Fictionalizing History

In her novel Lainey of the Door Islands, Judy DuCharme brings history to life. Here, she shares the ins and outs of staying true to historical facts while using literary license to give fiction readers a great read. She has agreed to give a free e or paperback book to one commenter.

Lainey of the Door Islands uniquely tells the history of Door County in the late 1800s. I live in this huge tourist area, host to approximately three million visitors every year. Before I wrote Lainey, my seventh book, it just seemed time for a local book set in a place so many people love. 

I pondered and prayed and then one day the beginning dropped into my spirit and I sat down and typed the first several thousand words in one sitting. I said to my husband, “I’m writing and I can’t stop.”

Then began the research. I had already visited the islands at the tip of Door County and several lighthouses, but now I revisited with notebook and camera (phone) in hand. I doublechecked stories I heard, talked with those who knew the history and acquired books that told about the lighthouses and shipwrecks.

I believe I did thorough research, but chose to not be bound to getting every single detail into the story. While being accurate, I allowed myself to embellish and weave the history into the story. Hopefully I didn’t info dump or drag through tons of background. It’s a tricky walk at times, but that’s where practice and critique groups help. Be sure to join critique groups – you need their eyes and instincts.

It’s important to realize that sometimes a line or two, a quick reference in the dialogue, can provide a great deal of information of the history and the setting. When I write first drafts, I often neglect the setting description as I just want to tell the story. I then must go back and provide that. I still need some reminders, but am much more aware than when I began writing fiction.

Remember, in your author notes, you can inform the reader that you changed a few dates, adjusted a bit of the setting. I don’t know if it’s a term, but I say I fictionalized it. You want to keep the spirit of the story, the strength, hardships, and joys of the people.

An added benefit to a local historical story is that it encourages travel to the area. I have friends who loved to go to Prince Edward Island because that’s where Anne of Green Gables took place. Hence, I made Lainey a tour guide and did 30-60 second videos of the places where she spent time in the book, posted them on Facebook, and encouraged people to also visit those places. 

Here’s my advice: do the research with enjoyment, physically visiting the places, then embellish and weave those facts into your story. I think you’ll like the result and others will too.

Judy DuCharme grew up with Lake Huron next to her back yard and has always loved the water. She, her husband, daughter, and son moved to Door County in 1984. After teaching 5th Grade at Gibraltar School for 22 years, Judy followed the calling that tugged at her all her life to write. Lainey of the Door Islands is her 7th published book and she is the recipient of numerous awards. She also writes for Guideposts Magazine. If you visit Door County, you may find her hiking in the woods, jet skiing on the bay, worshipping at her church, teaching a Bible study, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, playing with her amazing grandson, or sitting outside enjoying the beauty around her.

Connect with Judy here:,              

History All Around Us

Sometimes a the most humble of objects can be used to great advantage. This proved true during WWII when kapok became unavailable to stuff the U.S. Navy’s life vests. Thinking outside the box led to using milkweed floss for this purpose.

Across the Midwest, counties launched campaigns for schools to compete for the most floss picked. I have met some of former students who vividly recall school letting out so they could scavenge the fields and ditches for this valuable white stuff.

A couple of years ago, with milkweed becoming scarce, I stopped along the road so our granddaughter could enjoy the feel of this fine, shiny floss.

Of course, we discussed the need for more milkweed for our monarchs, and the unique role its floss played during World War II. History lies right around us every day!

From Behind the Walker…

Having surgery leads to all kinds of insights. The challenge is in finding the energy to post them! But here are a few for you, introduced by some beauty that came my way from our rural parish friends.

Hospitalization alters your perspective. We’ve all been reminded lately of the invaluable services and care our health workers provide. Well…seeing this firsthand drives that realization even deeper.

Thanks to everyone at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN who transformed me into a bionic woman. Trustworthy, competent caregivers make all the difference. My husband has continued this kind of thoughtful, proactive interaction here at home–here you see his latest innovation. I can’t thank him enough!

Before surgery, our friend Heidi took extra time to instruct me on shower-taking…I haven’t found the courage for that yet, but will soon. She also brought an ingenious sock-putter-onner which works wonders!

Rodding around with my walker adds yet another view of the world. It’s a simpler world than when I left, with some new mobility limits. LIVE SIMPLY, my flower container says, and I really have little choice. But it’s been freeing to be able to transport my tea cup and other small items to and from the kitchen…one small spark of independence!

It’s always good to get a new view of things, don’t you think?

Lots of time for reading this past week. Ane Mulligan’s IN HIGH COTTON has kept me in the company of some incredibly strong Southern women, and now I’m reading Susan Count’s middle-grade fiction,THE FIREFLY WARRIOR’S CLUB. I also was able to share about my WWII characters with several readers in the hospital, an unexpected gift. And of course, fodder for future novels lay all around me!

So many friends and authors I’ve never met face-to-face (yet) have sent messages of prayers and encouragement. Saying thank you seems such a small token, but it’s what I humbly offer.

So here’s my view from behind the walker. We truly are not in charge at any point, although we may think we are. But new experiences like this increase awareness of this fact. It’s my opportunity to gratefully embrace the divine love that comes my way from so many directions.

Sunflowers and Hope

In August 1945, the world was lifting its head in hope, like this sunflower. We’ve been waiting all summer for the tightly closed blossom to open and shed its brightness on a corner of our property.

Over the past few days, the plant has shown signs of being the bright spot we expected. But in ’45, our nation had been at war four long years. Over 400,000 American GIs had sacrificed their lives, and at least 75,000,000 people had perished worldwide. Seventy-five MILLION!

It’s difficult to imagine the scope of the devastation, impossible to comprehend the gargantuan changes this war caused. But in August of 1945, the U.S. Navy was preparing to receive the formal Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri. September second in Tokyo Bay–V-J Day.

The war truly had come to an end. What a riotous celebration occurred that day all around the world, profound loss mixed with tears of relief.

In a few days, our blossom will be fuller, more complete. But sometimes it’s good to think about preludes to a culmination. Last night I completed my latest novel, about a British citizen who emigrated to Texas Hill Country before World War II. Seeing the war through his eyes as his homeland suffered so much gave me fresh insights.

Always more to learn about this rich, intriguing era!

Three Reasons to Love Historical Fiction

Welcome, Marie Sontag. I’m already an historical fiction lover, but really appreciate your take on this topic. The idea of a “sliding glass door” that helps us understand others different from us…whoa! Do we ever need this today!

Readers, please see below for Marie’s offer of THREE free copies of her novel.

What happens when Daniel Whitcomb, a fictional thirteen-year-old, meets twelve-year-old Virginia Reed, an historical member of the Donner Party, on a wagon trail to California?—a friendship Daniel doesn’t think he needs, mentorship from the man who leads whites into Yosemite Valley, and an historical fiction story that shows how what we want is usually not what we need. 

1. Historical Fiction Creates a Web of Meaning

I love historical fiction. It brings the past to life as it touches readers’ emotions within an historical context. This wedding of narrative and history creates a web of meaning that helps readers relate to and remember what they’ve read.

California Trail Discovered, my latest middle grade novel coming out this fall, places my fictional protagonist alongside historical figures, providing a context to help readers relate to the trials of the trail in 1846—when pioneers left family and friends to move into the unknown. 

2. Historical Fiction Can Create Empathy

I also enjoy historical fiction because it provides a window into people’s lives and cultures. Good historical fiction provides readers with a safe way to move in and out of their own experiences and into those of others. This kind of “sliding glass door” can promote empathy for those different from us. 

Jim Savage, a historical figure and member of Daniel and Virginia’s wagon train, warns a member of the Donner Party to return a buffalo fur the man stole from a Lakota Indian’s burial site. Jim had once lived with Indians. At first, Keseberg refuses. “The Indian is dead. He won’t need it.” Jim fires his pistol into the air. He tells Keseberg,“It’s not open to discussion. This is how Lakota honor their dead, and there will be consequences for stealing it. Put it back.” 

3. Historical Fiction Provides Insight into Our Own Lives

Like all good stories, historical fiction teaches us something about ourselves. We all have wants, but it’s often difficult to discover what fuels those wants. 

In California Trail Discovered, Daniel doesn’t want to move with his guardian to California. He wants to get back to Illinois and find out who murdered his parents. One afternoon, Daniel walks beside Virginia as she picks flowers. She comments, “Friends are like flowers. They add sunshine and color to your life. Don’t you agree?” 

Daniel shrugs. “Sometimes, I think friends are like mosquitos. They buzz around in your ear, waiting to take a bite out of you, then leave behind an itch you really shouldn’t scratch.” 

Through the friendships Daniel makes on the trail, he discovers that wanting to find out who killed his parents has masked his real need to connect with others and to become part of a new family. 

Take It Home

What historical novel has helped you better remember factual events? How did it do that? Did it help you relate more with those from a different culture? In what ways? How did the plot help the characters better understand their wants, and reveal the needs behind those wants? Did it give you any insight about your own wants and needs? In what ways?

Feel free to share any of your answers in the comments below, or send me a note on my Facebook author page. One week after the posting of this blog, I will hold a drawing for those leaving a comment. Make sure to provide your email, or PM my on Messenger or my email. Three lucky winners will win a copy of California Trail Discovered.

Marie Sontag enjoys bringing the past to life, one adventure at a time. Her fifteen years of teaching middle school and high school have given her insight into what students find entertaining, and her B.A. in social science and M.A. and Ph.D. in education provide her with a solid background for writing middle grade and young adult historical fiction. 

Born in Wisconsin, she spent most of her life in California, but now lives with her husband in Texas. When not writing, she enjoys romping with her grandkids, playing clarinet and saxophone in a community band, and nibbling red licorice or Tootsie Pops while devouring a good book.


Word Play Becomes a Career Move

Word Play Becomes a Career Move

Sandra is offering to the first three readers to post comments below a free PDF copy of “How to Write and Punctuate Dialogue with Confidence.” It includes:  How to write effective dialogue, punctuate it and tag it, plus extensive lists of substitutes for “said” (by purpose, mood, volume, sound and more!). 

In a recent interview I was asked how long I’d been editing. My immediate (gut) answer was: “Forever!” Well, maybe not quite that long, but it brought to mind a photo I’d found among my mother’s things. It was me as a youngster while we were in Heidelberg, Germany where my father worked in medical records in a U.S. Army hospital after WWII. 

Dad loved writing stories and poems, and he encouraged me to plunk out stories as well. The keys created fine dark images which surely formed wonderful stories, or so I believed. Since I couldn’t read or write, let alone type, at that time, it was a practice in vain. Or was it …?

My dad loved playing with words, imitating his favorite poet Ogden Nash. It was that “after war” period when society ached for fun and levity, and words provided that in our house. Dad would read his poems to me with a gleam in his eye. The oddity of rhyming schemes and playful meanings entranced me. No wonder years later I would write stories with tongue-in-cheek tones as I began to be published. 

That fascination with words continued to intrigue me as I participated in critique groups. I soon realized I was as interested in reviewing the wording of other writers as much as in writing myself. That eventually led me to editing of Writers Open Forum (later becoming Writers International Forum) and then into serving writers with editing services. 

I’ve been privileged to edit memoirs of people with amazing lives, mysteries that enthrall readers, fantasies that take us out of this world, and adventures that plunge readers deep into the wild forests of nature as well as the dangerous jungles of human emotions. I’ve experienced eras and traveled through countries that I could never have otherwise, enjoying so much of life through the reflections and imagination of others. 

I feel grateful to my father for sparking in me the wonder of written words. And for that old typewriter that let my own young imagination soar. As our society tumbles through troubled times, I hope to help writers find their voices as well to entertain and inform and enlighten readers of the future.

About the author:

Sandra Haven lives on Washington state’s evergreen Olympic Peninsula with her husband. She formed a private FaceBook group page for Writers for the Next Reality for those looking ahead at the changes in our world. Feel free to join it! She also provides editing services for authors through her website, You can email her directly or find her on these social media:


Website and Blog:


FaceBook: Sandra’s Tips on FaceBook

Twitter: @Haven4Writers


Wasn’t it a famous fictional character who instructed, “Slow and steady wins the race?” Well, this author, Penny Frost McGinnis, gives us an example of self-acceptance in addition to a steady role model. And she is offering such an interesting giveaway…She quips, “Hopefully this calendar with its big turtle (see below) will remind the winner-It’s Okay to Crawl Like a Turtle to the Finish Line!” I hope we can all learn a bit about being patient with ourselves here from Penny’s story.

As I worked full time with family responsibilities, I struggled to scratch out time to write. My first book-length piece took over five years. In the process, I blogged and wrote poetry, articles, and devotions. I even had the opportunity to publish a few. The practice of writing the short pieces drove my desire to finish the novel.  After  I did, I shopped it around and realized I had a lot to learn.

That first book lives in my closet. But the novel bug didn’t die, instead it grew. After I retired, I spent eight months finishing a rough draft I’d started a year before. At first , I felt guilty because I got to stay home and play with words. I know I’ve earned retirement, but I couldn’t get past the feeling I was spinning my wheels and not being useful. My writing slowed to a crawl. 

Until this whole COVID-19 thing happened. 

A switch tripped inside me, and I started editing (at a turtle’s pace.) I sent chapters to a writer friend for critique and signed up for the Blue Ridge Mountain Writers Conference, coming this November. In the meantime, I followed BRMWC’s posts on Facebook. They offered a paid mentor for an hour to look over a synopsis and first chapter. I signed up. And boy did I learn from my mentor. She showed me what my first chapter should give the reader. Even more important, she gave me tools and encouragement to keep writing. 

Back to the first chapters to edit—again.

As a slow writer, I’ve had to learn it’s okay to take my time. I may not finish my book this year, but I’m still plugging along. In June, I attended the Kentucky Christian Writers Online Conference where I listened to Lisa Carter who shared so many great tips on editing and finding your voice and Bob Hostetler who is such a joy and inspiration. 

My turtle pace frustrates me at times. But I realize this is how God wired me. Even at a slow crawl, God has given me the desire and ability to put words on paper and share his truth. He’s also given me opportunities to keep learning the craft.

It’s okay to crawl like a turtle to the finish line! Just keep writing.

Penny Frost McGinnis writes devotions, book reviews, and thoughtful posts on her blog, Hope for Today’s Heart. Penny is a monthly contributor to Midwest Almanac, and has been published in Chicken Soup, The Upper Room and Christian Devotions. She believes God has called her to bring hope and joy to people’s lives through her writing.  She and her husband live in southwest Ohio.


Once you start researching this war, the word OPERATION keeps coming up.

Operation Overlord, (The D-Day Invasion), Operation Market Garden, and on and on.

But did you ever hear of Operation Begonia?

British special forces carried out Operation Begonia in 1943 after the armistice with Italy. Six SAS men paradropped on the Italian Coast to locate and evacuate POWS who had escaped from Italian camps when the fighting still continued.

I never dreamed so many flowers would have connections with the war, but there you go!

Letters Home

Throughout World War II, hundred of thousands of families awaited letters from their loved ones. Theirs was not a pandemic with social distancing…many of their sons, brothers, husbands, and dear friends were so much further removed.

This random sampling from a host of letters saved by a woman who eagerly kept watch on her mailbox gives an idea of the way an Iowa soldier moved around. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Olympia, Washington, and in 1945, the generic U.S. Army A.P.0. That postmark might have meant almost any location, but in ’45, possibly Japan, where fierce battles still raged.

And so, with no alternative loving hearts waited and prayed.

Letters play a significant role in my novels, not necessarily by plan or forethought. But as characters’ lives have developed, written correspondence with paper and ink were so much a part of life in those fretful days. Letters arrived and replies were sent. The process took weeks or even months, and many of the messages were censored. That’s just the way it was.

For those who have missed out on the joy of receiving a handwritten missal, the importance of letter-writing may be difficult to imagine. That’s a part of entering into the Greatest Generation’s daily lives, fears, hopes and joys.

In High Cotton

by Ane Mulligan  @AneMulligan

Do you ever wonder how authors choose their settings? Ane Mulligan, author of many Southern Fried Fiction novels, shares her process for her latest story, the first book in a series. She is also offering an e-book giveaway to someone who leaves her a comment.

A Journey of Discovery

I like to set my stories in fictional towns. Once I know who my characters are, I draw a map and place the businesses and houses where I want them. That way, nobody can say there wasn’t a store on that street. 

After writing five contemporary novels, my agent liked the premise of In High Cotton.She noted that it fit my brand of ensemble casts of strong Southern women, facing life’s issues together. She gave her blessing on the Georgia Magnolias series.

I wanted a rural setting for In High Cotton. I discovered an area around Uvalda in southeast Georgia. There is hardly anything near it, except two rivers (the Ocmulgee and the Oconee) converge near there to form a third (the Altamaha). The Indians called this area “Where Rivers End.” That gave me my town’s name of Rivers End.

As a kid, I spent summers at my cousins’ home in Winkelman, Arizona. I know. What kid spends summers in Arizona? It was heaven—a real-life cowboys and Indians town. My cousin owned an old Army Jeep I got to drive as a ten-year-old. What fun we had, chasing wild burros, every turn around tall Saguaros, spewing sand and dirt. 

Winkelman had a population of around 600, and my cousin owned a small grocery store. He let me work in it in the afternoons, when even kids melt in the desert sun. That served as my model for Parker’s grocery. 

From there, I let my imagination take over. I gathered lists of food costs, what was available, what Maggie (my heroine) would have carried in the grocery. Campbells only had twenty-one varieties at the time. Today, that number is 226. 

That led me to wonder about Depression era recipes. I’ve included several in the book, ones I found interesting. One thing I noticed, Georgians use peanuts as a staple source of protein. They were in many of the recipes I unearthed.

I’ve found I love writing in the Depression era. I’m looking at WWII for a potential series, too. But whatever the era, readers can count of it being Southern-fried fiction. What’s that? It’s strong, plucky women and loyal friendships, all served up with a dash of humor and a lot of heart. 

Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw PETER PAN on stage, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. One day, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her websiteAmazon Author pageFacebookTwitterInstagramPinterestand The Write Conversation.  

In High Cotton, releasing August 3rd

Southern women may look as delicate as flowers, but there’s iron in their veins.

While the rest of the world has been roaring through the 1920s, times are hardscrabble in rural South Georgia. Widow Maggie Parker is barely surviving while raising her young son alone. Then as banks begin to fail, her father-in-law threatens to take her son and sell off her livelihood—the grocery store her husband left her. Can five Southern women band together, using their wisdom and wiles to stop him and survive the Great Depression?

Available on Amazon, LPCBooks, Target, and in bookstores.