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  • James Wheeling

Smooshing History

Manuscript update: I’m happy to report that I have finished the manuscript for the newly renamed, “Zephyr’s Gantlet.” I now have it out for reader comments. After I get their comments back, make the necessary changes and corrections, I will send it to a freelance editor to clean it up before submitting it to my agent. Once she reads it and makes her comments, we’ll begin the process of submitting the manuscript to acquiring editors at various publishers. Hopeful to get the submission process going by the end of this summer.

I recently came across a statement saying that a regular person has a 12,000 to 1 chance of getting hit by lightning. A debut author has an 18,000 to 1 chance of getting their manuscript published. I accept the challenge but not going to play golf in a thunderstorm!


As I finished this manuscript and look forward to the continuation of the series, I am realizing what many historical fiction authors have had to do before me: smoosh history. When an author has only roughly 350 pages and less than 100K words to tell an interesting and fast-moving story, actual history can’t keep up. I’ve read several author explanations for why and how they had to compress time in order to tell a good story and I’m no different.

When dealing with events prior to the late-20th century, communication methods and recordings of history were slow and selective. Only the highlights were reported and even then, they could take weeks or months to reach the public. We’ve all heard of war treaties being signed but by the time the battlefield combatants got the message, many more men had died.

My story is set in the mid-19th century when communications were still pretty archaic. The telegraph was in its infancy and by no means in common use. Although steam ships were traveling along the coasts of countries and in the major river systems, what had taken three to six months by stagecoach, sailboat or pack animal, now took only a month to six weeks. Hardly acceptable in today’s world!

When it comes to actual, recorded dates of events, it is tough to stretch those too far and I’ve done my best to keep my story within the parameters of those events. But, so much of life at that time went on without formal documentation, as well as general developing national sentiments, ie., the abolition of slavery, that I chose to give my characters greater latitude when expressing their thoughts on a particular subject.

Another place that gets a little bumpy when pushing fiction against non-fiction is the interaction between people we are familiar with from American history and my fictional characters. I talked a little in my last blog about cultural appropriation and my efforts to not do that in my writing. The topic of historical figures sort of feels the same way. In my research, I’ve come across many fascinating people who wrote down their experiences in journals or even published documents. These are people no one has ever heard of unless you are related to them. I am choosing to treat their history as carefully as the other cultures I’ve woven in and out of my story.

I find my imagination flares when a popular and recognizable historical figure’s story is told and they refer to an unnamed partner or group accompanying them during some activity. There’s the place to put my character! Who’s to say my character wasn’t there in that same place and time? It might be smooshing history a little, but it is fiction, and as long as my character doesn’t change the true course of history, I believe the relationship with the true life person makes my story better.

With both of these examples of history smooshing, I hope my readers will agree that a respectful and honest effort to shine a light on interesting facts and figures in our American history, while spinning a delightful tale, is what our world needs right now.

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