Today XOXO After Dark is pleased to welcome bestselling inspirational author Deborah Raney, author of dozens of novels, including her most recent, THE FACE OF THE EARTH, now available from Howard Books. We know fans of historical fiction come from many places, so we thought it would be fun to hear from an author who loves reading it–but doesn’t want to write it!
A while back, when I was invited to post during XOXO After Dark’s historical fiction week, I was honored, but my first panicked thought was, “what on earth do I know about historical fiction?” I write about the here and now. And while I love to read historical novels, I’ve only written one, a novella. (Had it been a full-length historical, I’d still be asking for extensions on my deadline ten years later!) The only thing that experience accomplished was to convince me I’d best stick to writing contemporary. Why? Oh, let me count the ways…
My first sentence of my first draft of Circle of Blessings––set in the Dakota Territory, 1864––read something like this:
Heather Bradford grabbed her handbag from the credenza in the parlor and stepped out onto the back deck, panning the horizon.
My fingers paused on the keyboard. Was a purse actually called a “handbag” back then? Better check. Okay, Webster said the word “handbag” only came into popular use around 1862. My Heather lived in a remote area and was not especially fashion conscious. Not likely she’d have adopted such a newfangled term. Two hours of research later, I settled on “reticule” and hoped my editor would correct me if I was wrong.
Sadly, my research also unearthed the fact that Heather would have to wait at least sixteen years to call her sideboard/buffet a “credenza” since Webster dated that word at 1880. Fine. Delete and replace. So now my first sentence read:
Heather Bradford grabbed her reticule from the sideboard in the parlor and stepped out onto the back deck, panning the horizon.
Hmmm…come to think of it, I doubt it was typical to build a deck onto homes back then. Or at least if they did, they’d call it something else, right? A porch maybe? Or veranda? Portico? Terrace? I highlighted the phrase “onto the back deck.” My brother is an architect. He probably took some architectural history classes on his way to getting licensed. I could give him a call later.
I read my sentence again. Something still seemed “off.” The word “panning” stood out somehow. I looked it up: pan [verb] – to rotate (as a motion-picture camera) so as to keep an object in the picture or secure a panoramic effect. 1930. Shoot! (No pun intended.) It was a movie term. I couldn’t use a movie term in a novel set in 1864! Delete delete delete. I was starting to hate this Webster guy.
Heather Bradford grabbed her reticule from the sideboard in the parlor and stepped out onto the porch[?], scanning the horizon.
Wait! Was “scanning” a printing term? You know: PSC. Printer/Scanner/Copier? Consult Webster. Nope, I was okay there. “Scan” was also a legitimate and ancient verb.
But my heroine’s name didn’t ring true. Sure it was one of the most common and popular names at the time I was writing that novella, but further research revealed “Heather” was almost nonexistent as a woman’s name before 1940.
Okay, fine. I could change her name. My great-grandmother was born around 1880. It would probably be safe to use her name, Stella. Delete delete delete delete.
Stella Bradford grabbed her reticule from the sideboard in the parlor and stepped out onto the porch[?], scanning the horizon.
Three days and 578,642 dead brain cells later, I finally had an opening line for my novella, but by now I was second-guessing myself on every single word. Was the word “grabbed” in use back in 1864? Probably, but had the term made its way to the Dakota Territory by then? Was there even a horizon back in 1864? Sheesh!
I finally, finally finished A Circle of Blessings and it appeared in the lovely Christmas anthology, A Currier & Ives Christmas. A few years later I was invited to contribute to A Prairie Christmas Collection, a beautiful new anthology of historical novellas. And yes, my name is on the cover. But don’t let that fool you. My offering to that collection is, once again, A Circle of Blessings, the first, last––and only––historical piece Deborah Raney ever wrote.
And now you know why I have such deep respect for the authors of the historical novels I love to read. My hat (or should that be chapeau?) is off to every one of them!
So, what DO I write? I write contemporary women’s fiction. I love exploring the nuances of modern-day life in my novels, including my newest, The Face of the Earth, which poses the question, “How can a man love ’till death do us part’ when the woman he’s committed his life to has seemingly vanished off the face of the earth?”
And although the details and culture of women’s lives change as the decades fly by, our emotions and relationships have much in common with our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. We still learn who we are through our relationships with parents, children, siblings, and BFFs. Like women of bygone eras, we still struggle to find where we fit in, who we were created to be. We still cherish the things that make us laugh and cause us to hope. And we still fall in love and dream of a love that will last a lifetime.
DEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched her writing career after 20 happy years as a stay-at-home mom. Since then, her books have won numerous awards including the RITA Award, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Deb’s 23rd novel released from Howard/Simon & Schuster in May 2013 and she is currently working on a new five-book series for Abingdon Press Fiction. Deb enjoys teaching at writers’ conferences across the country. She and her husband, Ken Raney, recently traded small-town life in Kansas ––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deb on the Web at www.deborahraney.com.