Physicality in Fiction

Recently, I read a thought-provoking and helpful article on Writer’s Digest on using physicality to bring your characters to life. There’s some great advice here. Incorporating different senses and the physical signs of emotion can help immerse the reader in the setting, even in the mind of the protagonist. Being grounded in the story world makes it feel that much more real – and exciting – as a reader.

 

I think this can be especially important in historical fiction. The genre brings its own unique challenge of trying to recreate a time long past, and sometimes, as a writer, it feels like grasping at echoes. Of course, one of the joys of historical fiction – both as a reader and writer – is that once the details and story click into place, you do slip into another world entirely. I love the way being drawn into a historical world feels like new, uncharted territory, but history has left just enough imprints on the present for it to feel a little bit familiar. You might know the bare bones of the time period, but not what happens to the protagonist, or maybe you find comforting kernels of ‘sameness’ in the characters. People haven’t changed so much, really. Three hundred years ago, they still wanted to find love, or worried about their children, or struggled under the weight of family pressures.

Trying to capture the sounds and textures and the smells of the story’s setting bring it to life. For me, while I’m writing, trying to show those things end up helping me connect more strongly to the world, help me to better polish it for the reader. It makes the setting more vivid, so a reader can easily imagine the acrid black smoke from the burning Réveillon wallpaper factory, or airy softness of one of Marie Antoinette’s muslin gowns, or picture the scum of half-congealed blood tarnishing the Tuileries after it was violently mobbed, to use examples from my novel The Wardrobe Mistress.

That last one was a little dark. Sensory depictions can be delightful, too, especially if they’re food related. I still think fondly of the way Crystal King’s description of kitchens and food in her Roman historical novel Feast of Sorrow made me clearly imagine I could smell the mouth-watering aromas of Parthian chicken or the tang of mustard beets. Sounds and music can pull readers into the world, too. I can still remember the rebellious thrum of music in the Prohibition ‘juice joints’ that Bonnie (of Clyde and Bonnie fame) frequented in Jenni Walsh’s novel Becoming Bonnie.

A story or character can also be deepened by plot, as the Writer’s Digest article that sparked this whole post suggests. The article mentions a Stephen King novel where the narrator is diagnosed with cancer. Another example I can think of that I particularly enjoyed is Julia Heaberlin’s novel Lie Still, where the protagonist is heavily pregnant throughout the story. It added an extra layer of tension. As danger escalated all around her, I feared not only for her, but for her soon-to-be-born child.

Habitual gestures or nervous tics can strengthen characterization, too. Outlander fans know that Jamie Fraser often taps his two stiff fingers (from being broken) against his thigh when thinking. In Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, her character Eve struggles with a stammer, which sometimes intensifies during moments of high stress. While reading, it makes you ache with sympathy for her – especially because the high stakes WWI environment makes everything extra scary and intense.

What physical description or sensory element has really stood out to you in a book? Please share!

 

Historical Fiction Book Giveaway

My debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, has been out in the world for over a month now, and to celebrate I’ve got a fabulous book giveaway! Three winners will get a historical fiction prize pack with six books!

NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA by Chanel Cleeton (February 6th 2018) – In 1958, the daughter of a Cuban sugar baron embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary. In the present, her granddaughter returns to Cuba and discovers the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her navigate her own romance, and find the true meaning of courage.

THE ORPHAN OF FLORENCE by Jeanne Kalogridis (October 3rd 2017) – A young woman rises from pickpocket to the assistant of “the Magician of Florence” and becomes tangled in a web espionage and murder

LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor (October 3rd 2017) – Told through a series of heartfelt letters, a privileged young lady and a soldier share their experiences of the First World War, and maybe even find love amid its horrors.

THE LOST SEASON OF LOVE AND SNOW by Jennifer Laam (January 2nd 2018) – A beautiful and intellectual young woman attracts the attention of Russia’s most lauded poet and embarks upon a passionate and tempestuous relationship that leads to a tragic duel.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN FLORENCE by Alyssa Palombo (May 1st 2017) – Set in 15th Century Italy, a beautiful woman navigates complex relationships in Florentine society – and develops a passionate intimacy with Sandro Botticelli, leading to her immortalization in his masterpiece painting, The Birth of Venus.

THE WARDROBE MISTRESS by Meghan Masterson (Aug 15th 2017) – One of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women is torn between her loyalty to the queen and her love for an idealistic revolutionary as the danger of the French revolution escalates.

This could be you!

So how do you win? There are three ways to enter:

Facebook – Like and comment on the contest post. Extra entry if readers post a photo of one of the books with the hashtag #HistFicContest

Twittertweet using the hashtag #HistFicContest

Instagram – Tag a friend in the contest post, as well as using the hashtag #HistFicContest. Or, post a photo of any of the books in the prize pack, along with the hashtag #HistFicContest.

The winners will be announced on September 28th. Good luck!

 

Book Addiction: The Boat Runner

My latest book addiction is The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy, which publishes tomorrow. I got lucky enough to read this mesmerizing novel a bit early.

Captivating and powerful, The Boat Runner takes the reader to the perilous world of WWII, where young Jacob Koopman’s life wildly shifts from the prosperity of his family’s lightbulb business to the darkness of Nazi Germany as his father naively sends him to a Hitler Youth Camp and the outbreak of war shatters the peace. It’s a thought-provoking read that will have the readers feverishly turning pages and thinking about the story long after finishing the last page.

Devin kindly agreed to an interview on my blog. Welcome, Devin!

What was your inspiration for The Boat Runner?

One of the first sparks of this book came while reading a book about the Nazi navy written in 1945 by a German naval officer called, Defeat At Sea. Passages in the book referred to the sinking of ships only by their tonnage and supplies kept from being delivered to the Allies. The language was so cold toward the living people onboard that it haunted me. What mindset could be so void of empathy? That was the question I wanted to dig into, and led me down a long, fascinating road of research.

Did you get to visit any of the settings for your book? If not, where would you most want to go?

This novel travels across Europe but also takes place aboard ships at sea. As for Europe, my mother is from the Netherlands, and I have been there several times, but not during the writing of this book. Much of the land based scenes had to be drawn from memory, research, and talking to people who know about each place. The scenes based at sea were different. I spent 10 years travelling around the world working in the tourism industry. Along the way I realized that working aboard ships was the best option for me and I traveled to over fifty countries on all seven continents. I grew to know ships and the sea quite well – this pulses at the heart of my novel. Now, if I could go anywhere, I’d board a ship and sail the North Sea into the Ems Estuary which borders The Netherland and Germany. That fraught border that captured my imagination and led me into this novel.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

I always liked history, but during the writing of this novel I really learned how to do research as a fiction writer. I stopped looking for just facts and details, but for scenes and events that I could hold up and ask, does this event reveal the complexity of what it was like to be alive at this moment for my character?  That is fun! I love finding something that leads me in a whole new direction and source of information to pour over.

What was your favourite scene to write?

There is a scene that one of my character’s inner conviction emerges from the shadows in such an epic, life-altering way that I get the chills every time it happens. I guess I’ll try not to spoil it, but watch out!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I’m a professor so have to be pretty efficient about slotting my creative time or it tends to get swallowed up by other responsibilities. This means I try to write or edit at least four days a week and read every day. I do best when I am in a quiet place, but I have three small kids, a dog that loves to bark, and a cat that walks back and forth over my keyboard, so working outside of the house has become a necessity.

How can we stay updated on your book news?

Through Facebook, Twitter, and my author website.

From the book jacket:

In the tradition of All The Light We Cannot See and The Nightingale, comes an incandescent debut novel about a young Dutch man who comes of age during the perilousness of World War II.

Beginning in the summer of 1939, fourteen-year-old Jacob Koopman and his older brother, Edwin, enjoy lives of prosperity and quiet contentment. Many of the residents in their small Dutch town have some connection to the Koopman lightbulb factory, and the locals hold the family in high esteem.

On days when they aren’t playing with friends, Jacob and Edwin help their Uncle Martin on his fishing boat in the North Sea, where German ships have become a common sight. But conflict still seems unthinkable, even as the boys’ father naively sends his sons to a Hitler Youth Camp in an effort to secure German business for the factory.

When war breaks out, Jacob’s world is thrown into chaos. The Boat Runner follows Jacob over the course of four years, through the forests of France, the stormy beaches of England, and deep within the secret missions of the German Navy, where he is confronted with the moral dilemma that will change his life—and his life’s mission—forever.

Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.

 

Author Biography:

Devin Murphy grew up near Buffalo, NY in a family with Dutch roots. He holds a BA/MA from St. Bonaventure University, an MFA from Colorado State University, a PhD from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Bradley University. He has worked various jobs in national parks around the country and once had a three-year stint at sea that led him to over fifty countries on all seven continents. His fiction has appeared in over 60 literary journals and anthologies, including The Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, The Chicago Tribune, New Stories from the Midwest, and Confrontation. He lives with his wife and children in Chicago.

 

Book Addiction: The Other Alcott

It’s been a while since I had a new Book Addiction post, but I’m really excited about this one. The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper captures the magic of Little Women, which I read probably a dozen times growing up.

Amy March, of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic Little Women, often gets the short straw compared to her feisty sister Jo, but in this novel, her real-life inspiration, Louisa’s sister May Alcott, gets a chance to shine. May’s determination to cast off the shadow of Amy March and to prove herself as an artist depicts her as a strong, likable heroine. Elise Hooper’s period details and elegant writing bring the story vividly to life, making this story one to be cherished alongside Alcott’s classic.

And now some insights from Elise on her wonderful book…

What was your inspiration for The Other Alcott?

I attended drama camp at Orchard House in Concord, MA, the former Alcott family home-turned-museum, when I was in elementary school and never could quite shake my interest in the Alcott sisters after that. I read all of Louisa’s books and wanted to know more about the sisters behind Little Women.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Once I delved into researching May’s art studies, both in Boston and Paris, I became fascinated with all of the other women who were trying to develop artistic careers. These women came from different backgrounds but all were drawn to the goal of becoming professional artists. That doesn’t seem so extraordinary in 2017, but it was pretty audacious for the late 1800s.

Which of the “Little Women” do you identify with most closely?

I always admired Jo’s single-minded drive to becoming a writer, but I think I have Amy’s optimistic spirit.

What was your favourite scene to write?

I loved writing the scenes with Jane Gardener. She seems like such a pistol! I’ve been told to write a novel about her next.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I wish I had a strict schedule! Since I had two young daughters and teach part-time, I must be flexible. You can find me hunched over my laptop at my daughter’s gymnastics studio, at the pool while my girls swim, and in my minivan while I await my kids to get out of school.

How can we stay updated on your book news?

Someday I’m going to put out a newsletter. See? Now that I’ve said that here, I really will do it, so please sign up for it! In fact, I have some deleted chapters from the end of the book that I’d like to send out in a newsletter sometime this fall. In the meantime, Instagram is my social media outlet of choice.

You can also find Elise on Twitter. 

From the book jacket:

Elise Hooper’s debut novel conjures the fascinating, untold story of May Alcott—Louisa’s youngest sister and an artist in her own right.

We all know the story of the March sisters, heroines of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But while everyone cheers on Jo March, based on Louisa herself, Amy March is often the least favorite sister. Now, it’s time to learn the truth about the real “Amy”, Louisa’s sister, May.

Stylish, outgoing, creative, May Alcott grows up longing to experience the wide world beyond Concord, Massachusetts. While her sister Louisa crafts stories, May herself is a talented and dedicated artist, taking lessons in Boston, turning down a marriage proposal from a well-off suitor, and facing scorn for entering what is very much a man’s profession.

Life for the Alcott family has never been easy, so when Louisa’s Little Women is published, its success eases the financial burdens they’d faced for so many years. Everyone agrees the novel is charming, but May is struck to the core by the portrayal of selfish, spoiled “Amy March.” Is this what her beloved sister really thinks of her?

So May embarks on a quest to discover her own true identity, as an artist and a woman. From Boston to Rome, London, and Paris, this brave, talented, and determined woman forges an amazing life of her own, making her so much more than merely “The Other Alcott.”

 

Author Biography: 

Although a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters within stone-skipping distance of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. When she’s not writing, she’s in her classroom making American history and literature interesting for high school students. Want to try your hand at creating a pitch for Shark Tank: Colonial America Edition? Stop by her classroom.

The Other Alcott is Elise’s debut novel and will be released by William Morrow/Harper Collins in September 2017.

Interview at 17 Scribes

Earlier this year, I joined a really wonderful group called ’17 Scribes. Everyone is a 2017 debut author, and it’s been an invaluable resource for asking questions, sharing experiences – and making friends! I’ve got an interview about The Wardrobe Mistress on the ’17 Scribes website, and I’d encourage you to check out the other interviews as well. There’s a lot of amazing talent and diverse projects in this group. All my Book Addiction posts since February have featured other 2017 debut authors and their excellent books – more to come in the fall, as well.

Book Addiction: The Waking Land

I just finished reading The Waking Land by Callie Bates, and this lyrical novel is my latest book addiction. Growing, up, I was obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s “Song of the Lioness” series and The Waking Land captures a similar vein of magic through a vivid, well-drawn universe and a heroic and likable protagonist, with a bit more of a grown-up voice.

Beautifully written and evocative, The Waking Land is the story of Elanna, raised as a hostage in a rival kingdom. She grows to view the king as a father, but when he’s poisoned and she’s accused of his murder, Elanna finds herself back in her homeland of Caeris, where everyone is counting on her to lead a rebellion. Full of magic, romance, and dangerous encounters, it’s a tale of torn loyalties and adventure that will keep readers turning the pages ceaselessly. I particularly loved the fresh twist of Elanna’s magical connection with plants.

Callie Bates has kindly agreed to an interview to talk about her debut novel. Welcome, Callie!

What was your inspiration for The Waking Land?

I wanted to write a story about a young woman, raised as a hostage, who’s taught to despise her people and homeland, but still has an indelible connection to them due to her forbidden magic. I also wanted to use that magic to play with the symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world. And then I wanted to have some fun with romance, rebellions and poisonous mushrooms! 🙂

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Before I signed with my literary agent, I completely rewrote the book from third person past tense to first person present tense! This was much more than a line-by-line change; I reworked the voice, pacing, character arc, and much of the storyline. I really enjoyed the challenge.

What was your favourite scene to write?

It’s hard to answer this question without spoilers—there’s a scene at the end that’s my true favorite!—but I’m very proud of the prologue. It took a lot of finessing to cram enough backstory into it, keep the perspective of a seven-year-old, and maintain growing tension as she’s taken hostage!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I write my first, loose drafts by hand in a notebook, then transfer to a computer to rewrite and revise. I try not to be too strict or ritualistic, so that I can write in any place and at any time of day. Though I have a desk, the couch is probably my favorite spot!

Do you share an affinity for plants, like your protagonist Elanna? What’s your favourite flower?

I did give Elanna my own love for the natural world–though, alas, I don’t have her magic with plants! And I am not much of a gardener. I love roses of all varieties, especially wild roses. I love wild mushrooms as well—some of which are deadly, and inspired a scene in the book!

If you could pair your book with any drink or snack, what would you suggest?

The Waking Land would pair well with a malty Scottish whiskey, or perhaps some lovely mead!

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I post updates on all my social media feeds: I’m @calliebywords on Twitter and Facebook, and @callie_bates on Instagram. You can also check my website, calliebates.com! 

From the book jacket:

In the lush and magical tradition of Naomi Novik’s award-winning Uprooted comes this riveting debut from brilliant young writer Callie Bates—whose boundless imagination places her among the finest authors of fantasy fiction, including Sarah J. Maas and Sabaa Tahir.

Lady Elanna is fiercely devoted to the king who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder—and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition—powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Author Biography:

Callie Bates is a writer, harpist and certified harp therapist, sometimes artist, and nature nerd. When she’s not creating, she’s hitting the trails or streets and exploring new places. She lives in the Upper Midwest. THE WAKING LAND is her debut fantasy novel and first in a planned trilogy.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Addiction: Girl Last Seen

Nina Laurin’s enthralling debut, Girl Last Seen, comes out today and I had the excellent luck of being able to read an advance copy. Most of the time, my Book Addiction posts have a focus on amazing historical fiction, but I’m diversifying this time because I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately and Girl Last Seen is utterly compelling and highly recommended.

Laine, the novel’s vulnerable but determined protagonist, struggles to cope with her past abduction, a crime that has never been solved. Now, thirteen years later, a second girl goes missing, one who could be the image of Lainey at age ten. Dark and full of serpentine twists, Girl Last Seen is an addictive books that makes for such captivating reading that you might find  yourself still turning pages when you should be cooking dinner, or looking up from the book and realizing that it’s suddenly past midnight. (Full disclosure: both of those things happened to me).

Nina has kindly agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Nina!

What was your inspiration for Girl Last Seen?

I was researching some true crime for another story and fell down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I came across a particularly chilling story of a true crime that just stuck with me. I may have read too much about it, because I had actual nightmares for a couple of days. I can’t give you the link, because it would in itself be a spoiler. But some time later, the main character of GIRL LAST SEEN just appeared in my mind, and I simply had to tell her story.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It was the manuscript that made me realize psychological suspense was my genre! At the end of 2014, I was facing a crossroads that no writer wants to face. I had broken up with my previous agent that summer and was disheartened by constant rejection, which made me question whether I was writing the right books—and whether I was really meant to be a writer at all. I don’t know what exactly possessed me, but I took out the first version of what would become GIRL LAST SEEN and started to overhaul it. To my surprise, it took off! And then I was writing the scene at the abandoned house where Laine is being stalked in the dark, and after a very long writing slump, I felt the energy come back into my fingertips. I felt like a writer again. I felt like I could write something good.

What was your favourite scene to write?

The scene at the abandoned house that I mentioned above, but also, the finale. It was breathtaking to write! I’m usually terrible at writing action and fighting scenes, but by then, I was invested in Laine and what happened to her. So writing that final showdown, where she faces her demons for the first time in ten years, was also heartbreaking in a way. And I think it gave the action sequence the super-high emotional stakes that made it easy to write.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

It depends on the project. I wrote the first draft of GIRL LAST SEEN in a couple of months, but the second and third drafts took a little more time and a little more discipline. It wasn’t about getting the words out anymore—it was about making them make sense. Which is (I think most writers will agree with me) a lot more difficult. Sometimes the writing flows, and other times, I have to force myself to get behind my desk (or motivate myself with chocolate… or bacon).

If you could pair your book with any reading snack or drink, what would you suggest?

Milk oolong tea (that’s a tea that tastes faintly creamy, not tea with milk in it—I’m sure some people like that, and that’s their business…) and dark, dark, dark chocolate. Together.

Stay updated on Nina’s book news:

Author website | Goodreads | Twitter 

From the book jacket: 

Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket, blue jeans, and pink boots.

I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can’t bring myself to move. Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago.

If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw’s whereabouts or any relevant information, please contact…

I’ve spent a long time peering into the faces of girls on missing posters, wondering which one replaced me in that basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, missing for one week tomorrow.

Whoever stole me was never found. But since I was taken, there hasn’t been another girl.

And now there is.

Author Biography:

Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada.