Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Challenges and Rewards of Writing Historical Fiction: Author C. M. Keller on Screwing Up Time

C. M. Keller is an award-winning novelist and author of Screwing Up Time. She loves old movies and poison rings. In her spare time, she searches for that elusive unicorn horn. She's currently hard at work on her next young adult novel, the second book in Mark and Miranda's story. Her blog is A Merry Heart.

C. M. Keller
When Adele approached me and asked me to share the biggest challenge and most rewarding aspect of writing Screwing Up Time, I wasn't sure what I'd say. Many aspects of writing are both difficult and exhilarating. Writing the initial draft is terrifying, but such a rush. Editing can be mind-numbing when you're trying to find the perfect words, but to see your story take final shape is like seeing your child for the first time. Then I remembered the part of the process that prompted me to haunt office supply stores and yielded dark circles under my eyes—editing for historical accuracy and consistency.

My book is a "time travel meets romantic comedy" novel, and writing about people and places from different time periods was a fantastic experience. The cultural and historical differences provided many opportunities for humor, misunderstanding and character growth. Though I did lots of research before and during my initial draft, getting the historical details right was the hardest thing about writing this particular novel. During revisions, I would discover that something I'd read about the castle, the location or the time period wasn't correct. (I invested a lot of time in checking and rechecking the facts.) Because the plot was complex, a small change in one spot often forced me to rewrite scenes throughout the novel. I ended up coding the entire manuscript with multicolored Post-it flags. For example, if I needed to verify a love token, I would check all the romance scenes, so I used red flags to mark romance scenes. When I discovered a recent photo that showed the grass floors of the modern Bodiam Castle had been replaced with fine pebbles, I checked all the scenes that took place in the modern castle and made sure the floors were pebbles—for those I used yellow flags. Blue flags marked the castle in the Middle Ages, purple was for historical artifacts, etc. I used an entire Crayola crayon box worth of Post-it flag colors. In the end, the process worked, but getting there was...colorful.
Screwing Up Time

The most satisfying thing to me as an author is the response from my readers. I assumed they would be teens, and while many are, I've discovered that my book has a much larger audience. Elementary school children have told me they love the book. Seventy-year-old men who never thought they'd read young adult said that although they only read it because someone recommended it, to their surprise, they loved the novel and can't wait to read the sequel. Sharing [the main characters of] Mark and Miranda with others has been an amazing gift, and I'm so thankful for the opportunity my readers have given me.

For more about the book, visit Screwing Up Time and the blog A Merry Heart.

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