Tag Archives: British History

“Writing fiction is so easy … just make stuff up”


Before I get into my rant du jour, I’d like to remind you that my second book, Merlin’s Weft, is available for pre-order at a dollar off until Friday, November 18, 2016.

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What, Me Research?

Have you heard this comment before?

“Oh, it must be easy to write fiction. You get to just make stuff up.”

Those who say this really don’t know how much thought and work goes into “making stuff up.” Unfortunately, I’ve also heard that assertion from a few people who are trying to write their first book. After reading their work, I realize they have no clue about what it takes to tell a believable story.

In one case of a manuscript I saw, a character living in 1991 walked into a storefront parcel outlet to ship biological material across the Atlantic, which the corner shop happily packed in dry ice they kept in the back for just that purpose.

International shipping from a neighborhood storefront is common now, but not so much in 1991. I didn’t know whether the town of the story had such businesses, but what I found bothersome was that the concern hadn’t occurred to the author. And the idea that, even today, I could find a Fedex or UPS or DHL representative that kept dry ice in their back room astounded me. Not to mention questions over international protocols regarding the shipment of biomaterials, which I make no claim to knowing about, but then, neither did that author.

The author shrugged. “It’s fiction. I can make up anything I want.”

No, you can’t.

World building

Readers are willing to suspend their disbelief about a wide variety of things. They accept the existence of fantastical beasts, superhuman capabilities, faster-than-light-speed travel, and delicious Brussels sprouts. OK, maybe not that last.

However, the author has to build a world in which those things make sense. That’s hard work. Are feathered sentient beings present? What are their grooming habits? Are they otherwise birdlike, or something else entirely? How did they evolve? Or … perhaps they were created, and if so, why? Where are they in the social and political hierarchy? Are they genetically predator or prey? If they are a space traveling race, how do they keep from shedding feathers that might gunk up the Krapowski drive that powers their ship, regenerates their oxygen, and buffs their toenails.

Were you yanked from my narrative by that last bit because I just made up a pile of crap out of context?

Swashbuckling research

When I’m writing, I almost always have a window open to the Web. It’s great for checking facts, so long as you’re careful with your source. For example, when did the word swashbuckler appear? A number of sources indicate its origination in the sixteenth century—Merriam-Webster places its first known use in 1560. It’s a combination of two terms: swash, an imitative word meaning to make a noise like a sword beating on a shield, plus buckler, a small round shield. I had to look this up, because I wanted to give an early seventeenth century character a nickname of Swash. It would have been embarrassing to discover the word originated in the late nineteenth century, which is when the verb swashbuckle appeared. Not only did I confirm that I could use the name, but I had an origin for the word to work into the story.

For larger issues, reference books become necessary. I have about ten feet of bookshelf space of works relating to Arthurian times or sixth century Europe. I had a question about the use of carriages in France in 1625, so I bought a couple of books about the history of wagons.

May we waltz?

While most readers won’t have a clue about the number of carriages available for hire in Paris in 1625, its better to try to for historical verisimilitude rather than not. I read a book a few days ago that talked about a woman dancing a waltz at her wedding in the late 1620s. That throwaway detail completely pulled me out of the story. I didn’t know when the waltz was developed (Wikipedia: probably more than a hundred years later), but I knew it wasn’t that early.

Of course, occasionally facts or history have to be … bent … to conform to the story an author wants to tell. The degree to which knowledgeable readers let an author get away with it depends on how well the story is told—how well the world is built—and how far reality is distorted. I’ve knowingly departed from the world as it is for various reasons related to storytelling, but I don’t do it because I don’t care about the truth. Nor do I claim that I never inadvertently make a factual error. My own biases keep me from seeing some anachronisms. I just hope I keep them to a minimum, and keep the reader in the story.

Boners you’ve seen

Have you seen a huge boner in something you’ve read? Please don’t trash authors by name or books by title, but I’d like to hear what you’ve read that brought you out of a story because of anachronism or factual error.

My books

Merlin’s Weft will be released Friday, November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Slipping In and Out of Post-Roman Britain in a Contemporary Fantasy

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What’s the point of writing a fantasy novel if the writer—me—can’t engage in a bit of it? My contemporary fantasy series, Merlin’s Thread, takes place in the twenty-first century in and around Houston, Texas. However, I wanted to provide a mechanism to ground the mythos in the time of King Arthur, in the late fifth and early sixth century.

The Merlin of my titles is King Arthur’s druid and Earth magician. He awoke from an extended slumber in his crystal cave and came to the New World to fulfill a quest. In my imagining, Merlin has two particular powers that he uses in a coincidental way to fulfill his quest.

What is not coincidental is the freedom I achieved to write about the times of the King.

Animal Experiences

One of the powers is his ability to share consciousness with his pets: birds and mice mostly, but also fish. That last is an admission that I borrowed the kernel of the idea from T. H. White, whose Merlyn turned the young boy known as Wart into a fish so the boy would learn self-reliance. I chose to move only a part of the mind into an existing animal, rather than actually converting into that animal. Like White’s Merlyn, my Merlin can perform the magic on another person. The protagonist of my first book, Merlin’s Knot, is rewarded with a stint as a fish in a koi pond.

Merlin’s second power of note here is to record those adventures in an animal and play them back into someone else’s mind. In that case, the recipient sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels what Merlin experienced while sharing with the animal, but the experiencer cannot influence the action in any way.

A Sense of Tense

Both books are written in first person past tense. I wanted the playbacks to have a feeling of immediacy, so I wrote them in first person present. In the following example from Merlin’s Knot, the protagonist Alfred suddenly experiences the first of Merlin’s visions without knowing what is happening to him. He’s on a tower a short distance away from a woman standing on another tower.

The woman looks my way again. This time her eyes focus on me for more than just a moment. She thinks, wonders about something. Something that relates to me. I see her sigh, then turn back to the distance.

I turn in the direction she has been looking. A cloud of dust hangs on the other side of the first hill, some distance away.

I glance back at the woman. She’s staring at me with intent and purpose now. I think she’s trying to send me a message, but I cannot think what it could be.

Without warning, I fall from the tower, hurtling toward the stone wall below. I shriek, knowing my body will be dashed and broken when I hit the rocks. Instead, the wall recedes. I glide along halfway down to it. My shriek becomes a cry, a call. I slide over the closed gate. I feel a rhythmic pulling on my back, on my shoulders.

Wings! Omigod, I’m a bird!

I beat my wings, rising toward the woman on the tower. She watches my approach. I see no surprise in her eyes, only expectation. I veer just before reaching her tower. My chest contracts and I hear another shriek.

Using My Device

Merlin gives Alfred visions as a sort of payment to induce his assistance. In the second book of the series, Merlin’s Weft, the protagonist is a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. For her Merlin provides visions of strong women in unusual situations.

Of course, like any good dramatic device, once I created it I used it for other purposes. You’ll have to read the books to find out what they are.

 

Merlin’s Weft will be released November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 8

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What did Gildas the wise say about King Arthur?

(**) Gildas the wise lived in the 6th century, making him at least a near-contemporary of a historical Arthur. What did he write about King Arthur in De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (“On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain”)?

 
 
 


The Arthur History Quiz is taking a hiatus. I may start it again later.

If you want to be notified when they start up again,  fill in the Newsletter form to the right to be notified. You’ll also be able to follow the progress of publication of my first novel, Merlin’s Knot. As a bonus, the newsletter includes the exciting serial adventure, The Last Gonzo Joy Ride to the End of the Galaxy.

 Show previous questions.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 7

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Did Arthur know Patrick?

Please go to King Arthur History Question of the Week 7 to view the test

Be the first to see the King Arthur History Question of the Week.

I’ll post a new question each week in my blog. Just fill in the Newsletter form to the right to be notified.

You’ll also be able to follow the progress of publication of my first novel, Merlin’s Knot. As a bonus, the newsletter includes the exciting serial adventure, The Last Gonzo Joy Ride to the End of the Galaxy.

 Show previous questions.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 6

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What peoples did Arthur battle?

Please go to King Arthur History Question of the Week 6 to view the test

 

Be the first to see the King Arthur History Question of the Week.

I’ll post a new question each week in my blog. Just fill in the Newsletter form to the right to be notified.

You’ll also be able to follow the progress of publication of my first novel, Merlin’s Knot. As a bonus, the newsletter includes the exciting serial adventure, The Last Gonzo Joy Ride to the End of the Galaxy.

 Show previous questions.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 5

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Why did the Norman invaders like tales of King Arthur?

Question 1

*6. According to Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, why did the Norman conquerors of Britain listen with fond credulity to the tale of Arthur?




King Arthur History Question of the Week 4

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Do you know Arthur’s enemies?

Question 1

(*) King Arthur had many enemies. Which of this group of tribes or nationalities would a historical King Arthur have likely fought? (more than one answer might be correct)




King Arthur History Question of the Week 3

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Question 1

(*) What Arthur-related location is pictured?




King Arthur History Question of the Week 2

Question 1

(*) One specific gravesite is now claimed for King Arthur. Where is it?