A native of Arkansas, Velda Brotherton has been writing for 20 years. Her first articles appeared in local newspapers, then she became features editor for a weekly paper near her hometown. Out of that grew a weekly historical article, "Wandering The Ozarks," which she continues to write today for The White River Valley News in Elkins, Arkansas.
Her first non fiction book was published in April of 1994 and her first novel under the pen name of Elizabeth Gregg was published in October of that same year. She has a total of six novels and four non fiction books published.
Recently, one of Velda's early western historical romances, Images In Scarlet, published under the pen name of Samantha Lee, was issued through the back-in-print program with Authors Guild and iUniverse. It's a story of love and adventure on the Santa Fe Trail. Read an excerpt here.
Fly With the Mourning Dove is the true story of Edna, a young girl growing up on a homestead in New Mexico after WW I. Read an excerpt here.
This is in Colorado where the narrow gauge railroad heads out for Chama, New Mexico, from May through September for tourists. After that, the snows in the San Juan Mountains prevent it running.
This closeup of a train is one of the steam engines that makes the run. This would be similar to the ride that Edna and her parents made when they went to their homestead in New Mexico.
Velda has provided me with an article that fits very well with what I do. Take it away!
Writing Historical Fiction and Nonfiction
by Velda Brotherton
Today I stepped off my deck here in the Ozarks, and onto a boardwalk lining a street in Victoria City, Kansas, circa 1875. Wind caught at the camel’s hair overskirt of my London-smoke toilette. Its weight threatened to topple me into the dusty street. The noise of hammering and sawing, the aroma of new-cut lumber, fills the hot summer air. My, what busyness there is here in this new American city where we have chosen to settle with our Victorian ways.
During the year-long trip from Scotland, I dreamed of what the wild west would be like. My dreams came nowhere near the truth. Men wear guns on their hips, women are attired in calico dresses without hoops or drapes. They wear dowdy sun bonnets. But our founder George Grant promises that the ways of these colonists will not usurp our Victorian settlement. For the families have brought their silver, their damask cloths, their fashionable clothing, their bob-tailed ponies. These will surround us. Forever.
On this day I was taking a break from my current book, but could not leave the scene so easily. Writing the historical calls upon the author to immerse herself within the life about which she writes. To crawl into the very body of the character, develop a sense of place, internalize the five senses and the emotions of those long ago days. Remaining true to voice, attitude, politics and the morality of the time are important in historical fiction, vital in historical nonfiction.
The language of the time and place is sprinkled through the dialogue. To expect our modern day reader to accept the actual speech is asking too much, but no modern slang or speechifying belongs there either. If we aren’t sure a word or phrase was used then, we either don’t use it or get a dictionary that dates the first use of words and check it frequently. We can't assume we know when we may not. Nothing turns off a sophisticated historical reader quicker than incorrect language.
The real characters who take part in the story can and would have been there. After immersing ourselves in research, we characterize them as they were and make sure we have it right. Custer was a womanizer and a narcissist, but wife Libby did her best to immortalize him. Jesse James quoted Shakespeare and liked to have his photograph taken. When researching, consult three or four sources that do not all use the same basic source. Beware of the Internet and triple check any information you find there unless it’s posted at a reliable source.
The Devil’s in the details is oh so true. We can spend all our time researching dates, and forget to find out when a certain flower blooms, or if buffalo still roamed the plains when the story takes place. Or if a plant or animal there today was there in the past.
Writing both fiction and nonfiction history is equally difficult. Both require a huge amount of research about every single happening. If you think the Civil War actually ended when Lee surrendered, then it’s back to the books. The final battle took place out west at Palmetto on the Rio Grande almost a full month after the surrender.
I enjoy research almost as much as writing the book. It’s so easy to get caught up that weeks and months can go by before I settle down to the actual writing. So I get to know my setting and characters and complete the research for them. Then I write my first draft, marking places where I need more information. It’s a fine feeling to know the story is written before I begin to dig deeper into my research.
You are a creative writer, and you create your plot, conflict, characters and the voice of the story that will carry it through to the end. And each time you sit down to do this, you must transport yourself into that story so deep that you are no longer sitting at your computer, but walking the dusty streets; riding the wagons or horses; smelling the smoke of campfires or a rotting stack of buffalo hides; hearing the conversations of men and women of the western movement; seeing a crystal clear sky with no contrails or smog; tasting wild game, feeling the calluses on your hands. The real trick here is to completely remove yourself from modern day.
Because both of my books on this tour are western, one fiction, one nonfiction, I’ve concentrated here on that segment of our history. But what I’ve written holds true of any historical writing, be the books romances of any time or place, Americana, literary fiction, straight westerns, family stories, memoirs and biographies. The most important thing to remember is that people want to read good stories about sympathetic characters. Stick to that and you’ll turn out great books.
Here’s a tried and true way to set up your book: Draw a circle and divide it equally into four parts. This is the Hero’s journey circle. A story, be it short or a novel, will have four paradigms. You may divide by pages or chapters and each quarter can vary in length a bit either way.
In the first quarter, the character is lost, a wanderer who isn’t sure what he wants or how to learn what he wants. In the second he is an orphan and can’t get anyone to help him resolve his problems. In the third he is an emerging hero or warrior. He knows what he wants and is willing to go after it even though he may fail a few times. In the fourth he is a hero and a martyr, a person strong enough to accomplish what he wants but also a person who puts the needs of others before his own.
This is not mine. I learned it first from the great award winning short-story writer Pat Carr in a workshop. I heard it later from best selling author Jodi Thomas, who swears by the journey circle and uses it to plot her books, so don’t credit me with it. Good friend, western writer Dusty Richards, winner of double Spurs from Western Writers of America, writes his many books using the hero’s journey circle. Obviously it’s a reliable and oft-used method.
Velda continues: "Remember, this is just like a book signing in a bookstore, only much easier. You can sit at home, as can I, saving gas and lots of energy in this warm weather.
"Copy and paste the schedule below in your computer. Each day link to the blog that is hosting that day, enjoy the post, then leave a comment. Why leave a comment? Because at the end of the tour the name of everyone who leaves a thoughtful comment will be placed in a drawing. Four winners will each get an autographed copy of the book of their choice from the two I'm promoting. One lucky winner of the four will also receive a silver and turquoise ring from New Mexico. So don't forget to read and comment each day beginning July 21 through July 31. We'll hold the drawing August 4 and the winners will be posted on my blog. Winners will have to contact me with their snail mail address so I can send their book . . . and don't forget that beautiful silver and turquoise ring."
July 21 -- http://emilybryan.wordpress.com An Interview with the author
July 22 -- http://suzannewoodsfisher.blogspot.com History of photography
July 23 -- http://marshaward.blogspot.com Writing the Historical fiction/nonfiction
July 24 -- http://gwynramsey.blogspot.com History of Women in Photography
July 25 -- http://reihlife.com A photo array of New Mexico
July 26 -- http://vbrotherton.blogspot.com Where Do Ideas Come From?
July 27 -- Sunday--Take the day off
July 28 -- http://marynidasmith.blogspot.com Dance at the Sagebrush Inn, Taos
July 29 -- http://lindacapple.blogspot.com Edna's story/Fly With The Mourning Dove
July 30 -- http://westernhistoricalhappenings.blogspot.com John Dunn, Entrepreneur of New Mexico
July 31 -- http://communityoftheland.blogspot.com Interview with the author