Reprising the History Games at #RWA19

RWA-Conference-History-Games

If you are attending the Romance Writers of America’s national conference in New York next week, come see me reprise my researching workshop. It incorporates all I have learned from a quarter-century of guiding high school history students through the research process:

True stories inspire the best fiction. Let history help you find the usual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines you need! A veteran teacher and researcher will show you how to exploit free sources online: memoirs, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, videos, and more. This workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the Regency through the Roaring Twenties, but it will include practical tips and tricks for all authors.

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I will also join Gilded Age romance superstars Maya Rodale and Joanna Shupe for Researching and Writing the Gilded Age Romance:

All that glitters isn’t gold, but the Gilded Age can make your manuscript shine! Join three experts who will share what to read/watch/listen to in order to start discovering the Gilded Age world. Take advantage of the Big Apple to explore historical New York City and brainstorm Gilded-Age romance novel plots after learning more about the history and how popular romance tropes fit in this historical time period.

Gilded-Age-Research-Writing-Maya-Rodale-Joanna-Shupe

Finally, on Saturday from 3-5, I will be signing and selling Sugar Moon and Under the Sugar Sun at the book fair to benefit literacy:

#RWA19-literacy-signing-romance-writers-new-yorkI hope to see you there!

What’s up this summer?

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Author Appearances:

I have a new event! Come out to see Karen Coulters and I bring romance to the Weare Public Library. Whether you like historical stories or modern ones, distant settings or close ones, Karen and I have the book for you. Click on the image below to go to the Facebook event page. Come see us and meet the others of the Weare Area Writers Guild, including librarian and children’s adventure author Michael Sullivan.

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Presentations:

This may be the last time I will be giving these three talks, so please come on out if you can:

NECRWA-May-19-History-Ever-AfterOver eighty percent of bestselling historical romance books published in the first half of 2018 were set in Britain, either during the 19th century or the medieval period. These two fabricated chronotopes are selectively accurate to history and narrowly focused on high ranks of the nobility—in other words, they are “escapism.” This presentation will consider what escapism means in this context, who it serves, and who it harms. While any reader can enjoy a good duke Regency every once in a while, the net impact of the most popular chronotopes may be to corrode our understanding of history, marginalize anyone writing from a wider palette of settings and characters, and exclude authors of color. Read more here.

New England Chapter RWA: May 19, 2019 from 1-3 pm ($5 visitors fee)


Schoolbenches-Trenches-Historical-Novel-Society-North-AmericaLiberate and uplift? Or conquer and oppress? The revolutionaries of the eighteenth century became the redcoats of the twentieth, fighting a war to seize the Philippines (1899-1913) as the first step toward overseas empire. Enter the American Century, complete with debates over transpacific trade, immigration, Muslim separatists, and national security—all issues that resonate for the modern reader. Historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock will explain why the U.S. colonized the Philippines, how this experience still shapes both countries now, and how it creates engaging American historical fiction. Read more of the history behind the Sugar Sun series here.

Historical Novel Society North America: Friday, June 21, 2019 from 8-9 am (registration required)


RWA-Conference-History-Games

True stories inspire the best fiction. Let history help you find the usual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines you need! A veteran teacher and researcher will show you how to exploit free sources online: memoirs, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, videos, and more. This workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the Regency through the Roaring Twenties, but it will include practical tips and tricks for all authors. Read more here.

RWA National Conference, Friday, July 26, 2019, from 9:45-10:45 am (registration required)

Upcoming Workshops: Spring/Summer 2019

I am so pleased to be offering a smattering of workshops all over the East Coast this year. Here they are, with descriptions:

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First, I will be reprising my study of historical romance at the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America on May 19, 2019:

Over eighty percent of bestselling historical romance books published in the first half of 2018 were set in Britain, either during the 19th century or the medieval period. These two fabricated chronotopes are selectively accurate to history and narrowly focused on high ranks of the nobility—in other words, they are “escapism.” This presentation will consider what escapism means in this context, who it serves, and who it harms. While any reader can enjoy a good duke Regency every once in a while, the net impact of the most popular chronotopes may be to corrode our understanding of history, marginalize anyone writing from a wider palette of settings and characters, and exclude authors of color.

I originally gave this talk at IASPR 2018 in Sydney, Australia. I will expand my comments a bit because I have more time, and I will answer any questions the NECRWA folks have. Guests are welcome (for a nominal $5 fee to the chapter).


My other speaking engagements this summer will be more focused on history itself and historical research:

Schoolbenches-Trenches-Historical-Novel-Society

On Friday, June 21, 2019, bright and early at 8am (!), I will be presenting at the Historical Novel Society North America conference. My talk is entitled, “Schoolbenches and Trenches: The Philippine-American War Setting”:

Liberate and uplift? Or conquer and oppress? The revolutionaries of the eighteenth century became the redcoats of the twentieth, fighting a war to seize the Philippines (1899-1913) as the first step toward overseas empire. Enter the American Century, complete with debates over transpacific trade, immigration, Muslim separatists, and national security—all issues that resonate for the modern reader. Historian, teacher, and author Jennifer Hallock will explain why the U.S. colonized the Philippines, how this experience still shapes both countries now, and how it creates engaging American historical fiction.

I have given this talk to libraries and school groups in both the United States and the Philippines. Here’s an interesting twist: my Manila audience knew they had been an American colony—putting them ahead of far too many Americans!—but they had not been taught about the Philippine-American War itself or many of the controversial policies the Americans used to pacify the islands. If you want to know more, check out my history posts on this website.


History-Games-Research-Workshop-RWA

Finally, I will be a part of two workshops at the Romance Writers of America national conference in New York City, this 24-27 July 2019. In addition to being invited to take part in a Gilded Age panel (more on this to come!), I will be giving my own researching workshop:

How do you write authentic characters who are nothing like you? Through lots of research, of course. But beware—flat descriptions from encyclopedias won’t cut it because they reflect only the most common experience. The best characters are the outliers: the unusual, precocious, and maybe even dangerous heroes and heroines. Learn how to find inspiration from free sources online, such as books, memoirs, documents, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, maps, photographs, clothing, artifacts, personal papers, and videos. Though this workshop’s emphasis will be on historical research, especially the 18th through early 20th centuries, it will include tips and tricks for all authors. Just like the Hunger Games series used allusions from ancient Greece to Vietnam, true stories inspire the best fiction, no matter what genre.


I hope to see you this year at one of these conferences or workshops. If you would like me to bring one of these closer to you, please contact me at jen at jennifer hallock dot com. And happy writing!

Jennifer-Hallock-2019-Workshops

The History Games: Micro-History Models

What is micro-history, you ask? It is the investigation of small units in history—an individual, a small village, a family, or a school, for example. Why is this important? Because large trends, the kind of history you get in encyclopedias, smooth out history to give you only the most average experience. And who likes to read about average? No one!

You want to read about the outliers, the dangerous, the obscure, the interesting! Part of what authors are selling is the chance to live someone else’s life for a little while. Maybe your character is Marianne, a half-Jamaican hotelier seduced by a spy during the Crimean War; or Lily, a diplomat’s daughter who rescues a wounded American Marine in the Boxer Rebellion in China.


Either way, flat descriptions from encyclopedias won’t cut it. You need to mine primary sources for the convincing details of everyday life. Where else would you learn how Marianne chased off a thief with her rusty horse pistol, primed only with coffee? Or how Lily saved her favorite pony from becoming dinner for starving Americans in Beijing?

Marianne and Lily are not typical, but they are believable because they are based upon real people—real outliers. My inspiration for Marianne came from The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacolewhile Lily is based on Laura Conger in Sarah Pike Conger’s Letters from China. Cool books! Where did I find them, you ask? At the end of this post, you will find a handout detailing many wonderful places to find free primary sources on the internet: books, articles, artifacts, photographs and videos (if available), illustrations, newspapers, and more, all from the time period itself.

But how do you use this information to create realistic characters and believable conflict? And how do you know what facts to use and what to make up? I came up with five models to help you figure it out:

The Ice Cube Tray Model

My fake characters Marianne and Lily are based upon the broad outlines of real people—one or two sides of a mold—but if I actually wrote books for them I would pour in all the individual hopes, dreams, and even humor that I needed. Here is an example from my writing: I found the original inspiration for my character Allegra Alazas of Sugar Moon from a single lantern slide found at the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive. Why did this image speak to me? Because the half-scowl on the woman’s face seems to say, “Mr. Photographer, you and I both know that you are an idiot, but I am just polite enough not to say it out loud.” Based on what I could discern from the photo, I thought that maybe this woman would have been educated in Manila at a fancy convent school. So I found a few of those in another primary source, a Commercial Directory of Manila in 1901. And what would the woman in the photo say to Sister Elenteria in their Artificial Flowers class? Well, if you know Allegra, you know that she told the sister where exactly she could put her artificial flowers in a country with bountiful natural ones. And Allegra was born.

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The Straitjacket Model

What if you don’t focus on the outliers you like? There always will be archival sources that represent the worst of a chosen era, and these constraints can give you what you need for a foil or villain. I did this for Archie Blaxton, the man you loved to hate from Under the Sugar Sun and Tempting Hymn. I took every horrible thing that came out of an American’s mouth (or memoir) about the Philippines, and I gave it to Archie—and also to the Stinnetts, who were partly modeled after the Coles, teachers in Leyte. (See photo of Mary Cole below.) I call this model the straitjacket.

Straitjacket-Micro-History-Jennifer-Hallock

The Open Flame Model

Real history can also provide conflict, too. Why did Georgina Potter head to the Philippines in Under the Sugar Sun? I found a newspaper article in the Manila Times archive about an undelivered letter. The letter fell into the hands of the wrong person, a teacher, and without any other idea of what to do with it, the teacher sent it to the Times. Since the letter was opened (by accident), the paper could tell its readership that it was written by a very worried sister who did not know what had become of her brother. And I thought to myself, “Where was this brother? What was the sister going to do next? What would happen when she actually finds him?” Good conflict adds heat underneath your character’s feet. I call this the open flame.

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The Millstone Model

For Sugar Moon, I gave my hero, Ben Potter, a troubled past. He was traumatized caused by a real event: the 1901 attack at Balangiga in which 48 American soldiers were killed. Ben’s memories will be shared in flashback form because they shaped Ben into the man he is, for better or worse. (Most of you would say worse, but give him a chance. Or second chance. Well, okay, third.) Ground down by the millstone of war, he is someone new because of this real event. It is a big part of his internal conflict.

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The Fridge Magnet Model

Finally, I use real vignettes and anecdotes throughout my books. A lot of people remember the snake scene in Under the Sugar Sun, and I wish I could take full credit for it. But that really happened to a real American on one of his first nights in the Philippines in the early 1900s. He even had to buy a replacement snake, too! There’s some stuff you cannot make up, and you shouldn’t have to. But you do need those little details that make your book convincing.

Consider this: when you walk into a house, where do you find the small details important to that family’s daily life? On their fridge. (Or their medicine cabinet, but shame on you!) Therefore, I call this the fridge magnet model. These little snippets tell your reader more about a character or setting than Mr. Exposition ever could. For example, the snake story told me how clever rural Filipinos were to use one pest to control another; and it told me that Georgie, for all her pluck, wasn’t going to get anything right her night in Bais. Her “fish out of water” anxieties will be essential to her later conflict with Javier.

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Conclusion

Whenever I approach a primary source, I think: how can this event advance my story or my character development? And you need to be thinking this, too. No matter how much fun it is to research—no matter how many rabbit holes you want to fall down—everything should move your book forward. Stay focused on these five models. I hope they help!

By the way, here is the handout of websites that I cover in the workshop’s “how to” portion: Hallock Micro-History Researching Tips. Happy researching!

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