Game Face: Historical Fiction Gets Serious

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. For entertainment, he reads historical books, where he finds ideas for new novels. For relaxation, he writes westerns. Whenever he has a chance, he takes his wife and two homeschooled children on crazy but fun research trips. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at

Your historical fiction manuscript sits on a knife’s edge.
Falling to one side awaits epic historical fiction. The other side? Epic
historical failure.

Historical fiction owns an element that comes with
significant responsibility. It’s time to get serious.
Historical fiction
shapes views of the past.
For good or for bad, historical fiction forges images and
impressions of the past into minds. When the American gold rush is mentioned,
many minds reference Francine Rivers’ Redeeming
.  American Civil War? Gone with the Wind or Killer Angels. Many feel they know
medieval history because they’ve read Pillars
of the Earth
Use history wisely.
Because in historical fiction, history is the flour of bread.
If the wrong ingredient is added, is the recipe ruined? For some, no—they like
salt instead of baking powder. But historical fiction readers are usually
informed. They know what the pudding should taste like. And if you use skim
milk instead of whole milk, they’ll know.
Raise the history standard in your manuscript. That means reading.
And more reading. Until you don’t tell your friends how many
books read. Until you pretend you watch TV, so you can fit in. Until, embarrassed
and ashamed of your dirty little reading secret, you have three Goodreads accounts with fictitious
names just to keep track of your books.
Reading history leaves
an impression on you.
When at long last you sit and write, after reading your
fill, history dominates your head. Nothing specific, maybe—just history. You can’t
help but write history. Sweeping themes of humanity. Struggles of what it was
to live in another time.
Graduate yourself from knowing about history to living
history. Breathing it. Loving it. Writing the past.
Leave the reader an impression of what the past was really
Mr. Leavell,
where do I begin studying history? How do I get my historical fiction game face
You’re serious? Good.
A great overview of world history is Susan Wise Bauer’s The History of the Ancient World,
followed by The History of the Medieval
, and just out is The History of
the Renaissance World
In the back of her books are notes and bibliographies. These
are trusted sources. If a time period interests you, read the books she lists. Those
books list sources. It’s okay to find those books and read them. And then read the primary sources
listed. You can find gold mines in the bibliography of any historical books.
Then contact your local college history professor and ask
what she’s reading. Read those books, along with the ones she’s written. And
finally, subscribe to periodicals and journals, such as the American Historical
Review. Sure, they’ve got some bias, like taking down Christianity, but it’s
the latest in historical thought. And someday, you might be in a position to combat bias.

Keep reading until this hobby of loving history has gone
terribly wrong, taking over your life. When your manuscript falls off the knife
edge and on the side of epic historical fiction, keep reading history.
What’s your favorite historical fiction novel? Author? Time period?
Gideon’s Call is an unprecedented tale of tragedy and triumph amid the backdrop of the Civil War through the story of Tad, a very clever slave boy who comes of age as America’s war reaches the sea islands of South Carolina. Tad’s desire to better himself is obstructed by the color of his skin, until Northern soldiers force the evacuation of white plantation owners, setting 10,000 slaves free in a single day. These circumstances seem like a dream, except that the newly freed slaves have no money, no education, and little hope for the future—unless someone rises up to lead them. Based on true events, Gideon’s Call is the dramatic tale of a young man who battles the shame of his past and faces the horrors of war and unimaginable prejudice to become the deliverer of thousands of freed slaves.

Hey, Don’t Forget…

Tie a string around your finger if you have to, but whatever you do, don’t forget about Novel Rocket’s LAUNCH PAD Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile!

This is for unpublished novelists. That is, writers who have completed a novel (or more) but have never had one contracted with a traditional publisher.

Is that you? Is your story Historical, Middle Grade/Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, or Speculative? Then there’s still room for you!

The first two categories, Suspense/Crime/Mystery/Thriller and General Fiction, are already closed. We’re still taking entries in the remaining four, but the submission deadline for Historical Fiction is coming up soon (June 10), so don’t dilly-dally.

We look forward to receiving your entry!

Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. 
Ransom in the Rock, the third title in her Christian space fantasy series, released May 15 and is available in print and ebook. 

Fly through the Gateway to Gannah for some serious sci-fi adventure!

Squeaky Clean Manuscripts ~ Sally J. Ling

Final Self-Editing

Sally J. Ling

Writers write. Editors edit. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Now, writers, whether fiction or non-fiction, have to be their own editor, and the task can be daunting to overwhelming. So what’s a writer to do? 

When I published my first five books with traditional publishers, the publishers had editors on staff. It was the editor who then went line by line through my manuscript to catch any grammatical errors, content issues, or problems with sentence structure.

Today, manuscripts are expected to be in ship shape when they reach the publisher’s or agent’s desk. That’s not an easy task for many of us. Most writers are more interested in telling a compelling story than worrying about the details. But times have changed. Now, writers have to do their own editing, or find someone else do it for them. Ah . . . there is the rub.

If you’re not interested in hiring someone to professionally edit your manuscript (though I highly recommend this even though it can run from a few hundred dollars into the thousands if you’re looking for both content and grammatical editing—who said being an author was inexpensive?), then perhaps these suggestions will help you do most of the final editing yourself, thereby limiting your financial exposure for a paid editor.

But . . . let me warn you, even with the most experienced editor, or the dozens of pairs of eyes that may review the manuscript before publishing, in most cases not all the errors will be caught. It is rare when I read a print or digital book that I don’t find a word left out, misspelled, used out of context, or even a duplicate paragraph. To minimize that happening to you, I offer the following final self-editing suggestions.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you have a solid story line, dialogue is clear, point of view is appropriate, and you’re simply looking to catch any final problems. I’ve found that reading my manuscript in a variety of different formats makes the story look different (even when I’m sick to death of it!), and the problems often stand out, many times, glaringly so. Also, reading your manuscript on a different device—say a tablet rather than a desk or lap top computer—allows you to see errors as well.

So . . . here are my suggestions for that final self-edit:

  1. Read your manuscript on your computer. Make corrections.
  2. Put it away for a few weeks (This helps you see the story in a fresh light.)
  3. Print it out. Re-read it. Make corrections.
  4. Read it out loud to someone. Make corrections. (This is a great way to find glaring issues, such as duplicate or misplaced paragraphs, unrealistic dialogue, or content that doesn’t make sense. You’ll also be getting feedback as you go.)
  5. Make a pdf. Re-read it. Make corrections. (I realize that you are re-reading the same story just in different formats, but you will be surprised how many errors you will find just switching to a different format.)
  6. Send to “readers.” (These are a handful of people who will give you an honest opinion and who can catch additional typos and story glitches.)
  7. Send to an editor. (This needs to be someone experienced, not a friend, unless this friend is also a professional editor. Steps 1-6 will help you cut down on the time it will take for this step and the expense.)
  8. Upload your book as a print book or e-book. Re-read in printed proof copy or digital format. Make corrections. (You can skip step 8 if you’re sending directly to an agent or publisher.)
  9. Publish or send to agent/publisher.

I realize final edits can be a time consuming process (yes, it does take weeks). But better to take the time up front to edit it in these formats than to have readers turn up their noses at your story because of too many grammatical or content problems. Nothing kills book sales quicker than poor reviews.

Here’s wishing you much success with your self-editing. I’d love to hear about your experience using these techniques, and if you have other suggestions, please let me hear about them as well. You may contact me at

Note: For those who write fiction, a great book to read before you get to my final editing suggestions is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This book gives proven techniques to help writers turn their manuscripts into published works of fiction. I’ve found it extremely helpful.

Sally J. Ling, Florida’s History Detective, is an author, speaker, and historian. She writes historical fiction and nonfiction and specializes in little known stories of Florida history. As a special correspondent, Sally wrote for the Sun Sentinel newspaper for four years and was a contributing journalist for Boca Raton, Gold Coast, Delray Beach, Boca Life, Jupiterand Palm Beacher magazines.

Based upon excerpts from her book Run the Rum In, Sally appeared in two TV documentaries– “Gangsters” – the National Geographic Channel, and “Prohibition and the South Florida Connection” – WLRN, Miami. She served as associate producer on the latter production. She has been a guest on South Florida PBS TV and radio stations, guest presenter at the Lifelong Learning Society at Florida Atlantic University and Future Authors of America, and guest speaker at numerous historical societies, libraries, organizations, and schools.  Sally lives with her husband, Chuck, and her cat, Kitty, and splits her time between Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Wolf Laurel, North Carolina.

Help for the Weary Writer by Carla Stewart

Award-winning author of five novels, Carla Stewart has a
passion for times gone by. It’s her desire to take readers back to that warm,
familiar place in their hearts called “home.”
She launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the
coveted honor of attending the Guidepost’s Writers Workshop. Since then she’s
had numerous magazine and anthology articles published. Carla was the 2011
trophy winner of the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. “Best Book of Fiction”,
an Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award (Faith, Hope, and Love) finalist in 2011
and winner in 2012, a two-time Genesis winner, and an Oklahoma Book Award
finalist four times. She and her husband live in Tulsa and have four adult sons
and six grandchildren (with one on the way!). Learn more about Carla on her websiteTwitter, Facebook, GoodReads,
& Pinterest.
I just turned in my sixth contracted book – something that a
few years ago I never imagined would happen. To say I feel blessed is an
understatement. Saying that I was exhausted is not. It was the second book
“from scratch” I’d written in twelve months, and while others do this quite
readily and successfully, it stretched me to the outer limits. And left me
feeling as if I couldn’t write another word. Ever.
And yet, there was a part of me that was heavy with guilt
for not being able to move right into the next proposal/social media craze/book
idea. Somehow in the quest to write more books, gain more followers, and
achieve success, the entire point of writing in the first place had taken its
toll. I wanted to curl up and sleep for a week.
As novelists we’re in the constant state of creating worlds
and characters that entertain readers and give them an escape from their
harried worlds. Yet, we often fail to give ourselves the same grace—moments of
abandoning life’s pressures and just being in the moment. In turn, our readers
don’t get the full benefit of our best work because we haven’t refilled own
wells of creativity. The next step will surely be writer burnout.
Am I alone in this presumption? I don’t think so as I read
posts and social media updates almost every day from writers who are at their
wits’ end. Giving up isn’t the answer. Taking a sabbatical might be. Even our
Lord rested on the seventh day.
How to take a sabbatical:
  • Take stock. You know what deadlines and
    obligations you have. Fulfill those and plan a date in the near future when you
    will take a rest.
  • Decide how long your sabbatical will be.
    Some people can bounce back and be refreshed in a week or two. Others may need
    three months or even a year. It’s always wise to keep in mind that if you
    disappear for too long, you will lose momentum with your audience, so know what
    your goals are and whether or not you may be making a change of direction and
    can afford a longer period.
  • Remove distractions. Clean your house. Make
    sure your bills are paid up to date. Be strong and say no to anything that may
    keep you from your planned time of sabbatical.
  • Unplug from the electronic world. If you
    feel it’s necessary to announce that you’ll be scarce for awhile, that’s fine.
    Do inform anyone who needs to know how to reach you if needed.
  • What to do on a sabbatical. Listen to your
    soul. Activities should be directed by what comforts or inspires you. If napping
    for an entire day in the hammock in the back yard is your idea of heaven, do
    it. Take walks on nature trails. Go to concerts or plays. Spend a day
    volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Go to the mall and people
    watch. Paint a picture. Take a picture. Write a poem. Visit a flea market and
    buy something that makes you happy. Take the time to visit with an elderly
    neighbor and listen to his story with your heart. Invite a friend you haven’t
    seen in awhile to lunch. Have family game night and do include your children in
    some of your activities. Truly listen to them and let their laughter fill you. Take
    a cooking class or art class. Go on a picnic or a weekend trip. Build something
    out of wood. Plant a garden. Journal words that make you smile or tidbits from
    your day that touched you and identify the emotion it gave you. Walk a
    labyrinth and count your blessings.
  • Lose yourself in books. Not just the ones
    you’ve been saving because someone said “you have to read this book” but old
    favorites, the ones that inspired you to become a writer. Read something
    outside your preferred genre or that classic you’ve been meaning to read since
    1995. Re-read your favorite book of the Bible. Memorize it.
  • Resist the urge to return too soon. You will
    notice, as I have, that ideas will start coming, and the temptation to open a
    file or start a new project is enticing. Instead, keep a notebook handy and jot
    down your ideas, a future to-do list or tasks that have come to your attention
    while you are on sabbatical. Like the dirty dishes in the sink, they will still
    be there when you’re ready to tackle them.

A time of rest is different for everyone, but refilling the
well that is uniquely you will help
you gain perspective on the important things in life and massage the worn-out
corners of your heart and mind.
Rest. Refuel. Arise with sparkling new ideas and stories you
can’t wait to plunge into. The world is waiting for the best you have to offer.
That which only comes when you’ve given yourself the gift of unfettered time.
Do you struggle with burnout? How do you fill your creative
For Nell Marchwold,
bliss is seeing the transformation when someone gets a glimpse in the mirror
while wearing one of her creations and feels beautiful. Nell has always strived
to create hats that bring out a woman’s best qualities. She knows she’s
fortunate to have landed a job as an apprentice designer at the prominent Oscar
Fields Millinery in New York City. Yet when Nell’s fresh designs begin to catch
on, her boss holds her back from the limelight, claiming the stutter she’s had
since childhood reflects poorly on her and his salon.
But it seems Nell’s
gift won’t be hidden by Oscar’s efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer
is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to
an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she
sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between
them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart
tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for
her dream, and what her dream truly is.