Who even am I? When I was in high school, the only thing I would consider writing outside of fanfiction was high fantasy. If it didn’t have dragons in it, I didn’t see the point. My fanfictions ran the gamut according to whatever fandom they were in, my original writing was heavily influenced by all things magic, and if you had told me then that someday I would be writing historical fiction? L-O-FRICKING-L.
Okay, so, I don’t even really know how to explain this? I’ve been writing fantasy forever. In 2016, when I finally dropped the high fantasy that I’d been working on for my entire writing life up until then, I did switch to urban fantasy, but I still stayed in things that were as far-fetched as it could get in the real world. My first novel outside of that long trek through a series of high fantasy novels was about a faery that owned a magical teahouse. After Mason came the Pen boys, who were a little more realistic, but they literally attended a magical school that taught them about tarot and crystals and energy work. And both of these stories exist in the 21st century, so there’s absolutely no research involved. I’m just writing what I know.
When 2017 rolled around, it was after a lot of fun in the urban fantasy world, but I was starting to miss creating my own worlds, so I finally dipped back into high fantasy. Saintsverse held my attention for a full year, and even when I did finally let it go for a bit to work on sister witches, still. 21st century! Who is this dumbass that’s writing historical fiction?? It ain’t me!
I truly don’t know how it happened. I’ve been working steadily on sister witches since 2018, and though I’m not currently writing it, I’m supposed to edit the third book soon. The beginning of this year saw a complete overhaul on the second book, and I’m actively trying to find an agent for the first one. For as long as I can remember, I have been writing fantasy that either takes place on a secondary world that’s still mostly modern, or urban fantasy that takes place now. If I really want to get to the bottom of this, I’d have to say it’s probably Natasha Pulley’s fault.
That’s not fair, though, because we all know equal blame should be laid on Lara Elena Donnelly, as well, because, at the end of 2019, I read Amberlough, and it ruined me for all other books. I didn’t know I could have that?? I didn’t even know I liked historical fiction! And The Amberlough Dossier doesn’t even have magic in it, which is a whole other thing I didn’t realize I could have, and I just?? After I finished Donnelly’s trilogy, I really felt like I was a shell of my former self, and nothing would ever be the same again. I wasn’t quite certain how to move on from those characters, and I didn’t know how to find something like that again. It’s really not your standard historical fiction fare, I think, and I do honestly believe that most of the historical fiction out there is probably not going to be my jam, so I didn’t really try all that hard to find something. It was honestly just happenstance that I stumbled across Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and although Donnelly had cracked something open inside of me, it was Pulley that really did the trick.
The timeline of this is hilarious, though. I finished The Amberlough Dossier in January 2020, read Watchmaker in July, absolutely lost my shit over The Lost Future of Pepperharrow in August, and then started writing Freddie’s story in–WAIT NO. Okay. Let’s be more specific about it, this is ridiculous. I read Watchmaker from 7/31-8/2, created Freddie’s character on 8/9, tried to write a godsdamn short story on 8/11 to make myself not write a book, read Pepperharrow from 8/10-8/13, and then finally gave up and started writing the actual novel on 8/23.
In the same way that Landon Ash from Saintsverse came fully formed into my mind overnight one fateful Sunday in November 2017 after finishing Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, Frederick Hanscomb Wright III would not leave me alone for the entire month of August after slowly withering away beneath Thaniel & Mori’s stunning romance, and I wrote his entire duology in four months.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I started Freddie’s story. I knew that it wasn’t set in modern times, just based on his general aesthetic, and when I decided to set it in the 30s, I didn’t really hesitate to wonder the kind of research that would take. And, honestly, now that I’m writing in classical antiquity Greece, holy hell, I would much prefer the “heaps of research” I thought I was doing for Freddie over this insanity. I’ll never forget one of the more specific moments where I was trying to figure out a composer for Freddie to be playing, but I had to make sure they would have been famous enough by the 30s for him to be aware of them, so that would mean finding a composer that was alive & creating a few decades earlier, but I’d also want them to be Portuguese and fit the mood that Freddie generally falls into when he’s playing the piano, and ALL OF THIS isn’t even relevant to the story. It’s just because Freddie is an idiot and likes to get all posh and ridiculous when he’s talking about literally anything. Oh, and? If there were queer undertones to the composer, even better! It was honestly like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Truthfully, though, that’s about as extensive as my research was. Sure, I had to look at a lot of maps of the catacombs under the Vatican, and I had to figure out which books in which languages Freddie would most likely need to use to further his own research, but it really wasn’t that bad considering. (Please don’t ask me what they wore in 300 BC in Macedon, I don’t know, and it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what I’d need, so I just–don’t describe anyone’s clothes until it’s easier to research.)
And I just feel so baffled by all of this. From a lifetime of writing fantasy to historical fiction?? Who even am I?! Yes, my historical fiction is also fantasy-based, I mean, Freddie literally summons a demon, and Andrew is actually an ancient vampire, but both of them are so deeply entrenched in the time period around them that it’s a huge departure from what I’m used to. I guess you could also say that sister witches is also very specific to its time period, but that takes place now, and I really don’t have to do anything to make it fit into the 21st century, but I’ve had to rework my style of writing, how I approach relationships, and the nitty gritties of my characters so that they fit in their given time. Andrew’s dialect changes from the beginning of his story to the end because it would make no sense if he was just flippant and said whatever he wanted while acting as Alexander the Great’s most formidable soldier. Though I’m getting better at falling into a rhythm with him, I’m still making a conscious effort every time he has a piece of dialogue, in order to make sure it fits the time period that he’s in.
Holy bajeezus, it’s exhausting.
I recently posted that picture on my story to illustrate how truly ridiculous writing Andrew’s novel has been. Every single location tag on a scene is a twenty-minute spiral through history trying to decide where/when/what it was called/what happened/if it makes sense/if it even existed! I look back on my urban fantasies and I’m just like, “Wow, how nice that was, I should do that again.” (I’m going to, just you wait, I’ve got something epic planned.)
The weirdest part, though? I’m really enjoying it. I don’t think I’ll hang out in historical fiction forever because fantasy is truly where my heart lies, and I don’t have any characters that I can think of (yet) that fit into my larger universe that would take place earlier, but it’s been a lot of fun for the past year. Getting to not only uncover the history of the country my great grandparents emigrated from, but slowly uncovering the long and winding history of my second oldest character (his aunt is 2000 years older than him, and while I’m supposed to write her story someday, that’s going to be a longgggg way away) has been endless amounts of fun. It’s hard, and it takes forever, and it’s aggravating sometimes, but it’s also wonderful and weird, and I’m happy that I’m going to be in this genre for at least the rest of the year.
I never thought that I’d end up writing historical fiction when my focus has always been fantasy, but I guess the old adage is true–never say never.