Why Historical Fiction Matters (to me)

Cliches. There are so many cliches that come to mind when you’re trying to figure out how to start a blog post about writing (in general). It falls under that “nothing new under the sun” mantra.

It’s like comparing every scifi show or book you read to the “Big Three” of the genre – Star Trek, Star Wars and Dr. Who. If you’re a long time reader of this blog or my Twitter, you already know that I’m more than a bit dorky.

My dork levels in science fiction aside, I’ve come to realize a new passion in my own writing journey – researching Pennsylvania history. Have you ever watched those shows on the Discovery or History Channels and wonder why they interview experts on seemingly crazy topics?

It’s because this world is HUGE. That might be a common sensical statement, but how can a historian possibly know EVERYTHING, unless they’ve got an incredibly high IQ? That’s definitely not me. And I know “sensical” isn’t even a word.

So when I got the idea for The Firedamp Chronicle series I knew right away that research would be involved. Intense research. To run the risk of including a cliche here, “In order to write history, you need to know history.” I’m paraphrasing that, of course, but I didn’t even feel qualified to write any of it until I knew about it. So here are three reasons why writing historical fiction matters to me personally.

To Not Forget

On September 11, 2001, the world witness horrific loss of life during the attacks on the World Trade Towers, the United States Pentagon, those on Ground Zero and those on the affected flights. I was in my 9th Grade Physical Science class when it happened. In high school. My dad can count with his fingers how many events in history he remembers. Things like the assassination of JFK, when the Berlin Wall Fell and when the Challenger Explosion happened.

There are many who will never know them like those who saw them unfold their eyes. That’s why I choose to learn more about my own State’s history (ahem…Commonwealth…but that’s just a Pennsylvanian technicality). Which leads to the next point:

To Learn Something New

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.

Harry S. Truman

Libraries. They’re fantastic places, right? You can check out anything you want and no one will judge. And, depending on the size of your library, they usually have a rather sizable non-fiction department. Section 975. That’s where I found myself for three years in Pennsylvanian history. I emailed the research team at the Library of Congress for tiny details and I borrowed books from institutions outside the Allegheny County system.

Because I was learning things about my own city, county and state I never knew existed.

The more I learned the more I realized how watered down the courses I took in grade school and college really were. Sure, I learned new things there, but you can easily spend a whole semester on a topic like “Christmas Traditions from Around the World” and still just graze the surface.

If you’re going to write about history, KNOW that history. Know it inside and out. Backwards and forwards. All the way through. That way, when you’re asked about why you chose specific events or a specific time period, you’ll be able to satisfy their curiosity.

To Hone Research Skills

Call me OCD if you like, but I love going down the rabbit hole of research. As I mentioned earlier, I learned to utilizes resources I never even knew existed before beginning this journey.

In high school I was never a concise writer. To this day I have to work long and hard to get a sentence write. (I’m going to leave that because that’s such a Freudian Slip! I totally meant to use the word “right”).

Not only have I been researching countless people, events, the origins of objects and the like, I’ve also been *attempting* to reteach myself the English language. I’m sure my fallacies are evident in this blog post but I’m working on them. Just like I’m learning to hone my research skills to keep myself focused on the subject and not irrelevant things.

So there you have it. Three reasons why I write historical fiction. There are more but that would make this post far too long and you may/may not lose interest!

Do you write? What genre? Why did you choose it? Knowing the answers to these questions will guide you through your own writing journey. I wish you luck as you find your niche, your drive and success!


From Fan Fiction to Novels

There seems to be this stigma that comes with writing fan fiction. A stigma of, “Those people are dorks who spend way too much time involved in a fandom for something that isn’t real.”

That’s only partially true. And the same can be said for novel writers.

The other truth is that those who write fan fiction are still writing. They are still part of a community, learning and growing. Especially if writing is what they want to do with their lives. Some are more successful with it than others, but writing fan fiction is where I started my journey. I used to be “in deep.” I wrote Star Trek (which nobody ever saw) and Supernatural stories which I did post on sites like Wattpad and Archive of our Own.

I used to be “in deep.” I wrote Star Trek (which nobody ever saw) and Supernatural stories which I did post on sites like Wattpad and Archive of our Own.

As a child of the 90s it initially took a lot for me to learn to not hide behind a username. I’m a real person, not a “keyboard warrior.” Heck I even did those message boards back when the Internet was still a teenager itself. (Yeah, I’m older than the Internet). When I first began this website three years ago I definitely hid behind the AnotherHartmanAuthor name. While it’s still part of this site’s identity I realized that, if I wanted to seem more credible and approachable, people would want to know my name.

Having your name known in the writing community is, I think, something that many writers want but don’t admit out loud. We want our stories to be read by others. Perhaps we want to be as popular as R.L Stein, J.K. Rowling, Lewis Carroll, Stephen King, James Patterson and all those others. That’s only a small part of why I switched from fan fiction to novels.

I got frustrated with the fan fiction culture. When it felt like stories centered around abusive relationships and smut were getting all the attention, here I am in my own little corner attempting to not include any cussing whatsoever in my stories. It was like I couldn’t find anyone who felt the same so the aforementioned sites did end up leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.

Then again, that may have been partially my fault as well. If you don’t actually have a good story, it’s not going to gain traction in that kind of environment. But, Leigh…a lot of crap stories get traction! Yes, yes, I know that. I understand that. Writing is an imperfect and highly subjective field.

Then again, that may have been partially my fault as well. If you don’t actually have a good story, it’s not going to gain traction in that kind of environment.

And you know what? I’ve learned to just roll with it. To have a thick skin. No matter if you’re writing fan fiction or full on novels, you have to understand that everyone is going to have an opinion, for better or for worse, about your writing potential.

When I took the leap from fan fiction to novels I realized that didn’t solve any of my problems. I still have trouble finishing stories. I still chronically underwrite and it still takes me forever to actually write them.

But now I know things like outlining, editors, and agents exist. I know there are outlets, support groups and local library groups focused on discussing techniques and actual writing. I didn’t know about or have these things before so of course it felt like I was alone. The only one going through stuff like self-doubt, frustration and writing induced depression.

I am not alone, and neither are you. Whether you write fan fiction or you’re trying that old school traditional publishing route, you are not alone. Neither one is better than the other. The point is – you ARE writing. Whether it’s about Star Trek or Supernatural. Your favorite members in a kpop band or a historical story you can’t get your mind off.

Write. Write just for you. Technique and writing for others can come later. If you have a story to tell, then TELL it.

If you have a story to tell, then TELL it.


Research It | The Map

In my first post of this series I discussed the history of the pen. Exciting stuff, I know. Before there were computers, the pen in all its many forms was the only way to go. Well, there’s the pencil, but that’s a post for another day. Oooh…pencils…. Today’s post is going to be all about Item 2 in this Research It series, maps. (That Dora the Explorer map song is stuck in my head. Let’s turn on some soundtracks to get rid of that).

When I was in China during the Summer of 2008 (we left two weeks before the Beijing Olympic Games), I helped TESOL students with their students and it was a might bit disorienting seeing them have China at the center of the world maps in their classrooms. As an American, typically the US is in that position, so it would make sense that each country would take some liberty with their mapping.

People who create map are called cartographers, and this post is all about their contributions to the traveling world.

Item 2: The Map. #allthemaps
I’m the Map, I’m the Map, I’m the MAP~~!
Goodness, get out of my head Dora!

fictionalmaps.jpg

Maps have been used for centuries. Whether they’re drawn in the dirt with an index finger, scrawled on a cave wall or meticulously plotted and updated as new lands were discovered. Maps are popular additions to novels, placed in the first few pages of the story to help the reader find their way, and maps have aided the world’s generals in plotting routes their troops are ordered to take. And star charts (essentially a map) played a huge role in the Dominion Wars with Deep Space Nine as the center of the universe. Okay, that last item is a Star Trek reference. I’m a complete dork, what can I say?

If I’d gone the route of archaeology I imagine myself having rolls of maps in my pack, some haphazardly folded and others neatly rolled and slightly poking out the top of the bag. I suppose that’s the romantic way of looking at them, but it raises questions (in my mind at least). How did maps come to be? Who started making topographical maps? Nautical maps? Gigantic wall maps? (Insert Beckett’s gigantic world map to egotistically display the “accomplishments” of the East India Trading Company in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise)Beckett_World_Map

Well then, that’s enough for the introduction. Let’s get into 3 Different Types of Maps and what they’re used for. Okay, so there are literally dozens of types of maps that can all be read about here, so I’m just going to touch upon ones that have more practical applications.

  1. Aeronautical.
    My dad was a pilot in the USAF for 34 1/2 years (he’ll typically make a point of adding that half year in there so I had to as well). While he flies the plane and looked at aeronautical maps beforehand, it was the job of the navigator in flight to make sure he got them where they needed to go. At one time I thought of going into the Air Force, but I get majorly air sick, whether I’m the one flying the craft or not. He suggested that I become a navigator. “But Dad, you know I’m directionally challenged on the ground, right?” He admitted that I was correct. Being an aeronautical engineer was not the career for me.These maps are important combinations of air, sea and land travel, utilizing longitude and latitude coordinates.bay-area-detail.ngsversion.1522276711646.adapt.1900.1Um, what?! I have enough trouble with your typical road map. What even is this?! That was dramatic…. I understand the land, and there’s the sea. The circles are almost like sonar blips on those blue and black screens you see in a movie like The Meg. But stop on by National Geographic’s website to have a read on how to interpret this very specific type of map. Visit the ESRI website for a brief history on this type of map.
  2. Global. 
    Arguably the most recognizable of all the maps, globes have been used in classrooms seemingly since the beginning of time. I exaggerate, but what was once a staple learning tool has been converted into those giant pull down maps that cover blackboards (maybe this is where those Flat Earth theorists got the idea from? Now I know I’m not the only one who could spend hours spinning a globe, stopping it with a finger and looking up the place it landed on. You can’t really stick a map pin into a globe though, unless it is one of those blow up balls. But then you’d have a different problem on your hands – a flat globe.And now, directly from Wikipedia itself, “A globe is a spherical model of Earth, of some other celestial body, or of the celestial sphere. Globes serve similar purposes to maps, but unlike maps, do not distort the surface that they portray except to scale it down. A globe of Earth is called a terrestrial globe. A globe of the celestial sphere is called a celestial globe.” I honestly think that I may have to start calling every glob I see terrestrial. That is the technical term after all! I suppose the other plants could also be turned into their own spherical models, but, as many are just giant balls of gas, they wouldn’t really be that helpful.The term “globe” was first dubbed by the Greeks c. 150 B.C. While the use of the word remained constant, the history of using physical globes isn’t. As with anything not well documented, there are long periods where globes aren’t really used in conjunction with the globe we’re familiar with today. The first known record of that comes from 1492 by a German mapmaker named Martin Behaim. No one country is emphasized over another so that the viewer can have a non-biased view of the world as a whole, very useful to those trekking on land and sailing the high seas.
  3. Topographical.
    When I first started researching The Firedamp Chronicles I would catch myself staring at maps far longer than what was necessary. Maps fascinate me, what can I say? Particularly maps of my own state of Pennsylvania. While the majority of the population is settled at either border, one only has to take a look at the topography of PA to figure out why. Topography played a huge role in that. With Pittsburgh in the South Western corner and Philadelphia closer to the Eastern seaboard, they are divided not only by the sheer size of the state but by mountains, plains and countless rivers.Of course there’s rich, farm-able land and early settlers knew this would be a great selling point to bring workers and families over from disease, disaster ridden Europe in the 17th century. In fact, many Germans are here because this land was similar to their own homeland. Penn’s Colony, named by the man himself, would become a hub of activity and development for the American Industrial Revolution. Let’s take a look at what a typical topographical map looks like:
    pennsylvania-topo-map
    See that legend in the bottom right hand corner? That tells you how tall an area is or how low. That swoop in the middle of the state are mountains, and directly below them are huge coal deposits, squished together when the land was formed. 0-100 is closer to sea level, the dark green, while 1350 – 1750 indicate the Appalachian Mountain Range.Topological maps are more commonly used by those studying geology or cartography, but I do remember my dad having a really cool one of the Pittsburgh area. I think that’s why I like them so much. There isn’t really a history on this type of map other than it being associated with topology, or the study of, geometry, apparently. “Topology developed as a field of study out of geometry and set theory, through analysis of concepts such as space, dimension, and transformation.” (As defined here). But really, the only thing that really matters, and makes more sense to me anyway, is that it’s a representation of the geology of the land itself.Now I could go into underwater topographical maps, ones for other countries, etc., but that would make an already-long post unnecessarily long. I think you get the point of topographical maps by this point.

Well folks, there you have it. Maps. Unless you love maps like I do, I doubt you’re going to start staring at them, figuring out routes your characters are going to take. Maybe you do, if you’re a writer like I am. Then we’d have a lot to talk about! But maps are not only useful for real life application but for fantastical application as well. Maps open doors for us, allow us to dream of places we want to go. It may seem like a small distance on a piece of paper or on a globe and not everyone has the opportunity to travel. But, if you’re one of those who really can’t, at least you can travel there in your mind, through the power of the Internet and by the power of the book.

Honorable Map Mentions
The Marauder’s Map
Middle Earth
Land of Oz
Narnia


The Infamous Editing Loop

I have a problem. I have more than one problem but that’s not what we’re here to focus on today! That will take far too long (ha!).

I remember reading a quote somewhere, and I have to dig it up again, which states that when you’re writing your first draft that you are writing the story for you and no one else. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t need beta readers or critiques or write groups right off the bat. The first draft is a chance for you to get the story out of your head and onto paper. Or in the form of pixels.

Edit: I’ve found the quote. “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” -Terry Pratchett

So why do I keep going back and constantly edit the first few pages of the first story I’m ever considering submitting for publication?

Perfection.

That’s the motivation. Perfection.

The first draft isn’t meant to be perfect and yet I can’t let certain sentences go until I stare at them for an hour each to try and figure out how to best word it. I’m no editor and still I try to be. Do I use a semicolon here instead of a comma? Is this sentence an individual thought or is it part of the next or previous paragraph? Is that the right word I need or do I pull out my thesaurus again?

I think that some tuning is naturally part of the writing process but I know I start running into trouble when I start over analyzing things that really should be left alone for the editing stage.

Perfection can come at a later time, if it ever comes at all. For now, the story just needs to come out.


The Publishing Dilemma

To self publish or not to self publish. That is the question. I may be borrowing and mixing up a line from literary history, but that’s how this week’s thought process has been going. Although The Firedamp Chronicles series is still in its infancy stages, I am starting to think on the later steps as well. Do I self-edit, self-design and self-publish? Or do I go the more traditional route by paying others to do those steps for me. Self publishing sounds instantly gratifying, but how can you really do a book tour on a zero dollar budget? And what if there are too many uncaught mistakes in the final product?

Although The Firedamp Chronicles series is still in its infancy stages, I am starting to think on the later steps as well.

For most of my life I’ve been a traditionalist. [I may lose a few readers here but…] I am a libertarian in terms of my political views. I believe in minimal government involvement in our daily lives and letting the American people thrive on their own choices rather than having so many regulations, taxes, HOAs, etc. to tell us what to do. I still believe in the American dream – paving a way for ones self and encouraging others along the way. I still believe in the sanctity of marriage, the logical order of things, of a harmony between science and religion. All that might be a bit much for a post about how to publish, right?

Not really, because it all leads up to the point of this blog post. Throughout my childhood I’ve dreamed of becoming a published author, like my uncle. But I always felt like I had to please everyone else around me and I never thought I was good enough of a writer to begin with. Folks I know still don’t believe that writing is a legitimate job, but it’s still hard work. It’s just slower work. It’s disciplined work. It’s organized work. It’s work that has been around as long as any other profession – maybe not a social media analyst or IT director; those jobs weren’t really around until the late ’90s or early 2000s. You get what I mean.

It’s disciplined work. It’s organized work. It’s work that has been around as long as any other profession – maybe not a social media analyst or IT director; those jobs weren’t really around until the late ’90s or early 2000s. You get what I mean.

I am a traditionalist when it comes to publishing. While I do own a Kindle and I have several books on my app on my phone, I still prefer physical books. Their smell. Their feel. The occasional paper cuts when you turn a page too quickly.  Boy, do I sound like a lunatic. But if you are a book lover like I am, you understand.

I’ve seen some pretty bad self-published works out there. There was a story I bought on-the-cheap last year and I found several spelling errors every few pages, awkward sentences, and abrupt scene changes. You could just tell the individual was a new author working on a minimal budget. They didn’t have the resources – or, if they did, just wanted to scrape by in order to get the work published – and I get that. I don’t have several hundred dollars to spend on an editor or publicist or cover designer.

The fear of falling into the bad side of self-publishing is terrifying to me.

The fear of falling into the bad side of self-publishing is terrifying to me. If I am going to put a story out there that took me several years to research and write, it’s a representation of my abilities. Sure, there are some who are able to do all that and are successful at self-publishing. but that’s where my traditionalism comes into play.

It’s been said that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter received rejection after rejection before it was finally published. With all that rejection through the traditional route she still pressed on. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone just had its 20th birthday (I was 12 years old when it came out. Dang…). But now she also has that editor, that publicist, that assistant, that help. That team of people who believe in her abilities and the characters she created.

I’m not sure if being that well known of an author is a route every person who writes aims for; at least some recognition would be nice. But I think that there are many writers out there, like myself, who have to do it on their own. Maybe self publish one small work, like a novella first, to get their foot in the door. So, at the end of this blog post, I’m still undecided on which direction to go. There are pros and cons to both methods, that’s for sure, but you’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you at least try.


On Working Titles, Again

When I started this journey it was one novel with one title: Carrick. When I continued the it in 2017 it morphed into Firedamp. Now, in 2018, it’s become a four part series with four titles and one novella. There was absolutely no way I could include all the back history and resolutions in one book and have it make sense to the reader. Not only that, the number of characters I created would make for one thick book.

When I started this journey it was one novel with one title: Carrick. When I continued it in 2017 it morphed into Firedamp. Now, in 2018, it’s become a four part series with four titles and one novella.

No. I couldn’t do that. I mean, look at a series like Harry Potter. I’m sure Rowling knew from the start that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone that it would take many more books to resolve as many story arcs as she could. Mine isn’t going to be that epic and half that size, but I was dreaming if I thought that all the historical events I wanted to include in a story could be resolved within 400-500 pages.

But with the addition of three extra books came another problem: What do I CALL them all? Naming the series “The Firedamp Chronicles” was easy, because everything will come to a resolution in the fourth and final book. Naming the novella was easy because that sets off the series of events that shapes one of the main characters. The following three books have presented the bigger challenge. At first I thought I had the first one set in stone – that is, until I Googled it and found dozens of other books with a similar title. Scratch that, reverse it. You don’t want to “follow the crowd” with your title for fear of  claims of copying from readers or the writers themselves. Do you continue with the same theme of your proudly chosen original title by trying to work the four titles so they form a sentence?

That’s the crazy part about the creative journey. Everyone has developed their own “rules” and “do’s and don’t’s” of the writing process that it can get more confusing than it needs to be. I’ve come to the realization that my process of choosing the “perfect” title actually sums up the meaning of “Working Title.” That’s what that term is there for. You know your characters, your story arcs and where you want to take it. One day the title will just fall in my lap and I’ll know that it’s the perfect one. Or ones, in this case!

So for now, the titles on my Works in Progress page will stay just that – as working titles. I’ve got months of writing ahead of me and I don’t need to rush the process. Seeking advice is always a good thing, especially from those who have been writing far longer than you have. Just remember to listen to your instincts and not let your mind become too cluttered with all the “you should do this’s” and “you shouldn’t do that’s.” Glean what you need, leave behind what you don’t. And just enjoy writing.

Glean what you need, leave behind what you don’t.

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