Guest Post: Beating the Thriller by Michael Seeley

http://worderella.com/2013/05/guest-post-beating-the-thriller-by-michael-seeley/

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Today we have a guest post from Michael Seeley, something I’ve been meaning to post for… FAR too long. Sorry Michael! Anyway, let’s find out how Michael suggests how historical fiction authors can balance the market away from thrillers and modern romance.

Michael SeeleyWe all know that thrillers and modern romances are the biggest sellers. They dominate the markets, and it seems to be what all our friends are reading. But what if you’re not into the newest spy-chase novel and the modern romance isn’t your thing? For me, the draw of historical fiction has always been stronger than the idea of writing-for-profit in a genre that will probably sell better. But, that leaves historical fiction writers at a disadvantage.

Or does it? What can we as author of historical fiction do to balance the market for us?

Write for the Public

First off, you must try to use what’s currently popular. What do you see in movies/other popular books/popular culture? For me, a military historian, a prime example of this is works on Rome and ancient Greece. The ancient world is hot right now. It’s sexy. Films like Gladiator, 300, Alexander, Centurion, The Eagle, and many more capitalize on that. They may not be exactly factual (but neither, strictly speaking, is historical fiction), but they do increase the public’s care and concern for history. For me, that means that works on Rome and ancient Greece will sell better. In fact, I’m in the process of planning a novel set in that age.

This works for other subgenres, like historical romance as well. Look at Downton Abbey and the like. Romance itself is timeless; make money from that. If you see that the Middle Ages is catching the public’s eye, use that to your advantage. Right now, Victorianism is ripe for writing. With Steampunk (a fantastic genre that is easily mixed with historical fiction), Sherlock Holmes, and others making a dent in pop culture, take advantage of it. Tailor your work for the public.

 Use Historical Fiction to Change Your World

Although the money is fun, all authors also long to be remembered in their works. They want to have a lasting impact on their world. Don’t you? I’m just finishing Mary Renault’s masterpiece, The Last of the Wine. It’s set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young soldier and student of Socrates. The protagonist, Alexias, falls in love with an older student and another philosopher, Lysis. The book tells the story of these men’s love, their lives, and the tragedy that is war. But what’s more is that it was written in the 1950s. At that time, being a homosexual was not only unpopular, it could be ruinous to one’s career, to one’s very life. Renault wrote the work in part to paint a larger picture of the issue.

She wrote the book because, as a homosexual, she was tired of the backlash. She wanted to show that, throughout time, homosexuals were just as capable of doing great deeds, of being human. Her works all touch on this and other social issues.

So can yours.

Do you care about the environment? Look at Victorian England and the damages just beginning by the Industrial Movement. How about immigration — do you find immigration policy today unfair? Look at Ellis Island. Use your genre to shed new light on an issue you’re passionate about. The beautiful thing about the past — the thing which let Renault get away with such commentary in an age of repression — is that everything is in a different context. In the age of kings and revolutions, actions are different than today. Looking into the past gives us the freedom to be critical, to be un-shaking in our critique or our praise for once was and is now lost. Your readers will make the connection. Your book can truly change your world.

 Tell a New Story

How often have you read a story that sounds just like all the others? I can’t tell you the number of times. It seems like people are becoming more and more unoriginal. But you, as an author of historical fiction, have access to thousands of years and millions of stories waiting to be told. As authors in this genre, we have the license to find the gems in the past that get lost.

Recently, I was researching a famous general from the Napoleonic Age, but he almost never made it to manhood; as a child, he almost suffocated to death by pretending to be a dog. He got stuck in his family’s doggy-door, and because he was pretending, he refused to use his voice. All he did was bark. And his parents laughed at their funny son. Until he passed out. And turned blue. Obviously, he lived, but anecdotes like this are beautiful. You simply can’t make some of these things up!

Now, I’m not telling you to steal your stories. But, unlike those spy thrillers that sound the same, we have millions of people’s tales waiting to be redone. Research. Add your own voice. Change things. But draw from that amazing well that history gives us. You can then write a new story that will capture and inspire.

So, if you’re sick of people complaining of the power popular genres, use your tools. Write to fit what’s popular, use your historical lens to change the world, and bring amazing stories from the past to life.

Then see those run-of-the-mill thrillers compete.

At an early age, Michael Seeley found himself devouring books about the past. Then he started writing his own. His first novel, The Faith, is the opening to a trilogy about revolution and regicide. His second novel, Duty, asks what might have happened if Napoleon had won the Battle of Waterloo. His collected short fiction, Men of Eagles, offers new perspectives on the wars of the Napoleonic Age. Michael has found inspiration from the winding alleyways of Paris, the tall forests of Norway, and the impressive Acropolis of Athens, but he currently resides in the Midwest with his beautiful wife, listening to the winds whisper across the prairie. Find more about his work at http://www.seeleywrites.com and http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Seeley/e/B004M6J5PO/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 .

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Relying on Writing Exercises

http://worderella.com/2013/05/relying-on-writing-exercises/

http://worderella.com/?p=2943

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I picked up the Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks from the library last night and have already worked through it and the select exercises provided within. I found it to be a great book because it’s practical, pragmatic, and from the viewpoint of  an agent who knows what it takes to make a good story.

There were four exercises in particular that I found helpful: Historical, Emotional, Rebellion, and Wanted.

Historical Exercise

The Historical exercise was all about picking an era and writing a short blurb about someone during that time. Since I’m working on a Civil War book set in my hometown of Columbus, OH, this felt like it should have been a natural fit. I think because I assumed it should be easy, I think I made it difficult! Here is what I came up with, unedited:

It’s just after the Civil War and a teenage girl has been helping with the effort. A staunch Unionist surrounded by Copperheads at school, she despairs of ever fitting in. When she stumbles upon a wounded soldier, she helps him home to take care of him. His memories are gone, but little by little she realizes he might be a Confederate prisoner escaped from Camp Chase.

Something about this felt super flat. But it was more important to get the idea out there, so I went with it.

Emotions Exercise

Then I tried the Emotions exercise, where you were tasked with taking some emotions you remember from your teenage years, and applying them to a character. This is the result of that exercise:

A Unionist teen is rejected by her Copperhead friends now that the war is won. She buries herself in preparations for Lincoln’s funeral procession [to avoid wallowing in sadness] when a wounded Confederate soldier falls into her lap, forcing her to confront ideas of what’s right and fair as she nurses him back to health.

This feels like it has a little more meat to it, if only because it feels more… human. There are emotions involved, people hurt and needing help, and you get a hint of the protagonist’s personality.

Rebellion Exercise

The Rebellion exercise was interesting because it is a lens where you think of a time when you tried/felt like rebelling against your parents…

Forced to stop associating with people she considered her friends, ______ resents her father for breaking her apart from them. She hates these people for following the new rules even while she makes excuses for them. She feels alone, betrayed, unheard, discarded, trapped, rejected, and yet somehow, aloof to it all if it will help her deal.

I didn’t really like that one. It felt kind of whiny.

Want Ad Exercise

The Wanted exercise was fun because it’s all about writing a want ad for your protagonist…

Average-looking, gangly 18-year-old female, unaware of her ability to make anyone feel at home. Questionable manners, average command of English, with a twang from childhood living in countryside. Staunch Unionist, but former friends with Copperheads. Logical-minded. Annoyed by inconveniences. Caring, but clumsy about showing it. Tendency to speak bluntly. Only daughter with younger brother, expected to be responsible and calm while mother fights illness and father returns from war.

I don’t know. Writing all of this out makes me realize how much work I have to do to really get back into writing. I’m fighting my looming frustration and sadness, trying to stay positive about this new book attempt and that I’m not a terrible writer. I have a lot of doubts right now, and as long as I don’t think about them, I can write. As soon as I think of my readers, however, I seem to freak out!

Anyway, feel free to send me your thoughts about these exercises! Email me, comment on Facebook, or here at the blog.

Best,
Belinda

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