Monday, August 8, 2011

Seekerville Welcomes Guest Blogger Christine Johnson

Debby here! Join me in welcoming Love Inspired Historical author Christine Johnson to Seekerville. I had the pleasure of judging Christine's debut novel, SOARING HOME, in a national contest and loved her work. We met last year at the RWA Conference, and I invited her to guest blog. Fast forward another year and we were finally able to make it happen.

Christine's giving away THREE copies of her August release, THE MATRIMONY PLAN, so be sure to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing. Christine also brought cinnamon coffeecake--from Lily's Restaurant, featured in her book--that's still warm from the oven and melt in your mouth good! Grab a cup of coffee and a slice of coffeecake, and let's listen as Christine talks about "Town-Building."

Thank you, Debby, for inviting me to Seekerville, and good morning all! I’m thrilled to join you today at one of my favorite blogs. Dare I admit that in my unpubbed days I wanted to be on the Island? The tropical breezes and Captain Jack enticed for certain, but the camaraderie and support between the Seekers on and off the island was and is something special. Congratulations to all the Seekers for making it off Unpubbed Island. Luckily for the rest of us seeking publication, support abounds in our fellow writers, and I was blessed with the unwavering support of my critique partners, the Lord’s guidance, and the faith of editor Emily Rodmell at Love Inspired, who took a chance on a messy manuscript about a woman who wanted to fly WWI-era aeroplanes.

Today I’m going to talk a little about town-building. Writers often refer to world-building when they need to create a fictional world, but I’m a small-town girl who works on a smaller scale. Before beginning my first inspirational romance, Soaring Home, I needed to decide whether or not to use a real small town. As a reader, I do enjoy a familiar location, particularly when I can pick out specific buildings and businesses. But real towns are, well, real. The buildings must be in exactly the correct spot. For historical novels, the author needs to know which businesses existed at that time and what they looked like. For many small towns, collecting that information takes a lot of research, often on location. Though more and more local history is getting digitized, much of it still remains only in paper, tucked away in libraries, historical societies, and archives. In the end, the historical record is always limited to the photographs taken and the events that were recorded.

That frustration plus the advantages of a fictional town led me to create the town of Pearlman. Businesses and houses can be placed exactly where they need to be. I can use favorite locations from the many small towns I’ve visited and lived in through the years. It does mean starting from scratch, creating every building and home, every creek and hill, every street and railroad line.

How to keep those details straight? I love visuals, so a map is essential. Mine is crudely drawn in pencil, so I can make alterations as required. It includes all the blocks, the street names, the businesses, characters’ homes, rivers, lakes, and transportation lines like highways and railroads. I love to place my fictional town within the context of actual locations, so surrounding cities and landmarks are often real places or places that existed at the time of the story.

I also sketch room interiors, so I know store and home layouts and exactly where every piece of furniture is located. And no, my characters are not allowed to move the furniture!

Character lists and genealogies are of course essential. Those go into a binder along with the sketches. Yes, I’m old school and use paper rather than the computer. But if you have a great idea how to organize this data, I’d love to hear about it—even if it’s computer-based. Someday I’ll get past the fear that my hard drive is going to crash. (I’ve suffered three of those to date.) So bring on the ideas! Let me know what you do to keep tabs on all that town (or world) building information.

And readers, do you prefer real towns or fictional towns? Has an incorrect detail about a real town ever thrown you completely out of the story? Years ago, I read a story about a town near my hometown, and one of the details was completely inaccurate. I couldn’t finish the story. Have you ever experienced something similar?

I’ll be giving away three signed copies of my current release, THE MATRIMONY PLAN, today. Good luck, and God bless!

About Christine:

Christine Johnson is a small-town Michigan girl who has lived in every corner of the state’s Lower Peninsula. After trying her hand at music and art, she returned to her first love -- story. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in library studies from the University of Michigan. She feels blessed to write and to be twice named a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® award. When not at the computer keyboard, she loves to hike and explore God’s majestic creation. She participates in her church’s healing prayer ministry and has experienced firsthand the power of prayer. These days, she and her husband, a Great Lakes ship pilot, split their time between northern Michigan and the Florida Keys. Visit her at


Felicity Kensington is preparing for the grandest wedding Pearlman, Michigan, has ever seen. True, her prospective husband is virtually a stranger. But the well-connected engineer her father hired fits all her marriage criteria. Except for one tiny flaw: it’s the town’s new pastor, not the wealthy engineer, who makes Felicity’s heart race….

Gabriel Meeks left New York to avoid high society’s foolish rules. Instead, he’s immediately smitten with the high-and-mighty Miss Kensington. Beneath Felicity’s misplaced pride is a woman of genuine worth, if he can only help her see it. And nothing could make him happier than ensuring that her matrimony plan takes an unexpected twist!


Jamie said...

Looks like I'm the first one here. I couldn't resist the cinnamon coffeecake. Yum

One of the things that drew me to my favorite author was the fact that he mentions so many town that I have been in. It really helped make the stories come to life for me. So I guess a real location helps me.

I like the idea of sketching the town out for your story. No need to put me in the drawing. I'm reading The Matrimony Plan now. It is so good I hate to put it down.


Christine Johnson said...

Debby, thank you for having me on Seekerville!

Wow, I'm not usually awake this late (more like a 10:00 bedtime for me), but I took a nap earlier so I didn't miss the kickoff. Thought I was doing pretty good, but Jamie beat me here.

Hi Jamie!!! (waving) Thank you for reading The Matrimony Plan. You say I don't need to put you in the drawing, but if you did visit Pearlman, where would you like to go?

Jamie said...

It's past my bed time here but it's this book ;) I tell myself... as soon as I finish this chapter I'm going to bed but then I get to the last page of the chapter and nope... I've got to turn the page to see where your leading us.

The park in Pearlman sounds ideal. A picnic basket in the park near the pavilion would make a nice place to visit.

Vince said...

Hi Christine:

When it comes to historical and factual mistakes, it all depends on the nature of the mistake. If it is a major mistake, like having the author call Julius Caesar the first Roman Emperor, then I can’t read the book. A big mistake will keep pulling me out of the story.

A small one-time mistake may pass with little reading disturbance.

My complaint with historical fiction is not mistakes but rather the lack of history. Many of the stories use history as wallpaper only. With only minor changes these stories could have happened anytime in the last three hundred years. Most details are left out of these stories so that the author will not be faced with getting her facts wrong. For example, money and prices will almost never be mentioned.

With historical fiction I prefer history to take on the importance of a major character. I want the story to only be possible in the time and place in which it is set. I also want to get a good feel for what it was like to live during that time period.

What I really enjoy is story in which it is hard to tell if it was written today as historical fiction or written back then as a contemporary novel. I just read one like this and it won a RITA!

I may not be typical. I have a teaching minor in history and have enjoyed reading history all my life.

I often wonder why authors choose to write historical fiction when it creates so many extra problems.

Like Winnie Griggs, will you write a contemporary LI if the editor asks you too? : )


vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

KC Frantzen said...

Hey Christine!

Thx for bringing such delicious sustenance. Mmmm mmmmm good!

I like your ideas. Have also heard (might it have been from Debby?) that some authors go to model homes and take photos and get a floor plan. Sounds like a great idea.

In my book, I roughly based it on familiar surroundings, so it was easy to visualize. The next in the series will be to places I've been also. Hopefully, all will ring true!

Congratulations on your success!

May at maythek9spy dot com

Cheryl St.John said...

Christine, you are so ME. I do the same maps of my towns and the binders!

The cover of your new book is great.

I put on a fresh pot of chai tea. Help yourself.

Patty Smith Hall said...

Christine, welcome to Seekerville!

I have a question--in my next manuscript, the setting is a small town that once existed but doesn't now. Would you go through drawing out this town as if it is a fake town or do you have something else that might work better. This town ceased to exist back in the 1850. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

I bought your latest book the day it released so no need to put me in the drawing. And I totally loved Soaring Home--we flygirls have to stick together!


Christine Johnson said...

Jamie, soooo sorry my book is keeping you up late. But really, that's the best compliment you could give an author. Big hugs and smiles!

Vince, I enjoy a great historical too and love when I feel as if I'm in that time. Write a contemporary? Hmm. Never say never (after all I said I'd never date a sailor and I married one), but my heart is in historicals.

Hi K.C.! I like the idea of going to homes to get an idea of floorplans, etc. Of course I'd have to find a historical home that hadn't been altered over the years... Historical villages are great for that.

Virginia said...

Great post! I haven't found any really glaring inaccuracies, but I LOVE reading about places I've been. I once read a book set in Old Town Prague, (Czech Rep.)where I lived after college. It was a historical romance, I knew the streets and the Charles Bridge, etc.! It was incredible...

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Cheryl! We can compare binders, LOL. Thanks for the chai tea. Love it!

Patty, the researcher in me would try to get as much information on the town as possible. That can be challenging, but try asking a librarian in a nearby town if there is any information extant and where it is located. Amen on the flygirls! Your book is tops on my TBR pile.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Virginia! What a great experience living in Old Town Prague. I can see how the book would bring back wonderful memories.

Christine Johnson said...

Good night all. My eyelids are drooping, and I need to get some sleep. See you again in the morning with another coffeecake and peaches and cream.

karenk said...

great posting...i smiled when i read that christine 'sketches' out her rooms plans...and her characters are not permitted to 'move the furniture' :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Ausjenny said...

Welcome Christine, on your question about towns as I dont know American towns I often dont know if they are made up or real but could understand if facts were wrong. I remember a book partly set in australia where they used a real town set it in far north Queensland and said it was a 2 hour drive from sydney. 20 hours maybe and that would be speeding. Another I read had the the wrong geography for the area. I have to say both were written By americans who probably thought noone would notice.
I like some history in a book also.
Christine I am going to get your book when I do my next order but it may not be till the end of the month. Loved your first one.
Please enter me.

Debby Giusti said...

Morning Seekerville!

The coffee's wonderful and so is the coffeecake. Thanks, Christine!

Jamie, glad The Matrimony Plan kept you up last night so yours could be the first comment Christine read. Isn't she a wonderful writer!

Debby Giusti said...


So many guys love history and tend to read more non-fiction. Wonder why? Any thoughts, Vince?

Sounds as if you enjoy combining the real with the make-believe, but you want more meat and potatoes with your stories. Isn't Biblical fiction your favorite? I still remember The Robe and The Silver Chalice. Great reads that transported me back in time.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi KC,

Love the idea of visiting model homes for ideas. I often search through magazines for the perfect house or backyard setting.

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Cheryl! Thanks for the chai tea!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Patty...another wonderful author whose work I had the honor to judge in a contest. Both you and Christine took LIH by storm with your debut novels!

Debby Giusti said...

Virginia, I visited Prague a few years ago and loved the city. Were you working there or doing graduate-degree studies? Music, perhaps? So many evening concerts.

Debby Giusti said...

Peaches and cream, Christine? Be still my Georgia heart!

BTW, the peach crop is wonderful this year. Some years are better than others and this one is fantastic!

Patty Smith Hall said...

Vince, I'm so with you on the history part of a historical romance. I love when the history of the moment is threaded into the story where that the story wouldn't be the same without the history.

One of the things that tickled me when Hearts in Flight was released was the number of men I received emails from who liked the story because of the history involved.

Christine Johnson said...

Good morning! Hi Debby and thanks for the coffee. Waves too to KarenK for stopping by in what were the wee hours for me. Sorry I missed you.

AusJenny, great to see you here! Wow, claiming the distance was two hours when it really takes twenty? I'd either be laughing or the author would lose credibility. In either case, I probably wouldn't finish the book. Did you stick it out? Aw, thank you so much for remembering my book.

Patty, how awesome that Hearts in Flight reached out to men too! Do you think it's because of the aviation or the ties to WWII?

pol said...

Love the coffee and coffee cake this morning thanks Christine, yum.
I have read your soaring home and it was very good story, I look forward to reading more books that you write, I like to read about real places in books, many authors research so well that you would think you were in that place as you read. thanks for sharing your talant with us and your books for us to read....Paula O (

Renee Ryan said...

Hi Christine! I just wanted to stop by and give a shout-out. Love your cover, by the way. Can't wait to read this one.

Vince, I like my historicals heavy on the history, too. I think it comes from all my years teaching high school. ;-) However, I've also found that there's a fine line required when weaving in all those facts. I'm ten books in and still trying to figure out the right mix.


Kirsten Arnold said...

Hi Christine,

The Matrimony Plan sounds wonderful. I'll have to get on Amazon after visiting Seekerville.

I tend to use real towns. I love doing the research and recreating historic places.

This summer I took a trip to the town in Wyoming featured in my current ms, and about passed out when the historic society had a model set up of the town as it looked in the year my story takes place. But I'm very careful that everything is accurate, because like you it can ruin a story for me if something is off.

But the idea of town building sounds interesting. Especially, the ability to move places where you need them instead of moving your characters where the places are.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Good morning Christine, Welcome to Seekerville and you made the late night chat as well as the early morning. I'm impressed. smile

I love that period of history from WWII and am so glad publishers are now publishing from that era. I heard so many interesting details from my parents. I look forward to reading your story.

Vince, I'm with you. Give me loads of history. And the fun thing is learning new things like I did in Janet's stories about the orphan trains. And Mary's latest Out of Control has a lot of interesting info on caves that you don't think about them knowing in those days.

Julie Lessman said...

CHRISTINE -- WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE!! And, Deb, thanks for bringing her!

LOVE the premise for your new book AND the cover!! And, of course, I am partial to WWI-era romances ... :)

You said: "I also sketch room interiors, so I know store and home layouts and exactly where every piece of furniture is located. And no, my characters are not allowed to move the furniture!"

Oh, girl, you just taught this old bird something new!! I was just thinking yesterday how the rooms in my Daughters of Boston series are different in my mind in every book, which frustrates me, so your idea sounds WONDERFUL ... AND necessary for someone like me whose first six books are set in the same house, neighborhood and city.

I actually prefer real cities to fictional ones because I think it really adds when you can include fun things into the book. For instance, in the final O'Connor book, A Trust Restored, a lot of the action takes place at the Ocean Pier Dance Pavillion on Revere Beach where they held dance marathons, had a ballroom, a skating rink, restaurants in a grand, fairy-tale type structure at the end of 1500-foot pier into Massachusetts Bay. The pictures are AMAZING, so I had a lot of fun with that.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Christine, welcome to Seekerville. Is that photo of you taken on Unpubbed Island ?? I think I recognize that palm tree. :)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Wow, Christine! It sounds like you put a lot of work into laying out your towns, whether fictional or real. My first novel used a real town in northern France. My second novel uses a fictional town in upstate New York. But I don't go to the extreme of drawing a map. I have a map of the main places in my mind, but not on paper. :-) I guess every writer is different!

Victoria Bylin said...

Hi Christine! I thoroughly enjoyed your first book! The details really stood out, and now I know why. Town Building!

The most annoying mistake I've come across is a red Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap. I'm from L.A.. The Dodger wear blue... a very distinct and well known "Dodger Blue." Big oops!

Have a great day!

Anne Barton said...

What a great post, Christine! I love the idea of sketching out towns and floor plans--I'll need to give that a try.

Congrats on your latest release. The cover is darling!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Christine, I have purchased your book so no need to put me in the drawing. Can't wait to get started on it.

You are also one of those authors blessed with great covers!

Best wishes on this book and future creations!

Peace, Julie

Patty Smith Hall said...

Christine, I think it was a little of both--the guys who wrote me said they had never heard of the girl pilots of WWII and was interested in learning more about them.

Which is why I think books like Soaring Home and Flights attract more men--women in aviation is not a well known subject, and there were so many who made huge contributions to the field.

And thanks for answering my question--I've got some information on this little town(I'm a research nut too!) but figure I'm going to have to look at the history of it then fill in parts to make the town viable.

I'm so looking forward to reading The Matrimony Plan--saving as my treat for when I get through my edits on this next book!

Patsy said...

I'll take some of that coffeecake with my coffee! I know Christine's book will be a great read! I love reading all the Love Inspired books. The covers are always so pretty too.


Sheri Salatin said...

Thank you for the great interview. Yes, the information for real towns needs to be accurate. I don't mind fiction towns, but when the author uses a real town, I prefer the data to be factual.

Please enter me for a chance at the drawing.


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Christine! Delighted to have you here. I loved Soaring Home and look forward to The Matrimony Plan.

Thanks for the informative post. My first two LIHs were set in a real town. I'd done the time-consuming research before I sold. I soon realized I didn't have the time to stay in the real world and needed to create my small-town settings. Like you, I sketch the streets, location of buildings, even the interior of the houses.

I've vacationed in several small MI towns. Cool that your d/h is a Great Lakes ship pilot. I've read about the horrible wrecks on the Great Lakes over the years. Do you plan to tell a ship pilot's story?

The cinnamon coffeecake is yummy. Thanks!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

I'm totally in on Lily's coffee cake!

Oh, YAY!!!! ;)

Christine, I am so with you on the delight of those novels, and on having uplifting writing friends who DON'T LET US WALLOW.

Not in the bad or the good.

We keep on, keepin' on.

Thank you for this wonderful post and I love creating fictional towns. Soooo fun. In real-life settings.

We are so blessed to do what we do. Which around here is mainly eat chocolate. ;)

M&M's anyone? Almond, today.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Jenny, remember in A Town Like Alice, how the hero described an 'abo' painting as the best he'd ever seen and when Jean quqstioned that, he said, "But he was painting his own place..."

Sometimes it just rings more true if we stick to our own place. And I changed a book series (unsold so far) from Louisiana to Georgia because I couldn't find the setting I needed in LA... And you should never force a setting.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Pol! Thanks for the kind words on Soaring Home. So it's another vote for real locations...if they're accurate. Real is beating fictional by a landslide this morning!

Renee - here's a shout out back at you! I loved Dangerous Allies.

Kirsten - what amazing providence to stumble on a full model from the exact year! I'd about pass out too. Question - do you do your town research before creating the characters and plot? If not, what do you do if a particular location (business, church, etc) is needed but wasn't there at the time? In other words, do you feel free to add fictional locations? (Okay, that was three questions. Sorry.)

Jamie said...

Debby I agree Christine is a wonderful writer. I had dreams last night about stray dogs and... well I don't want to give anything away so I'll stop there.

As someone that would love to be published one day I love how she paints the scene for the reader without taking away from the plot. That's hard to do but Christine's clearly a gifted writer.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Sandra! Thanks for stopping by. I love to learn new things too. That's a joy both in reading and writing historicals. I always learn a lot while researching for a book.

Julie Lessman - I'm so tickled and honored that you stopped by! And deeply humbled that you discovered something new to try.

Tina - ROFLOL! You caught me trying to pretend I'd been on Unpubbed Island.

Naomi - Now that you've tried both a real and a fictional town, do you have any preference?

Hi Victoria - I love your books!!!

Anne - congrats on winning the Golden Heart! I was ready to jump up and down for joy, but I had to present so had to hold it together until after the ceremony.

Julie Hilton Steele - Bless you for buying the book! You're so right about the covers. The art department creates such gorgeous covers.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Christine,

Wonderful to see you here on Seekerville! Your new book looks amazing! It has all the elements I love in a historical romance.

I prefer (when writing) fictional towns for the reason that I'm not well-traveled and don't have the money to do 'research trips'. So I find out about nearby towns and make my fictional one fit in nearby. It's so much fun to imagine the perfect setting!

I use sketches too, but mine aren't as organized as yours sound!

(I think you need to pay Jamie for all that free publicity! LOL!) Wishing you many, many sales!

(fellow 2008 GH finalist)
sbmason at sympatico dot ca

Judy said...

That cinnamon coffee cake does sound delicious!

I think I prefer real towns in books instead of fictional. You can kind of relate to the story line that way. It's exciting to read about a place you have visited! You can tell your reader friends, Hey! I know where that is!


Christine Johnson said...

Waves to Patsy and Sheri! Thanks for stopping by for the coffeecake. I have another batch on order from Lily's.

Janet - Hello!! Yes, I agree that the research for a real historical location is very time-consuming. I've actually done that, intending to use a real location for a story only to decide that I'd better create a fictional town due to lack of information or because I needed a key building that didn't exist in the real town. To answer your question, a book involving ships is never far from my mind.

Jamie said...

Susan LOL really she hasn't paid me a dime. (and she doesn't need to) It's just a nice surprise that the author of the book I'm reading is the guest blogger.

Now for some more coffee cake it wouldn't be hard to come up with a few more compliments.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Ruth! I'm totally with you on the chocolate. :-)

Sue - hi there fellow Pixie! Yes, it is fun creating the town, but don't get any crazy ideas that I'm really organized. Just ask my d/h what my office looks like...

Judy - I know what you're saying about finding real places that you've been. It's so fun! You have a bit more work to do in a historical small town, though, because business names most likely changed many times through the years, if the building still exists.

Christine Johnson said...

Jamie, you're the best!!! And I'm tickled pink that you're reading the book at the same time I'm blogging.

Kirsten Arnold said...


Yes, it really was amazing. It also led to a conversation with the mercantile owner, who said she’d be happy to sell my book (when published) since it takes place in their town and weaves facts in with the fiction.

I usually develop the characters and plots then go in search of the perfect town/area. The search hasn’t taken long though. I’ve been lucky and as my plot develops I have a picture of a town I’ve researched for my history studies. So, the light bulb clicks and I know Bozeman, MT would fit because Fort Ellis was close and I need the army nearby, or Virginia City, MT would be perfect because of its instant boom and prosperity when gold was found to its fall to insignificance mirrors my hero or heroines rise and fall and forces them to seek success elsewhere, or to scrape and scramble to keep their land despite the odds.

There are some locations I feel free to add like huge ranches or homes. But churches, general stores, liveries, and historic homes I don’t mess with those. Same if a church, store or building didn’t exist I don’t add it. If they have to travel somewhere to get supplies, or hold family services at home, my characters adjust. Oops, I lied, I did add a small café to my last wip that my hero’s mother ran, but I put it on a vacant lot not used by any historical business.

Sorry, this is so long. Hope I answered your questions somewhere in all that. :o)


Melissa Jagears said...

only big changes of history that would completely destroy the story bother me, if the train depot is at the wrong end of town, or there's a cash register there before it was invented doesn't bother me, it's a story. However if Queen Elizabeth had already been dead for 2 decades and the major character gets condemned to death by her...well, that's different, unless it was a very engaging story and I hadn't noticed any other problems, that would probably stop me.

Myra Johnson said...

Delighted to have you in Seekerville, Christine! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about fictional settings vs. real ones.

Having just completed a historical romance set in a real locale, I've experienced the challenges of trying to recreate the past from old photographs, maps, history books, etc. This is a resort area we have visited almost every year since the 1980s, so over time I've grown more and more fascinated with the history and decided I just had to set a novel there.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until beginning my research that I happened upon their historical society. A couple of months ago while traveling through the area, I had the chance to spend several hours there, and the docents were so obliging! I came home with lots of photo printouts and fact sheets!

Vince said...

Hi Patti:

I have “Hearts in Flight” in my TBR list.(I have all eBooks now so I don’t have a TBR pile anymore).

Your book is exactly the kind of history I like. Your story could only have happened one time in history and only where it did happen. As a pilot myself I can’t wait to read it but I have three Seeker books ahead of it. Sorry. : )


Vince said...

Hi Debby:

I think men like nonfiction history because up until now, men have made the most history. Of course, it helps that most historians were men.

Men seek what they can learn from famous generals and leaders. Great leadership ideas can be put to work today. I think history is more likely to live for men.

I see Julius Caesar’s books on war as ‘how-to’ books. This makes me think of a line in the movie “Midnight in Paris”. The hero says, “The past isn’t dead, in fact, the past isn’t even past. You know who said that? William Faulkner. I met him at a dinner party.”

Men have protective instincts and learning about war and success in battles is as natural as women reading about babies.


Patty Smith Hall said...

Vince--that's quite all right! I have several Seeker books in my TBR pile that I'm holding on to for my vacation in three weeks. Been downloading them as they come out!

Vince said...

Hi Rene:

I find a good rule about using historical facts in a novel is to write from the POV of a then contemporary writer. I find it very helpful to actually read a novel written in the same period you are writing about. What did that author put in as background?

I read one historical novel recently where it was so obvious that the author was putting in extra brand names of common items just to give the story an historical flair. A contemporary author would never do this. It was annoying and it did nothing to move the story along.

Facts should move the story along or at least reward the reader in some way. When the author does not give the year of the story, I like her to sprinkle in little facts that will allow me to pinpoint the date. This is fun. One little fact lets you know the story time is after 1844 and another fact will let you know it couldn’t be after 1866. If the author plays fair, this is a fun way to test your knowledge.

Good luck with your books.


Vince said...

Hi KC:

I like going into historical homes preserved as they were in the past. I’ve been to several homes on old army forts that were the homes of the officers. (1850 to 1875). What surprised me the most is that these homes were built better than ours are today. They just need modern plumbing and electricity. This awareness knocked me down a few pegs. I now don’t feel we live in superior times.


Melanie Dickerson said...

The Matrimony Plan sounds really good, Christine!

I have built a small town/community in 1880 rural north Alabama, a medieval walled city in Germany, and a village in medieval England, complete with a mill, lots of pigsties, and wattle-and-daub cottages. Building towns is fun! But I'm not any good at drawing, so I had to visualize them in my head.

May God continue to bless your writing!

Mary Connealy said...

the town building that popped into my mind was in my cozy mystery, Nosy in Nebraska.. I fictionalized the town but it was essentially my hometown. I took pictures of the Main street beusiness district and was amazed to realize there wee TWELVE buisnesses on one side. Many of them now empty buildings. But I needed to come up ith twelve people or stores or uses for those buildings. The other side of the street had larger buildings and less business, seven or eight I think. Still, seven or eight MORE businesses to create.
I took pictures of both sides of teh streets and studied them and since a good portion of the books took place in a downtown diner and a business on one end of the business district, I had to know exactly where everything was so my characters could simply walk from their business to the diner.
Once I laid it all out it was okay but I did some fumbling before I faced the fact that I had to completely create that Main Street in order to write the stories.

Vince said...

Hi Sandra:

"And the fun thing is learning new things like I did in Janet's stories about the orphan trains."

I think this is one of the most important things to put in an historical novel.

I like an author to search out things that the general reader does not know. These produce sparks of enlightenment! Like having Grover Cleveland answer the phone himself in the White House! (He was the first president to have a phone.)

I just love it in Cara’s books when the hero calls his office in NYC on the telephone from Newport and then takes a horse and carriage to the train station. This is the kind of discontinuity that makes historical novels so much fun to read. I really like it when I get the feeling, “What an amazing time to have been alive.


Linnette R Mullin said...

I do the same thing, Christine! I love to map out my towns or draw the houses that are in the stories. It helps me keep things straight in my head. And it's fun, too. :D

I don't know that a building being in the wrong place would make me stop reading a story. I guess I just see it as creative license. I can see that it would be frustrating, however, if you knew the town really well.

Please include me in the drawing.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! yum - coffee cake!

I like fictional towns but set near places I recognize. I've read a few books that take place around Houston and it throws me off - one I'm not so sure sounded right but I gave the benefit of the doubt since that section I don't frequent. There's one series I was reading that took place in the hill country of Texas and mentioned towns /cities I'd heard of but it was a fictional town itself. The other real settings I dont' care since I've never been to where they are so it's fictional to me!


Winnie Griggs said...

Christine - the book sounds yummy and the cover is VERY eye-catching. I'm another who prefers fictional towns, and yes I've been known to draw a map and even floorplans to keep up with it all, though I do it on computer (Can't seem to keep up with bits of paper )

Christine Johnson said...

Kirsten - Thanks! It's fascinating how every author has a different process. Thank you for sharing yours.

Melissa - Are you the creator of the Inspirational Historical Fiction Index? What an awesome reader advisory resource! Do you mind if I pass it along to my librarian friends?

Debby Giusti said...

Sorry I had to be away from my computer this morning. Looks like everyone is having a great time in Seekerville!

Thanks, Christine, for making the day so enjoyable!

Debby Giusti said...

POL! Paula! Another Georgia gal! Waving to you!

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Christine!

I'm so excited you're here on Seekerville today!

I'm a Michigan native, too - Kalamazoo is my hometown, although it's been many years since I lived there. My Dear Husband is from a small town between Flint and Saginaw. Poor man. West Michigan holds my allegiance!

I also loved Soaring Home! Emily Rodmell had recommended it along with a few other debut novels. I was impressed with her recommendation - she was excited about it - so I picked it up. Great story!

But on to the subject of your blog. I also hate it when authors get details wrong about real towns, so I thought long and hard before using a real small town for the setting of my story.

I have a big advantage, though - my father lived in my setting at the time my story takes place, so I have first hand information. I've also remained vague about exact locations of some things, placing them in an area of town rather than pinpointing a spot.

But I think I'll use fictional small towns for subsequent stories. Even though I've lived in a lot of places, I don't know many of them as intimately as I do the setting for my WIP!

I do have one question - did you have a particular location in mind when you created Pearlman? Or was there a particular small town that became Pearlman?

I'd love to win THE MATRIMONY PLAN, but I know I'll be reading it either way.

Christine Johnson said...

Eek! Run an errand, and the blog goes wild! I'll try to catch up with everyone.

Myra - thanks for stopping by. Yes, historical societies are great resources, as are libraries, museums, and archives.

Vince - great insights! I love the idea of reading a book written by a contemporary of the time and have done so myself. Though I have sometimes snickered at the colloquialisms of the day. If I used those in a book now, people would roll their eyes and cry "cliche." And yes, the construction of older buildings is amazing. Do you think it's our throw-away and hurry-up psyche that leads us to create comparatively fragile buildings? I know I'm shocked at how quickly sports teams go through stadiums and arenas. Yet portions of the Roman Colosseum still stand.

Melanie - You've been busy building all those worlds! I've tried my hand at medieval romance in the past. Love the conflict but would not like to live in those times. I'm such a sissy when it comes to things like running water, bad odors, and hygiene.

CatMom said...

Welcome Christine! Thanks for sharing with us today (including your cinnamon coffeecake...YUM!). I must confess I'm glad you use the "old fashioned" paper notes, because as wonderful as computers are, there's still something "stable" about having those papers at your fingertips! ~ Your book sounds great (LI Historicals are my favorites). Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo :)

CatMom said...

p.s. OOPS!!! Meant to WAVE at sweet Debby too!! Looking forward to our lunch later this month! :) Hugs, Patti Jo

Christine Johnson said...

Mary - How fascinating to base your fictional town on your hometown. Did people from your hometown pick up on that? My Dad scoured my first book looking for anything and anyone that resembled my hometown.

Linnette - Yay! We're kindred souls in town-building.

Susanna - Big prayers for draught relief in Texas. My heart goes out to the ranchers and farmers and everyone there. Thanks for stopping by and reinforcing how valuable it is to place a fictional town in the midst of real places.

Winnie - I'm in awe! You create maps on the computer??? That would drive me crazy.

Hi Jan! It's great to see a fellow Michigander here, and thank you for the kind words on Soaring Home. No, I didn't use a particular town as a model for Pearlman. I wanted to be able to grab favorite aspects of many different towns. As a native West Michigander who had to move to the east side for hubbie's work, I'm with you on west vs. east! I still miss the sunsets over Lake Michigan.

Debby Giusti said...

Your comments about learning from history are so true. If we would pay more attention to what happened in the past, we might not make as many mistakes today, IMHO.

I also agree with you about the leadership principles military guys glean from reading the lives of famous generals and world leaders. My dad and hubby were both Armor guys so Patton was always a favorite. His son lived two doors down from us at Fort Knox. Almost as flamboyant as his father. Mrs. Patton was a gracious, beautiful woman who was loved and admired by all.

Debby Giusti said...

More for Vince...

Old Army homes! You're tugging at my heart.

Fort McPherson in Atlanta has many historic homes. Regrettably, the last BRAC commission decided to do away with the Army post, which is happening to too many posts these days. Such a shame. Not sure what will happen to the beautiful, old homes.

Jan Drexler said...

Vince - You're right about men and military history! The last four years I've been teaching only boys in our homeschool, so I went heavy the military aspects of world history. We studied some of the most fascinating stuff, and the boys ate it up. There's nothing that will hold their attention more than a good battle, no matter what the historical setting.

The Battle of Agincourt was our favorite last year, I think. We had charts, battle maps, historical fiction, was great.

Missy Tippens said...

Christine! I'm so glad you joined us today! :)

Love this post. I've created small towns as well. I usually do like you do and compile ideas from towns I've visited. And also just use my imagination as to how I would want the perfect town to be. I want readers to want to go there! :)

Valerie Comer said...

I, too, love inventing towns and drawing them out. Which reminds me, I have a small town to put on paper!

Also love house plans. Drawing those was a hobby of mine way before I started writing, so it's fun to actually have a purpose for them now. Being as we've actually never built a house...

I'd love to be in the drawing for your book.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Patti Jo - love your handle, CatMom. My cat waves to your cat, after reminding me that I am her servant, not merely a cat mom.

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Missy and Valerie! Yay, two more town-builders! It's great to have company. Thanks for stopping by.

Pam Hillman said...

As a writer, I definitely prefer fictional small towns. As a reader, I usually don't really know if the town is real or fictional, so it doesn't bother me if it's real.

Using real cities as landmarks to anchor my small fictional town usually works, and when my characters go to the real city, I tend to keep the streets and shops vague, especially for an historical.

Janet Dean said...

Vince, I'm sometimes leery of putting inventions in my historicals for fear readers won't "buy" that the technology existed. Often rural Americans didn't have the conveniences of wealthy city dwellers. Lots to consider.

I loved Cara's hero using the telephone, too. I wonder if the phones were private or if they were party lines that allowed others to eavesdrop on a conversation. Could make an interesting plot twist. :-)


Carla Capshaw said...

Hi Christine,

It's great to see you here at Seekerville! I've loved both your books and I'm looking forward to more from you.

I think it's fascinating how you put together your town. I always use real places in my own books and I make certain to visit them so that I can get my facts as correct as possible. Of course even then there are people who will say I've gotten certain things wrong. lol

Another thing I like about your books is your strong heroines. They have real interests that drive them and their goals are soemthing I think most people who've ever wanted to do something "out the box" can relate to. While reading Soaring Home, I was reminded of my great aunt who became a pilot in the 1930s even though everyone around her said it wasn't possible. Unfortunately, my aunt died of TB in the early 1940s. She was only 24 or 25, I believe. I've always been happy for her that she listened to her own heart and made her dream a reality. She's always been a role model for me in that, no matter the odds, where there's a will there's a way.

Since it's a little bit later in the day I've brought turkey sandwiches and lemonade to the party. Condiments are on the side, so everybody enjoy. :-)

Pam Hillman said...

Christine, love your cover! Too pretty.

I have a hand-drawn map of my fictional town for Stealing Jake. And I drew in extra buildings here and there and didn't label them. And when I needed a "new" business, I could study my map and decide where best to put the new business.

Debby Giusti said...

Sounds like you're a dedicated and gifted teacher!

Debby Giusti said...

Carla, thanks for bringing lunch and for the nice memories of your great aunt. No doubt, you take after her!

Melanie said...

I like both real and fictional historical towns. I live in New England, so I'm able to visit many towns that date back to the 1600s. And I love reading stories that take advantage of such settings. The author really has to get it right, though. Small mistakes won't completely destroy a story for me, but they will pull me out of it for a moment.

So I can understand why an author would want to create a fictional town that gives her more leeway, allowing her to incorporate details from several different places.

Christine, the cover for "The Matrimony Plan" is gorgeous! It looks like a still from a classic movie. Please enter me in the drawing.

melaniej_evans AT yahoo DOT com

Pam Hillman said...

Melissa!!! I bookmarked your Index! That is an amazing resource.

Time period and geographical location is so important to me when I see a book or start to research.

I'll definitely be back!

Carla Capshaw said...

Melissa, I love the Index. Thank you for starting that!

Debbie, I don't know about that, but I sure hope I got at least a little of my aunt's gumption. :-)

PatriciaW said...

So many authors shy away from real places because the need to be factual requires a lot of work. But it seems to me that creating an entire town--streets, places, landmarks, etc., even including room interiors--is a whole lot more work than using a real one. Hats off to you, Christine!

I love stories set in real places, particularly places I love or places I've never been. But I also love fictional settings when they're drawn so well that they feel real.

Vanessa said...

I love how you have designed your fictional world. If you were writing a story that crossed several geographies, how would you mix the fictional Pearlman with maybe Detroit? Or would just create more mythical cities?

Oh, Seekerville Ladies, I'd love to be considered for a 5 page critique.

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Hi Christine!
Congratulations on your book!
The cover is beautiful!
I can't wait to read it :)
And we share the same editor at LIH :)

Hello to everyone else in Seekerville today!!

Christine Johnson said...

Pam H - Great to see you here! I'm with you on the small towns as a reader. I often wonder if they're real but never get out an atlas to check.

Janet - Ah, party lines! Now isn't that a fun little addition, and of course those operators who listened in...

Carla - A big cheer for your aunt! She was a pioneer in following her dream and paved the way for future women to take to the air. Carla and I have a mutual admiration society going because I just adore her books. And, BTW, The Champion is out this month too. Love, love, love those Roman gladiator books. But I doubt it's because of the familiar setting. ((grin))

Christine Johnson said...

Melanie - Yes, the cover does look like it's from a classic movie. When my d/h first saw it, he claimed it was Eliza and Freddie from My Fair Lady. Once he said that, I could see the resemblance.

PatriciaW - I can see that you just love to read! And that's best of all.

Vanessa - When I bring my characters to cities, I keep true to actual historical locations as much as possible. Though I may throw in a fictional location if necessary. Or change a name to protect the innocent. ((grin))

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Eva Maria! Hugs and waves! Can't wait to read your book too. Thanks for stopping by for lunch. And thank you, Carla, for the turkey sandwiches and lemonade. Does anyone know what happened to all the chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven?

Debby Giusti said...

The chocolate chip cookies are gone?

Captain Jack probably ate them. :)

Vince said...

Hi Christine:

You wrote:

"I love the idea of reading a book written by a contemporary of the time and have done so myself. Though I have sometimes snickered at the colloquialisms of the day. If I used those in a book now, people would roll their eyes and cry 'cliche'."

How true this is. I remember my first reading of Hamlet in high school. When I came to the comment about something being rotten in the state of Denmark, I just rolled my eyes thinking Shakespeare was so corny. I don’t think I even knew the word ‘cliché’ back then. I was very fond of saying, “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” at the time. (My aunt married a man from Denmark.)

But here’s the thing: write new clichés that mimic the originals. Readers will think it really is a saying from the historical period.

“Rotten cheese always makes its presence known.”

I love it when an author does something like this.


Mary Connealy said...

My hometown folks were great about it. Tons of it is fictionalized, including the name, but lots was the same. Where the doctor's office was, where the newspaper office was, where the diner was, where the grocery store was. All OLD stuff, where things were when I was a kid.
And the town had a mascot of the World's Largest Field Mouse. So there were statues all over town of a three foot tall mouse, with business owners painting the mouse to fit the business, like a mouse in a police uniform in front of the police station, in a chef's hat and apron in front of the diner.
So it was wacky and I assured anyone who asked that no one in my hometown was crazy enough to make the pages of the book.

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

You wrote:

“I'm sometimes leery of putting inventions in my historicals for fear readers won't "buy" that the technology existed.

This is my favorite thing! I love it when I ‘know’ the author is wrong and I look things up and find out I’m the one who is wrong.

I’ve had two cases like this in the last year. One involved crossbows and another involved the use of the word ‘overtime’ pay. I was not only wrong, I was wrong by a lot!

I’d much rather find out I was wrong about something by reading a novel in private than find out after I’ve given a speech to a lot of people.


Christine Johnson said...

Mary, that is too funny! I love town mascots and the little notations on the town limits sign spelling out what's significant about the town (like "Corn Capital of ..." or "Home of the 1991 State Champion Debate Team"). Add some statues of the mascot, and it's a regular party!

Vince said...

Hi Debby:

Have you been to Fort Gibson and Fort Supply in Oklahoma? Both have very well preserved officer’s houses. Zachary Taylor was once the commandant of Fort Gibson.

It's great to walk in history.

I once outlined a story where the heroine was a history buff and she went to a custume ball at Ft. Gibson only to fall back into time. She couldn’t prove she was from the future!

She wore authentic clothes she made herself, the money in her pocket was from the time period and she was a Latin teacher. She knew all the old skills like spinning wool.

She tired to explain electricity and she couldn’t do it. She tried to explain computers and she didn’t have a clue how they worked. She didn't even know why an airplane can fly.

She told Major Taylor that he would become President and everyone just laughed. She was a useless time traveler! ("Why didn't they sent us someone who knew something!")

She wound up teaching Latin again, marrying a solider, but they made a fortune selling her new invention: the paper clip.

She was also a guest at the White House.


This all came to me at the Ft. Gibson Christmas re-enactment. There is nothing like really being there where history happened.


Debby Giusti said...

Vince, love your time-travel idea!

No, I've never been to Gibson or Supply. We did live at Fort Bliss, which is an old post.

Fort Knox seemed like home when I was growing up. Although troops had trained in that area since 1903 or so, "Camp Knox" started in 1931.

Fort Leavenworth, KS, has so much history. An area on post still has grooves in the ground from when the covered wagons crossed the river heading West.

Debby Giusti said...

I Love to imagine the stories of the families who have lived in the old houses. I always wished the names of each resident could be listed in the house.

Actually, a few of the general officers' quarters do have the names. Always so interesting to see who lived where and when.

Dwight D. Eisenhower lived at Fort Benning when he was a young officer. There's a sign outside the house indicating when he and his family lived there.

Ausjenny said...

Christine I did finish the book but it really annoyed me. I have heard the same author made major errors when she set a book in another country also but unless you came from there or knew about the country most wouldn't know.
It really showed she thought of Australia as being much smaller than it is and hadn't done research. Worse was it was a historical book so the trip would have taken even longer then. I read the book as it was only a small part but it really bugged me.
I have a friend who read chapter one of One of Gilbert Morris's books it was the one set in england around Henry the 8ths time or earlier. it mentioned tea in chapter one and she said tea wasn't introduced til later so she couldn't read the book. I had no idea and it was a tiny thing to me but to her if that was wrong she just couldn't read more.

Whitney said...

Christine: Your book The Matrimony plan sounds like a hoot! I've loved the name "Felicity" since falling in love with the Canadian TV series "Road to Avonlea" some years ago.

I love that you sketch the layout of houses/furniture. I have done that before, but I need to start doing it again. If you don't, furniture and rooms sometimes move around when you picture scenes. "Oh wait... he can't lean on the counter... he's not even in the kitchen."


Christine Johnson said...

AusJenny - I can see how improper distances can really upset the reader. Goes to show how important good research is!

Whitney - I loved Road to Avonlea too! Felicity's love story on that series had me on pins and needles. Hmm. Wonder if that's why that name popped into my head....

Cara Lynn James said...

Christine, I bought your book today and I can't wait to start reading.

I've used real towns, but I think I'd like to make up one of my own. I think it'll be easier. I'll just have to find out.

Jessica Nelson said...

Your cover is absolutely adorable!! Thanks for the tips.

Jackie S. said...

Would love to read your book....please count me in the drawing. Thanks!!!

Christine Johnson said...

Aw thanks, Cara, Jessica, and Jackie.

Cara - enjoy the adventure of creating a town!

Debby Giusti said...

Christine, I'm sure more folks will stop in to comment this evening, but I wanted to personally thank you for being with us on Seekerville!

I hope you can tell that we all loved your post and the information you shared about town building.

Once someone comments on Seekerville, they're part of the consider yourself a Seekerville-ite! (Could such a word exist?) Anyway, you're part of the group.

Keep writing those wonderful stories we all love to read. And stop by to see us often.

As they say in the South, y'all come back now, hear?

Christine Johnson said...

Thank you to everyone who visited today and to Debby for inviting me to Seekerville! I loved hearing all your stories and ideas. You truly filled my heart with joy! May Our Lord bless you today and every day.

Though I'm headed for some much-needed sleep, I'll check back when I wake and answer any lingering questions. See you then!

apple blossom said...

fictional towns are nice because some authors can think of clever names to fit the towns. thanks. Love to win the book

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Faye said...

Definitely fictional. My whole setting is fictional, even the country. As I haven't been to many of the places in books it doesn't bother me. But if it was where I might. Like only if it was a small town close to my heart. If it was a city I lived it in, not so much.

Sounds like a great book!

crazi.swans at gmail dot com

Walt Mussell said...

Christine, I'm sorry it took me until now to get to your post.

I've been having a specific challenge where I'm trying to plan a story that took place in Kyoto in the late 16th century. I'm fortunate that I found a map of Kyoto back then with details on what streets were passable and what still needed repair.

However, I've run into an issue that, in order to expand my story, I ended up adding stuff outside of Kyoto. I know buildings were there. I know where the city entrances were. Still, at some point it's my imagination. Fortunately, the research continues.

Kayleen said...

Your plot sounds great! Congrats on your books! I also work in a library (have worked in college and now middle-school). I also live in Midwest and consider it some of the friendliest places to write. Everyone here shares! God bless!

Cindy W. said...

I think I would much prefer a fictional town because when it's a real town, if I have been there before, I start trying to figure out if the detail is accurate. When I read a novel it's to be entertained. I recently read a book that was set in my hometown in California and even though it was a historical it was 'spot on' with the street details. I loved it but I spent a lot of time trying to access whether the detail was accurate.

Would love to win a copy of The Matrimony Plan. Sounds like a wonderful read.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Moonine Sue Watson said...

I recently read a story that had a rather famous town in the wrong state. I had family that lived in western tourist attraction and had visited many times. That mistake ruined the book for me.

Eileen said...

I wondered about a town that no longer exists (I believe there was another similar post). My story takes place in a town that was wiped out by a fire and is now a national park...but, all I could get was some info on what it is now and a few tidbits about the church. The rest I made up??? Would love a copy of your book. Eileen

Esther Wysong said...

The Matrimony Plan sounds really good. I haven't seen it on the shelves yet...but then, I haven't been to Wal-Mart in a week. *grin*

My current WIPs are Western Romances, but they're not historicals. I've made up several towns, Swan Lake and Laughing Creek. They aren't based on any real towns or in any specific place. Should I change that? I've got one book written that I'm going through and editing (and rewriting parts), and I've got another one almost half done.

Christine Johnson said...

Apple Blossom, Faye, and Cindy W - Yay! A few more votes for fictional towns. I never thought about how it disrupts the immersion into story, but that's certainly true. So there's definitely a balance to be maintained.

Walt - So great to see you here! Wow, 16th c. Kyoto. I'm in awe! There are bound to be gaps that must be filled by imagination. The historical record is not comprehensive.

Kayleen - A big hello to a fellow librarian! Thanks for stopping by.

Moonine - Ouch! The wrong state is inexcusable. I can see why that would ruin the book.

Eileen - There's something fascinating about towns that no longer exist. We want to know why. So it makes for a fascinating backdrop for your story. The flip side, though, is that records of the town may have been lost too, and that makes researching triple tough.

Christine Johnson said...

Esther - From what I'm hearing today, some authors do have totally fictional towns. In my opinion (and it's just mine!), I'd like to at least know what state it's located in, because Montana is quite different from Arizona in climate, topography, and plant and animal life. Congratulations on writing a book! That's a huge step on the writing path. Woohoo!!

Jenna Mindel said...

Sorry I'm late- (my usual state of affairs) But I love the way you "small town" build. Having read both your books set in Pearlman - I must say your fictional town pops to life! I love it. I feel like I've traveled there having read "The Matrimony Plan." You can really set a scene! And the book is just delightful.
I'm going to try some town sketching of my own. :) Thank your for sharing the tips!

Christine Johnson said...

Hi Jenna! Hugs!! Thanks for the kind words. I'm so glad one of my tips helped!

Melissa Jagears said...

Christine, sorry it took so long to get back here, but yeah, I created the Inspirational Historical Fiction Index. Feel free to give that link out to whomever you please!