The Literary Underworld includes more than books! We have artists and musicians too (okay, one musician). One of our long-time members has been Branson’s General Store, which offers custom leatherwork, soaps, honey… we think it’s time you learned a bit more about Branson’s.
Matthew Branson has been doing leatherwork since he was a boy. He even worked at a leather store for a while. While leatherwork is his main passion, he really takes on any project that catches his interest.
Over the years he has taken up soapmaking, blacksmithing, sewing, making chainmail, and all kinds of random little projects. The rest of the family are also amateur beekeepers, so they have honey and beeswax to play with.
In 2010, the whole Branson family came together and opened an Etsy store called Branson’s General Store. The store is named for Matt’s great-uncle Reuben Branson, who ran the general store and post office in Branson, Mo., and after whom the town is named. The profits are used for the beekeeping business, to reinvest in craft supplies, and to donate to local charities.
This weekend is CONFLATION! Always a pile of fun, Conflation was the last con we were able to attend before the world fell apart. Everything afterward was canceled. Stupid virus.
Conflation is not taking place in real life this year. Instead, the organizers have developed an online convention that goes beyond the basic Zoom-panel deathmarch into a Second Life world, gaming site and more. Literary Underworld has been going to Conflation for years – in fact, a few years ago Conflation named LitUnd founder Elizabeth Donald as queen! (They don’t have GOH, they have royalty. Like I said, a pile of fun.)
We’re really looking forward to exploring this virtual playground with our friends from Conflation. In honor of the event, we’re offering a discount to attendees. In addition, we are donating a portion of all sales this week to the Metro-East Literacy Project, which promotes reading and literacy awareness on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area.
Here’s hoping more conventions will be able to return in real life soon, and in the meantime, remember to support small press authors by shopping at Literary Underworld.
The Literary Underworld is proud to carry the works of many amazing women writers, and more than a few of them write horror! In honor of Women in Horror Month, here are some of our favorite recommendations for scary stuff:
And, of course, there’s the work of Elizabeth Donald, who has written at least a dozen novels, novellas and short stories in the horror genre. Check out these titles from Elizabeth:
From our friends at Seventh Star Press:Edale Lane is the author of an award winning 2019 debut novel, Heart of Sherwood. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Vlad a Novel, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Edale (or Melodie as the case may be) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature.
My Writing Process – from research to manuscript to editing
A lot of work goes into writing a novel; some may even say blood, sweat, and tears. And there are as many successful ways to approach and carry out this momentous labor of love as there are authors who endeavor in the process. I will give you a brief look at the methods I use.
Which comes first—the plot, the characters, the setting, the theme, or do they just all meet somewhere in the middle? When I wrote Heart of Sherwood, the idea that popped into my head was to write a gender-bent version of the Robin Hood story, and all the vital elements were there from the conception. For the Night Flyer Trilogy, I’d have to say it was the setting paired with the superhero element. I wanted to write a story that was unique, with a seldom-used era and location. While some novels are set in Renaissance Italy, they are few and far between compared to Medieval, Regency, Old West, World War II, etc. I began to think, what if there was a kind of “Batwoman” who lived in the time of Leonardo da Vinci? What inventions could she come up with? What bad guys might she face?
That led me to conceptualize the characters of Florentina, Madelena, and Alessandro, but before I could begin I needed to research to discover exactly where and when the action would take place. I knew Florentina was a former student of da Vinci and chose Milan because of the wealth of its merchant class, as well as being a city da Vinci lived in for a time. Also to timing, I wanted one of his significant works of art to be completed for my characters to see—the Last Supper—and I planned to include an epic battle scene, so there needed to be a war happening.
When I discovered that the story was too long to fit into one book, I broke it into three acts and started writing book one. Every time I needed to set a scene, there was research: what variety of trees and flowers grew there, what would each person be wearing, what did the furniture look like. I never completed a chapter without half a dozen windows open in my browser to check the accuracy of every detail. The same thing is true with everything I write. The thesaurus is also open as so I can check if a word was in use. Choosing language was easier with Heart of Sherwood because they spoke English (and French, but for simplicity’s sake I stuck with English); for the Night Flyer series I just made sure a word wasn’t too modern while throwing in Italian terms of endearment. Writing and researching were an intertwined duo throughout from beginning to end.
Authors have differing methods of planning their books. After conjuring the concept, my next step is to create a notes file. Here I first do character sketches of my primary cast (and add to it when I introduce a secondary character). I like to “see” my players and have an easy reference if I forget a detail about them. They have physical descriptions, but also characteristics, mannerisms, likes and dislikes, so that fully realized people inhabit the pages. Next, I jot down a plot outline which invariably sees tweaks and changes as the story flows onto the pages. (Guess that makes me both a “plotter” and a “pantser”!) I also include historical information, places and dates, etc. on the notes pages. Back in the day, I wrote all of this out in longhand in a notebook and then wrote the manuscript in pencil to make corrections easier. (I REALLY like doing it on a computer much better!)
As I complete each chapter, I send it to my partner and we read over it together. She is good at finding mistakes and makes good observations and suggestions, but I save the in-depth editing for when the manuscript is finished. Not every writer does this, but I find that I finish a novel faster this way. It is easy to get bogged down in editing and when I get on a roll I just want to flow with it.
When all is said and done, I go back one chapter at a time and use an editing program to help me make changes and corrections. While there are a lot of good ones, I use ProWritingAid. There is also checking the manuscript using the search and find word tool to be sure I have spelled all the names the same each time I used them. Spelling is a real Achilles’ heel for me! I also evaluate if a passage is relevant, or if further explanation is necessary, does it need less or more? Is my presentation of characters and language consistent? Can I “see” the action sequences as I read them? And even though my works are historical fantasy, I focus on the question, “Is this believable?” because I want the reader to come away thinking that this could have really happened.
Because of my day job as an over-the-road truck driver, I have limited time to get my book typed up, so I think up everything—characters, action, dialog, climaxes, etc—while I’m driving down the road. I have a voice recorder to take notes on. I will replay a scene repeatedly in my head so that when I park I can type it up fast, except for the time needed to research the details.
So, that’s my current process: create, plan, deviate from plan, then go back and fix what doesn’t work. Hopefully, the finished product is one that will inform, inspire, and delight the reader.
One woman stands between chaos and order – the Night Flyer.
When chaos strikes at the heart of Milan, it is up to Florentina’s alter-ego the Night Flyer to stop it. As Florentina and Madelena’s love deepens, so does the well of danger surrounding them. The race is on to discover the mysterious Shadow Guild and uncover who is behind the deadly rampage, but Florentina’s mission is threatened by a gang of assassins. Can the Night Flyer prevail, or will Maddie’s love be ripped from her arms?
Chaos in Milan is the third book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like action and suspense, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and a sweet romance, then you’ll want to complete the Night Flyer saga.
We are delighted to announce a new title from one of our members, T.W. Fendley! Her new novel explores more of her rich and fascinating science fiction worlds. Read more about Methuselah’s Legacy, soon to be available at the Literary Underworld!
A conversation with T.W. Fendley
Q. Why did you start writing?
A. Storytelling has always been a part of my life. As preschoolers, my older sister and I would create stories when we were supposed to be sleeping. We’d jump on our twin beds and take turns telling the next segments as quickly as we imagined them. Until our Mom returned with a stern warning to get to sleep… “and I mean now!” Later I wrote stories about the lives of my beloved model horses, inspired by Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, and I wrote for the school paper staff instead of taking P.E. I majored in journalism in college, which over the years has allowed me to continue to learn, as well as pay my bills. When I needed more creativity in my life, I began writing fiction.
Q. Why did you choose your particular genre?
A. Putting together ideas in new and unusual ways is fun for me. I love to weave together science and spirituality, myth and history, fact and fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy are perfect genres for doing just that.
Q. What inspired the idea for your current novel/project?
A. The concept of a longevity serum came to me twenty-three years ago while I was hunting for story ideas during the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. I imagined what truths about humanity are encoded in our genes, which eventually led me to write two short stories and now Methuselah’s Legacy. The novel’s longer format allowed me to share some of the possibilities with remote viewing–an intuitive-based protocol for precognitive predictions I’ve been practicing since 2009.
Q. What was the most useful advice you got as a beginning writer?
A. One of the Clarion instructors said it wasn’t always the best writers who got published, but those who persevered. While confident about my writing skills, I was even more sure of my tenacity. Stubbornness can be a great attribute for a writer.
Q. What are you doing next?
A. Now that Methuselah’s Legacy and my young adult sci-fi novel Moonblood are published, I’m revisiting the Zero Time universe and Xmucane’s home planet, Omeyocan, where the expedition to Earth began. I’m also writing some short stories that have been on the back burner for a while. The trick for me is keeping the plot simple. Most of my stories want to become novels!
Lilith Davidson has nothing to lose. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, her only hope for survival rests in an experimental longevity serum she herself helped to develop using an intuitive-based protocol known as remote viewing.
She never dreamed the treatment could be so wildly effective… nor did she expect its unusual side effect.
Now, as Lilith and the other eleven Methuselah Pioneers struggle to embrace the serum’s gift, powerful forces condemn their miracle cure as a violation of life’s natural order and threaten their lives. Will the treatment help humanity or tear society apart?
“Readers of sci-fi that revolves around genetic manipulation and human transformation will welcome a story that is vivid and fast-paced, containing many elements that will keep them engrossed to the end. It’s more than a cut above most science-oriented surveys because its inclusion of social norms, political responses, and revised visions of what it means to be an altered human are especially well detailed.” — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“Methuselah’s Legacy asks thought-provoking questions and challenges hard-felt beliefs about life and love, while being an exciting tale of treachery and fanaticism. T.W. Fendley’s latest novel has readers turning the page until the end, and asking: would you take the treatment for a second chance at life?”– Brad R. Cook, author of The Iron Chronicles
T.W. Fendley is an award-winning author whose published works include Zero Time, a historical fantasy novel for adults, and young adult speculative fiction novels, Moonblood and The Labyrinth of Time. Teresa’s short stories are available on Kindle and Audible. She fell in love with ancient American cultures while researching story ideas at the 1997 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Since then, Teresa has trekked to archeological sites in the Yucatan, Peru, and American Southwest. She began writing fiction in 2007 after working more than 25 years in journalism and corporate communication. When she’s not writing, Teresa explores the boundaries of consciousness through remote viewing and shamanism. She currently lives near St. Louis with her artist husband and his pet fish.
A new dark-gothic collection from acclaimed horror writer John McFarland is out just in time for the holidays! McFarland is a long-time member of the Literary Underworld, with work ranging from dark fantasy like The Black Garden to offbeat children’s books like Annette: A Big Hairy Mom.
Now his new collection has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly! “McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted.”
Q: What was your first paid published work?
A: Actually my first paid published work were drawings, not writing so much. In the 1970’s surrealistic drawings by an artist called B. Kliban were all the rage. He published several books, which were the precursors of Gary Larsen’s Far Side, including several about cats. I did a parody of Kliban’s cat books called Kill A Cat and sent it to The National Lampoon. P. J. O’Rourke, the editor at that time, loved it and paid me the princely sum of $750. Scheduling mishaps at the magazine kept pushing the publication date back until the subject was no longer timely, and it never appeared. They never asked for their money back, though.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
A: Like most boys who turn out like me, my favorite writers as a kid were Poe, Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, but also the likes of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Hitchens. In college I discovered James Joyce (of Dubliners), William Faulkner and especially Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor’s work was a revelation to me, small town country boy that I was. She seemed to know every one of my relatives and she has had a lifelong effect on my work. I visited her childhood home in Savannah, Ga. and Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, where she did her mature work. I am fortunate enough to own a signed first edition of The Violent Bear It Away, and a series of watercolor concept are studies for covers for her books.
Q: What are you doing next?
A: Two novels are in the works. My current publisher, Dark Owl, has shown interest in re-issuing my 2010 book The Black Garden, and then its sequel, tentatively titled Azmiel’s Daughter. I am also working on a ghost story novel, called Phrygia House. Also, DOP has shown interest in publishing my Young Reader series Bigfoot stories, Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom.
Q: Was there anyone who inspired you as a beginning writer?
A: I actually touch on this in my acknowledgements section in The Dark Walk Forward. As a teen, I corresponded with both Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. I asked the usual young admirer dumb-ass questions, but they were both, especially Bradbury, very kind and generous with their responses.
A: Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?
A: Both, but mostly seat of my pants. I always have a general idea of where I want a narrative to go, but as the cliche goes, the story seems to take on a life of its own as you go along. I was amazed at this process when writing The Black Garden. Connections, plot points, twists and turns just popped into my head as I wrote. No one was more surprised at how it turned out than I.
JOHN MCFARLAND’S first novel, The Black Garden, was published in 2010. His work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley and the anthology A Treasury of American Horror Stories, which also included stories by Stephen King, Richard Matheson and H.P. Lovecraft. He is a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, and Annette: A Big Hairy Mom was his first novel for young readers and is in print in three languages. He has written extensively on historical and arts-related subjects and has been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis.
The small town of Ste. Odile in America has experienced the Great War in ways that no one should ever have to endure.
Doctors must tend to births and deaths that make their most difficult cases seem benign.
An 1880s schoolteacher is faced with the worst blizzard of her time and must save the children under her charge.
A young man searches for his father the abandoned orphanage the older man owns… and both know they will despair at what they find.
A primitive woman experiences colonization and the stereotypes of men, yet finds her own method of retribution.
John S. McFarland has slogged through his characters’ woes and woven them into sweetly emotional yet acutely distressful tales. We as readers are forced to understand the pain, the despair, and sometimes the hope of his creations.
We realize we are lucky to live in the era we do. We also realize anything can change to tear us apart. Is it fate? Destiny? Or do we bring about these changes on our own? McFarland will let us know.
McFarland’s writing is lush and sensual, filled with textures, sounds, smells, and primal terrors that have lurked beyond the firelight since prehistory. –Kenneth Anderson, editor of Charon II
“John McFarland has a talent for drawing horror from raw human emotion. The Dark Walk Forward is heartbreaking and sad as well as frightening, with characters that linger in the mind long after the pages have turned.” — Elizabeth Donald, author of Moonlight Sonata, Setting Suns, and Nocturne Infernum.
“McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted.” ~ Publishers Weekly
What better way celebrate the holidays (and the impending end of 2020, thank Zod) than to support authors and artists through these times and introduce your friends and family to something new?
We have a few suggestions for your list. (You thought we might.) Remember that when you buy from Literary Underworld, you are buying from the authors and small presses directly, so they will get to keep much more of the sale price. Every little bit helps your favorite author keep creating those fascinating new worlds.
For obvious reasons, this year we have to sadly suspend our pickup service for St. Louis residents. Instead we are offering $8 flat-rate shipping OR free shipping for orders of $49 or more!
For the romance fan…
The Carolina Wolf box set by Sela Carsen ($7) combines Carolina Wolf and Carolina Pearl, two tales of werewolves and true love in South Carolina. Whoever said there were no wolves in South Carolina lied. Put a little grrrrl power into your romp in the swamp this holiday season!
Heart of the Beast by Jim D. Gillentine ($20) tells the story of Andrew, a man with a beastly secret, and his horrifying journey with his love Angela from the dark streets of Memphis to the cold reaches of Alaska, from faraway places to deep within each other’s souls, seeking peace and freedom to love one another – if only the world would let them.
Princess by Mistake by Kit Tunstall ($7). What started out as the worst day ever just got worse. Incorrectly identified as her strange roommate, curvy Jory finds herself spirited away by an intergalactic bounty hunter intent on returning her to the prince she’s expected to marry. Except she’s no princess, and forget a prince when she could have the sexy, magenta-skinned alien instead – if he’ll accept that she’s a mistaken princess and give in to the desire simmering between them.
For the fantasy fan…
Throne of the Bastards by Steven L. Shrewsbury ($15). Learning that his family is in danger, Rogan returns to his former kingdom, now under siege from foreign invaders and supernatural forces led by his bastard son. With time running out, the aging barbarian must forge an alliance of new friends and old foes to retake the kingdom.
The Blood of Angels trilogy by Sara M. Harvey ($25) is, sadly, going out of print. Only a few are left! Snag your copies before they’re gone, and treat yourself (or your favorite steampunk fan) with the tales of Imogen and Portia, lovers and users of dark magic separated by intrigue and death. Includes Convent of the Pure, Labyrinth of the Dead and Tower of the Forgotten.
Wild Hunt by Nick Rowan ($10). When the Preternatural and Magical Squadron dumps an ugly batch of child serial murders into her lap, DJ Admire has a few weeks to find the killer before the next victims are found dead in their own little beds. On the Nightside of Memphis, few things are as they seem and even allies have their own agendas. And DJ has no magic, just a Desert Eagle and an ongoing romance with Captain Morgan and Admiral Nelson…
For the weird Western fan…
Mojo Hand by Steven L. Shrewsbury ($15) After a gun battle in an 1884 Peoria cathouse, one-armed ex-Confederate guerrilla Joel Stuart finds himself at odds with dire magical forces. He runs headfirst into an army of the undead, a demon guard, the persona of African god Damballah, and even finds himself beneath the lid of a coffin.
Last Man Screaming by Steven L. Shrewsbury ($15) is a tale of action, courage and terror. Last Man Screaming will appeal of readers of Lovecraftian lore, tough westerns and horror. It teaches that survival isn’t always pretty…
The Alamo and Zombies by Jean A. Stuntz ($5) is exactly what it says! Zombies at the Alamo, what else could you want?
For the horror fan…
Red Diamond by Michales Joy ($10). There’s a monster coming to the small town of Pikeburn. In half an hour, it will begin feeding on the citizens, but no one will call the authorities for help. They are the ones who sent it to Pikeburn. They are the ones who are broadcasting the massacre live to the world…
Nocturne Infernum by Elizabeth Donald ($20) compiles the three books of the Nocturnal Urges series into one volume filled with heat, horror and intrigue. In this alternate Memphis, vampires are a dark underclass whose bite offers pleasure and pain in one sweet kiss. Humans take advantage of the pleasures vampires can provide, but call them friends? Lovers? The strain between human and vampire grows as death rises in the streets…
Stories We Tell After Midnight($10). Here, the shadows keep their secrets and the moon hides from deeds cast in her glow. In this collection, the Fae walk as human, the dead burn with their anger at the living, the creatures that live in the dark places of the wrong zip code creep out of the shadows and into the kitchen.
Planet of the Dead ($5) by T.K. Reilley. Commander Kate Daniels expected to find incompetency when sent to assess the terraforming progress on Primos. She didn’t expect a saboteur to force a crash landing, stranding them at the mercy of the hungry creatures roaming the planet.
For the sci-fi fan…
Dream of the Navigator by Stephen Zimmer. For most, virtual realms, substances, and entertainment provide escapes, but for Haven, Cayden, Jaelynn, and Salvador, growing up in Technate 6 is a restless existence. A hunger for something more gnaws inside each of them. Discoveries await that open the gates to transcend time and space, and even new planes of existence. Nothing in their universe, or others, is impossible to explore.
Paradise Earth by Anthony Mathenia ($12) is a deconstruction of faith at the end of the world and beyond. When blazing balls of fire fall from the sky, a religious sect interprets it as the fulfillment of long-held prophecies foretelling the end of the world. The members flee to their religious sanctuary, believing that this global cataclysm is the portent of a new paradise of eternal happiness. Inside, one cold and starving man struggles to hold onto his hope for the future as the torturous night drags on and he struggles to hold onto his hope for the future.
Ace’s Odds by Sela Carsen ($10). Mkhai is a former soldier in debt to the mob boss who runs a glitzy, glamorous space station casino hiding a dark underworld. The only hand he’s got left to play is getting the mob boss’s daughter off the station… but Silbe is no pampered princess, even if her father is one of the most feared men in the galaxy. Embroiled in a desperate scheme to keep her family safe, Silbe must team up with a roguish smuggler who makes her want to bet on him with everything she’s got.
For the comic reader…
Out of the Blue Vol. 2 ($15) offers both tricks and treats for horror fans, filled with 125 pages of comics and art from more than 50 creators.
Hunter’s Lore ($15) is a graphic novel set in a time of quiet peace, as a remnant from a Knightly order lingers on; not to protect the people of the world from injustice, but to simply maintain their old guard. The order of the Knights of the Black Star have buried themselves away from the common people, unaware of the dangers that lurk from beyond their gaze…
For the YA reader…
Katana by Cole Gibsen ($10). Rileigh Martin gets a visit from Kim, a handsome martial-arts instructor, who tells Rileigh she’s harboring the spirit of a five-hundred-year-old samurai warrior. Relentlessly attacked by ninjas, Rileigh has no choice but to master the katana – a deadly Japanese sword that’s also the key to her past. As the spirit grows stronger and her feelings for Kim intensify, Rileigh is torn between continuing as the girl she’s always been and embracing the warrior inside her. (Splurge on the trilogy for $25!)
The Boxcar Baby by J.L. Mulvihill ($15) is the first book of the Steel Roots series. Born in a boxcar on a train bound for Georgia. At least, that is what Papa Steel always told AB’Gale. But now, fifteen years later, the man who adopted and raised her as his own is missing and it’s up to AB’Gale to find him. (Or splurge on the whole series for $40!)
Redheart by Jackie Gamber ($10). Kallon Redheart lives with his back turned on his fellow dragons, on humans, and on everything he once understood. Riza Diantus is a young woman with dreams too wide to fit inside her village fence. Their unexpected friendship is risky in Leland Province, where Fordon Blackclaw, Dragon Council Leader, has inflamed tensions between dragons and humans to the brink of war. When Riza is threatened, Kallon is the only one with the power to save her.
For something shorter…
Between the Lines ($15). Stoker Award-winning editor and author Michael Knost gave his online writing students an opening sentence and a closing sentence and asked them to write a story. Every story opens with: “Kelvin pressed against the wound as blood seeped around his hands.” And ends with: “Watching the train disappear into the night, he brought the flower to his nose before tossing it to the tracks.” This anthology is the amazing result.
Moonlight Sonata by Elizabeth Donald ($15-30) is a collection of award-winning short stories of the Twilight-Zone-creepy design. Imagine a haunted church, where the ground has turned sour and something walks in the shadows to the mournful hymns. A silent covered bridge that no one dares to cross. Angry spirits that cry out from beneath the ground of a cemetery that will not lie still.
Support an important cause with When the Shadow Sees the Sun($15), a collection of essays and short stories exploring the impact of depression on the creative life. All profits from sales of this anthology are donated to a local suicide prevention nonprofit.
For the cosplayer…
A handmade leather mask (no, not that kind of mask) is the perfect stocking stuffer for the cosplayer on your list! Branson’s General Store has a variety of colors in the simple $5 design, so be sure to indicate your preferred colors!
As always, we at Literary Underworld appreciate your continued support of the small press and our authors, especially in these trying times. We hope the very best for you and your family in this holiday season, and here’s to a better year in 2021. (It would almost have to be, wouldn’t it?)
Historical fiction novels allow the author to transport the reader to another time and place the way fantasy and sci-fi do, only instead of experiencing an imaginary world they delve into a real one. We can place any genre of fiction in the past, and it becomes a sub-set of historical writing. Having been a teacher for twenty-four years, I revel in the thought of readers learning something from my books just as much as I do them enjoying the characters and plot of the story. So, how do we take the imagination required for fiction and blend it with recorded facts?
There are several approaches to framing the historical novel, but they all require careful research and naturally flowing presentation of the era chosen. The most common method is to introduce a troupe of completely fictional characters into a particular setting in the past. Many authors choose an era they have a personal interest in, such as Medieval or Regency, immersing themselves and their readers in a period they enjoy. Some well-known examples include Gone with the Wind, All the Light We Cannot See, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Red Badge of Courage. Each of these acclaimed novels includes actual circumstances—the burning of Atlanta, Nazi occupation of France, the French Revolution, and a Civil War battle. These writers employ accuracy regarding the events while allowing themselves complete control over their character’s lives. In each of these tales, it is the lasting themes, the resilience and growth of the characters we remember as much as or more than the history. The novelists bring them to life in another place and time so vividly that we feel as if we know them and can relate to their situations.
Other historical fiction writing centers on actual people and the author is constrained by what chronicles have recorded. Unless one is crafting an Alternative History story, he pretty much needs to know his script well and stick to it. That does not mean the novelist has no creative freedom at all; he must interpret the various sources at his disposal in a way that grants vitality to the historic figure. For example, in The White Queen the exact words spoken by Elizabeth of York were not recorded, nor what she was thinking or feeling at any given time. Those are for the writer to assign based on his interpretation of the protagonist.
In Tribute in Blood, I have combined elements from both of these two methods of historical fiction writing. While my protagonists are both imagined characters, the villain, Vlad the Impaler, was a very real tyrant. I engaged in thorough research, relying heavily on primary sources to “get to know him.” I believe the Vlad represented in my novel is not too far off the mark of who he truly was, but being separated by five hundred years and having never met him, I had to draw many conclusions. Secondary historic figures were also included in Tribute in Blood as well as numerous actual recorded facts, but Nicolae, Maria, and the townspeople were all my creations.
A third style of historical fiction writing bases the characters and action on real events or people, but are fictionalized for storytelling purposes. When you see “based on a true story” you know that something similar to what is in the book actually happened, but it is not meant to be a pure academic account. The Nightingale and War Horse are two examples. They are founded partly on real people (and horses) and include factual events and elements, but are not literal biographies of a particular man or woman. Once again, scholarly research is required to hit every note in creating the setting and accurately describing the action presented to the reader.
Sometimes a book completely blends a fictional cast and plot with a famous individual set among them. An excellent example of this is Girl with a Pearl Earring, a novel based on the acclaimed painting by Vermeer, with the artist included as a character in the book.
There are as many ways to construct a historical fiction novel as there are ways to cook potatoes, but there are a few guidelines authors should follow in order for their work to be credible. World creation needs to be consistent, avoiding the use of modern expressions and mindsets. The time period presented must be true to itself. While we love recreating the past and transporting our readers back in time, we should remember that it is our characters, their hopes and dreams, fears and trials, triumphs and failures that ultimately matter. It may be interesting to read something that is as accurate as a textbook, but if the audience never truly engages with the characters, they will come away disappointed.
To conclude, good historical fiction writing is a marriage of excellent research and quality storytelling. Choose a period that fascinates you and lead your readers to fall in love with it too through dynamic characters on an extraordinary journey straight into their hearts.
Melodie Romeo, who also writes under the pen name Edale Lane, is the author of the award winning 2019 novel, Heart of Sherwood, and the Night Flyer Trilogy. As Melodie Romeo, she has written Vlad a Novel (soon to be re-released as Tribute in Blood), Terror in Time, and others. She founded Past and Prologue Press in 2019.
Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of a masters degree in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States.
A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Melodie is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature.
The most terrifying horrors are revealed in the pages of history.
After killing more than 100,000 people during his first reign as Prince of Walachia, Vlad has returned, ready to inflict tortuous death on anyone he chooses. Only Nicolae and Maria, drawn together through mutual tragedies both inflicted by the ruthless Prince Dracula, dare try to stop him. Can Nicolae fulfill his plan of justice and revenge while winning the heart of the lovely Maria, or will he become the Impaler’s next victim?
With heart-stopping danger at every turn, detailed historical accuracy combined with fictional characters, and a myriad of surprises, Tribute in Blood is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Literary Underworld co-founder Elizabeth Donald has a new novella out from Crone Girls Press, the next adventure in her Blackfire horror series!
Elizabeth discussed this new release in a recent interview with Crone Girls Press managing editor Rachel Brune.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?
I’ve been writing since I could pick up a crayon, but my first published fiction appeared in 2001 or thereabouts. I wrote short stories that usually ended up in the last issue of each magazine, so I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press for a while. My first novel was published in 2004, and I’ve been writing fiction ever since – usually horror, science fiction, a spot of romance and a touch of fantasy, but often where several of these coincide. By day, I was a newspaper reporter for 20-odd years and continue to commit journalism on a freelance basis; by night I write about ghouls and monsters, and I try not to mix them up with Congress.
Q: This is a prequel to your Blackfire series. Can you give readers an introduction to that series and tell us a little bit about it?
Blackfire started with a novella intended for a collection like this one: traditional monsters written in nontraditional ways. I was assigned zombies, which was a relief since I’d spent the last several years writing about vampires and I wanted the switch. Zombies are traditionally a gross-out horror: fear of disease and putrefaction coupled with the survivalist subgenre. So I went another way entirely, and strove to find a way to make zombies scary without eyeballs and entrails. That was The Cold Ones, but the anthology was canceled before publication. A year later I found a publisher willing to take it on even at that very short length, and the print run sold out in 48 hours. Since then I’ve written a full-length novel, Blackfire, and a handful of short stories published in genre magazines and traditional literary magazines, as well as in my own short story collection, Moonlight Sonata.
Yanaguana is part of that story – a prequel by its setting, but it doesn’t require knowledge of all the other stories to enjoy it. It’s a good introduction to Sara Harvey, Paul Vaughn and the rest of the Blackfire crew, and it’s my hope to keep writing tales of their adventures for a long time to come. Unfortunately, the original publisher went out of business, so those two early books are out of print for now.
Q: This story was partly inspired by a trip to San Antonio. Can you talk a little about that, and how the story came out of it?
San Antonio is a nifty city! I travel a lot for my work as a journalist and as an author, averaging about 30 nights a year in hotel rooms when there isn’t a global life-threatening pandemic. Last year I was in San Antonio on business for journalism, and I fell in love with it. The history (ghost-related and otherwise), the food, the fascinating layout of a city on two levels. And did I mention the food? Yum.
But mostly it was that fascinating layout, of the Riverwalk and the thread of the San Antonio River meandering through downtown, and the city itself bustling about a level above it. I wandered along the river and realized what a wonderful setting it would be for monsters and demons and ghosts, because that’s the way my mind operates. Ask poor Memphis how many times I’ve infested it with monsters!
Before my trip, I had arranged to be allowed a photo shoot on the grounds of the Alamo (though not inside the chapel, they don’t allow God himself the rights to shoot inside there). I visited three times for photography and research, developing a travelogue for my nonfiction work.
But as I was planning the story of Yanaguana, I knew something had to happen at the Alamo. The city itself is practically a character in the novella, and the Alamo is the center and heart of the city and its history. Yes, it’s a huge tourist draw and I have no doubt economics is a big part of its importance, but it has special meaning for the people of Texas and San Antonio in particular. I knew I wanted it to be a big part of my story, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do my research properly. I hope I’ve treated the city and its history with the respect they deserve.
Q: What were some of the challenges of revisiting a series after some time away, especially writing something that happens before the other books? How did you meet that challenge?
It was harder than I thought it would be! Not so much revisiting these characters, because they’re still very much alive for me. In fact, a short story featuring Parish Roberts was published earlier this year in River Bluff Review, so I never go too long without playing with the Blackfire crew. But the prequel aspect was a struggle, because I am a Star Trek-level nerd about continuity. I was continually checking the previous works to make sure the events of Yanaguana fit into the timeline of the Blackfire story and don’t contradict events prior to or after its occurrence. I remember searching for quite some time to figure out in which leg Sara was stabbed way back in the first book! I never want my creative impulse to create questions in the mind of the reader that throw them out of the story or compromise the realism of the characters’ stories – as much realism as one can have when you’re talking ghosts and monsters.
Q: Can you explain why every time I read one of your stories, there is always a scene or sentence that makes your editor cry (in a good way)?
A horror writer isn’t necessarily an emotional sadist, but it helps! If I make a reader cry, or afraid, or laugh, or any strong emotional response, I win. The enemy of good fiction is boredom. If I hear someone lost interest in my story partway through, or even fell asleep at midnight reading it, I want to know where I lost them so I can fix it next time. The most beautifully written descriptive passage isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if the reader is skimming past it, muttering, “So when is something going to happen?” And if I hear they cared enough about my characters to cry for them, or that their snark made the readers laugh, I know I’ve created something that reaches them and will stick with them after they finish the book. And that’s really the point of the job, isn’t it?
Q: I recognize a lot of what I think of as “subtle accuracy” in your writing, especially around local law enforcement, mortuary affairs, etc. You’ve spent many years working as a reporter–does this inform your writing? For those writers without this experience, what would you recommend they do to achieve familiarity with these characters and situations?
As of this writing I’ve been in journalism for 23 years, and while I don’t tend to run out to crime scenes or courtrooms as a freelancer now, I did it for a very long time and have the scars to prove it. It goes back to that wish not to throw the reader out of the story. If you ask real cops and prosecutors what they think of forensic procedural TV shows like CSI, you will get a lot of laughter and some four-letter words. For the sake of dramaticism, they’ve got lab rats that kick down doors and interrogate suspects, and don’t get them started on the “not-a-cop who helps the cops” a la Castle or even Mr. Holmes. It’s important to me to get as much realism into my dark fantasies as possible, because it lends credence to the more fantastic elements. I have cop friends who read my interrogations and police procedures; I have military friends who review military aspects; I have gun experts to tell me the difference between a clip and a magazine because those are the tiny details that throw a reader out of the story. (Don’t get me started on my own reaction to the Evil Soul-Sucking Lying Journalist trope.)
It’s also important to have first readers check you when you’re writing about populations beyond yourself, whether we’re talking about race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation and gender identity. I edited a piece once for a straight male client who was writing a love story between two men, and with his permission requested a sensitivity read from a fellow writer who was gay. Because both the client and I were working from outside our life experience, it helps to have the perspective of someone whose experience aligns more closely to your characters. The goal is to accurately and realistically portray people we made up from our imaginations, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of stereotypes and clichés that are offensive, inaccurate, or simply boring and overdone.
The easy answer is to do your research and never fall into the laziness of, “Nobody will notice.” (Someone always notices. Always.) There are groups like Writing the Other that offer seminars and strive regularly to help writers seek and destroy stereotypes and microaggressions that can creep into our writing, and professional sensitivity readers can also help you along those lines.
The more complex answer is that a writer is an observer of human nature, and you should seek out life experiences and acquaintances with a wide variety of ideas and expertise and backgrounds. The writer alone in her garret might not have much in the way of distractions from her art, but eventually it will become solely self-reflective art. Stephen King wrote that the most brilliantly rendered fictional character is “but a bag of bones” next to the dullest living human being, and so we can do worse than to become students of human nature and reflect that in our characters.
Q: What’s next in your fiction travels?
I am currently in year three of five years of grad school, working on two (2) masters degrees so I can be truly over-educated. I’ve begun the coursework this semester toward an MFA in creative writing, and so my focus has been on developing short stories and evolving my craft through the program. Next summer will be free, however, so I imagine a novel will be forthcoming. But I haven’t decided which novel it will be yet! I listen to requests from my readers, and the last few conventions before the pandemic had a cacophony of requests for more Blackfire. There’s a final confrontation coming, and I know how it ends…
Q: Anything to add?
I had a fantastic time playing with the Blackfire gang again, and infesting San Antonio with critters, as they call them. This has been a fun experience, and I hope the readers enjoy Yanaguana as much as I did. I remain grateful and humbled that publishers continue to gamble on me and readers continue to plunk down hard-earned cash for my work, as it’s a privilege and an honor.
Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and the author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire dark fantasy series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning journalist and guest lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently pursuing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and is a teaching assistant at the college. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and Eville Writers, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, ELLA, Freelancers Union, Editorial Freelancers Association and others. She lives with her husband and son in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time.
When you hear a train whistle, what do you think of? Do you hear the music floating on the air as it starts off soft, then builds to a crescendo and slowly fades on the breeze? Do you think of adventure and feel the wanderlust consume your thoughts, restlessness and aching to be on the move?
Maybe the sound of a train evokes the feeling of a bygone era romanticized in books and movies. Perhaps it is the intrigue of the science and mechanics of a train that comes to mind, whether it is a steam engine, a diesel locomotive, or even an electric train.
I think and feel all these scenarios at once when I hear that train whistle, feel the vibration of the rails, smell the iron and oil mixed with burnt water and wind.
I recall when I was a little girl staying with my grandparents, and would hear a train whistle at night in the distance as I drifted off to sleep. My grandparents lived in a small house on a little plot of land in northern California. My grandfather worked in the garden everyday while my grandmother saw to the house and painted pictures or wrote poetry. They had fruit trees and a grape arbor, as well as chickens and turtles who delighted in eating the tomato worms from the garden. In the corner of my mind where I store the fond memories with the warm fuzzy thoughts, a story was born: the story of a young girl growing up on a farm, and one day had to turn and face the world and its cruel nature. I didn’t know it at the time, but this story was growing inside of me until one day it made its presence known.
I was thinking one day about how the railroad system stretches for miles across America from east to west and north to south: rail routes crisscrossing and winding around mountains and rivers knitting the cities and towns of America together. The history of how the railroad system brought the nation closer intrigues me. The incredible invention of the steam engine and iron horses created by these inventions fascinates me to no end. I am also drawn to the steampunk aesthetics, and marvel in the art, creativity, and ingenuity. I wanted to build upon my story idea, so I tossed all my thoughts and memories into a bowl, mixed it up, and brought forth the Steel Roots story.
Initially Steel Roots was only supposed to be three books: The Boxcar Baby, Crossings, and Rails West. However, as the story unfolds, I find that I cannot end it at three and must at least have one more book to bring closure. AB’Gale Steel wants her story told to the fullest, so I began the long trek to The End of the Line, the fourth book. There is so much more that has been left unsaid, other characters’ stories untold, that the series could easily become more books. Yet AB’Gale Steel’s part in this story, has in essence come to a finish.
The End of the Line has so much more in it than the other books, and many additional characters have been brought forth from the background. My train fascination has grown, and my research become more in-depth. Not only is Abby involved in the world of trains and the battle for her freedom, but she is traveling to different parts of America, which of course must be explored as much as possible. Rails West took Abby to Colorado, a wild land but still under the strong hand of the System; a place where a revolution can be built in the hopes that the battle against the System can be won.
As my readers know, I strive to make a fictional story believable. All my research goes into finding real places, actual train routes, and believable engineering. Throughout my writing this book I have been posting on the Steel Roots Facebook page of fascinating historical items I have come across and incorporated them into the story. These are clues of what is to come and what fascinating inventions will be found in the fourth book, The End of the Line.
A California native born in Hollywood, J.L. MULVIHILL wanted to be a rock star. After several years of modeling, acting, and singing, she decided to marry, have a family, and moved to a quieter life in Mississippi where she has lived for the past twenty years. Finding she has a gift for storytelling, she began to write young adult books, including the Steel Roots series and The Lost Daughter of Easa. She is very active in the writing community, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Imagicopter, the Mississippi Writers Guild and Clinton Ink-slingers Writing Group. She continues to write fantasy, steampunk, poetry and essays inspired by her life in the South.Twitter