I’m thrilled to welcome Stephanie Thornton to Magical Musings. Stephanie’s debut novel, THE SECRET HISTORY, is due out in early July, and I was fortunate to read an advance copy. Set in Constantinople in the 6th Century, it follows the amazing rise of Theodora from street urchin to empress. You can find out more about this fascinating book here.
Researching Historical Fiction
“I could never write historical fiction. I’d never be able to do all that research!”
That comment is one of the most frequent I hear when people discover that I write historical fiction. But writing historical fiction actually gives me an excuse to do something I love almost more than writing novels—research!
Granted, pouring over documents written thousands of years ago isn’t always super-fun (there are some accounts of Byzantine battles and excerpts from ancient Egyptian literature that made me want to gouge my eyes out), but nothing beats hands-on research. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to Turkey and Egypt while writing my first and second novels, and a number of my experiences in those foreign countries made it into my books.
For example, who knew that the modern Grand Bazaar in Istanbul sells leeches, a practice going back to Empress Theodora’s day? (I sent her to the market to buy the nasty critters before becoming empress; I’m sure she had lackeys to go to the market for her once she wore a crown.) When writing about Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s mortuary near the Valley of the Kings, I stumbled across the remains of the myrrh trees that used to grow in the temple courtyard. The roots and trunks are still there today, so of course I had to mention them in the novel. (Along with the fact that Hatshepsut had to finance a major trade expedition to locate the trees in the long-lost land of Punt.)
I had hoped to be able to travel to Mongolia to do research for my current novel, The Tiger Queens, about the wife and daughters of Genghis Khan, but the stars didn’t quite align for the trip. Obviously the Mongols spent a fair bit of time on their horses, yet I’ve only ridden a horse once in my life, and that was roughly two decades ago. So this past weekend I took a jaunt out horseback riding and had the pleasure of being bucked off my horse into a thorn bush. You better believe one of my hapless characters is getting tossed off her horse now too!
There’s all sorts of conflicting advice about whether writers should write what they know, but for me, getting as close as possible to my characters’ experiences makes their stories more fun to write. And even better, it gives me a great excuse to go on all sorts of crazy adventures!
Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at www.stephanie-thornton.com.