it puts me face-to-face with readers. This past year I had a few really nice encounters with folks. A couple of different times I had some folks buy a book or two and then the next day of the convention they came back to tell me they already started the book and that they loved it! That was cause to smile right there. But, my absolute favorite moment this year was when a young couple came up to my table. The boyfriend stood in front and his girlfriend seemed to be shying away behind him too nervous to talk. He proceeded to tell me that I was this girl’s favorite author. I did a double take and then welcomed her over. She was the kind of nervous I get when I meet one of my favorite actors, etc. But she told me how much she loved my books and how excited she was to meet me in person. We posed for a few pictures and some autographs and she got a few more of my books. I cannot tell you how that made me feel. Words fail this writer except to say that I was humbled. Those moments are why I write.

If you could visit one place you have never been, where would it be and why?huntresfront

I have always wanted to go to New Zealand. It stems from watching Xena: Warrior Princess and Lord of the Rings. That is the most epic and beautiful countryside I have ever seen. Also on my bucket list is Disneyworld. I’ve been meaning to go there for years now and everytime I try to plan it something comes up. But life is short and I intend to make that happen this year!
Thank you for having me! Check me out online at www.cynthiavespia.com or Facebook and Twitter!

Cynthia Vespia| Original Cynwww.CynthiaVespia.com