Why Write an Historical Novel?

How we understand and write about our HISTORY matters.

What is a HISTORICAL NOVEL?

A historical novel is a story with a particular period of history as its setting which strives to convey the spirit, manners, and social conditions of that past age with realistic detail and fidelity (though sometimes only provides apparent fidelity) to historical fact.

Historical novels capture the details of the time period depicted as accurately as possible for authenticity, including social norms, manners, customs, and traditions. In my estimation, a historical novel should offer a plausible, credible, and believable narrative, though created by the author, befitting the historical characters, settings, and events portrayed in the story. Through intensive, diligent research, the author’s interwoven narrative should not only engage but also edify and expound the historical past reflected in the story.

Why Write a HISTORICAL NOVEL?

Well-researched and written historical novels offer an “awareness that the events of our past impact contemporary events.” Historical narratives invite insight into the mind of a member of a past society and induce empathy through a written portal linking them and the reading audience; bringing an understanding of the past into the mind of the present reader.

Dividing Historical Fiction and Historical Novels

Of course novels are works of fiction—they certainly are not non-fiction—but two aspects are really important:

Creating an authentic picture of the period, based on intensive research and present as close a reflection of the real persons, places, and events, as is possible, given the historical evidence available. 

I propose to include this Author’s Note in my historical novel: This book is a work of fiction, and although based on extensive research, the historical characters, places, and events depicted in this narrative are based upon my interpretation. I pray I have done justice in portraying past people, places, and events in writing this historical novel.

It is that final sentence where one discovers my moral obligation to historical characters, places, and events, however long ago, where any division of opinion may emerge. The essential nature of good research underpins all my writing, whether true fiction or intertwined in history, and I do so because the needs of crafting a worthwhile story are paramount and trump the evidence. 

I have no problem tweaking minor points of history if the story demands it; but I attempt to never disparage a historical character without proper evidence. And this was the crux of the debate between Historical Fiction and Historical Novels. One author mayo make their main (historical) character have an affair because they felt it added to the impact of the story, despite the lack of any evidence. Thus, this is historical fiction, i.e. historical fantasy or historical romance or alternative historical fiction. 

Writing historical novels comes with a responsibility to living descendants of the characters in the historical narrative, whether realistic or otherwise depicted. Likewise, like it or not, many people learn their history from fiction. Therefore, as well as a moral responsibility to the characters in our stories, authors are obliged not to mislead their readers. Of course, authors of other forms of historical fiction feel misinterpretation of history remains the reader’s personal responsibility.

The distinction between an ‘historical novel’, in which the author seeks to remain true to the history that underpins it, and ‘historical fiction’ in which, while the background is of importance, the story is king, may not always be distinctly black and white. But I, for one, will always attempt to write stories anchored in history, reflecting as near as possible the true nature and accuracy of our past.

My working title for the historical novel about Randolph Spalding is “The Last Laird of Sapelo” but someone proposed “The Days of Cotton and Cannons” to reflect the story’s timeline and the conflict Randolph Spalding faces in the story.

When will it be published? Stay tuned, subscribe to receive my newsletters. I am praying for a 2023 book launch, but this story will make its debut at the right time, and not before. Thanks for connecting. T. M. Brown

In the meantime, enjoy reading my Southern Fiction books.

Why Sapelo Island?

In my upcoming historical novel, Sapelo Island is the home of South End, Chocolate, Bourbon, Kenan Fields, High Point, Marsh Landing, and Blackbeard’s Island–all names associated with the fifteen by three-mile barrier island off the Georgia coast as the War Between the States breaks out. The Spalding family’s legacy now rests in what was called the Spalding City of the Dead, a family burial plot near that family’s mainland home, Ashantilly, a short drive above the once thriving port of Darien, Georgia.

Today, much has changed. Darien is no longer the bustling seaport rivaling even Savannah at one time, and Sapelo Island no longer produces cotton, sugarcane, indigo, and rice as it once did. In fact, none of the coastal plantations exist any longer except for historical markers and community namesakes. Yet, Sapelo Island’s and Darien’s history goes back hundreds of long forgotten years.

My wife and I stopped in Darien in the summer of 2019 after a writers’ conference on Saint Simon Island for a bite of lunch. Immediately, I pondered using the quaint time-lost feel of this shrimp boat hub on the Georgia coast as the setting for one of my southern fiction stories. We returned for a week-long stay the following summer to research the town with the notion I could bring my Shiloh Mystery characters to town, but soon found myself entranced by the history of Sapelo Island after we spent a long day traipsing the island from one end to the other (at least as far as we could safely go without getting stuck in the soft sand and mud that made up most of the roads or should I say trails on the island).

I then stumbled upon Buddy Sullivan’s Early Days of the Georgia Tidewater, The Story of McIntosh County& Sapelo. I discovered the rich history of Sapelo and Darien, dating back to Oglethorpe’s founding of New Inverness, later known as Darien–the second oldest town in Georgia. Then I read about the McIntosh clan who settled in the area.

And yes, for my Coweta County friends, the same family whence William McIntosh haled and married Senoia, altering the fate and future generations of Creek Nation lands in Georgia. But that’s another story to be told.

From the McIntosh clan, the Leake clan and Spalding clans emerged up and down the coast in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

By 1800, Thomas Spalding arrived on Sapelo Island with his wife, Sarah Leake Spalding and South End came into being. Of their fifteen children born between 1800 and 1822, only five outlived Thomas (1851) and Sarah (1843). Three daughters married and bore children with the names of Brailsford, Wylly, and Kenan. Of the two sons, Charles, the eldest surviving son, had two wives but no children; only the youngest, Randolph bore three Spalding children. His family’s story is the basis behind my upcoming story…

Why this story? As my editor shared after reading my manuscript: History is not as black and white as we might believe, much grayness exists that we should learn about. The Randolph Spalding Story offers shades of gray that will enhance our understanding of history. His is a tragic story, as is his family’s story, and important to retell.

In the meantime, follow the below link to read another modern account about Sapelo Island today. I will provide periodic insights into Sapelo Island, Darien, and other parts of the Georgia coast, including Savannah, in the coming weeks and months as we all wait for the release of my latest historical novel.

https://ordinary-times.com/2022/04/02/oh-sapelo/

Sapelo Island Storm

Thank you for subscribing and look forward to hearing back from you.

T. M. “Mike” Brown

The Last Laird of Sapelo: BETA Time

The Last Laird of Sapelo: The Randolph Spalding Story finished. Worked up the query letter and synopsis. Submissions and queries to agents & publishers begin in April after BETA readers finish.

Are you a BETA reader?

BETA readers:

A person who reads a work of fiction before it is published in order to mark errors and suggest improvements, typically without receiving payment (But, can earn a complimentary advance copy of the published book.)

Do you enjoy historical novels?

Historical fiction is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the depicted period. Authors also explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments.

 ” …the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.”

My Invitation to BETA Readers…

While visiting Darien, Georgia, two years ago, seeking a unique setting for my fourth Shiloh series novel, a day-long trip to nearby Sapelo Island altered the direction of my next novel. My tour guide, a descendant of Geechee slaves, piqued my historical curiosity with his tales of the island’s storied past. 

I pondered why after the Civil War ended, Sapelo’s freed slaves traveled over two-hundred miles to return to the island? The answer required hours upon hours of in-depth research, as well as revisiting Darien, Brunswick, Savannah, and Beaufort, as my first historical novel evolved.

The Last Laird of Sapelo: The Randolph Spalding Story is a fact-based novel about the enigmatic, youngest and most successful son of the famous Thomas Spalding. By 1861, family and friends knew Randolph as an ambitious planter who parlayed his father’s fame and generosity; a popular socialite, hobnobbing from Charleston to Savannah to Milledgeville; a high-stakes gambler and sportsman; and popular politician. But when the Civil War threatens the Georgia coast, he is called upon to face a storm of life-changing events threatening his family’s legacy, livelihood, and lands. Following his untimely tragic death in March 1862, newspapers honored him as “a pure patriot and high-toned chivalrous gentlemen, doing good service in the army of the Confederate States… His funeral procession included a large military escort and a long procession of citizens.” 

History records that Randolph Spalding’s freed slaves returned to Sapelo Island in the months following the Civil War and lived and worked alongside Randolph’s family, who moved back in 1868. For the remaining decades of the Nineteenth Century, the Spalding family coexisted on Sapelo Island with their former slaves.

Writing this story made it became abundantly clear to me history requires the seeking of obverse facts and truths from our past to best comprehend the diverse issues we face today. A host of folks I have talked with about this story agree, and I hope you do as well. 

The completed novel is 86,200 words and is ready to be sent at your request.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you. Please email me of your interest in receiving either a printed 320 page copy or a digital PDF copy downloadable on your device at home.

Mike, aka T. M. Brown