Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

The Hunger, looking rather snug with my spices and seasonings.

After reading The Deep earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before I read Alma Katsu’s other book, The Hunger, which follows the Donner Party. Which, if you don’t know who that is, were a caravan of settlers who got snowed in the mountains of California in the winter of 1846-47 and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.* And this October, I made it part of my Halloween reading.

As I said above, The Hunger follows the Donner Party, a pioneering wagon train led by George Donner and his family as they head west to California. However, this isn’t a simple retelling of a horrific tale. Something’s following the wagon train, picking off members. As tensions rise and odd events pile up, it becomes clear that’s something afoot. And it could be human. It could be animal. Or it could be something man has never classified before. Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: it is very, very hungry.

The Deep was good, but The Hunger was even better. It’s a slow burn, but what’s burning away isn’t just the plot, but the sense of ease. As you go further along in the story and more strange and terrible events occur, you start to feel this awful tension. You’re going to get to the inevitable, but it’s not going to be what you expected. And you have no idea what’s going to happen while on your way there.

Speaking of which, the twist on what the source of the terror was at the end was great. I wasn’t expecting it, which is saying something for me. And when I finally did get an idea of what it was, it left me extremely satisfied. As well as worried about what could happen if such a thing were to exist in this world, but I think that was what the author was going for.

I also liked the characters. Alma Katsu has a talent for taking these huge casts and giving the majority of them enough development to make you like them. George Stanton, trying to outrun his past; Tamsen Donner, suspected of being a witch, when all she wants is to fill a great void within her; Elitha Donner, who hears voices no one else does; Mary Graves, who wants adventure in the great wide somewhere; and Edwin Bryant, who knows so much more than he lets on. These, and others, are characters I came to care for, even as I knew what was likely to happen to them.

There were a couple of downsides to this novel. One was that there were chapters where the reader was taken to significant events in the characters’ pasts, events which likely had an effect on them joining the wagon train. Some of these were relevant to the story and fleshed things out, but a few, especially earlier chapters like this, felt unnecessary.

That, and if you’re here for the actual Donner tale, it should be obvious by now that The Hunger isn’t that. Not a downside, just a different kind of horror based on a real-life horror.

All in all, The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a deliciously terrifying novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m granting it a 4.7. Grab a copy, order a steak dinner, and get ready for a slow ride across the US to the land of frights. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

*When I would describe this plot to people who asked me what I was reading, I would follow it up by going, “Om nom nom nom nom!” Totally worth the reactions I got.

I’ve talked a bit about “The Pure World Comes,” the story I’m writing set in Victorian England. And yes, at this point I’m pretty sure it’s going to be another novel. But that’s beside the point. With the completion of the latest chapter, I’m two-thirds of the way through the story, so I figured I’d talk about something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while: what it’s like writing a story set in Victorian England.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of the Victorian era. It’s an era of contradictions: one of vast British expansion and industrialization, of great achievements in science and literature, as well as one of the most glittery ages of British history (at least in our popular memories). However, it was also an age of deep poverty for many, an age of exploitation and horror, and one where some of the most horrific crimes of the 19th century occurred, from Jack the Ripper to the British government’s reaction to the Irish Potato Famine (and yes, I’m counting that as a crime).

I’ve been trying to channel all that love, as well as all the information I’ve gathered through years of research, to make this story of mine, about a young maid who goes to work in the home of a mad scientist, feel authentic. Like you actually stepped into the Victorian era when you read this story.

What’s been the hardest part so far? Well, the language. I’ve been trying to make the dialogue sound like that fancy Queen’s English we see in movies and on TV, and the narration sound something like Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot (a prequel to his novel, Salem’s Lot), which reads like a Victorian novel or something by HP Lovecraft, who likes to pretend he’s a Victorian. It’s harder than it looks, and at times, I find myself worrying if my characters sound more like modern Americans than 19th century Brits.

I’ll admit, it’s gotten easier to make the story and the characters sound Victorian as time has gone on, but it’s still far from perfect. And I have no doubt that later drafts will focus a lot on language.

I could also focus a bit more on describing the clothing. That’s a big part of the Victorian appeal.

However, other aspects have been easy. Going into the minutiae of Victorian life, from mourning clothes and practices (which the Victorians made an entire production of), to food and garden parties has been a treat. I had a lot of fun describing both the daily lives of maids in that age and just how dirty that age could be. And, of course, I had a blast working my theory of who Jack the Ripper is into the story.

And of course, adding those little weird details of life back then has been fun. Did you know that, according to the beliefs of the time, whom a pregnant woman interacted with could influence the baby’s health and appearance? Yeah, so if she met a drunk on the street, she might spend the rest of her pregnancy fearing her kid would come out looking and eventually acting like that drunk.

I also spent a good chunk of Chapter Eleven describing Victorian bath rituals (believe me, it’s relevant). Did you know public baths were a big phenomenon back then? How much you could pay for those baths, always sex-segregated, could determine what sort of bath you could take. And showers? They were known as shower-baths, or more formally as douche-baths. Yes, douche-baths. And no, not like we mean it today.

In the end, I think what I’m dealing with are all the usual struggles of writing a sort of historical fiction (Or is it more a homage to Gothic literature and gaslamp fantasy?). Balancing the level of detail with the need to tell the story, attempting to bring the age to life for even the most unfamiliar of readers. It’s a challenge, no matter your experience or how much research you’ve done.

Trying to bring to life the age when this sort of dress was fashionable.

Still, it’s a challenge I think I’m up to, as well as a challenge I’m glad I took up. I’m enjoying working on this story, and I feel like I’m learning a lot. Hopefully at the end of this story, it’ll show.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I was going to watch a movie after this post was done, but it’s past midnight, so I think I’ll hit the hay.

And in the meantime, remember that you can still participate in next month’s YouTube Q&A in honor of the 1-year publishing anniversary of Rose. Just send your name, where you’re from, and question for me to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and your question might appear in the video (and you could win a download code for the audio book). You can also order a signed copy of Rose with that address, or head to Amazon and Audible to get copies.

Goodnight, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares, and remember, face masks are inconvenient, but ventilators are far worse.

London Bridge and Parliament in the 1890s, right around the time this story is taking place.

Evening! Or is it morning? I’m not sure, it’s a late-night writing binge and time becomes meaningless after one of those. Anyway, as you can tell from the title of this post, I’m halfway through this super-important story set in my beloved Victorian England that I’ve been hinting and mentioning for God knows how long. And now I’m halfway through the damn thing, I think it’s time I talked a bit about it.

So, first let me tell you what this story is called. After a lot of deliberation and one or two placeholder titles, I’m calling this story The Pure World Comes. The story follows a young maid named Shirley Dobbins who goes to work for a mad scientist, and what occurs while in his employ.

In terms of genre, I think it’s a mix of Gothic horror and gaslamp fantasy (a subgenre I might need to write an article about another day). But it’s so much more than that, at least to me. It’s also a distillation of everything I’ve learned over the years about the reign and age of Queen Victoria, and I think it shows in the text.

It’s also an excuse for me to reveal the identity of the man I believe was Jack the Ripper. Yeah, that’s right, I have a person in mind whom I believe was Jack the Ripper, and I found a way to make it part of the story without shoehorning it in! Who is it, you ask? Well, you’ll have to hope the story gets published so you can find out.

And now, onto the page and word count (because of course I’m including that. You guys know me, after all). In terms of 8.5×11 pages, with 12-point Times New Roman font and double-spacing, The Pure World Comes is about 128 pages at this point. And in terms of word count, it’s 36,376 words. Yeah. You know how I consider novels as stories at sixty-thousand words or higher? I have a feeling this will be a novel by the time I’m done instead of a novella. Pulling another River of Wrath here, I guess (and yes, I will edit that soon).

Whatever it ends up being at the end, I’ll hopefully have it done by the close of May. Mid-June at latest. In the meantime though, I’m heading to bed. It’s late (or is it early?), and I need my ugly sleep if I’m going to get anything accomplished tomorrow.

And in the meantime, expect something big Thursday morning, my Followers of Fear. I have something special planned, something I think you’ll be excited for. Keep an eye out and stay tuned.

Also, signed copies of my novel Rose are still available! Send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com to inquire about placing an order.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Goodnight, and until next time, pleasant nightmares!

What’s up, Followers of Fear and other assorted humans? Recently, at the start of my self-isolation, I read a historical fiction novel with supernatural overtones called The Deep, which I thoroughly enjoyed (see my full review here). Having spoken with the author of The Deep, Alma Katsu, a few times over Twitter, I thought I’d ask if she’d like to be interviewed. She agreed, and the following interview resulted. Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary gentility, allow me to introduce the author of The Deep and The Hunger (which is on my TBR list), Alma Katsu!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Ms. Katsu. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

Alma Katsu: My name is Alma Katsu and I’m the author of five novels, all historical with some element of horror or the supernatural. My most recent book is THE DEEP, a reimagining of the sinking of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. My previous novel was THE HUNGER, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party. I was very lucky with THE HUNGER, as the book made a number of best books of the year lists and was nominated for several awards, including from Locus magazine and the Bram Stoker Awards.

RU: Please tell us about The Hunger and The Deep, what inspired them and what the writing process for them was like.

AK: Both books are similar, in that they use a historical event as a springboard for a story, but different, too. THE HUNGER is a more of a dystopian—some people have compared it to Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, and Dan Simmons’ THE TERROR. But both books are reflections of the eras in which they took place, which means THE DEEP is a more romantic story, very much of the Edwardian era, with its love of occultism and spiritualism. I tend to write character-driven stories, which might make for a slower pace than some fans of thrillers prefer, but I think it will hit the spot for people looking for a richer read.

 

My writing process for these books might seem a bit heretical, depending on what you’ve heard from other writers of historical fiction but I keep a very tight schedule doing the research. I was a professional researcher for over 30 years, so I have the benefit of a lot of trial and error and learning what works for me. I do a lot of on-the-spot research along the way, of course. Generally it takes 4-6 months to write the first draft, and then there are rounds of edits, some of which can end up changing the story quite a bit. Writing a novel is definitely a marathon, not a sprint!

RU: Or several marathons, sometimes. Continuing on the topic of historical fiction, obviously you have to take some creative liberties when it comes to famous events in history for the sake of the story. How do you decide what changes to make and how do you go about making them?

AK: Historical fiction is quite a big tent. Some books strive to be reproductions of historical fact with a thin veneer of fiction on top, but that’s not me. I use the historical event as the basis of another story, a different story, usually centered around a theme. The idea behind the THE DEEP has to do with women’s rights, which was a huge issue of the day. In the novel, you see a range of women, poor and very, very rich, struggling with the confines placed on their lives by society. On one end you have Annie Hebbley, the main character, a poor Irish girl who has come to work on the Titanic, and on the other, Madeline Astor, new second wife of JJ Astor, the richest man in America. In between you have a woman doctor (a rarity of the day), an aristocrat who earned her living running a high fashion house, and other poor women with few choices. There’s also the issue of class, and I can think of few settings better to explore this issue than the Titanic!

The changes I make to the historical record are in order to tell the story I’m trying to tell. As long as readers understand that, and are willing to give me a chance to tell them an entertaining and (hopefully) enlightening story, I don’t think there’s an issue.

RU: I have to ask, how hard was it to resist making a snarky reference to the movie Titanic in The Deep? Because the temptation would’ve killed me if I resisted.

AK: I hadn’t seen the movie until I went to write the book, because the movie is what most people today think of when they hear “Titanic,” and I wanted to know what their expectations would be. So, while it wasn’t my favorite movie of all time, I can see why it was popular, and what chords to strike with some people.

RU: You also host a podcast called “Damned History,” about the history behind the stories you write. Can you tell us a little more about that, and the writing process for each individual episode?

AK: The idea for the podcast came from the talks I gave on tour. Audiences told me they got a lot from the talks that enhanced their understanding of my books, but there are only so many people who are going to make it to a live event, so I thought podcasts were the perfect medium to make them available to anyone, anywhere. So, the material in the podcasts for THE HUNGER come from my book tour.

 

For the episodes for THE DEEP, they’re more on what I think people might find interesting, or what the questions so far have been about, so there’s one episode on Titanic conspiracy theories, and another on some of the real people on the Titanic.

RU: Are you working on anything new right now? And are there any historical events you would like to write about stories about someday?

AK: I’m working on the next historical novel right now, which will deal with World War II, and gearing up for the release of my first spy novel next year, RED WIDOW. This is a first for me, drawing on my career in intelligence, and I hope readers will give it a try.

RU: I’ll check them out, especially the WWII novel. That was the focus of my history major in college, after all. So, when you’re not writing, researching or podcasting, what do you do with your time?

AK: Working! I may retired from government but am still a consultant. There’s a lot of juggling going on in my life right now.

RU: I know what that’s like. What is some advice you would give other authors, regardless of background or experience?

AK: Write and read. Read a lot, read outside of your genre. And try to write every day, write through problems in your story, because writing is like a muscle.

RU: Finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were picked up, which would you bring with you?

AK: That’s tough. I’m not one of those writers who worships a particular book, and I like to use my reading to study how other writers have handled a particular issue in writing. I’d definitely have a Sandor Marai book among them, because I love the way he unfolds these terribly complex stories. Right now, I’m enjoying good mystery writing, particularly those of Laura Lippmann and Denise Mina. I like old Barbara Vine mysteries, too.

RU: All are excellent choices. Thanks for coming on the blog, Ms. Katsu. I hope you come by again with your next book.

 

Both The Deep and The Hunger are available from most book retailers. If you would like to check out Ms. Katsu’s podcast Damned History, you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Soundcloud. And you can find more about Ms. Katsu herself on her website Alma Katsu Books, as well as on Twitter.

If you would like to see more interviews I’ve done with authors, check out my Interviews page.

And if you’re an author who will be releasing a book soon or just released a new one and would like to be interviewed, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. If I’m available, we’ll make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re celebrating a holiday this weekend, I hope you’re finding it spiritually satisfying. Until next time, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares!

I heard about this book sometime last year and immediately requested my library buy copies (they did, and I was #1 on the list). I mean, a horror story set on the Titanic and having to do with some sort of creature living in the sea? Where do I sign up? And it came in for me at the library right before my library ceased operations due to the virus, so I was happy to get it when I did.

The Deep follows Annie Hebbley, a maid who works on the Titanic, and gets involved with the Fletcher family, a troubled married couple with a baby girl. Strange things occur on the ship leading up to that fateful (or fatal?) meeting. Years later, Annie meets Mark Fletcher, the very same man she waited on during that voyage, though now she’s a nurse on the Titanic’s sister ship the Britannic and he’s a wounded soldier returning from the battlefield of WWI. Coincidence? Or is something else at play? Something that has unfinished business with these ships and their passengers?

Let me tell you, this book has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s set partially on the Titanic, which is always a fascinating topic and setting for any story. And turning it into a ghost story? Even cooler.* That, and the Titanic sailed during the Edwardian era, which is close enough to my beloved Victorian era that I felt right at home.

But beyond that, this is one damn good horror novel. Author Alma Katsu takes a psychological approach to this story, using hints to keep us guessing as to what’s going on. Are people going crazy onboard? Is there something supernatural afoot? Whether it be a seance or someone acting strange, you’re kept very up in the air about it up until the last fifth or so of the book, and even then, you may still have questions.

At the same time, you get to know a lot of these characters intimately. It’s a big cast, told from the points of views of Annie, Mark Fletcher and his wife Caroline, you have the POVs of several historical figures, including boxers Dai Bowen and Leslie Williams, whom I absolutely fell in love with; Madeleine Astor, worried about an alleged curse on her unborn child; and William Stead, an aged journalist with an interest in the occult.** But Katsu does a great job of developing each and every character and giving them a unique voice and issues to explore.

A lot of attention is paid to detail as well, the same sort of attention that went visually into James Cameron’s movie. It really brings alive the setting for both ships, and makes you feel like you’re there. And there are plenty of moments filled with tension, such as the aforementioned seance, a scene at the saltwater pool, or close to the very end, when things are finally revealed.

The ship may have sunk, but the stories about it, like my heart, will go on. And in some cases, get very creepy.

All these factors kind of make it feel like you’re watching a really dark and spooky stageplay about the Titanic, only you’re reading it out of a book. In fact, I can imagine The Deep being made into a stageplay someday, or perhaps even a Broadway musical, one that’s scarier and has less humor than Sweeney Todd. I’d even help adapt it if someone deemed me experienced enough and wanted me to.

I can’t find anything to put as a downside to this novel. Some might find it a bit too slow, or maybe too much time is spent on the characters’ problems and backstories. I didn’t, but I can see other people feeling that way.

Overall, I’m giving The Deep by Alma Katsu a 4.5 out of 5. It’s an unnerving, intimate historical horror novel that’ll have you enthralled. Pick up a copy, put on that one Celine Dion song you’re probably thinking of, and get ready to dive in to what may be a contender for next year’s Bram Stoker awards.

*Of course, when I try to turn a luxury cruise liner into a ghost story, Disney’s lawyers come after me. How was I supposed to know ritualistic murder wasn’t allowed in international waters? It’s always okay in wartime!

**I recognized him from my own research into Victorian England. When I came across him and the reference to the occult, I literally shouted “Wait, I know this guy!” to my empty apartment.

You ever read a book that came out well before you were born, or a book that came out a few years ago but set well before you were born, and throughout the book a character or even the author expresses viewpoints that, if expressed today, would not go over well? The sort of views that would make you go, “Anyone who says that today would only be applauded by the lowest dregs of society. The rest would villify them.”

It’s an unfortunate part of the writing process, but sometimes writers will have to write stories where those sorts of views are expressed, even if not their own. I’ve had to do it several times over the course of my writing career, usually from the POV of a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. It’s necessary, but it’s always a trial to do it. God help me if I ever have to read something like that out loud.

I bring this up because as I said in a previous post, I’m busy doing research for a story to go into the short story collection I’ve been putting together. That story is set in Victorian England, an age that, as many of you know, I’m a big fan of. You guessed it, I bought a bunch of new books to better understand that age. And this week, while I was reading one book and seeing information I’d previously learned in another volume repeated here, I realized that, to a certain extent, I will be putting these attitudes of the age into the story.

Including the ones I find reprehensible.

There are generally four ways writers include these sorts of ideas and beliefs into their stories. An author may include a character who’s already very forward-thinking or contrarian, taking on viewpoints which their peers will not get or abhor, but the audience will sympathize with and allow them to pity the characters who don’t think like that (think Wonder Woman’s attitudes regarding WWI-era norms and gender roles in her movie). Other times, characters may start with one attitude and then evolve to a different one over the course of the story as part of a character arc (Villetta Nu’s arc in the anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion towards non-Britannians). There are characters whose whole point in existing are to present a contrasting view, usually as something for a protagonist to work off of or a driver of the plot (think Big Jim Rennie in Stephen King’s Under the Dome).

And then there are times when the author says, “Screw it, there’s no way around this,” and just portrays those attitudes as authentically as possible. I have a feeling with this story, I’m going to have to go with this route.

The books I’m using as research. I think they’ll be quite helpful in creating the level of detail I’m looking for.

I still haven’t worked out the details of this story, other than the time period and certain elements/characters. I don’t know how much of the Victorians’ beliefs and attitudes will make it into the story, or which ones for that matter.* Still, they’ll be there throughout the story for the sake of authenticity. It’ll be weird writing them into a story when they may go against everything I stand for. But for the characters, they’ll be the norm, and as true as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

The cognitive dissonance will be a mind-fuck.

But if the dedication to authenticity helps make the story good, then I won’t have any complaints. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it? Even if I have to write in a discussion on how chloroform subverts God’s commands on childbirth.**

What are your thoughts on including attitudes and beliefs that you don’t agree with in your story? Any fun reminiscences on the subject?

*Did you know that it was considered dangerous to give children fruit while they were young? It was believed the sweet taste would excite them and lead to delinquent behaviors. Also, while germ theory was starting to enter public consciousness, it was a slow process. In 1865, the Female Medical Society published statements asking doctors to take more steps to decrease death in women by childbirth. The medical journal The Lancet responded by calling their suggestions for cleanliness “erroneous,” and asserted that these deaths were caused by women leading immoral lives, which could mean anything from engaging in prostitution, feeling sexual desire, or enjoying pickles too much.

**Yeah, that was a debate in the 19th century. Did chloroform, when used in childbirth, prevent women from feeling the pain God ordained for women? What an age!

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

I saw the trailer for this new Netflix film several weeks ago, and got intrigued. A British horror film taking part in Edwardian England and involving an isolated cult? Where do I sign up? So last night I made some popcorn and logged in to check it out.

Holy shit, I think we have a winner here!

Apostle follows Thomas Richardson, the prodigal son of a wealthy family with a past who comes home when he finds out that his sister has been kidnapped for ransom by a cult living on an isolated island off the coast of Wales. He goes undercover and joins the cult to save his sister, but finds that things on the island are not all that seem. Thus begins a twisted descent into insanity, religious zeal, and blood that will leave no one untouched.

This movie is wonderfully fucked-up. It starts out slow with very few hints of anything off, but over time throws in hints of how messed up things are, mainly strange actions on the part of the characters. As the film goes on, these hints become more obvious and horrific, involving blood, strange sights, and much worse. It creates this very unnerving atmosphere al a The Shining, only by the final third the film can sustain the intensity and somehow keep building on it. Just when you think that this film can’t get any more horrifying, it throws something new–a revelation about the characters, body horror, etc–to throw you for a loop. There were more than a few times I felt myself gripping my computer with white knuckles because of what I was seeing on screen.

The acting is great. I forgot that I was watching people in roles and thought they were the people they were playing for most of the film. And I especially liked how the film mainly relied on practical effects and only used CGI for minor touches. I prefer practical effects to CGI in most instances, and it’s good to see the director, Gareth Evans, seems to share my preferences. And a good thing too, as all the practical effects give this film’s body horror elements a realism that makes it especially disturbing and which would’ve lost their power if CGI or some other trick had been used.

If this film does have an issue, the plot does seem to meander at times. There are numerous subplots that are woven into the film, and while the majority of them do get resolved, a few don’t (what about that oath? Why wasn’t that picked up?). That might work better in a novel, where we can see the characters’ thoughts and that sort of thing can be explained, but in a film it’s a problem. So some people might find the story slow or boring because of the way the plot is set up.

All in all though, Apostle is a terrifying and powerful film and possibly a new classic of the genre that will stay with viewers long after they’ve logged off Netflix. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Apostle a 4.6.  If you’re brave enough, go check it out and begin your spiral into a world of trauma and terror that is rarely put to film.

Also, I wish the director Gareth Evans, who only has one other horror credit on his director’s belt, comes back to the genre soon. If Apostle is anything to judge by, I look forward to seeing what else he can contribute.

I have not been blogging much in the last week or so, though I’ve read just about every blog post that shows up in my inbox. This is partly because I haven’t had anything I’ve felt passionate enough to blog about and because of time constraints, but it’s mostly because of the story I’ve been working on lately. You see, this story is challenging me as a writer, and the challenge has me engrossed, more so than a test engrosses Hermione Granger around exam time (oh Harry Potter, you always give me something when I ask). It’s so engrossing, that it’s taking up all my creative energies, leaving me unable to blog or even come up with new ideas for stories (though I already have more ideas than I know what to do with, so that’s not a huge problem).

Some of you may remember that I started working on a story I thought might become a novelette or novella in between drafts of Rose back in October or November. After finishing the short story Do-Over the other day, I started working on this story again, and as I said, it’s been challenging. On a number of levels, actually: for one thing, there’s an anthology I’ve heard about that’s looking for stories of a certain word length, so I’m trying to write this story to keep it within the anthology’s word limits. Yeah, I know I should let the story be whatever length it’s meant to be, but after expanding Rose to twice its word length last year because it was suggested I do just that, I feel like I can aim for a certain word count and still get a good story out of it.

Another reason it’s challenging is because of the narrator. Like Rose, I’m telling this story through the eyes of a first-person narrator, which means I’m reliant on her as a narrator to tell the story and to create a good horror ambiance. But at the same time, she’s got a history, a personality, and observations that she’s putting into her story. It’s less like I’m writing the story and I’m channeling my narrator as she’s telling the story, though I do have the power to go in and make changes as needed. And creating that horror ambiance while balancing my narrator’s voice and what she feels is necessary to put into her story, such as her interactions with her husband, isn’t that easy.

Did I mention that this story also takes place over thirty years before I was born, in a state I’ve only visited once? Well, it does, so in addition to being a horror story, it’s also historical fiction, and I’m working hard to recreate an age and place I’ve never experienced, with all the fashions, technology, and attitudes in place. It’s a lot of work, to say the least.

And on top of that, you have all the normal challenges of storytelling: making a story interesting, pacing, showing vs. telling, dialogue, word choice, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But honestly, I think it’s all worth it. Because in my experience, if a novel challenges the writer, it’s going to be a better story in the end. Look at Rose: that novel challenged me every time I worked on it. The first draft alone, I had to go back to the very beginning and start over again because I had to totally reroute the path the story was taking. During the third draft, I added forty-thousand words, a whole new plot line, and even a character or two just to make the story not only longer, but better. And in the end, I created one hell of a story that I feel has a great chance of publication. Hopefully with this story I can get a similar outcome.

Stories can be challenging to write sometimes. It may be difficult to get the words on the page, but in the end, with a lot of work, I think it can lead to a really compelling story. And I’m looking forward to seeing if, after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, I can wrangle out a good story here.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times before on this blog how much I love manga and anime. I’ve even written before how writers should check it out for a boost to their creativity. Well today, I’d like to talk about my favorite manga series, Red River by Chie Shinohara, which ran in Japan from 1995 to 2002. I absolutely love this series, and have since I discovered it prior to entering college seven years ago (and for numerous reasons, it took me nearly that long to get each volume and read it). I’m actually rereading it now, and I’m still in love with the story.

With the awesomeness of this series, it’s one I actually don’t see a lot of people talking about, so I thought I’d do a review to spread the word a bit. I don’t know if this post will get a lot of reads, or if the review will get a lot of people interested in reading the manga, but you never know. So without further ado, let me tell you about Red River:

The manga follows Yuri Suzuki, a Japanese teenager who finds herself pulled through time and space to the Hittite Empire in ancient Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). She’s been brought there because Nakia, the current queen and the emperor’s third wife, needs to make sure her son, who’s rather low in the succession order, attains the throne and a special sacrifice is needed. Yuri is meant to be that sacrifice, and narrowly avoids being killed thanks to the intervention of Prince Kail, the third Hittite prince. Together, they try to find a way to get Yuri home, while also circumnavigating not only Nakia’s schemes for power, but the schemes of others who would do them and the Hittite Empire harm, and at the same time finding something in each other they couldn’t find in anyone else.

This is a story of the same stripe as Game of Thrones: struggles for power in a grand empire, magic, history, battles with swords and chariots, romance, an exotic setting and a rich culture, and some great characters whom you grow to love and root for (and somehow remember a lot more easily despite the Mesopotamian/Biblical names).  And the characters are the best part:

First off, there’s Yuri, our heroine. I love this sort of character. While she starts off as a damsel-in-distress, she grows throughout the story, showing strong nerve, cleverness, and a desire to do what’s right, which allows her to save herself from difficult situations and gain several followers along the way. Prince Kail, based on the historical Mursili II, initially comes off as a playboy prince, but over time reveals a young man with the weight of the empire on his shoulders. He’s a brilliant politician and tactician, occasionally rash and impulsive, but above all loyal to those he loves and will go out of their way to help them if he can. And Queen Nakia is the villain Cersei Lannister aspires to be: while she’s beautiful, she doesn’t rely on her looks. Instead she uses a combination of magic, political power, brains, and manipulation to accomplish her goals. She doesn’t necessarily even need Yuri’s death to accomplish those goals, it’s just Plan A. And believe me, if she sees an opportunity, she’ll develop a Plan B, C and D.

A full-color shot from Red River.

The storytelling is also phenomenal, taking actual historic events and people and weaving them seamlessly into a story that also manages to balance intrigue and romance very well. In addition to Nakia, there are other enemies, usually enemy states and their leaders, who attempt to conquer the Hittite Empire or just to the characters themselves. Throughout the series, suspense is kept high with a variety of plots against the characters, as well as numerous twists that keep readers on their toes. And the romance is never too sappy or idealistic, but often shows how the leads have to struggle not only to make their relationship work, but also to make it legal in the eyes of the Hittite Empire (politics, am I right?).

And finally, there’s the art style. It’s meant to be quite appealing to readers, with characters having proportions similar to what they might have in the real world. There’s also plenty of attention to detail when it comes to locations and attire, which one would expect for a series like this. It all comes together in a visually pleasing package, which is what manga artists go for, so good on that.

Sadly, Red River never had an anime produced, but the manga is available in the United States and Canada (I think, anyway). If you want a story that encompasses ancient Middle Eastern history while filled with intrigue, magic, and romance, this may be the story for you. Check it out, and dive into what could definitely be called a whole new world.