Paper Lantern Lit

Historical Fiction Fridays #6: Dirt, Dung and How They Dealt With It!

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Dirt, Dung and How They Dealt with It

I’ve always loved historical novels, but some authors feel that dressing their heroine in a poofy ball gown and putting her admirer on a horse bring the reader into a historically accurate world. It doesn’t. Mentioning something about the hygiene—or lack thereof—now and then will give your readers a strong whiff of a very different time.

Let’s say, for instance, your character is walking down a street in ancient Rome or Victorian England. She couldn’t just walk across. She would have to avoid all the piles of dung from horses, oxen, donkeys and dogs, her skirts held high. Maybe she holds a scented handkerchief over her nose and mouth. She might veer around the little boy paid to sweep it up. Doesn’t this image just plunge you back into a lost world?

–To bathe or not to bathe: Ironically, people in the ancient world were generally much cleaner than those in more recent centuries. Bath tubs—filled by servants pouring buckets—were around for thousands of years before the Christian era. Persia, Greece, and particularly Rome had public bath houses for men and women. It’s not known exactly when soap was invented, but it wasn’t widely used until the Dark Ages. To get rid of dirt, the ancients would smear scented oil on their skin and remove it with a curved metal scraper called a strigil.

When the Goths and Vandals cut the Roman aqueducts—which weren’t repaired for more than a thousand years—no one had access to huge quantities of water, and the popes—who couldn’t figure out how to fix them—said “Don’t worry, bodily dirt is actually good for your soul.” It’s not that everyone smelled bad back then. It was more like you could be as clean or not-clean as you wanted. Those who cherished cleanliness could still get their entire bodies and hair clean with one bucket of water.

When writing your novel, decide which characters bathe and which don’t. Mention dirty hands or the smell of BO once in a while; it brings us into the past faster than anything. But use a light hand. No one wants to read about too much BO and filth.

To flush or not to flush: Historical novels usually ignore the delicate subject of what happened to human waste. I mean, where would you go when you had to go? Until the late nineteenth century for most of western society, people had latrines in their back yards and chamber pots in their bedrooms. (Though the Romans, those clever devils, did have public latrines with running water where men would sit and talk about politics.) A servant carrying a chamber pot, a soldier racing to the latrine, the fetid tang of waste: these scenarios keep the reader rooted in a lost time and place.

Perfuming your world: Perfume, cologne, or scent of some sort has been around since cave people first crushed flower petals on their skin and liked the fragrance. By the seventeenth century, the French seem to have traded bathing entirely for copious amounts of perfume. People also perfumed their houses, which is understandable given all the chamber pots. Perfume burners wafted fragrant smoke: amber, frankincense and myrrh for the rich, pine cones for the poor. In the medieval era, people strewed rushes on the floor that released a sweet smell when stepped on.

Next Week: The Light (and Dark) of the World: Lighting and Heating in Past Centuries     

LEGACY OF KINGS is available for purchase now! Email with proof of purchase for your very own signed bookplate. (And Amazon has discounted the hardcover pre-order to just $9.56!)



Historical Fiction Fridays #5: Using Dialog and Tone to Keep Your World Real

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Using Dialog and Tone to Keep Your World Real

I’m sure the ancient Greeks had an expression that translates perfectly into, “Hey dude, whassup?” But if Alex came up to Heph in the Legacy of Kings training pit and said that, it would rip the reader right out of 340 BC. By the same token, something like “Methinks to smite thee” (translation: I’m going to kick your butt) sound artificial, contrived, and really annoying.

So how do you write good dialog for your historical novel? How do you keep the tone believable?

First of all, know your characters. Each one has a unique blend of history, personality, education, and social status. In Legacy of Kings, the soldiers’ trainer, Diodotus, is gruff and foul-mouthed. When Jacob arrives late to practice, Diodotus

… straightens, spits out the grass, and scowls. “You’ll have a lot worse than shit running down your leg in battle if you keep this up. And speaking of shit, while the other men are taking a break this afternoon you will be cleaning out the barracks latrines. Now get to work.” This salty little speech is perfectly acceptable considering who Diodotus is.

Alexander, on the other hand, raised as the heir to the throne, is more formal in his speech, especially when addressing his royal council or his men.

“Clytias, you have fought well today!” he cries to a sweaty bearded man leaning on his spear. “Your father’s shade is proud of you! Make sure to hold this side firm when they attack.”

Then there’s Alexander’s half-sister, Cynane, who, though a royal princess, is a nasty bundle of pain and ambition. When she sets fire to a would-be assassin,

He falls to the floor, writhing as the flames turn his face into a blistering, bubbling mess. Leaning on her shield, she looks at him and smiles. “Call me ‘bitch’ again,” she says.

In dialog, every word should count, evoking details, images, and information about the character’s personality, history, and what he/she feels in the moment. “Call me ‘bitch’ again” pretty much sums up Princess Cynane in four words.

Remember, too, that all cultures in all ages have both formal and colloquial speech, and we all use a range of both depending on the situation. The English you use in a job interview (“That is correct. I received my Masters Degree in…”) is probably different from the English you use when hanging with friends. (“And like, then I said no way! And like, then he said, way!”) By the same token, the historical character who delivers a flowery oration to lawmakers in the morning might speak very differently sitting in a tavern that evening.

Then there are certain words or expressions that stick out at odd angles in historical fiction, that sound jarringly modern or American. My Legacy editors had me remove “what on earth,” “by God” (this is 340 BC so which god?), and “what the hell.”

Lastly, it’s always fun to sprinkle your text with a few foreign words for spice, a subtle reminder that we’re not in Kansas anymore, but not too many, as that just gets irritating. So in Legacy of Kings you will see oenochoe (a wine pitcher), krater (a huge bowl used to mix wine and water), rhyton (a drinking vessel whose bottom is usually an animal head), harmanaxa (a Persian carriage), and petteia, a Greek board game.

Next Week: Dirt, Dung, and How They Dealt With It.

LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here! (Email proof of purchase to for your signed bookplate!)

HISTORICAL FICTION FRIDAYS #4: Avoiding Asinine Anachronisms

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#4: Avoiding Asinine Anachronisms

A few years ago, I was doing a historical accuracy edit of a novel that took place in Venice in June 1600. The protagonist was walking in a garden with a variety of blooming flowers. But these flowers posed two major problems for me: not all of them bloom in June, and many of them, like orchids and bougainvillea, weren’t cultivated in Europe until centuries later!

Such are the anachronisms waiting to sabotage your historical novel unless, even after all your research into the time period, you develop a sense of what to double-check. Because in the past 150 years or so, steamships and airplanes have pretty much brought everything everywhere to everybody, but before that many things were unavailable in many parts of the world.

Food, for instance. While writing about food in Legacy of Kings, I knew that sugar wasn’t brought to Europe until the fifteenth century and people in the ancient world ate honey or fruit as sweets. Juicy, plump peaches, I thought, would be delicious on my Legacy table. But because I knew that the historical accuracy of food—just like flowers—is tricky, I googled the history of peaches.

Sure enough, peaches were native to China and weren’t introduced to Europe until the adult Alexander opened up east-west trade years after Legacy takes place. So I took the peaches off the table and substituted plums. I thought surely we could keep the lemons in the 2000 BC Middle Eastern novella I was fact-checking, but their first appearance in Syria seems to have been almost two thousand years later!9780373211722_FCproof (1)

Did you know, for example:

  • Stirrups were invented by the Chinese in the fourth century AD and introduced to Europe hundreds of years later. And iron horse shoes as we know them weren’t widely used until the tenth century AD. Ancient Romans put sandals or boots on their horses’ hooves.
  • Glass was rare and expensive for most of history. In Alexander’s time, the Egyptians made exquisite colored glass perfume bottles but no one in the world had a glass window pane.
  • Soap as we know it wasn’t invented until the Middle Ages, and then it was used mostly for laundering clothing, not people, alas.
  • Candles weren’t widely used until the early Middle Ages. My Legacy characters use little oil lamps.

And it’s not just physical stuff you need to check; you also need to investigate expressions and concepts. In Book 2 of the Legacy series, I have two characters sailing down the Nile in flood past the pyramids. I thought Heph might express his amazement at seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World, because I knew that list was ancient. But not ancient enough. When I checked, I found that a certain Antipater of Sidon compiled the list two hundred years after Alexander.

To check if something fits into your time period, google “history of” the thing (which usually take you to Wikipedia.) You might be surprised at how historically inaccurate it is. Nobody—no matter how many graduate degrees in a particular civilization they might have—can know everything, but you can develop a feel for the kinds of things you need to look up.

Remember: If in doubt, check it out!

Next week: using tone and dialog to keep your world real.

LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here! (If you pre-order and email proof to, you’ll receive a signed bookplate from Eleanor herself!

All of the LEGACY OF KINGS Things!

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There’s a LOT of LEGACY OF KINGS things going on, so we wanted to create 1 blog post, with all the info, just for you! Here’s everything you need to know (aka all the FUN STUFF you can see/read/do) when it comes to LEGACY OF KINGS:

  1. Pre-order rewards are still being offered! Email your proof of pre-order to and get a SIGNED customized bookplate from Eleanor Herman! You can pre-order here, and the bookplates look like this: CLkTGplWIAApx-C

2. Chapter 2 of LEGACY OF KINGS can be read here! It’s an Alexander chapter, and you meet his best friend (and quasi-bodyguard, Hephaestion).

3. There are THREE trailers for LEGACY OF KINGS—and you may want to be prepared for more!

Watch Zofia’s trailer on Hypable!

Watch Alex’s trailer on MTV!

Watch Kat’s trailer on GirlsLife!

Alexandra Diaz’ Lucky 7 Interview!

We are delighted to introduce to you the author of our next YA Studio title, WHEN WE WERE: Alexandra Diaz! Check out the interview below to find out the 411 on her, and remember to pre-order WHEN WE WERE by clicking here.
1. If you were a dessert, what would you be?
A chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven–not too sweet, dark chocolate chips, crispy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside. Oh, dear I’m hungry!

2. What’s the next place on your travel Bucket List?
Para-gliding in New Zealand. I’ve been wanting to go there for years, even have enough miles, but haven’t managed it. Soon, I hope, ideally combining it with a business trip (hint, hint teachers and librarians!)08 Author Photo
3. Which actress would you want to play you in the biopic of your life?
I honestly don’t know, it’s not something I’ve thought about. I’d be fine with Jennifer Lawrence or a younger Eliza Dushku, but I’ve never seen myself in either one. Ideally, I’d want someone not overly well-known, a bit socially awkward but self assured, bilingual, strong healthy body type, and yes because we’re all a bit vain, prettier than me.

4. What book has inspired your writing the most?
For “When We Were”, the two books that inspired me and my writing were Jaclyn Moriarty’s “Year of the Secret Assignments” and Ann Brashare’s “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”. And although no one would guess, there’s a bit of Harry Potter in there as well.5. Who is your secret cartoon crush?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in animals that way, but Simba is pretty charismatic. And come on, he’s got great hair!
6. Favorite TV show right now?
I don’t have a TV so there’s no show I’m following, but I loved Glee. I also enjoy Big Bang Theory but haven’t seen the latest season.
7. When you were six years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I did want to be a writer at that age even though I HATED writing in the journal we had to keep for school. Why write about what I did when writing about what I could be doing was much more interesting (I still feel the same way). I also wanted to be a roller skater, someone who plays kick ball, and of course a princess.
WHEN WE WERE comes out 9/20, but you can pre-order it today

HISTORICAL FICTION FRIDAYS #3: Dating Before Tinder—Historical Romance Tips

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#3: Dating Before Tinder—Historical Romance Tips

Until fairly recently in western society, an upper-class bride’s virginity on the wedding night was of such immense importance that girls were cloistered, guarded, and chaperoned. So how do you infuse romance into your historical novel while staying at least somewhat true to the time period?

  1. Remember that human nature never changes. People have always done their best to sneak off and meet each other and always will. It’s a safe bet that 30,000 years ago parents would knock their matted, lice-ridden heads against the cave walls in frustration at their rebellious, sneaky teenagers. Somewhat more recently, I used to climb a tree outside my window to meet my boyfriend—which was precarious because it was actually more of a sapling—until my mother cut it down, leaving me angrily staring at a stump from my second-floor window.
  2. Don’t ignore the social norms of your time period. Use them to heighten tensions and give your characters ways to evade them. In Legacy of Kings, the Persian Princess Zofia—whose virginity is a matter of state when she is betrothed to Alexander—lives in a harem guarded by eunuchs but still manages to sneak out to meet her lover in the storage cellar.
  3. Not all girls were guarded by fire-breathing chaperones. Servants, for instance. And as an orphaned peasant, Legacy’s Katerina pretty much bounces around doing what she wants.
  4. 9780373211722_FCproof (1)Is it a shame or a sin? While sex outside of marriage has usually been cause for shame until recently, it wasn’t considered a sin sullying your soul (a Judeo-Christian concept) in the ancient pagan world. And some periods had heavier soul-sullying than others—the European Middle Ages and Puritan New England (think The Scarlet Letter)—which would create additional tension in the illicit romance your characters are carrying on.
  5. The aromas of making out should be historically correct. When a couple in a Regency novel finally embraces, the female protagonist always seems to smell soap and leather on the Darcyesque character whose lips are locked with hers. The leather part worked for Legacy, as ancient Greek guys were always around leather bridles, breastplates, shield grips and sword belts, but I couldn’t mention soap which wasn’t used until the Middle Ages. Our Legacy boys would have smelled of smoke from fire pits, a river-washed tunic, and maybe even a citrus scent. And it’s always accurate to mention the historical salty tang of sweat.

Next week: Avoiding anachronisms (aka, words that are historically inaccurate) that can ruin the credibility of your world.

Remember, LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here!

HISTORICAL FICTION FRIDAYS #2: Researching the World of your Historical Novel

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#2: Researching the World of your Historical Novel

Last week I talked about the various aspects of living in a past world that you will need to know to write a believable historical novel. This week let’s explore how you do the research, where you learn about food, chamber pots, warfare, and clothing!

  1. Plan formal research before you even sit down to write. You’ll need non-fiction books on the general life and times of your period, as well as a couple of really well-written novels to see how other authors weave the fact and fiction together. What other aspects of that world are important to your story? Warfare? Religion? You’ll need books devoted to those areas, too.
  2. Use to find research material. Sure, Amazon has loads of books, but bookfinder lists not only all of Amazon’s books but also those from thousands of little bookstores around the world. Many of its books are waaaay out of print and you could never find them without bookfinder (one invaluable book I used for Sex with the Queen was published in 1667.)

Let’s say you want to set your novel in ancient Rome. Put “ancient Rome” in the title search box. Dozens of novels pop up. In non-fiction, there are books on general life times as well as specific areas such as women, warfare, slavery, music, gladiators, suicide, pipes and valves, religion, cooking, sex, law, and much more!

  1. Write up research notes. Bibliophiles will be shocked, but I underline the parts I find useful—well, not in the 1667 book, but in most others—and when I am finished, I go back and type up the underlined parts as research notes. This process helps engrave the facts in my mind more than reading alone can, and I have a huge chunk of written research material at my fingertips as I write and can find anything within the document easily.
  2. Google as you work: While writing Legacy of Kings, if I had Alex or Heph hoist a shield I 9780373211722_FCproof (1)would google “ancient Greek shields,” read about the materials and look at images of construction, shape, and color, then zip back to writing. Google is invaluable for answering questions quickly.
  3. Contact embassies for questions on foreign countries. Sometimes despite google and bookfinder, you are still stumped in your quest. If you need information about a foreign country, call the Cultural Attaché at their embassy in Washington, DC. It’s actually their job to help you!
  4. Contact universities. Google which ones are best known for the history of your time period, call the department, and tell the administrative assistant you’re writing a novel and would like to get some information from a professor well versed in a particular field of knowledge. Academics really understand painstaking research and are usually eager to share their knowledge!

Next week let’s heat this up with Dating Before Tinder: Historical Romance Tips.

Remember, LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here. (Anyone from the U.S. or Canada who pre-orders LEGACY OF KINGS and emails proof to will receive a signed bookplate from Eleanor herself!)

These Quotes from TORN Are Tearin’ Up Our Heart…

We’re so excited that TORN is finally here! The action-packed sci-fi/dystopian mashup for fans of Lauren Oliver’s Delirium has got some serious romance too—check out these quotes that will make your heart beat faster.
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TORN is available for purchase now! Get it here:


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Ever wanted to write a historical fiction novel, but have no idea where to start?

Well, we’ve got your back: introducing our new set of Toolboxes on writing Historical Fiction, with a very special guest host—Eleanor Herman, NYT bestselling historian AND author of the forthcoming LEGACY OF KINGS!

Each Friday for the next 10 weeks, Eleanor will share her insight on one area of writing historical fiction—and these are the secrets that made LEGACY OF KINGS great.

Take it away, Eleanor!


#1: Building Your Lost World—the Essentials

So you want to write historical fiction? Great! It’s the closest thing to time travel we’ve got and loads of fun, but it’s also twice as much work as regular fiction because in addition to writing the story, you must have an excellent grasp of the historical time and place. You will need to know about several topics for both rich and poor alike to create a nuanced, three-dimensional world for your characters in inhabit.

  1. What do the buildings look like? In creating the settings for Legacy of Kings, I started with envisioning the physical structures: the houses, palaces, and temples. What were they made of? Wood? Stone? Mudbrick? How were they laid out? I saw the family farm of Jacob and Kat as a rudimentary wooden courtyard house. The walled Pellan palace had gardens, breezy marble rooms, military barracks, a training pit, stables, a blacksmith, a jail, kitchens, and a laundry. The Persian palace of Zofia was even more luxurious and had harems staffed with eunuchs!
  2. How do they light and heat their world? Many historical novelists overlook the difficulty of simply starting a fire or lighting a candle (and Alexander the Great’s world didn’t even have candles; they had oil lamps.) Look for an entire post on this important topic coming soon.
  3. What do they eat and drink? Meat was generally for the wealthier classes, and since it had to be fresh to avoid food poisoning, animals were slaughtered in the kitchen, in the street, wherever. But each time and place had its own food-related idiosyncrasies which you will need to discover. For instance, ancient Egyptian priests were forbidden to touch fish and all ancient Egyptians thought that beans were disgustingly unclean. In the Renaissance, wealthy northern Europeans felt that vegetables were low-class and avoided them while wealthy Italians loved them, and just about everyone believed that tomatoes were poisonous (because tomato acids on pewter plates gave people rip-roaring stomach aches.)
  4. What do they wear? You need to know not only the styles of the time, but the materials. In researching Legacy of Kings, I found that silk wasn’t widely available until the adult Alexander the Great opened up major trade between east and west, and before that the few pieces of silk from China that made it to Greece were worth more than gold. So I couldn’t drape my characters—even the royal family—in silk! Finely combed, bleached wool and fine-woven linen were my options for the wealthy, and unbleached, coarse-woven cloth for the poorer sort.
  5. What did they believe about god/gods, ancestors, justice, slavery, the poor, people from other nations, and the role of women in society? The answers will influence both who your characters are and how the plot evolves!

Next week: How to do your research, from learning about lifestyle basics to convincing university professors to help you!

 LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here! (And anyone in the U.S. or Canada who pre-orders and emails proof to will receive a special signed bookplate from Eleanor herself!

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