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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Guest Blog: Vijaya Schartz: Don't Feed Me Historical Lies! Accuracy in Historical Fiction

It came to my attention recently that some historical authors think it’s all right to take liberties with history, saying writers should have artistic license. While I do agree with artistic license, it makes me cringe to think that authors would falsify well known historical facts to fit their fictional story. I say, if your novel is not historically accurate, it’s okay, but don’t call it historical fiction, call it historical fantasy, alternative history, Steampunk, or speculative fiction.

My medieval series is based on legends. Like King Arthur’s stories, these novels involve ancient rulers and nobles throughout the middle ages. But their true story is a handful of recorded deeds, and they are better known through the legends than from historical records. I also call my Curse of the Lost Isle series MEDIEVAL FANTASY ROMANCE, not historical fiction, although I did intensive historical research.

The latest Steampunk version of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers shocked me at first. Not only they take liberties with the original work, but the battles portrayed include flying ships made of wood looking like galleons with large sails. Louis XIII is portrayed as a popinjay, and they did strange things with the cardinal and the queen... But at least, they didn’t call it historical fiction, just pure entertainment. I call it STEAMPUNK or HISTORICAL FANTASY.

ALTERNATIVE HISTORY is another genre that was popular a few decades ago, featuring alternate universes where, for instance, the South won the Civil War, the Nazis won WWII, or Napoleon defeated the English and conquered the British Empire. This also comes under SPECULATIVE FICTION, or ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, and is not considered historical.

I can have fun with pure fantasy stories portraying Lincoln as a vampire, or Game of Thrones, but that is in no way historical fiction.

When I watch THE TUDORS, or THE BORGIAS or REIGN, however, or when I read a book involving famous historical characters, whether true history or historical fiction, I expect the authors to do their research and feed me accurate dates, information, and historical facts.

HISTORICAL FICTION is a well defined genre. The stories often involve fictitious characters, living in a specific historical time, in a specific place, where specific things happened. The history of the place and time serves as a frame or backdrop for the drama, the romance, the adventure, defining the fate of these fictional characters. That is the covenant of writing historical fiction.

Sometimes, during research, you may stumble upon a little know fact, or a small slice of forgotten history that was suppressed by the victors of the time, or an aspect of some historical feat too long ignored. The purely academic historians may not agree, but if you have the research to back up your claim, I’d say more power to you. Bringing this obscure part of history to light in a historical fiction novel is a great way to have it more easily accepted by the public at large.

Best examples of HISTORICAL FICTION are the works of British author Bernard Cornwell, whose historical research is intensive... as it should be. Other famous examples: LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo.

Before starting to write the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE series, I spent a decade researching the history, the legends, the local records, and it feels wonderful when readers and reviewers make comments about how accurately I portray the life of each particular time and place in my novels. I take pride in my intensive historical research, and I believe all true historical authors do.

So, please, when writing historical fiction, make sure your research is accurate and you have your facts right. More readers than you think are educated, especially in this genre, and you might lose your credibility as an author if you take liberties with historical facts... even when you are writing fiction.

January 2014 release from Vijaya Schartz: Chatelaine of Forez
Curse of the Lost Isle Book 5, Medieval Fantasy Romance from Books We Love Limited.

1028 AD - Afflicted by the ondine curse, Melusine seeks the soul of her lost beloved in the young Artaud of Forez, who reigns over the verdant hills south of Burgundy, on the road of pilgrims, troubadours and merchants. But this dark and brooding Pagan lord is not at all what she expected or even hoped. He knows nothing of their past love, her Fae nature, or her secret curse. Must Melusine seduce and betroth this cold stranger to satisfy the Goddess and redeem her curse?

The gold in the rivers instills greed in the powerful, and many envy the rich Lord of Forez, including his most trusted vassals... even the Bishop of Lyon. When Artaud’s attraction to Melusine makes them the target of a holy hunt, will she find redemption from the curse, or will they burn at the stake?

Born in France, award-winning author Vijaya Schartz never conformed to anything and could never refuse a challenge. She likes action and exotic settings, in life and on the page. She traveled the world and claims to also travel through time, as she writes without boundaries about the future and the far away past. Her love of cats transpires in most of her books. Her stories collected many five star reviews and literary awards. She makes you believe you actually lived these extraordinary adventures among her characters. Reviewers compared her stories to Indiana Jones with sizzling romance, and she takes that as a compliment anytime.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick


Tina Donahue said...

God, historical fiction is murder to write. I've only had a few pubbed and they nearly killed me.

My hat's off to all the wonderful historical authors who get it right and do such a great job. :)

Sandy said...

Vijaya, I hate it when an author doesn't use the facts. My worry is that young people are learning history through these stories. What a shame it would be if that is the case.

Both, I'm a lover of cats, too. My hubby shares that love, too.

Paris said...


Very interesting blog! I don't mind skewed historical facts when I'm reading Steampunk or fantasy but twisting facts and timelines and passing it off as historical fiction, irritates me.

marymforbes said...

I don't like historical inaccuracies and have researched various periods of history, especially the North American West very extensively.
But way back - when Rosemary Rogers wrote 'Sweet Savage Love' her inaccuracies were glaring to me. Yet that became such a high selling book. Which asked me - do readers really care?

A.M. Westerling said...

Interesting post, Vijaya. For me, I try and include enough accurate historical detail so my readers feel as if they're there, but not so much it overwhelms the romance. Do readers care about accuracy? I don't know, if the story grabs them, then probably not so much. Others, in particular those who read Regencies, are very knowledgeable about that period and are not afraid to let you know if you've made a mistake. I know, it's happened to me! :)

jean hart stewart said...

I've written two historicals, both Regency period, which I though I knew well. Checking showed me how little I really knew, but the I loved the research. I'm careful in my erotica to check the periods involved. Some the editors catch me with a grammatical statement not yet in that period, but do far no factual mistakes. Interesting post, Vjaya..

Rose Anderson said...

Interesting post, Vijaya. Real facts always make things more believable. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us today. Best luck. :)

Ann Herrick said...

I can't even imagine trying to write a historical novel--so much research involved to get everything right! I admire writers who can do that.

Melissa Keir said...

Historical fiction should be based on facts and research. I love learning new things from what I read and hate when someone shares inaccuracies.

Thank you for pointing out what is important.

Margaret Tanner said...

Great post. You are so right, if you brand your story historical fiction, lie I do with mine, you must be historically correct. Nothing turns me off a book and author quicker than to find a historical error.



Ray said...

As a reader I definitely like accuracy in historic events. I check if it doesn't sound right.

I met attended meeting of the local chapter of the RWA as guest of an author. One of the books I bought was a Time Travel by a woman who purposely added a few anachronisms that added to the story. The story Took place during the time of the American Civil War in the South.

The traveler arrived unconscious. She explained her synthetic clothing, wristwatch and drivers lie nice by saying she was from California. The first time she entered a dark room she search the wall for a light switch. I bought the book because she was a stickler for getting the language of the era correct and had fun the way the rot agonist spoke causing everyone she met to think she was strange.

Cara Marsi said...

Very well-said, Vijaya. I, too, want historical accuracy when I read a historical novel. I read one that was Alternative History which purported that Hitler won WW2. I found the story fascinating.

I, too, love cats, and find inspiration in them.

Sydell Voeller said...

Ten years of historical research! I stand in awe of you. That's probably why I write contemporaries...LOL

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