writing process blog hop…

Robert Mullin, author of the speculative fiction/fantasy Bid the Gods Arise, invited me to participate in this blog hop several weeks ago. I got a bit side-tracked publishing my current novel, so forgive my coming late to this party.

Participants in this blog hop are asked to answer four questions about our writing process. So here goes…

1) What am I working on?
Late last week I began re-reading my rough draft of For King and Country, the sequel to Battle Scars Book I: Men of the Cross. I wrote the draft of Book II between late January and October last year and then set it aside to do the final edits on Men of the Cross. I hope to have a first draft ready before the end of the year to share with beta readers.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Battle Scars series is historical fiction set at the end of 12th century during the Third Crusade. It seems the more popular fiction related to English history deals with the Tudors or the Regency period. Most people probably recognize the name ‘Richard the Lionheart,’ though they may not place him with the Third Crusade unless they know their history well. There are numerous recent bestsellers about the 12th century, including those by Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, and Angus Donald. Many works in this genre detail the lives of actual historical figures. My novels center on the lives of two fictional characters, Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle. In Battle Scars, I’ve included those ‘real’ people – Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Berengaria of Navarre, and Joanna, Queen of Sicily – but they are secondary characters, and Henry and Stephan’s lives are intertwined with theirs. Book I also introduces three characters from legend: Robin Hood, Allan a Dale, and Little John. Robin is not known as Hood in Book I, but I hope readers will see the men these 3 are, and see how their lives are shaped by the events and people around them – events that will eventually bring them to the Greenwood. Book II will include other ‘Merry Men.’ 

3) Why do I write what I do?
I’d always wanted to write historical fiction, though I thought my first attempt at this genre would center around the American Revolution. (I majored in U.S. History in college.) My interest in the Third Crusade began in 2007 when episodes of a BBC Robin Hood series touched on the impact of that conflict on Robin and his manservant Much. (The show had anachronisms galore, but it touched on many serious themes.) Being a history fiend, I wanted to know more about the Third Crusade and the Angevins. I devoured books (biographies and general histories), journal articles, and used interlibrary loan extensively. (Working at a university library has its perks!)

Of course, the post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) angle intrigued me. I have observed friends with PTSD. I am a Navy veteran who had some stressful experiences because of the job, though I wouldn’t say I suffered from PTSD. I read a number of articles about it, but Henry’s experiences in the novel come from my own gut feelings.

As I noted in my author’s note for Men of the Cross, I wrote the last chapter of the book first – a short story I shared with my writers group. They wanted to know more about these characters, and I had a story to tell. I filled in the 97,000+ words that came before that last chapter and have a novel packed with conflict – between armies, between individuals, and in their own hearts and souls.

4) How does your writing process work?
It’s been different for the three novels – well, 2 novels & 1 rough draft – that I’ve written. I have character sketches for the main characters, though initially they aren’t fully drawn. In the case of Men of the Cross, I learned about Henry and Stephan as I wrote and fine-tuned them in subsequent drafts. I have been told the two knights are believable, act as the reader expects, and grow and change as the novel progresses. As I work on the sequel, I already know them well. Twelfth century chroniclers provided me in depth accounts of the events of the Third Crusade. I poured over the battles, over places, dates, and politics to determine how those intersected with Henry and Stephan’s lives. I have a spreadsheet filled with those events. The two knights served King Richard, but they weren’t so close to his inner circle to be privy to all of Richard’s actions.

My first drafts tend to be heavy with dialogue. I know what needs to occur in a given scene, know what I need to drive the plot forward. Narrative has never been my strong suit – I struggle with it, and fill it out in later drafts unless I have a very clear picture the first time around. I *think* I’m getting better at it. I create an outline that may consist of 1-2 bullet points per scene. I add to that outline as the scene becomes fleshed out in the writing process. I began using a writing software called Scrivener when I started Men of the Cross. It organizes everything on one screen for me – the outline, character sketches, research notes, and suggested plot twists and turns. I can easily add new scenes or shuffle them around, and with one click, I can check a character sketch – did he have blue eyes or green eyes? I feel that Scrivener has allowed me to focus and be more productive. The rough draft of Battle Scars II was completed in half the time of Battle Scars I. 

All right… Time for me to get back to Book II. In the meantime, you should check out Book I of Battle Scars. It is available in print & digital versions via AmazonAmazon (UK) & other Amazon sites worldwide, and on Nook.

 

Writing historical fiction: researching the Third Crusade

Acre (Akko) The pisan port
Acre – photo by yanivba – used under CC BY-SA2.0

“Did Queen Berengaria and Queen Joan (or Joanna as she’s sometime referred to) depart Cyprus for Acre on the same galley as King Richard?”¹

You’re dying to know, right? Isn’t everyone? Ah, the joys of historical research!

Donna Gillespie at Pen in Hand writes “Research helps you shape your story, and on a good day it can even suggest a nifty plot complication, fully formed, little assembly required.” Yes, exactly! That’s what I look for while trying to work out the plot lines for my novella Battle Scars.

All I’d planned to do was make reference to a cool minor character teaching a few card tricks to Berengaria, who then bested her husband, the Lionheart. But if they weren’t all on the same boat, my bit of comic relief wouldn’t work – at least not in that particular spot in the story.

Hey, average Joe/Joanna: would you care? would you even know if I’d gotten the history wrong?

On the other hand, the Third Crusade aficionado might close the book on me – literally – if I messed with the historical record.

It’s important to me to get it right. Or, to do the best I can to track down the little details to keep my fiction consistent with actual events of the time. I do love the research. I was always the kid who saw something on television or in a movie or a book and had to go look up more information about it in the old World Book Encyclopedia or at the library.

I’m using Scrivener for this novella. It has some fantastic tools: a “binder” to upload research notes, images, or other documents, a document notes feature and synopsis for each scene or chapter. I have 15 scenes storyboarded in my rough draft for part 2 of the novella, which covers June 1191 through October 1192. Each scene has a corresponding notes section highlighting many of the actual events of a particular day or month. This allows me to keep the facts straight while I weave my fiction around them. I can look for opportunities: where will my next scene take place? At the Battle of Arsuf? In Jaffa (or Joppa – what spellling should I use?), in Beit Nuba?

My list of reference materials continues to grow. Nicholson’s Chronicle of the Third Crusade provides the basis of my research material. It’s a translation from an official chronicler, reporting events while accompanying Richard’s army. Richard the Lionheart: the Mighty Crusader by David Miller provides some nice details, and “Battle of Arsuf: Climatic clash of cross and crescent,” an article by Mark L. Evans in the journal Military History analyzes the strategies of Richard and Saladin. I’d mentioned a few other books on my reference pile in earlier posts here and here. And I haven’t even had a chance to check out many of these:

middle ages books at the library

How do you keep track of your research notes?

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¹No. 🙂