Historical versus Contemporary YA Novels by Beverly Stowe McClure (Contest)

Our special guest is Beverly Stowe McClure, author of the young adult novels, Rebel in Blue Jeans and Just Breeze. McClure’s latest release, Caves Cannons, and Crinolines, is a departure from her contemporary stories. Today she will discuss the differencs in writing an historical novel versus a modern-day story, and why she plans to keep writing both.

Historical Versus Contemporary Novels–The Similiarities and the Differences by Beverly Stowe McClure

History was never my favorite subject. Writing an historical novel had never entered my mind. Then one summer my husband and I drove to South Carolina to visit our son and daughter-in-law. On the way we stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and toured the national park there. We visited the museum, located in the old courthouse that dates back to the Civil War. I talked to the curator of the museum and also to a little old lady whose grandparents had survived the siege of Vicksburg. I read journals kept by the women who faced the horrors of war in their daily lives. And I knew I had to write their stories.

In some ways writing historical fiction is the same as writing contemporary fiction. No matter the time element, a story needs characters, a plot and theme, and a setting. To make my story set in the 1860s authentic, however, I needed to research the times. What did they eat? How did they dress? What were their interests: books, music, sports? How did they talk? Travel? To answer these questions, I bought books and journals and copies of old newspapers and read them and marked them and put myself in 1863 Vicksburg with its dirt streets, hillsides, and families terrified by daily cannon and rifle fire that destroyed their homes and in many cases their lives. I scoured the Internet where I found more journals, some written by children. Many university Web sites have great collections of Civil War information, including letters from soldiers to their families back home. From reading the way they wrote, their choice of words, and how many of the words differ in meaning today from the 1860s, I learned the flavor of their language. It’s very easy to let a modern term, such as a cell phone, slip in, so I had to check for the dates many items were invented. These letters also gave me the idea to have Lizzie write to her brothers who were away.

Research for my historical novel took several months, but it was worth every minute. When I knew what daily life was like for the people, not just the soldiers fighting the war, I could put myself in Lizzie’s place, or Nat’s. I could see the destruction of my home through their eyes, which added depth to the scenes.

My contemporary stories sometimes require research, as well. Small details make the difference, especially if the reader has some knowledge of the area of your setting. Readers will catch those little mistakes and then question the rest of the book, if the agent or editor doesn’t see them first. For instance, in Listen to the Ghost, set in Charleston, SC, I had to research the streets of the city to visualize a map of where they lived, where the library was located, and the park. I have been to Fort Sumter, where part of the story takes place and had pictures and other info to help me with that scene.

As for writing historical as opposed to contemporary, I enjoy both and hope to continue writing a variety of novels. My second historical fiction novel is under contract. It will be a couple years before it’s out, but the story is loosely based on my mother’s story as an Orphan Train Rider. I’ve discovered how much I love history. After all, our ancestors and the men and women who lived before us made us who we are today. What better reason to tell their stories?

Beverly Stowe McClure is the author of novels for teens including Just Breeze, Listen to the Ghost, Secrets I Have Kept, Rebel in Blue Jeans, and her latest Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines. A native Texan she lives in the country with her husband, cat, and a variety of wild critters.

46 thoughts on “Historical versus Contemporary YA Novels by Beverly Stowe McClure (Contest)

  1. I think what touches me the most about this book is the realism. Beverly, you have a gift with bringing your characters to life, and this story being set during the war you really get a feel for what the characters are feeling and going through – it grabs you from the first page of Lizzie’s letter to Willie. It’s very different from the contemporary novels.

    When I was in school I never cared for history – just a lot of memorization of dates and events. A story like this really gives you a different perspective – this would be an excellent book for suggested reading in the schools to bring the civil war to life for the students. I highly recommend this book.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Nancy. After learning what the siege was like for the citizens, I tried to put myself there, in their place, living the horror of it. I never planned to write an historical novel. Like you, I hated history in school. Who cared which explorer discovered what and when? Not me. Now that I’m older (a little) 🙂 I can relate better to what happened in the past and see how it affected the future.

      I’d love to see the book being used in classes. One problem I’ve run into though is the Accellerated Reading Program most schools now use, including local ones. If your book isn’t on that list, schools will seldom order it. I’ve tried to get Caves on the list, but it doesn’t qualify for various reasons. Yet. Maybe one day.

  2. Morning, Cheryl. This is a great way to start my tour. Love the pictures.

    I might add that everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines.

    I’ll be back. 🙂

  3. I’m glad you like the post. I tried to use the photos you sent over, but I couldn’t get them to work because of the white box around them. Good luck with your virtual book tour. I’ll do some promotion on this once I get back from my appointment.

    To all my readers, this is an excellent book. I hope you’ll leave a comment for your chance to win a copy. Please leave an email address along with your comment so Bev can contact you if you win.

    Thanks.

    Cheryl

  4. What an interesting interview, Beverly and Cheryl.

    History was never my favorite subject either, but the way you described learning about the nitty gritty facts of the time period sounded fun, Beverly. I have a copy of Caves, Cannons and Crinolines and have started reading it. I see evidence of your detailed research already. Can’t wait to see how the story turns out. :o)

    • First of all everyone. Let me apologize for being absent all day. My hubby had surgery this morning and we’ve been at the hospital since 5:30 AM. I’m home now. He’s at dialysis. Have to pick him up in an hour, so I’m trying to catch up.

      Thanks, Kim. The Civil War is my favorite period in history. I have a whole library of CW books.

  5. Such interesting stuff! I have yet to write an historical novel, but I’d like to. There are specific times in history that fascinate me, but I don’t think I have the time or energy to put in as much research as needed right now.

  6. Beverly, I applaud your book tour. I am happy I can travel along with you and learn so much about you as an author and the style of books you have written and published. I wish you much success.

  7. Great interview, mate. You did some awesome research, Beverly. Congratulations on a job well done. Your book sounds like a wonderfully informative and fun read.

    Bools for Kids – Manuscript Critiques
    Margot Finke

  8. Hi Beverly,
    I’m eager to read your book because I do love history, and most especially historical novels. I enjoy visiting places like Williamsburg, Virginia, and Charleston.
    I’m currently working on a historical fiction novel, myself. I love all the research involved.
    Thanks to both you and Cheryl.
    BarbaraB

    • Hi, BarbaraB,

      Thanks. I love Charleston too. I fell in love with that town when our oldest son moved there and we visited him. Talk about history. My ya novel Listen to the Ghost is set in Charleston.

  9. Beverly, thank you for sharing the interesting article. I never enjoyed history in school but have become much more appreciative of it in more recent years. Best wishes to you on your tour and with your book!

  10. Beverly, your book sounds fascinating. It’s so interesting what sparks a writer’s desire to pursue a particular subject. I love books that bring history to life, especially for children.

    I hope you tour is a huge success.

    • Thanks for the kind wished, Karen. It is interesting what a writer decides to write. I never thought I’d write an historical novel. Just goes to show you. 🙂

  11. For a long time I’ve been playing around with the idea of writing something based on stories my grandfather told me about growing up in the nineteenth century. Your article has inspired me to actually do it. Thanks.

    • Good. I bet you’d enjoy it. Those old stories are so interesting. I have a mg historical about my mother riding the Orphan Train to Texas under contract with Twilight Times too. It’ll be a couple years before we get to see it, but I’m looking forward to telling her story.

  12. Very interesting blog post. I enjoyed reading Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines. Beverly, I wish you much success with your blog tour and look forward to reading more books written by you!

  13. Beverly:

    Fascinating recap on your research for Caves, Cannons, and Crinolines. I’ve always enjoyed history and love immersing myself in historical fiction. While reading your book I felt completely within the time period. Kudos! Best wishes for your continued success!

    Warmest regards,
    Donna

    • Thank you, Donna. I’m glad you felt like you were there. It’s so important go get the customs and language of an era just right.

      I imagine you did a lot of research for your forthcoming book too.Looking forward to reading your story.

      Have a nice weekend.

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