Tag Archives: historical fiction

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Me and the ALA Convention

I don’t do a lot of book signings these days, but when I was invited to sign my soon-to-be-released book The Love of Divena at the American Library Association convention in Anaheim, I couldn’t say no. I mean, librarians would be there. City and county and school librarians.  Some of my very favorite people in the world!

The Love of Divena is the third and final book of my Blessings in India trilogy.  The series follows two families through 20th century India: one a family of “untouchables,” the other the high caste Christian-in-name family that owns them.

Okay, back to Anaheim (home of Disneyland, for those not in the know). The Anaheim Convention Center is huge!  So when I saw that Abingdon Press’ booth was at the far end of the hall, my spirits sank.  Books, books everywhere.  How many people would keep walking the aisles until they got to me? 

Well, as it turned out, lots of folks did. I started signing at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t stop until the last book was gone at 12:10.  And people were still in line. 

I met library folks from all across theU.S., and from many other countries, too: Ireland, England, the Virgin Islands, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Kenya, India…  People were so excited to see that the series was set in India.  And everyone asked if I had been there.  Fortunately, I have, because  many knowledgeable people wanted to engage me in discussions. 

Most frequently asked questions: 

  • How many times have you been to India?
  • Answer: Eight.  Ninth time this coming October.
  • Is this a Christian book?
  • Answer: “Yes, but not tacked on Christianity that hits readers over the head.”
  • Is it suitable for young people? 
  • Answer:  “Absolutely! Acceptable and also historically accurate.”  

Sign me up for next year!”



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7 Steps to Writing Historical Fiction

I just got two more books in the mail today. That makes six books on various aspects of a murky time in Ireland’s history, the subject of a book I’m just starting. I love writing historical fiction because I love to read it. Getting totally immersed in a rollicking good story, then discovering you’re a quasi-expert on a particular era in history?  What could be more fun!

But the only way historical novels work is if the story is rollicking good, and the history is accurate.  These 7 steps will get you off to a good start:

  1. Read the kind of books you’d like to write.  Historical romance?  Historical mystery?  Historical adventure? Each is different in pace and approach.  Also read about the period of history that interests you.  A book on the crusades will much different than one set during the Roaring 20s.
  2. Consult many different sources.  Authors make mistakes. They also tend to tweak facts to fit their stories.  But readers of historical fiction expect you to know what you’re talking about, and to get your facts right. If you don’t, you will hear about it.
  3. Know your setting. I personally make it a rule not to write about places I haven’t been.  True, Ireland has changed since the seventeenth century.  But it is still Ireland.  I can describe the green hills in spring, and the baby lambs gamboling through it, far better for having spent time there.  And since I’ve pretty much traveled the entire island, I have an idea of the difference between the east and west coast, between the north and south.
  4. Lay out your story.  Your story doesn’t really have to be rollicking, but it must be compelling.  All your research will mean nothing if you fail to build a good story.
  5. Gather reference pictures.  What do your characters look like?  What makes a ship of the era unique?  If you refer to something in particular—a locket, say, or weapon or a unique toy—have a picture of it before you.
  6. Decide on the manner of dialogue.  It’s important to establish and hold onto the flavor of your characters, but I can tell you from experience, it is really hard to tell a story in dialect.  Telling your story from third person will help.  Also, decide on a few patterns of speech you can use consistently, then let go of the rest.
  7. Keep your story moving. I know, I know, the history tempts you to slow down and throw in a few more interesting tidbits.  But your story must continue to be engaging. If you lose that, you’ll just be writing another history book. 

 Write on!

 “To see the years touch ye gives me joy,” he whispered, “for it means that ye live.”

Author Diana Gabaldon, Outlander


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Digging Out My Story

Thirty-four of my forty books are non-fiction.  Not that I don’t like fiction.  I like it very much.  And come to think of it, I actually have long written fiction: a sprinkling of short stories, TV and movie scripts.  Still, for my serious writing, I pretty much stuck to non-fiction.  It didn’t seem right to set aside my “worthwhile” writing simply to take up “fun” writing. 

Oh, how much I had to learn!

Guess where I finally discovered my fiction voice…  Buried in the depths of my non-fiction research.  While in West Africa, researching Once Blind: The Story of John Newton, I “met” an 18th century English slave trader and his cruel African wife.  I immediately thought, “Ooooh, what great characters for a novel!  And if they’d had a daughter… hmmm… where would she fit in?”

Ah, my story question. And I knew the answer: Such a girl would have one foot in a white English world and the other in an African world, yet she would belong in neither. Right there, on the African savanna, my first fiction book was born.

I was working on The Call of Zulina when the first seeds of the Blessings in India trilogy sprouted in my mind. Sam Paul, an Indian Dalit (lowest caste) and I were both traveling through Ireland with a team promoting the movie, Amazing Grace.  At the end of the week he asked me, “Why don’t you write about the oppression of my people?  Why don’t you write about bonded slavery in India?”

I’d been to India many times.  I had seen first hand what Sam Paul was talking about. Right there, on the grassy fields of Ireland, a story of India began to weave together.

Here’s what’s  really fun:  Using my non-fiction skills to write fiction, just as I have always used my fiction skills to write non-fiction. 

What are those skills, you ask?  Stay tuned.  We’ll talk more about that on Thursday.

“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”

Edgar Allan Poe


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Chai Tea Recipe – Yum!

All this promotion of my latest book, The Hope of Shridula, which is set in India at the time of independence (1946-1947), is making me thirsty for one of my favorite tastes of India:  Chai Tea.

Basically, chai (also called masala) is black tea brewed with spices and milk.  Each ingredient you add changes the flavor in a subtle way. Ask two dozen Indians for the best recipe and you will get three dozen answers.  I’ll give you my favorite, then at the end I’ll add alternative ingredients you can toss in at your discretion.



1 cinnamon stick

12 cloves
1 Tbsp anise seed
6 green cardamom pods, crushed
1/4″ ginger root, sliced thin
1/4 tsp black pepper corns, coarsly cracked

Put 1-1/2 cups of water in saucepan. Add the spices and bring to a boil.

Cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add:

6 Tbsp honey or brown sugar
1 cup milk

Bring the mixture back to a simmer. Add 2 Tbsp of Darjeeling tea.  Cover and turn ff the heat.

After 2 minutes, strain the tea into two cups.  Serve immediately.


 You might also want to try any of these common additions (but probably not everything all at once!):

2 bay leaves

1/ tsp fennel

1 vanilla bean

Want to settle down with a good book while you sip your Chai Tea?  I would suggest The Hope of Shridula, or book #1 of the series, The Faith of Ashish.  🙂

 “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

~ C.S. Lewis ~

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FREE Kindle Downloads!

I have been so, so encouraged by all the comments I’ve received about the Grace in Africa trilogy, and now the newly releasing Blessings in India books.  Thank you everyone! 

All this week, you will find free Amazon Kindle downloads on a couple of the books: 

  • The Call of Zulina, book 1 of the Grace in Africa series, will be available for FREE download Monday the 19th through Wednesday the 21st.
  • The Faith of Ashish, book 1 of the Blessings inIndia series, will be available for FREE download March 22 and 23.

If you haven’t read them, please… help yourself on those days.

If you have read them, you might consider urging your friends to get them as well.  Or perhaps your book club.  Both of the books have discussion questions in the back.

If you like the books, I’d love to have you write a review for Amazon or CBD or Barnes and Noble.

Thanks so much!


The Call of Zulina

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The Hope of Shridula, just released!

Ooooooh… Doesn’t a new book smell wonderful?  Especially when it came from the sweat of your brow and the relentless work of your fingers?   

Last week I got my box of just-released The Hope of Shridula, book 2 of the Blessings in India trilogy.  Not only do the books smell wonderful, they look wonderful. You can read the first chapter on this link:  http://www.abingdonpress.com/forms/displayImage.aspx?pcid=2552573

If you haven’t read book 1, The Faith of Ashish, reasonably priced copies are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Cokesbury, and CBD.  Or you can order from me. . . especially if you want an autographed copy~!

If you like The Hope of Shridula, I’d appreciate your posting a review on any or all of the above sites.

Thanks!  You all are the greatest!

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”



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