Good day, book people. Most of you are probably aware that I have an eclectic reading style. Although I read mostly fiction, I’m not tethered to just one genre. I read a little bit of everything. I’m especially in awe of authors of historical fiction. Stop and think about it folks, these authors have to do quite a bit of research to ensure they’re describing the clothing, customs, and language accurately. Yes, any author can use creative license when crafting their stories, but we readers generally don’t expect to see a reference to a telephone or television if the story is set in the 18th or 19th century. Please help me welcome Kelly Oliver, author of Chaos at Carnegie. Ms. Oliver will discuss her thoughts on some important considerations about crafting historical fiction. Thank you, Ms. Oliver, for joining us today and welcome. As a reader of historical and contemporary fiction, I’m looking forward to what you have to share with us today. I’ll now turn the blog over to you.
Do you like historical mysteries?
I do. I love reading historical mysteries—Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody, Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Rhys Bowen’s Georgiana Rannoch (and her standalones), Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry, and Mariah Frederick’s Jane Prescott, L.A. Chandler’s Lane Sanders and more.
I also love writing historical mysteries. I’ve written nonfiction books, contemporary suspense, and children’s mysteries, but my historical series, the Fiona Figg Mysteries, is my favorite to write. Why?
I love doing historical research. It is so fun to discover weird details about the past. And it is helpful to have real events to anchor the plot. For me, it makes writing easier. And I think readers are more interested in characters who are grounded in real-life events and true crime.
I’ve learned a lot about writing since I started writing fiction. But there are some particular lessons I’ve learned from writing historical mysteries.
Historical Details Shape Plot and Setting
I love the fact that the details of history can help shape not only my plot but also the everyday lives of my protagonists. It’s like having a cheat sheet.
The challenge, of course, is getting it right. And not just being accurate but also finding the right balance between historical details and story.
History can play so many roles in the novel, from those spicy tidbits sprinkled throughout the text, to the rich tapestry of everyday life that forms the background or setting for your story.
Since the Fiona Figg Mysteries are set in 1917 during WWI, I’ve learned about war strategy, early twentieth-century British slang, what soldiers ate in the trenches, WWI female spies, and so many fun details.
Fiona’s nemesis throughout the series, Fredrick Fredricks, is based on a German spy named Fritz Duquesne, who was a fascinating character in real life. He was a spy for the Germans in both world wars (which means Fiona can chase him across the globe for years to come). He used various aliases, including Fredrick Fredricks. And, like a chameleon, he changed his looks, personality, and professions to evade capture. He is definitely a worthy adversary for Fiona.
Historical Research is Fun
As a nerdy academic, I love doing the research! It’s so fun to look through old newspaper advertisements or to use William Brohaugh’s English Through the Ages, Etymonline, or an old Baedeker’s guidebook. So fun to hold those antique books in your hands.
Of course, the Internet is a vast source of information about everything from the food and clothes of an era to the political events that shaped it. It’s amazing where you can find helpful information, especially stuff to help you paint a vivid picture of the details. First-hand accounts in documentaries, autobiographies, and nonfiction are also great resources.
In the latest Fiona Figg Mystery, Chaos at Carnegie Hall, Thomas Edison, Dorothy Parker, and Margaret Sanger make appearances.
In the past, I’ve resurrected Mata Hari, Mileva Einstein (Albert’s first wife and collaborator), and a mysterious French serial killer.
For the next in the series, I’m researching French aviator and sportswoman, Marie Marvingt. I love reading about powerful women who may have been forgotten by history.
Anachronisms are Fascinating
Even the dreaded anachronism can be fascinating. What words and gadgets existed and when? Anachronisms are things or words used in the wrong time period, either because they didn’t exist yet, or because they were already out of use. There’s also the issue of region or place.
Words used here might not be used there, even in the same time period. For example, in the US we say “cafeteria” and in England they say “canteen.”
And on top of that, some words or things might feel out of place, even if they aren’t. Even though it would be fair game to use a phrase like “hang out” in a 19th Century novel, it might make your reader stop and question its accuracy. So, you need to use words that not only are right but also sound like they’re right.
Facts versus Truth
It might sound like writing historical fiction is full of landmines and pitfalls, but those same challenges and obstacles can become a great help in fashioning a believable and engaging story. And, while emotions and reactions are also period and place-dependent, a good historical novel adds the fleshy truth of experience to the bare bones of historical fact. A great historical novel makes people, places, and the past come alive.
How about you? What are your favorite historical novels? ♦
Chaos at Carnegie Hall
by Kelly Oliver
December 5 – 30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey in the Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane Mystery series opener.
Can Fiona catch a killer and find a decent cup of tea before her mustache wax melts?
1917. New York.
Notorious spy, Fredrick Fredricks, has invited Fiona to Carnegie Hall to hear a famous soprano. It’s an opportunity the War Office can’t turn down. Fiona and Clifford are soon on their way, but not before Fiona is saddled with chaperone duties for Captain Hall’s niece. Is Fiona a spy or a glorified babysitter?
From the minute Fiona meets the soprano aboard the RMS Adriatic it’s treble on the high C’s. Fiona sees something—or someone—thrown overboard, and then she overhears a chemist plotting in German with one of her own countrymen!
And the trouble doesn’t stop when they disembark. Soon Fiona is doing time with a group of suffragettes and investigating America’s most impressive inventor Thomas Edison.
When her number one suspect turns up dead at the opera and Fredrick Fredricks is caught red-handed, it looks like it’s finally curtains for the notorious spy.
But all the evidence points to his innocence. Will Fiona change her tune and clear her nemesis’ name? Or will she do her duty? And just what is she going to do with the pesky Kitty Lane? Not to mention swoon-worthy Archie Somersby…
If Fiona’s going to come out on top, she’s going to have to make the most difficult decision of her life: the choice between her head and her heart.
Genre: Historical Cozy Mystery
Published by: Boldwood Books
Publication Date: November 2022
Number of Pages: 298
Series: The Fiona Figg Mysteries
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads
Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the four-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.
Chaos at Carnegie Hall is the latest Fiona Figg mystery, and the first to feature sidekick, Kitty Lane.
When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.
To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to:
BookBub – @KellyOliverBook
Instagram – @KellyOliverBook
Twitter – @KellyOliverBook
Facebook – @KellyOliverAuthor
Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaway entries!
This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Kelly Oliver. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.