Tag Archives: Historical fiction

More research photographs

I usually do this on Sunday, but I had something else to post yesterday. (Another review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. Yeah.)

These are more of the research photos I took last summer. I’m not sure I’m actually going to need these in my next novel, but it was too fascinating not to photograph.

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New Review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

The Copperfield Review, an online journal for historical fiction, just published a new review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. The reviewer gave it five quills (their equivalent of stars).

While you’re at it, you might want to check out other pages on the journal. Editor Meredith Allard has put together a great publication for lovers of historical fiction.

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Outlining Historical Fiction

It feels as though I’ve been very slow at starting the new novel, mostly because of the distraction of cancer treatment. This week, however, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. That’s because I stopped just reading about the historical background for the book. I actually started on the outline.

My method is pretty direct. I start by listing chronologically the main events from the life of the woman I’m writing about—at least, the ones that pertain to the period of the novel. Unlike The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, which covered a time span of more than 30 years, the next book will cover only a few months. Once I have my list of actual historical events, I’ll start adding fictional episodes as needed: events that fill in the gaps of motivation and character development. The third and final step will be to sort those roughly into chapters.

I still have a lot of reading and research to do yet, including a trip this summer to the area where the action of the novel took place. But as a writer, I’m happiest when I’m juggling research and more creative activities.

I also received some really terrific news today. I heard from a state historical society that they have three photographs of the interior of my main character’s house (taken before the attacking Indians burned it). And I can purchase copies. That’s going to be an invaluable help to me as I write.

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Sunday Check In

Last week I was adjusting to daily radiation treatments, so I never got around to writing my own or reading other people’s blog posts. This afternoon, I decided that I’m not going to be able to catch up reading other blogs, so I’ll just try to start fresh tomorrow.

One thing I did last summer was to go to an interactive history museum as early research for my next novel, which is set in a frontier area. I think I might make it a regular practice to post a few pictures from that every Sunday. And I’ll start today.

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Writing Historical Fiction: Organizing Research

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This past week, I started doing serious research for my next book. For some reason, I’m finding this upcoming project more intimidating than The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, which is odd because the new book will cover a much more condensed time period. Maybe I’m nervous because I have a better idea now of what researching a historical novel actually entails. Last time, I went into it with a certain naïveté.

At any rate, I want to organize my research more efficiently than I did last time. One thing I’m doing is to highlight the books I read. You have to understand that I’m someone who NEVER marks up books. This time, however, I’m highlighting important facts and details in yellow highlighter and even writing an occasional comment on the side–so far, mostly connections to other events or questions about the author’s objectivity/interpretation.

I also bought several packages of colored flags, and I plan to use them to indicate the different categories of information. Yellow for plot events, blue for information about my main character, green for details of daily life in the late 1800s, etc. Of course, I’ll do a lot of Internet research and probably set up a system of folders for book marks, maybe using the same categories, maybe others.

I’ve also realized I’m going to have to create a list of minor characters. There will be a lot of people in this book, although most will appear for only a page or so. It can’t be helped because of the nature of the historical conflict I’m portraying. Making a list will help me decide who to include and who to ignore.

That’s as far as my thinking has taken me so far. Do those of you who are writers have any other helpful tips for organizing research?

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What Inspired My Novel

Melinda over at Enchanted Spark invited me to be a guest blogger today. Please stop by her blog and read my post about the inspiration for my novel. And while you’re at it, check out her posts as well. She has some interesting things going on, including a writing contest!

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The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte: cover reveal!

I am proud and pleased to reveal the cover for my novel:

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Here is the synopsis:

As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.

Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.

Our publication date is December 2. The book can be preordered here.

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Writing Historical Fiction: Mimicking Old Books

As I was waiting for the copy edit review of my novel, one of the people at my publishing house had an unusual suggestion for my book. She e-mailed me and said that she had been thinking about my story and wondering if I’d want to consider doing one of those old-fashioned, annotated TOCs (tables of contents) that used to be so popular in the 1800s. Her reasoning was that she thought all the chapters are so meaty (an evaluation I loved hearing!) that it might be fun to give the readers teasers about what’s coming.

My first thought was, What are you, psychic? You see, two of the 19th-century biographies of Betsy Bonaparte that I used for sources had just that kind of TOC.

My second thought was, No way. I don’t want to give away too much of the story.

But I reconsidered and decided to see if I could do it without including spoilers. It became like a word puzzle, . . . and I love word puzzles.

After I finished a version that I was happy with, I sent it to my editor to see what he thought. He agreed that it worked, so we decided to use it.

Here are the first few chapters:

Prologue

Visiting a dying son — The seductive whirlpool of memory

Chapter I

Refugees from a revolution — An early loss — Snowball fights and arithmetic tests — Teasing Uncle Smith — Madame Lacomb’s school — Intriguing prophecy

Chapter II

The Belle of Baltimore — Dreaming of a brilliant match — Rumors about Napoleon — A Bonaparte in Baltimore — Their first encounter

Chapter III

A consummate flatterer — Quick wit and a sharp tongue — Aunt Nancy’s advice — The coquette and the guest of honor — “Destined never to part”

Chapter IV

A shocking discovery — The wedding of friends — Passion awakes — Seeking a brother’s advice — A father’s worry and a daughter’s plea

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Writing Historical Fiction, Part 1 by Meredith Allard

Today, I refer you to a great post by Meredith Allard in which she talks about how to pick the right setting for historical fiction:

Writing Historical Fiction Part 1.

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Betsy’s Circle: Dolley Madison

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Dolley Madison by Gilbert Stuart, via Wikimedia Commons

One of Betsy Bonaparte’s more surprising friendships was with Dolley Madison. On the surface, the two women seemed to have little in common, yet they had an amiable relationship that lasted many years. For example, while Dolley was in the White House, Betsy often looked in on Dolley’s son at his boarding school near Baltimore. And Dolley Madison once gave Betsy the commission of buying her a turban or anything fashionable on her next trip to Europe because she so admired Betsy’s taste. 

Dolley Madison, born Dolley Payne, was raised as a Quaker in Virginia. Her family moved to Philadelphia when she was a teenager. When Dolley was twenty-two, she married a young lawyer named John Todd, with whom she had two sons. Tragedy soon struck, however. The terrible yellow fever epidemic of 1793—which wiped out some 11 percent of Philadelphia’s population—killed both her husband and her younger son, who was only three months old.

Within a year, Dolley had met and married James Madison, a bachelor who was seventeen years older than she was. As the main author of the U.S. Constitution, Madison was an important political figure, so this new relationship thrust Dolley into a much different social sphere than she had been used to.

She proved to be more than up to the task. After Thomas Jefferson became president, James Madison became his secretary of state and Mrs. Madison served as the hostess for the widowed president. After eight years, Madison succeeded to the presidency, and Dolley Madison officially became the first lady. She was famous for her entertaining. The following description comes from my forthcoming novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte:

Under Mrs. Madison’s direction, Benjamin Latrobe had transformed the oval drawing room into a blazingly colorful salon that was the talk of Washington. Latrobe had repainted the walls sunflower yellow, highlighted moldings with strips of pink wallpaper printed with white and dark green leaves, hung crimson velvet curtains with gold tassels, and laid a carpet with a red, blue, and gold arabesque pattern. Dolley Madison held open houses every Wednesday in the lavishly decorated room. So many people attended—sometimes as many as 400 in a day—that the regular event became known as Mrs. Madison’s “crush or squeeze.”

Dolley Madison became a beloved national hero during the War of 1812. When it became evident that the British were going to take Washington, D.C., in August 1814 and that it would not be possible to protect the President’s Mansion, Dolley stayed to oversee the removal of as many precious and important items as possible—including a full-sized portrait of George Washington. It is this action for which she is best remembered today.

Gilbert Stuart - George Washington - Google Art ProjectGeorge Washington by Gilbert Stuart, via Wikimedia Commons

Although Dolley and James Madison remained devoted to each other, Dolley did have one major sorrow. Her surviving son Payne Todd was an irresponsible alcoholic. His behavior was a trial to his mother, particularly after James Madison’s death. Because of Payne’s heavy spending, Dolley Madison spent much of her later years in poverty.

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