Historical accuracy: It’s good to be right

Last year when I started promoting my historical novel Sharavogue, I got several wonderful and very positive reviews on amazon.com, but was looking to spread the news to other readers. I requested a review from another place my book was listed, Indiebound.com. Great people there, but unfortunately I was matched up with an anonymous reviewer who I can only believe is a bitter and lonely individual. I say that not just because I received a bad review, which I did, but because it was unreasonably bad.

Upon reading it, my hands began to shake. I had spent years carefully researching the time, the characters from that time, and all the details. It was the details this reviewer zeroed in on, questioning in a rather nasty tone the book’s title, whether a certain kind of tree was present at the time, and so on, including the basic opening sequence in the book in which Oliver Cromwell arrives in Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland. The reviewer claimed Cromwell had never traveled that far.

Cromwell in Ireland, a history of Cromwell's Irish Campaign ... with map, plans and illustrations

From Cromwell in Ireland, digitized for the British Library (public domain)

Now, since this is historical fiction, and it was at least plausible that Cromwell had visited the village in question, it does not really matter whether he actually did or not as long as I am clear in my author’s note about the places where I have stretched the facts in support of the story. But I had studied Cromwell and found that he did in fact visit Skibbereen. I made two mistakes here.

First, I had found an historical map (above) that actually tracked Cromwell’s progress in 1649, going through and past Skibbereen in southwest Cork. It gave me a premise to work from but, not realizing I might need it later I did not file a copy. If I’d had that copy I could have submitted it to the reviewer to request a revision in the review.

Which leads to my second mistake: engaging with the reviewer. Upon reading the erroneous review I sent back a message to Indiebound pointing out the errors in it based on my research. They sent my message to the reviewer for a response, and the result was a longer and even more erroneous and spiteful version of the original review. Indiebound passed it off as just a difference in opinion.

Happily for me anyway, while researching my new book I came across the map again, from the British Library no less, and saved it in my files.

Readers of historical fiction love a good story intertwined with fact, so that they can learn about historical  lives and times as they are entertained. I know, I am an avid historical novel reader myself. But as they used to say, tongue in cheek, when I was in journalism, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Do be as accurate as possible because you will have to defend some of the details. Don’t sweat a minor detail if it helps move the story forward or it doesn’t really matter. And don’t follow my example — keep copies of or document everything you find that might be useful to your story. You never know when it might come in handy. I won’t be sending this map to the reviewer at this late date, but I feel vindicated anyway. And that’s why I say…it’s good to be right!

SharavogueCover2Get a copy of Sharavogue to learn about Cromwell’s march in Ireland. When he gets to Skibbereen, the village is called “Skebreen” — a shortcut the locals used. Cromwell is real, his march is real, and Skibbereen is real. The protagonist and her companions are fiction. The bridge in question is fictionalized based on undocumented legend, and a good story for sure!

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Love those Royal Palms, and the trees too

Since returning to my home state of Florida after 21 years in Seattle, I have delighted in seeing the beach on a regular basis, the beautiful mossy oaks and the majestic royal palms. I did not know when I engaged with the Florida Writers Association I would have such a wonderful Royal Palm surprise in store!

First Place for Historical Fiction

First Place for Historical Fiction

At last week’s FWA annual conference I received the Royal Palm Literary Award, first place for historical fiction, for my novel Sharavogue. It was an honor hoped for but not expected, and I am thrilled to be among so many talented writers who were recognized.

It was my pleasure to be sitting next to my new friend Linda Reynolds, whose unpublished thriller manuscript Spies In Our Midst also won a RPLA — her book to be out later this year. And Mary Ann Weakley, my new friend from the book signing tables, won the RPLA for her memoir, Monastery to Matrimony, A Woman’s Journey.

At the signing tables I also met Nadine Vaughan, who writes children’s books and historical fiction, and lives just minutes away from me. We may be collaborating on some things soon. A shopper at heart, I picked up a copy of The Lantern by my friend Joanne Lewis, as well as The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan. Both of these are intriguing and hooked me on the first page.

Set up for book signing at the FWA Conference Bookstore

Set up for book signing at the FWA Conference Bookstore

Here is a partial list of the RPLA winners (from NE Florida), provided by Vic DiGenti, FWA Regional Director. For the full list see the FWA website:

Congratulations go out to a host of NE Florida writers who hauled in a large number of RPLA Awards. This includes the Book of the Year Award to M. W. Gordon, whose book Deadly Drifts took first place in the Thriller/Suspense category (Published), and went on to garner the Book of the Year (Published) award for having the highest total number of judges’ points. BTW, Mike was the speaker at last month’s Ponte Vedra FL Writers meeting.

General (Pre-Published) FIRST PLACE –BABE by Elle Thornton
Fantasy (Pre-Published) FIRST PLACE – The Jaguar Key The Eternals: Book One by Kate Maier writing as Katherine Starbird
Science Fiction (Published) Second Place – Lifespan by T. J. Silverio
Women’s Fiction (Pre-Published) FIRST PLACE – Merciful Blessings by Lynn Kathleen (Pen name for Nancy Quatrano and Daria Ludas
Historical Fiction (Published) FIRST PLACE – SHARAVOGUE by Nancy Blanton
Novella (Pre-Published) Second Place – The Magic in the Middle by Mark Reasoner
Thriller/Suspense (Published) Second Place – Power Fade by Keith Gockenbach
Thriller/Suspense (Pre-Published) THIRD PLACE – A Lion in Spring by Kenneth R. Overman
Autobiography/Memoir (Published) FIRST PLACE –Meeting Her Match: the Story of a Female Athlete-Coach, before and After Title IX by Debbie Millbern Powers
SECOND PLACE – From the Inside Out by John David Tinny
THIRD PLACE – A Life of Blood and Danger by Daniel J. Hill.
Educational/Informational (Published) Second Place – Schools: A Niche Market for Authors by Jane R. Wood

Writers conferences and book festivals are such fun and great ways to meet and learn from other writers. They are not great places to sell books, unless they also open and advertise the book fairs to the local reader community. But as I noted recently in another blogger’s post (and I can’t remember which one or I would link), it does not matter how many books you sell at these events, it is about the people you meet and the effort you make to get your name out there. I sold only two books at St. Augustine’s Heritage Book Festival, but one of the readers is a wonderful person who gave me a great review. Was it worth it? You bet!!!

SharavogueCover2So in addition to the thrill of winning a literary award for Sharavogue, the other benefit is the confirmation that it is important to continue writing. I am working on the prequel and sequel to Sharavogue and my research is uncovering some remarkable stories to tell. Stay tuned…

And mark your calendar for the Amelia Island Book Festival, February 19-21, 2015.