It is my pleasure to share a guest post by author Beth M. Caruso, who gives details about...
Handling Historical Facts When Writing Historical Fiction
Beth M. Caruso
How to handle historical facts and put them into a compelling story has been a debate within the genre of those who write historical fiction for a few years and takes place even among those who write straight history. I’ll be honest with you, if this is a genre that you aspire to write, it can get quite messy and fraught with many opposing and passionate opinions.
You’re challenged to research a time period and characters where there is either little information to go on or possibly an overwhelming amount. If it’s a faraway past like the setting of my novel, One of Windsor, that tells the story of Alice Young, America’s first witch-hanging victim in seventeenth century colonial America, it can be a challenge and indeed it was a challenge to overcome the scarcity of documentation pertaining to Alice. My second novel, The Salty Rose, also took place in the seventeenth century. The research materials were sparse at times, because some of the records have still not been translated from the original Dutch documents. On the other hand, if your novel is set in the twentieth century, you may be overwhelmed with a plethora of research and be forced to winnow the information you find.
It’s essential to do the research if you’re going to write in this genre. People who read historical fiction want not only to be entertained, but also want to learn something new about history. Therefore, the background and setting have to be correct for the time period you’re writing in.
Nothing is worse than incorrect details such as a character picking raspberries in New England in spring. That alone drives me crazy enough to put a book down. Attention to detail about the setting is important: what they ate, drank, what they wore, the timing of vegetation during the year and the crops they planted are all fine details that should be researched to make historical fiction be more authentic.
In the past, that was where historical fiction stopped. It normally took place with invented characters who were simply put into a historical period. However, more recent writing in this genre takes on actual people from the past and makes them characters in the novel. The challenge for the writer is to fit a story into the known facts about a real person. This can make a novel come alive, be edgy, and seem more pertinent, but it can also be fraught with pitfalls.
When you’re dealing with a real person as your subject, you will get many opinions from people who may love or hate your work because of who they think that historical person should be. In general, most authors agree that in this situation, one should stick to the known facts AND it is fair game to create in the blank spaces between what is historically known. With literary invention, our imaginations can capitalize on what is still mystery. For some readers who don’t understand that historical fiction is both historical and fiction, it can be harder for them to grasp these concepts. At some point, you cannot worry about it. You will never please everyone, especially if it is someone who has thousands of ancestors! Embrace your passion and imagine you are back in time witnessing your story as it happened!
by Beth M. Caruso
GENRE: Historical Fiction
Marie du Trieux, a tavern keeper with a salty tongue and a heart of gold, struggles as she navigates love and loss, Native wars, and possible banishment by authorities in the unruly trading port of New Amsterdam, an outpost of the Dutch West India Company.
In New England, John Tinker, merchant and assistant to a renowned alchemist and eventual leader of Connecticut Colony, must come to terms with a family tragedy of dark proportions, all the while supporting his mentor’s secret quest to find the Northwest Passage, a desired trading route purported to mystically unite the East with the West.
As the lives of Marie and John become intertwined through friendship and trade, a search for justice of a Dutch woman accused of witchcraft in Hartford puts them on a collision course affecting not only their own destinies but also the fate of colonial America.
“Marie. Enough of this! Go roll out another barrel to tap. We are already out. These ravenous sailors will drink us dry with their unending thirst. And, think about minding your manners with the wealthy man at the window table,” Mr. Couwenhoven scolded me as he glared in the man’s direction.
The tavern was humming with activity, encased in a cloud of smoke and overflowing with not only beer but also boisterous laughter that night.
I’d rebuffed a lecherous traveler again. My mistake was that he was a repeat customer and one who had a little wealth to spread around.
“What shall I do? Let the letch grab me? You ask too much of me,” I retorted. “Certainly, you understand I must protect myself against some of these animals,” I emphasized.
Mr. Van Couwenhoven was a hideous man, only thinking of his coin.
“Listen to me quite well, you little Walloon,” he retorted as his chubby face reddened with anger. “I’m giving you a chance to have a living, but you will end mine if you are not a little more lenient with my good customers! I don’t care if you unleash that sharp tongue of yours with the foolish rogue sailors who are too drunk to remember what you say, but you will not chase away my better clientele. You understand me? Be polite!” he yelled.
I looked at Van Couwenhoven’s son, Pieter, nodding as he raised his eyebrows at me, motioning to the back.
“Yes. For you, I can be ever so lenient,” I said under my breath, staring into Pieter’s bright blue eyes.
My heart raced a little at the chance to meet Pieter in the back. It was hard for me to take my eyes off his handsome cherub-like face, a face that hid the personality of a little rascal.
Mr. Van Couwenhoven ordered me to the storeroom one more time, not wanting to lose business.
“Marie, I said to go get another barrel of beer from the back. Do as I say!” Mr. Van Couwenhoven ordered me.
As mad as he was, he still liked me. It was worse when his wife was around too. The husband was greedy but only resented me if I got in the way of profits. His wife was another story. I knew she’d despise me once she got wind of my budding romance with her son.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Award-winning author, Beth M. Caruso, is passionate to discover and convey important and interesting stories of women from earlier times. She recently won the literary prize in Genre Fiction (2020) from IPNE (Independent Publishers of New England) for her most recent novel The Salty Rose: Alchemists, Witches & A Tapper In New Amsterdam (2019). The Salty Rose is Beth’s second historical novel and explores alchemy in early colonial times, an insider’s view of the takeover of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, and the Hartford Witch Panic with information she gathered from previous and ongoing research.
Beth’s first historical novel is One of Windsor: The Untold Story of America’s First Witch Hanging (2015), a novel that tells the tale of Alice ‘Alse’ Young and the beginnings of the colonial witch trials. She based the story on original research she did by exploring early primary sources such as early Windsor land records, vital statistics, and other documents. She lives in Connecticut with her family. Beth kayaks and gardens to unwind.
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