Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Guest Blog with Cara C. Putman



By Cara C. Putman

Do you have a love of history and a burning desire to write? Then you may be a candidate to write historical fiction.

Three of my first four contracted books involve a step back in time to the days of World War Two. I may have been born in the 70s, but I’ve always held a love for and fascination with the life and times of the 40s, particularly the war years. In many ways, it was completely natural to find my first novel set during that time. And it was a joy to uncover two additional stories from that time period.

While I’m still a new author, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1) Start with Your Passion. I love history enough that I minored in it in college. And while I love history in general, I have a particular fondness for World War Two history. I also have a passion for all things Nebraska. Marry those two passions together, and an odd mix of World War Two history in Nebraska is formed. Hmmm. World War Two. Nebraska. Those two things don’t seem to go together. At all. Yet my first three book series grew directly out of those passions.

2) Write what You Know. This is writing advice that most authors will give you. But how does it really play out? Because my family still lives in North Platte, Nebraska, it seemed natural to highlight the North Platte Canteen in Canteen Dreams. The story inspires me any time I think about it. I know the setting very well, but even with that knowledge spent a day wandering around downtown exploring the buildings and hiding in the microfiche at the library to learn more about my particular time period.

3) Yet be willing to Dive into New Areas. When I was looking for books two and three, I had to dive deep. I vaguely remembered that a Fort in Northwestern Nebraska had played an active, yet unique role in World War Two. Then my sister told me that a prisoner of war camp existed in southern Nebraska. As I started researching, I discovered perfect, unique historical settings that could form the backdrop to these next two books.

4) Talk to the Experts. To write compelling historical fiction, you have to be willing to contact the experts. I make a lot of initial contacts via email. Currently, I’m in Indiana, and my experts are in Nebraska. Then I follow up by mail or with in person research trips when possible. I have found, without exception, that people are willing to help. I just have to be willing to ask. The North Platte Historical Museum curator opened the museum in the off season for me, so that I could peruse the displays and ask questions. The museum curator at Fort Robinson literally opened his files to me and spent a day showing me around the Fort and the town. His time and expertise was pivotal in Sandhill Dreams and will add authenticity to Captive Dreams as well.

5) Go Visit the Location. Even though I lived in North Platte for four years and visit at least twice a year, there were details I had forgotten or simply didn’t know. Also, I needed to dive into what the town looked like 45 years before we moved there and 60 years before now. Actually walking the streets brought it to life each time I sat down at my keyboard.

If you are writing or hope to write a historical novel, take the time to get the details right. Your readers will thank you by telling you your book swept them away.


  1. Great advice! I love the Regency era (& medieval, but that isn't selling!!!) and I've wanted to write one, but the historical aspect is daunting. I've read Regency for 20 years, so I think I have the flavor...just not all the details (which are so important!) Thanks for a great post!

  2. I love history - my father raised me to love museums and stopped at every road side marker in the west! I am in the process of researching for a WWII novel - loosely based on the story of my mother and her first husband. He was a WWII pilot who died in a crash in England. I have a box of his memorabilia to inspire me. Just need a bit more information to continue the story. BTW...the WWI museum in Kansas City is absolutely wonderful. A must see if you love history.
    Great post, thank you.

  3. I enjoy reading historicals where the author makes the history part seem so natural to the story, almost like a character to get to know, as opposed to making it seem like a history class where s/he is determined you are going to learn every bit of information s/he found. Sometimes too much information takes away from the story.

  4. I write contemporary, but like to use a bit of history in my books. There's an old plantation about thirty miles from where I live that I've always loved. So naturally I thought of it when plotting. My heroine is restoring it into a bed & breakfast
    Recently, a couple of writer friends and I met the owner there and toured the house. It was so much fun. There's a separate stairway from the kitchen that goes up to two small rooms, which were slave quarters. I managed to get the details in the book, even though it's contemporary.

  5. Writing historical scares me because of all the details so I really appreciate authors who do it well.

    I write contemporary but I still have to research locations and such--that's a great reminder to get your facts straight.

  6. Y'all are right. Research is a key whether you're focused on historical or contemporary. Nothing makes a reader throw a book across the room faster or distrust you than knowing you didn't get the details right.