There’s an ongoing debate in the historical novelist community about what liberties authors can take with history, where it’s all right to invent things for the sake of the story, and what changes are absolutely taboo.
Generally, I come out on the side of invention—within reason. Of course you can’t mess with the dates of major political events, or put historical characters in places they could never have been (unless you’re writing alternative history). But it’s important to remember that historical is the modifier and fiction is the noun.
This goes back to the reason historical fiction exists in the first place. If the only important thing were knowing what happened in the past, people would simply read straight history and leave it at that. But just knowing what happened leaves open the questions that lead many novelists to choose historical fiction as their genre. The first question is why? Soon after that comes, exactly how? And finally, what did it feel like to be that person/go through that era/struggle with those obstacles?
It’s not possible to get a definitive answer to any of these question from the facts of history alone. Those are the gray areas that leave an opening for the imagination of writers who have the curiosity and the desire to bring times and historical characters to life for a reader. As historical novelists, we can deduce what might have happened given what we know about the circumstances or the historical characters. We can imagine the thoughts and feelings of people not recorded anywhere in the actual history books. We can invent figures that embody or personify those who existed in past times and create stories that allow readers to lose themselves in those imagined—but historically based—circumstances.
Ultimately, a historical novelist’s first duty is to the story, to the reader. Sometimes small events have to be rearranged to create a satisfying arc of change for a protagonist. Sometimes the cast of characters has to be consolidated in order to ensure that the reader isn’t overwhelmed with too many names and relationships. In many cases, ancillary or even main characters need to be created entirely out of the writer’s imagination in order to fill in the gaps or make actions believable.
But always, a historical novel has to honor the past it tries to recreate. That means avoiding obvious anachronisms and doing the research. It means getting the telling details right—clothing, transportation, measurement, etiquette, etc. That’s all part of what gives writing historical fiction its unique challenges.
In Voices in the Mist, all my characters are products of my imagination. Events are a combination of things that actually happened and things that could have happened. As my historical novels go, this one contains a high percentage of pure invention, backed by solid research. What isn’t invented are the Albigensian Crusades—the only crusades ever waged against Christians—the language, the culture, the music, the places, and the beliefs. My goal, as it has been through the entire Orphans of Tolosa trilogy, was to tell a gripping story of adventure, sacrifice, and love during a period most readers know little about.
I hope you enjoy it!
Find out more about me and my books at https://susanne-dunlap.com.
I am also an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach. To find out more about what that is and explore working with me on your book project, visit https://susannedunlapedits.com.
The Orphans of Tolosa: Book 3
Publication Date: September 21, 2021
Marry a Catholic stranger, or flee the only world she’s ever known: Headstrong Bruna de Gansard must choose one or the other to protect her Cathar family from the inquisitors.
Toulouse, 1229. The inquisitors have arrived to rid the city of Cathar heretics once and for all, and are putting all unmarried girls over the age of 12 to the question. After an incident in the town calls unwanted attention to 14-year-old Bruna, a young Catholic stranger who is sympathetic to the heretics warns her family about the looming danger, and volunteers to marry their daughter to save her from being questioned.
But Bruna doesn’t want to be forced into marriage, so she chooses flight—which lands her unexpectedly in the midst of a Catholic pilgrimage to Compostela, thrusting her into a life of deceit.
When her beauty and her voice bring her to the attention of the powerful Baron de Belascon, who owes fealty to the king of France, Bruna earns the enmity of the baron’s bitter and imperious mother and finds herself caught between her allegiance to her own people and the dangerous secret of her origins—a secret that can be revealed at any time after the arrival of a French knight who recognizes her.
The Orphans of Tolosa Trilogy comes to a dramatic end in this gripping story of loyalty and betrayal, set amidst the violence and peril of the Albigensian Crusades.
Enter to win a paperback set of The Orphans of Tolosa Trilogy! 3 sets are up for grabs!
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Susanne Dunlap is the author of nine works of historical fiction. A graduate of Smith College with a PhD in Music History from Yale University, Susanne grew up in Buffalo, New York and has lived in London, Brooklyn and Northampton, MA. She now lives in Northampton with her long-time partner, Charles, has two grown daughters, three granddaughters, a grandson, a stepson and a stepdaughter, five step-grandsons and one step-granddaughter—that’s a total of four children and eleven grandchildren!
In her spare time, she cycles in the beautiful Pioneer Valley.
Tuesday, September 21
Guest Post at Novels Alive
Wednesday, September 22
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books
Thursday, September 23
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Monday, September 27
Review at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, September 28
Feature at The Cozy Book Blog
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Review at Bookworlder
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Review at Bonnie Reads and Writes
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Feature at I’m All About Books
Monday, October 4
Review at Books, Cooks, Looks
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Excerpt at Books and Benches
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Feature at SplendeurCaisse
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Review at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals
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Feature at Jathan & Heather
Monday, October 11
Review at Up Past My Bedtime
Tuesday, October 12
Review at With A Book In Our Hands
Thursday, October 14
Review at Across the Sky in Stars
Friday, October 15
Feature at Coffee and Ink