5 Writing Tips from Historical Fiction Author Jody Hedlund

Jody Hedlund inspirational historical romanceI’m very excited to welcome Jody Hedlund to my blog today for an interview.

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning historical romance novelist and author of the best-selling books The Preacher’s Bride and The Doctor’s Lady. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Michigan with her husband and five busy children.

At the end of this interview, I’ll give you a chance to win a copy of Jody’s newest book, Unending Devotion.


Marcy: As a historical fiction writer, what tricks have you found to help keep anachronisms, modern day ideas, and modern day dialogue from sneaking into your work?

Jody: I’m definitely not perfect at keeping modern day thoughts and verbiage out of my historicals. Actually, I don’t think historical writers can stay completely true to the past. There are too many things about bygone eras that modern readers wouldn’t be able to relate to or understand. So, while historical writers must do the best they can to represent past time periods, we can’t strive for perfection.

However, with that said, here are several “tricks” I use to help me stay as true to history as possible:

  • I immerse myself in time period books—fiction written from the era, diaries, first-hand accounts, autobiographies, etc. Through reading the actual words of people who lived during my story’s setting, I’m able to pick up language, beliefs, nuances, etc.
  • I try to learn as much as possible about the setting, culture, customs, and history before starting my book. I need to feel that I’ve traveled back in time and have a good grasp of what it was like to live “back then.”
  • When in doubt, I look up words and usage on Phrases.org.
  • I have a critique partner who writes historical fiction. She often catches things I miss.
  • My in-house editors check and double-check word-usage. Since they edit for many different historical writers, they’ve become experts at historical trivia.

Marcy: How do you manage to keep your dialogue true to the time period without allowing it to sound stilted?

Jody: I don’t try to imitate the time period speech exactly. I usually pick out distinct words and assign them to particular characters to use throughout the book. For example, in The Preacher’s Bride, I gave John Costin the word “Methinks.” And I gave Elizabeth the words “’Tis and ’Twas.” I sprinkled their specific tag words into their speech.

Of course, the characters use other time period words too. But I try to keep them minimal so that I don’t take readers out of the story as they try to read the dialog.

Marcy: When you reached the point that you were ready to begin querying agents, how did you decide which agents to contact?

Jody: Since I write inspirational historical fiction, I used Michael Hyatt’s list of Literary Agents who represent Christian authors. I researched the agents further by visiting their websites/blogs, looking at their guidelines, authors they already represent, and books they’ve sold. I also checked ACFW’s website for the list of agents that attend their annual conference. The list specifies what kinds of projects agents are actively seeking.

Marcy: What’s the biggest myth about being a published novelist that you think it’s important for new writers to realize is a myth?

Jody: Many writers look at publication as the destination, the end goal. They believe that when they get a book contract they will have finally arrived. After all the hours, months, even years slaving over a book, writers often expect that after publication, the road will be smooth and easy.

What I’ve realized is that publication of our debut book is only another stop in the journey. When we reach the summit of publishing our first book, the range of taller and steeper mountains looms ahead. If we hope to build a readership and have a successful writing career, then we will need to keep persevering, working hard, and climbing mountains. Being a career author in today’s crowded market is rewarding but not easy.

Marcy: What would you say is the secret to your social media success?

Jody: There are a lot of factors that have helped me to grow my web presence. If I had to pick the top ingredient—the one thing that has helped me the most—I’d have to say hard work. There’s no easy way to gain a following. It takes dogged determination day after day.

Yes, hard work is key. But other ingredients are important too. Here’s my top ten list of how to grow your web presence:

1. Provide quality content. Make each post relevant and interesting.

2. Meet reader needs. Put readers’ needs above our own.

3. Be real and open. Share personally. Be vulnerable.

4. Value followers. Interact. Answer questions. Be available.

5. Reach out. Don’t be shy. Make new friends. Follow & support others generously.

6. Be consistent. Post regularly. Be reliable.

7. Interweave all social media sites. Link to posts on Twitter and Facebook. But support others generously (and yes I mention this particular point again because it’s SO important!).

8. Give it time. Don’t expect overnight success. It takes months, even years to grow followings.

9. Persevere. Keep at it regularly. Work even through dry spells.

10. Work hard. Realize it’s not easy. It won’t ever be. It’ll always be hard work.

You can connect with Jody on Facebook at Author Jody Hedlund, on Twitter as @JodyHedlund, or on her website.

Do you have any questions for Jody about writing historical fiction (or writing in general)? What do you like/dislike about historical fiction?

To be entered to win, all you have to do is leave a comment below (but I’d love it if you’d also share this post to help spread the word about Jody’s new book).

Unending Devotion by Jody HedlundIn 1883 Michigan, Lily Young is on a mission to save her lost sister, or die trying. Heedless of the danger, her searches of logging camps lead her to Harrison and into the sights of Connell McCormick, a man doing his best to add to the hard-earned fortunes of his lumber baron father.

Posing during the day as a photographer’s assistant, Lily can’t understand why any God-fearing citizen would allow evil to persist and why men like Connell McCormick turn a blind eye to the crime rampant in the town. But Connell is boss-man of three of his father’s lumber camps in the area, and like most of the other men, he’s interested in clearing the pine and earning a profit. He figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters.

Lily challenges everything he thought he knew, and together they work not only to save her sister but to put an end to the corruption that’s dominated Harrison for so long.

(This interview was originally posted at Girls With Pens upon the release of The Doctor’s Lady. Due to the retirement of Girls With Pens, Jody graciously allowed me to bring it over here to celebrate her new release because I felt her tips were too good to lose.)

SPECIAL REMINDER FROM MARCY: This is your last chance to register for How to Write Faster and Make the Most of Your Limited Time. The class starts October 13th, and costs only $30. Time is also running out to register for Story In A Sentence: Creating Your Logline, starting October 15th. (Cost is only $40).

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