Writing Historical Novels

historical fiction

By Janice McCaffrey

February’s Montana Women Writer’s meeting featured a discussion on Writing Historical Novels led by Karen Wills and me. Karen read the following quote  by Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter from M.K. Tod’s blog Inside Historical Fiction:

I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. 

An excellent segue into my favorite topic, research. Below is a handout listing some, I’m sure not all and in no apparent order, details historical novelists use to fill in Ms. Smith’s circles.

Facts of people’s lives – names, birth, marriage, death dates and places
Food – what, how produced, hunted, gathered, prepared, served, preserved
Water – supply, how does it get to people/animals
Other drinks – coffee, tea, alcohol, juices
Living quarters – structure, furniture, room set up

Lighting – inside and out
Social structure – social classes, details in each level, reactions, impact on society and individuals
Education – schools, apprenticeships, home learning
Manufacturing – for local use, exports
Imported/exported goods – what, from/to where, how transported

Purchasing goods – where, how often, from who, display or set up of goods, barter or currency
Money – coins, paper, denominations, country’s currency
Occupations and their how-to
Heating and cooling – homes, people, animals
Clothing – fabrics, colors, patterns, how are they made, by whom
Public Health – clean water, sewage, diseases, medical practices

Personal Hygiene – cleanliness, teeth, hair, clothing
Socials – what, where, with who
Games & Sports, pleasurable past times
Story telling – oral, books, legend, lore
Neighborhoods – city, town, rural

Patriarchal or Matriarchal – societies, families, governments, values
Rules spoken and unspoken – within family, community, groups, government
History of place – country, state, county, town
Civil laws – who writes them, how they’re upheld, justice system, consequences
Geography – terrain of land

Governments – leaders, issues, controversies – past & present
Politics – local, national, global
Military – preparedness, uniforms/armor, weapons, strongholds (fort, bunker, cave, etc)
Weather/Climate – seasons, temperatures, precipitation

Communication – (usually before phones at least before cell phones)
Travel – local and distant/international, land, sea, air, walk, ride, vehicles,
Ethnic & religious customs – national, local, family, personal
Religion – beliefs, ceremonies, conversion, spreading the Word
Stereotypes – common of the time and place

Language – written, oral, dialects
Death, burial, cremation – traditions, rites

            If you think of any that aren’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll add them.


March Book News

march 2018

Greetings from Northwestern Montana

LESLIE BUDEWITZ: Cookie CrumblesWhat a winter! Cold and snowy, calm and lovely. We are all delighted to see the days grow longer and the light stronger. And I’m thrilled to share some Very Big News! My Seattle Spice Shop series will return in early 2019 with CHAI ANOTHER DAY, from the wonderfully excellent Seventh Street Books , named for the street Edgar Poe lived on. Meanwhile, the fifth Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, will be out in June, in paperback, e-book, and audio.

My first mystery publication ever was a short story, and I’ve been rediscovering my love for the short form recently. “With My Eyes” appeared in the February issue of Suspense Magazine, one of the premier short story publications. Subscription only, but it’s such a great magazine that I’m sure you’ll love it. My story is set in Seattle and Athens, and was inspired ages ago by our honeymoon trip to Greece. The Greek gods and goddesses were often tricksters, and if one still roamed the earth, she might be called Melina…

Stay warm, and curl up with a good book!

Last Lines that Linger

By Karen Wills


This morning I read another list of memorable opening lines in literature. For one example, Melville’s first words in Moby Dick made the list with the famous, “Call me Ishmael.”

But shouldn’t there also be a list of novelists’ great last sentences? And if such a list could be compiled, what would make the lines memorable? I immediately think of Norman MacLean’s brief conclusion in A River Runs through It, “I am haunted by waters.”  The words are simple, elegant, and strongly connotative. They resonate as good poetry does, and they suit and conclude the story of a brother lost.

Another fine last sentence ends March by Geraldine Brooks. Brooks won a Pulitzer for her story of what happens to the father of Little Women’s Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and the husband of their mother, Marmee, when he volunteers to serve as a Union Army chaplain in the Civil War. By the novel’s end, he’s been seared, scarred, and sickened by the carnage of war and the loss of loved ones. On his first night home, grief for those he’s lost, mostly freed blacks, nearly overwhelms him. But at twilight his wife enters the room where he sits reunited with his daughters. Marmee does the peaceful domestic act of lighting a lamp. lamplightBrooks ends her novel with the words, “For an instant, everything was bathed in radiance.” Whatever the future may hold, with this elemental imagery there is the arrival of healing and redemption. And there is the strongly connotative “radiance.”

Finally, let’s look at the late Susan Vreeland’s, The Forest Lover. It’s a novel based on the life of the artist, Emily Carr, an intensely creative painter who dared to venture into the turn of the century Canadian wilderness to find her subjects. mary carrShe showed absolute courage in her life and originality in her stunning art. The last line reads, “She would drink the forest liquids and drench herself in possibility.” Don’t Vreeland’s words epitomize a brave woman in love with creativity? The image has mystery. The word “drench” suggests energy or passion. The sentence holds such promise. 

These are my favorite lingering lines. What are yours?



Shout Out to Book Clubs

Ricci Wolman, founder and CEO of Written Word Media, blogged about Top Ten Publishing Trends Every Author Needs to Know in 2018. Four predictions appeared most relevant to a recent discussion among Montana Women Writers:

  • Authors will continue to grow ebook share
  • More Indie authors will achieve success
  • Marketing will become more expensive
  • Authors must go ‘direct to reader’

Photo: Brook Cagle via Unsplash

Each published author in our group goes directly to readers in one form or another:

  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest
  • Blogs
  • Email newsletters and promotions
  • Book signings and readings
  • Speaking with book clubs

Obviously, social media is a godsend for authors like us who live in remote parts of the country. We do our best to connect in person with local book clubs and special interest groups, but we live in northwest Montana in a county the land size of Connecticut with a population of 100,000.

Our book club exposure is limited. Or so we thought.

Photo: Mike Coleman

We propose connecting with book club readers directly through social media. Skype and FaceTime will allow even those of us living in Montana to participate in discussions all over the world. Read one of our books, and then invite the author to your book club meeting.

Some of us have added book club discussion questions and personal contact information in the backs of our books. You can also find our individual author information on Montanawomenwriters.com, our individual author websites, or simply email me, and I’ll forward your request to the author you wish to contact.

Get to know us, and happy reading!

Ann Minnett MWW photo

Ann Minnett

My Sisters

By Marie F. Martin

My younger sister, Doris, has dabbled with oil painting off and on for years, but never developed her craft until now. At age almost seventy she is going great guns with it. She has had a showing in Seattle and sold some of her work. It is so exciting. She is now planning to travel to Montana where we were raised and show paintings in July at Art in the Park in Kalispell. I no longer hear her complaining about age. The miracle of an active mind doing something that you love and get excited about  is what the age specialist tell us to do. She has found her passion.

I was close to the same age when I published my first book. It has become a driving force in me and I have grown so much with new friendships and people willing to help me with my stories. It all has to do with us Connor girls facing older age and needing to kick start our creative talents.

My latest book will be published sometime this summer or early fall. The cover is already made. The blurb is a work in progress but here is what it says as of now: The red Corvette speeds into the night up a lonely stretch of curvy mountain road. Corinne Cooper figures they’re lost, but isn’t concerned about it. A few unexpected words with the man driving rekindles yearnings she thought were buried with her husband three years ago. Shocked by her thoughts, she is relieved to reach home safely. The next day, Corinne is still unable to set aside the desire to find a new love and seeks the help of her unpredictable sidekick. Edgy Brewster is delighted to assist in the search for a perfect companion, dragging her into questionable adventures. Troubles begin at a local honkytonk, multiply at a hilltop mega church, and reach critical mass at a secluded bingo parlor. Now a friend is dead, a nosey neighbor is found dead, and Corinne is the chief suspect in their murders. Every step she takes to prove her innocence digs her deeper, until. . . .


However my older sister, Norma, is now complaining that she hasn’t sold anything of a creative nature. She only spent her entire working career as a RN. Her talent or passion was used helping the sick and the aged, and besides I don’t feel sorry for a sister who looked like this. 

I am relaying our experiences as encouragement to everyone who thinks they’re too old to start a new adventure. Just do it.