Whee! Today, Alan M. Clark and I are doing a blog-exchange to co-promote our new titles, both out through Lazy Fascist Press! Alan’s here, and I’m over on his blog, “The Imagination Fully Dilated.” Pop on over there afterwards, why don’t you?
I met Molly Tanzer online after she read and commented on my historical fiction novel, Of Thimble and Threat: The Life of a Jack the Ripper Victim. This year Molly and I discovered that we were both writing within historical settings, and we agreed to serve as readers for each others’ developing work. Both Molly’s book, A Pretty Mouth, and my novel, A Parliament of Crows, are historical fiction, both inspired by real events within history. Both books tell dark, disturbing tales, hers an erotic horror, mine a southern gothic. A Pretty Mouth is sort of a novel in short and long fiction set in England during several different periods, much of it in the 1600s, and A Parliament of Crows is set in various locations within the United States between the time of the American Civil War and the end of the first decade of the twentieth century.
The fun of writing within historical settings is that it’s a bit like time travel. The period a writer chooses for a story will define the characters in it to some extent. Obviously, some experiences we have today are not possible for characters set within a time, say, 100 or 500 years ago. This can present real limitations unless the writer is willing to learn about the period and really open up the character’s world, discover the possibilities, and share that with the reading audience. That’s the time travel I’m talking about. No matter the period, the emotional characteristics of human beings are just as subtle and complex as those of human beings today. The everyday realities and events that shape their feelings and motivations can be very different, however. In creating characters, I try to take advantage of the similarities and the differences, setting up parallels and contrasts with what we know today to express something about human experience. If done right, a reader gets to time-travel too, experiencing a long lost world through the eyes of a character they can understand emotionally, even if the character’s feelings and outlook are shaped by a different time.
A Pretty Mouth was so well realized that it sent me back in time, and allowed me to view a bizarre and terrifying world through the eyes of fascinating, very human characters.
Another thing Molly and I discovered about our writing this year was that both of us were writing about twins. A Pretty Mouth has a supernatural genetic line of evil twins. My novel, A Parliament of Crows, has one set of evil twins whose connection to one another has a supernatural aspect. I thought my twins could use a hint of long, dark genetic history, and suggested to Molly that we might create a connection. Adding more evil twins to her character’s lineage was desirable to her, so she agreed to creating a tiny link between the projects with one or two sentences in each. To get there, we traded messages via facebook “chat,” looking for a solution that was both minimal, but undeniable. I had fun, and I think she did as well. [I did indeed! –Molly] I could almost hear her laughing in her messages. The lines we added had to be of a sort that would not confuse and would not distract a reader from the story at hand, but would be an Easter egg for those who read both books. I’m curious to see who will be the first to notice.
—Alan M. Clark