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The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction: Researching and Writing Historical Fiction [Paperback]

James Alexander Thom


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Book Description

Feb. 24 2010

Once Upon a Time, it was NOW...

While a historian stands firmly planted in the present and looks back into the past, a historical novelist has a more immediate task: to set readers in the midst of bygone events and lead them forward, allowing them to live and feel the wonderment, fear, hope, triumph, and pain as if they were there.

In The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, best-selling author James Alexander Thom (Follow the River, From Sea to Shining Sea, Sign-Talker) gives you the tools you need to research and create stories born from the past that will move and inspire modern readers. His comprehensive approach includes lessons on how to:

  • Find and use historical archives and conduct physical field research
  • Re-construct the world of your novel, including people and voices, physical environments, and cultural context
  • Achieve verisimilitude in speech, action, setting, and description
  • Seamlessly weave historical fact with your own compelling plot ideas
With wit and candor, Thom's detailed instruction, illuminating personal experience, and invaluable insights culled from discussions with other trusted historical writers will guide you to craft a novel that is true to what was then, when then was now.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books (Feb. 24 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582975698
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582975696
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 13.8 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #345,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

James Alexander Thom was formerly a U.S. Marine, a newspaper and magazine editor, and a member of the faculty at the Indiana University Journalism School. He is the author of Follow the River, Long Knife, From Sea to Shining Sea, Panther in the Sky (for which he won the prestigious Western Writers of America Spur Award for best historical novel), Sign-Talker, The Children of First Man, and The Red Heart. He lives in the Indiana hill country near Bloomington with his wife, Dark Rain of the Shawnee Nation, United Remnant Band. Dark Rain is a director of the National Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Planning Council. The author's Website is: www.jamesalexanderthom.com.


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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction Feb. 16 2010
By Jean M - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
James A. Thom is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction so I was delighted to see he has recently published this 'how-to' book on the writing of historical fiction. I've read a few other books on writing historical fiction, all of which failed to inspire me, were dull reading, and in one case even undermined my confidence to attempt to tackle such writing.

Thom's new book, THE ART AND CRAFT OF WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION is not only informative and interesting, but humorous as well. Reading Thom's book is like being coached by your favorite teacher. Finally! I found an instruction book that is motivational and has provided me with the confidence to complete a story I've been researching for the past several years.

One of the very best examples of historical fiction writing is Thom's book FOLLOW THE RIVER. James A. Thom is not only a great story teller who is true to history, but also an excellent writing coach. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing historical fiction.

Jean M.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and entertaining Feb. 3 2010
By scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Perfect for anyone wanting to write period fiction. If you want your historical novel to seem authentic and smack of truth, this book is offering you the keys. James Thom has an incredibly engaging voice-sort of like sitting down to listen to your grandfather tell a story. This book does more than just instruct; it's humorous, insightful and entertaining.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not much about writing Aug. 7 2010
By Kirk McElhearn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While this book is interesting, and the author is certainly good at his job, very little of the book is actually about writing (or preparing to write). There are many discussions of being faithful to history, truth vs fiction, and the book is filled with examples of how good the author is at resolving such issue. But only a few chapters deal with the actual questions of writing, research, and the mechanics of dealing with the past. While this is an interesting book for those interested in historical fiction, it's not very useful for anyone hoping to write such fiction.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coaching through the pages... Jan. 25 2010
By Robyn I. Eastman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As a thirty plus year writer and much of it in the history and culture of Hawai'i, this book was like having Mr. Thom sitting in front of me as a writing coach! It's written with a great dose of humor, reading lists of other books, and lots of great tips on wending your way through history to find the magic of story...making the 'then' seem like 'now'!!! If you're writing historical fiction or even want to 'see' the magic of how it's done, read this book!

The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction: Researching and Writing Historical Fiction
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Self-Indulgent, Partisan, Petty, Crude, and Hardly Helpful Sept. 21 2012
By Jim Schmidt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Would you like to read a book about how to write historical fiction by a successful novelist who has sold millions of copies? Yes? Me Too! Would you like to read a book where said novelist reminds you throughout the book how many millions of copies he has sold? No? Me either.

Can't remember the last time I was so disappointed in a book.

As noted in the title of this review, the book is self-indulgent owing to repeated references to sales of his work; it is overly partisan - not that I disagree with his political opinions or those of his wife - I just don;t want to hear about them when I'm supposed to be reading a book about writing. Petty in that he engages in long-winded crankiness about a supposed slight he suffered from the mouth of the late Stephen Ambrose; crude in some of its writing; and the folksy conversational style grated my nerves within a chapter.

Yet, I could have suffered all this had it been helpful in advancing my craft...it is not.

The author's ignorance of - and seeming disdain for - digitized history is astounding; I haven;t read something this backwards since I heard Homer Simpson say, "Ooooooh, they have the internet on computers now." His knowledge of the internet seems to extend to Google, Wikipedia, and MySpace. Digitization of history does more than preserve documents, it democratizes research that once could be done only by academics or writers with a healthy advance in their pocket.

There are a few pluses - he does emphasize the importance of on-the-ground visits to historic sites and settings, and I couldn't agree more; he emphasized the expertise and utility of consulting of living historians (aka re-enactors) and the specialized studies of "armchair historians" and devoted hobbyists whose research and writing and attention to detail sometimes exceeds that of esteemed academics; his emphasis on verisimilitude may be the most helpful lesson.

Not recommended.

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