Historical Fiction Short Stories – the Long and the Short of it

Like fantasy, historical fiction often seems to favour the epic mode where authors (and readers) can get to grips with extensive world-building and a deep setting. That’s at least what you often hear these days on online forums and discussion groups.

But is that really the case? Of course at Alt Hist we don’t think that is true as we publish a magazine dedicated to short fiction with an historical setting. In the case of Alternative History, with its links to the Science Fiction genre, the tendency to write short stories is much more ingrained – Alternate History stories often focuses ideas and these can sit naturally with the short story length.

But I really think there is a place for the short story for historical fiction as well. Just because the tendency of historical fiction authors is to write epic tales of romance/adventure, doesn’t mean that you can’t fit historical fiction into a short story. After all in Science Fiction the author may have to create whole new worlds that they reader may never encountered before, so what would prevent the writer of historical fiction from portraying an historical setting, which might be much more familiar to the reader? I would suggest the tendency is more about tradition and commercial pressure. Short fiction today is strongest in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery because it always has been and its often a good starting point for writers in those genres. But the same tradition isn’t the same for historical fiction – as far as I know there weren’t any pulp magazines dedicated to historical fiction unless you include Westerns.

Commercially the emphasis is always on the novel length work. Short stories tend not to be a commercial format for most publishers. So if you’re a historical fiction writer and you want to make a living then its only natural to turn to the novel. Interestingly it seems that some authors once they’re established do then turn to short stories – especially for characters that run through their novels – there’s some tales that fit better into a short story rather than a novel.

So maybe it is possible to write and read historical short stories, but are there many of these rare birds about? Well yes actually. Check the reviews on the Historical Novel Society website and you will find reviews for 72 collections of historical short stories – and most of these were published in just the last few years.

If you have a favourite historical short story then please post a Comment and tell us about it.

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Should Alt Hist set-up a discussion forum?

I have been wondering if Alt Hist should have it’s own discussion forum. The forum would be open to anyone interested in historical fiction and alternate history and would allow users to discuss any subject related to historical fiction as well as the stories that appear in Alt Hist. The forum would probably be hosted at http://www.althistpress.co.uk site as that site is a lot easier to customize than this one.

So what do you think? Should we?

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Donations to Alt Hist

As you may know Alt Hist is currently a small publication. We publish two issues a year and are able to pay authors only a token fee of $10 for their stories. However, we would like to pay authors more – and also maybe pay our volunteers an honorarium as well for helping out. To this end you can now donate if you so wish to Alt Hist. Please use the link below or in the sidebar. Alternatively, you can contribute just by buying an issue of Alt Hist!

If/as donations come in, we will give a report of what the fund is and how this might be split out to pay authors in the future.

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Alt Hist needs Volunteers

Would you like to help out with Alt Hist? In order to move the publication forward I am looking for volunteers to help out with the publication. Payment will be minimal – a free issue most likely – but hopefully the work will be interesting.

I am looking for help with the following:

Blogging on new books including book reviews, or general genre related posts

Proof-reading final proof of each issue

Filtering submissions for further consideration by the editor

If you think you can help with any of these things then please drop me a line at althist.editor@gmail.com

Should Alt Hist offer subscriptions – please vote in the poll

“Hooray for Historical Fiction” says the Huffington Post!

Dave Astor at the Huffington Post wrote a very nice piece the other day about why historical fiction is just great – mostly because of its ability to educate. He specifically cites Stephen King’s new novel 11/22/63, and also mentions other books such as Walter Scott’s.

Although it’s great to hear historical fiction praised in such a way – and one just wishes that other genres such as Science Fiction and Fantasy would get such plaudits too on a more regular basis, but I think that Dave’s reasons for liking historical fiction also raise a number of questions.

  1. What’s the chances of people actually getting misinformation from works for fiction? For instance Stephen King’s book involves an alternate history scenario where someone travels back in time to prevent JFK’s death. I think in this case most people would know the real history and it would be obvious that the author is changing things, but in cases where history is less well understood the author has a real responsibility.
  2. How comprehensively should an author actually tell the reader (perhaps in footnotes or an introduction) about how their work diverges from recorded history?
  3. Should editors and publishers be more careful in what work they accept authors, and should they actually research the historical background themselves? For Alt Hist, I usually do check facts in the stories that I publish in the magazine for instance, and this actually takes up a large part of the copy-editing process.
  4. Are historical fiction authors the new history teachers?
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NaNoWriMo Starting Soon – will you write an Historical Novel

Or maybe even a short story!? If so we’d love to hear about it at Alt Hist.

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month – and takes place over the whole of November, the idea being to write a whole novel in just one month. Quite a cool idea I think, but a real challenge, it’s hard enough to finish a novel ever, let alone in a month.

Perhaps we should have a similar challenge at Alt Hist – write an Historical short story – and submit it to Alt Hist for possible publication. I’m sure you can get a story written in a month can’t you?

I’m considering having a go at NaNoWriMo – you never know what may come of it – but in my case I can’t quite decide whether to start with a novel or a long short story.