Tuesday, August 14, 2012

World Building...with history (and without it) by Kari Gregg

Quite a few readers tagged/shelved my first m/m story, Spoils of War, as a historical. That horrified me initially, because Spoils isn’t historical. It was never meant to be historical. Any reviewer who reads it as a historical work will probably laugh their fool heads off and then, they’ll sharpen stakes & voodoo doll pins. Justifiably so. And that goes doubly so -- exponentially so -- for my book releasing at Loose Id today, Spoils of War’s sequel, Plunder.


Historical...mistorical...historical fantasy...What’s the difference?

A lot, actually.

Historicals are books written inside a reality in the past and therefore must be laser-focused on that setting in that one specific place in time. Lotta research. An insane amount of fact-checking. (I get hives just thinking about it.) Mistoricals are historicals that fudge the reality of the one specific place in time just a smidge. They mostly reflect the reality of that setting. Maybe the author decided to flex some creative license, but the world they’ve built for the reader reflects that one place in time from the past in all other respects.

Historical fantasy, though...In historical fantasy, history becomes your play land.

Maybe you’ve taken that historical setting -- that one specific place in time -- and added dragons to it, or magic, some fantasy element, but you’ve otherwise left history alone. The world your heroes live in is a mirror for a literal historical setting.

OR you can do as I did with Plunder in historical fantasy and build a world that is infused with history and historical elements without being a mirror image of history. Does Spoils’ and Plunder’s world line up with a literal historical setting? Nope. I sure borrowed from ancient cultures and history, though, and was inspired by them. Like a magpie, I snatched at shiny bits of history from this era or that location and used all those pieces of shiny to line the nest that became Micah and Eli’s world. If I had to pick one particular ancient setting for that world, I could. I know where and when I meant for it to most resemble.

But in my mind, that time and that location wasn’t the world Eli and Micah lived in. So I messed with it. LOL

Herra never existed. Neither did Alekia. Assyria did, though, and they are mentioned in Plunder as having provided weapons for the war. I liked the recipe for palace cakes I stumbled across so I included the reference, even though that recipe was too early for the time period I had in mind. Eli’s song? Really too late. But I liked the first two lines a lot. Not exactly an appropriate song to sing to a child, being that the whole is about seizing and enjoying life before you become worm food, but nonetheless. Liked those first two lines, so I used them. Hated the melody, though. Too frippery, much too frippery for my Eli. Oh no, the song he would’ve sung would’ve sounded, melodically, more like the Hurrian Songs (as stated in my author’s note at the start of the book). Pity the Hurrian Songs were too early and the hotly debated translations for those lyric fragments are about sacrifices and whatnot. Forks? *snort* No, no, no. Ancient Mesopotamians ate with their fingers. That’s not what I wanted for Micah and Eli’s world, but that’s how it was back then. And oh my, the beds. Granted, beds did exist in Ancient Mesopotamia (as did forks, for that matter), but most people slept on mats. How comfy and smexy does that sound to you? Not very? Not to me, either. So Micah and Eli’s world had beds, thanks.

Magic. But also beds.

Eli sang his song, even though the melody was too early and the lyrics (which are wildly inappropriate, taken inside their proper historical context) are too late.

The convention of taking aristocratic sons of conquered nations as securities was real enough, as was deporting/dispersing the populations of conquered peoples (though I didn’t use that here). Barley was a staple crop too. Barak’s house was made of mud brick, as most homes would’ve been, while the king’s country estate, in which Micah was originally hidden, stands as mute contrast with its boasts of marble and costly (and much more rare) wood.

I used a lot of history and ancient culture. But I played a lot too. What ultimately emerged from the Cuisinart mixing bowl inside my head isn’t a historical mirror by any stretch, but it’s the world Micah and Eli breathe inside. It was never our real world, but theirs is a magical world.

A magical world with forks.


Kari Gregg lives in the mountains of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia with her Wonderful husband and three very Wild children. Once Kari discovered the fabulous play land of erotic romances at RWA’s National Conference in 2009, the die was cast. Finally! A market for the smoking hot stories she loves!

When Kari’s not writing, she enjoys reading, coffee, zombie flicks, coffee, naked mud-wrestling (not really), and . . . coffee!

Captured as a boy when Herra invaded his homeland, Micah realizes that finding his way to freedom in Alekia with his savior and lover Eli was the easier task. They now hide among the Alekites. Battle with Herra looms, With Eli’s love, Micah must come to terms with his status as a noble and his mother’s birthright of witch’s blood inside him. The two also face the father Micah cannot forgive and Eli’s family, who very much want Eli back as firstborn heir rather than the lowly slave who rescued the king’s favorite son.

When court intrigues stir and Herran armies march to war, Micah and Eli must make their stand…or fall as plunder.

Plunder is the 10th story I’ve released and to celebrate that, I’d like to do a random drawing among commenters for today’s post. The prize? A $10 Amazon gift card, a buck for each of my stories. ;-p So comment below with your email address to be entered into the drawing.


  1. great article! As a historical fantasy writer I too would be horrified to have my books read as historical fiction, since I don't think they stand up to that kind of historical rigor and were never meant to.

  2. Loved Plunder and looking forward to more wonderful and imaginative stories from Kari

  3. So interesting! Sounds like you did an enormous amount of research, to know what periods all the items you mentioned were in. Have you always been interested in ancient times?

  4. I'm a huge fan! Please include me in the drawing. tmadamski(at)msn(dot)com

  5. As a historian myself (studying art history and medieval history) I think I prefer historical fantasy to plain historical at times. Don't get me wrong, I become giddy with excitement when one of my favorite MM authors puts out a historical book. They aren't as common in the genre and I just love seeing them... But unless it is really well done I can get lost in factual errors. Most of the authors I have read it is obvious how much time went into research. When you read historical fantasy it is much easier to get into the story without worrying about accuracy. Like you said, once you put a dragon in the mix the fact that breeches weren't the types of pant worn at the time really stops mattering! Congrats on your release!

  6. Nona, my interest in ancient history & cultures began with studying the Bible as exegesis, believe it or not. To read the Bible properly, we shouldn't read those documents with our modern ears and our modern perspectives. We need to read them as each document's original audience would've understood it. I just kept getting side-tracked by the history and cultural conventions, LOL, *especially* when I began reading extrabiblical documents (which fascinated me). That isn't to say I'm a historian, though, because I'm not. But I did some research, sure.

    Juliana, I KWYM about historical fantasy (as both a writer & a reader, btw). Writing a historical in the ancient timeframe is a tricky, tricky business. There's so much, historically, that would inspire a great many torches & pitchforks to a modern audience. For instance, Micah's age (historically) would've been more realistic as younger than 19. Which would earn me a steak knife to the ribs these days, LOL. History, though, is such a fascinating place. Including historical elements rather than mirroring history is just a lot more fun for me, as a writer and reader both.

  7. I agree with Juliana--historical fantasy can be a much more enjoyable read than factually accurate historical fiction. It helps, if nothing else, to avoid the problem of feeling it necessary to show off just how much research and how very accurate you are. :) It sounds like you did a fantastic job of researching and then picking/choosing what to keep and what to ignore to create the perfect world for your characters.

  8. As you said, historical fantasy is your playground, and it's so much fun for the reader to take the ride with you.

    strive4bst at yahoo dot com

  9. Your books are great.

  10. I enjoy historical fantasy much more than historical fiction. It allows my fantasy to roam and romp also.


  11. Recently discoved your books Kari...Really liking them so far. I love fantasy fiction and shy away from historical so the different ways people see the same thing is very funny to me. Please count me in for the contest. thanks! chellebee66 at gmail dot com

  12. Though I haven't read Spoils yet, I loved your world building in Collared. Can't wait for the next of that series (but you already know that about me.) ;)

    I'll get to Spoils, I swear. =)

  13. What a pleasant surprise I found when I opened up my email today! There was a notice saying that a sequel had been released to one of my most favorite books of all times, "Spoils Of War." AWESOME!!!
    Thank you...Thank You...Thank You!!

    P.S. For some strange reason, I didn't know this blog was here. I had saved the homepage, but never found this part of website. Strange...

  14. I loved Spoils of War and was really pleased to find out that there is more in this world! Can't wait to get Plunder.



  15. can't wait to read Plunder! please count me in your drawing.

  16. Historical novels can be really frustrating (when one knows the period!!), but historical fantasy is a completely different ball-game - so much license, so much to manipulate your way - yeah!!

    Can't wait to read Plunder! (OK going there asap!!)