Note from Elaine: I am re-posting this blog by Kathleen Maher because my website was under construction when it first appeared and most of my subscribers did not receive it!
The challenge for historical fiction writers is to avoid anachronism. In other words, it must be historically and culturally accurate for the time period in which the story is set. Author Kathleen Maher understands the challenge and is my guest blogger today. Kathleen has not one, but two, novels releasing! Here is her post with some awesome giveaways! — Elaine
The historical writer has the unique challenge of making characters interesting and appealing by today’s standards without sacrificing authenticity. We strive to stay true to historical detail in all things. Transportation, even city maps showing which roads existed back then. Clothing, furnishing, popular music and literature of the times. But what about the character itself? Obviously, one wouldn’t write about a NASCAR driver in the 1800’s. But what about attitudes, beliefs, values? Societal expectations on ladies and gentlemen were quite strict. Writers live in one world but try not to allow modern ways to influence their story world. It’s easy to slip into social anachronism.
I have the thrill and chaos right now of two books launching simultaneously. That’s a lot of characters. A lot of personalities vying for attention. So, for simplicity’s sake I’ll focus on my two heroines. Both are from the mid 1800’s. Both have high ideals and strong faith. Both seek to “push the envelope” of women’s roles in their society. But the *how* and the *why* is critical.
In The Abolitionist’s Daughter, Marietta Hamilton is a passionate idealist. She has been raised by parents active in politics—her father serves Senator William Seward who becomes Lincoln’s Secretary of State– and further, her family offers their home as a station on the Underground Railroad. She has unique positional influence and predisposition to the desires burning within her heart. Desires to help the helpless, to champion the downtrodden. To rescue those trapped in slavery, poverty and disadvantage. And those desires have been fueled by the church she attends, the faith she holds, the speakers she has heard. Her world has conditioned her for the work. All except for one factor—women in the Victorian age, especially young ladies seeking their social debut and of marrying age—were expected to be demure, retiring, winsome, and skilled in feminine arts. Not little firebrands or social activists.
The challenge for me, then, was to create a crusading female within the context of the times. Women WERE encouraged to participate in charity. Women were praised for making social alliances and exerting influence through their feminine wiles. Charm, beauty and persuasion went a long way, even for the high society of a very visible Washington family with a mother who watched her only daughter with an eagle eye. Much could be accomplished, playing the piano and entertaining guests, in diverting unwanted matchmaking attempts. And maybe pushing her boundaries by writing letters to the Virginia-born horseman who has stolen her heart, with or without her parent’s awareness.
And then there are the ways society itself began to change during this time. Women had begun to gain traction in educational opportunities. Marietta seeks to escape the noose of finishing school and attends a female college with a very rigorous academic standard. The school places harder social strictures on her than her mother did, so again, she must navigate these expectations in an authentic way to achieve her goals. All the while keeping the spark of the forbidden romance with her “common” cavalry soldier alive.
My second heroine, SarahAnn Winnifred from Love Brick by Brick in Victorian Christmas Brides Collection, has very ambitious goals for a woman of her times. In 1857, she has been taken under the wing of a husband and wife doctor team and is being apprenticed to become a female doctor. Her mentor, Dr. Rachel Gleason, is a real historical figure who was only the fourth woman in history to earn her MD. SarahAnn works at the Gleason’s health resort, a Victorian invention called a Water Cure, which employed the use of mineral springs, baths, tonics, and wraps for the perceived curative powers of water.
SarahAnn is determined to elevate herself from humble beginnings as an orphan, and education and new opportunities for women in careers was an increasingly authentic means. Though historically accurate, I weighed her character goals and motivations carefully. Women then simply were not driven by the same ambitions as women of today. Some modern women delight in rocking the boat and stretching boundaries. But not so much with Victorian women. I believe the natural progression of women’s roles in history followed genuine need and not so much want. For example, when husbands went off to war or died, women had to fill roles that under other circumstances would have been unlikely or inappropriate. In my character’s case, she works because a gracious lady has offered to take her under her wing, to grant her a better future. My heroine has chosen to pursue a career because she finds love and marriage unlikely due to her social standing. A chance acquaintance at the Water Cure may open doors to a yuletide romance she never considered possible.
The Abolitionist’s Daughter
1860-1864 Shenandoah Valley, and Elmira, NY
When a fiery social crusader interrupts a slave auction, a horse trader and his twin brother are set on a collision course with war—brother against brother. Can the passion that severed ties inspire a love strong enough to overcome hate?
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Love Brick by Brick by Kathleen L. Maher in The Victorian Christmas Brides Collection
1857 Elmira, New York
SarahAnn Winnifred overcomes orphanhood apprenticing with pioneering doctors. Rufus Sedgwick, relocating his English estate, seeks help for his ailing Mum. Christmas reveals the secret wish of both hearts—for love.
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Kathleen L. Maher has had an infatuation with books and fictional heroes ever since her preschool crush, Peter Rabbit. She has a novella in BARBOUR’s 2018 Victorian Christmas Brides collection, featuring her hometown of Elmira, New York. She won the 2012 ACFW Genesis contest for her Civil War historical romance, releasing this summer under a new title The Abolitionist’s Daughter. Her debut historical, Bachelor Buttons, blends her Irish heritage and love of New York history. Kathleen shares an old farmhouse in upstate New York with her husband, children, and a small zoo of rescued animals.
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Thanks so much once again for having me today, Elaine. I look forward to interacting with your readers.