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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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What kind of people read Historical Fiction? Help find out.

Would you like to help with the understanding of Historical Fiction as a genre? If so, then the wonderful Historical Novel Society is currently running a survey into reading habits of those who partake of fiction set in past times.

I encourage anyone who likes Historical Fiction to take the survey. I believe that the results will be made public in the future – so you’ll be able to understand a little bit more about your fellow readers and the genre as a whole.

Here’s the introduction to the survey if you want to know a bit more about it:

Your views on reading and on historical fiction are very important to us, and we very much appreciate your time.

THE SURVEY SHOULD ONLY TAKE 5-10 MINUTES. In addition to the survey results, as a thank you we would like to offer a free e-copy of the Historical Novel Society’s historical fiction anthology from authors at the London (UK) conference in 2012. You will be prompted for your email at the end of the survey.

PLEASE PASS THE SURVEY URL ALONG – https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JCG7NYP – the more participants, and the broader the base, the better.

Survey questions were developed by M.K. TOD, author of UNRAVELLED and blogger at www.awriterofhistory.com, in collaboration with RICHARD LEE, founder of the Historical Novel Society. We are grateful to the many authors and bloggers who contributed ideas for this year’s survey and agreed to publicize it.

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New Book Review by Ian Shone – Augustus: Son of Rome by Richard Foreman

Ian Shone has just reviewed another historical fiction novel for Alt Hist. Check out his review of Augustus: Son of Rome by Richard Foreman in our Reviews section.

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Alt Hist Issue 4 Now Published!

Alt Hist Issue 4 CoverIt gives me great pleasure to announce that Issue 4 of Alt Hist: The Magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History has now been published. It is available in both print and eBook formats as follows:

Print – Amazon US

Print Amazon UK

eBook Amazon US

eBook Amazon UK

Issue 4 will also be available from other flavours of Amazon as well – Italy, Spain, France etc – so please check your local sites. It will also be available for other e-readers in the future.

Alt Hist Issue 4: The Magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History contains seven top-quality stories from a variety of genres: horror, alternate history and fantasy, as well as straight historical fiction, including four stories set during World War II. If you’re looking for something other than World War II then we also have two stories from the Nineteenth Century and one from the Middle Ages.

The seven stories featured in Alt Hist Issue 4 are:

  • ‘Restless’ by Dylan Fox set in the 1860s onboard a fleet of British ironclad warships steaming towards China.
  • ‘Kleine Menschen’ by Eric Jackson is a historical fantasy story set in World War II Germany.
  • ‘Feast of Faith’ by Shane Rhinewald explores the struggles of common soldiers during the First Crusade who don’t have enough to eat.
  • ‘Three Months of Summer’ by Svetlana Kortchik is a love story that happens during the German occupation of Ukraine in 1942.
  • ‘The Stork’ by George Piper is a backwoods horror that will scare and surprise you.
  • ‘Battalion 202: A Blinded Falcon’ and ‘Battalion 202: Into the Darkness’ by Jonathan Doering are two alternate history stories about the resistance to a German invasion of Britain.

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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Recent Historical Fiction and Alternate History News

Here’s a selection of news and features that I’ve come across recently in the world of Historical Fiction and Alternate History. Enjoy!

Polite Englishman

From Salon: The myth of the polite Englishman. I thought this book sounded like a great resource for anyone writing historical fiction set in the Eighteenth century. Interestingly enough I don’t see many stories coming into Alt Hist set in that era – not even American War of Independence stuff very often, which is disappointing. Such a rude century should definitely be better represented!

From the Guardian: Kate Williams joins queens of historical fiction.  I didn’t agree with what she had to say at the end of the article about female documentary presenters being chosen for their looks – the BBC does the same with its male presenters too!

Guardian again: Alternate history lessons for children’s fiction – new wave of alternate histories searching questions about technology. Interesting that alternate history is being more accepted in schools, but how do we make sure kids know the real version as well?

From contactmusic.com: Steven Spielberg – Steven Spielberg’s European History. Europeans are much more interested in history says Steven. Quite a debatable statement I think – certainly most of Alt Hist’s story submissions come from the US.e make sure kids know the real version as well?

From The Daily Beast: The Graphic Novel Renaissance – and historical graphic novels are leading the way! Hurrah!

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“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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New Historical Fiction Book: Lion of the Sun: Book Three of Warrior of Rome by Harry Sidebottom

Lion of the Sun: Book Three of Warrior of Rome by Harry Sidebottom

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover (October 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590203518
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590203514

Available from Amazon.com

Available from Amazon.co.uk

Review at Fantasy Book Review

Mesopotamia, AD 260 Betrayed by his most trusted adviser, the Roman Emperor Valerian has been captured by the Sassanid barbarians. The shame of the vanquished beats down mercilessly like the white sun, as the frail old emperor prostrates himself before Shapur, King of Kings. Ballista looks on helplessly, but vows under his breath to avenge those who have brought the empire to the brink of destruction with their treachery. One day, maybe not soon, but one day, I will kill you …But first he must decide what price he will pay for his own freedom. Only the fearless and only those whom the gods will spare from hell can now save the empire from a catastrophic ending. Ballista, the Warrior of Rome, faces his greatest challenge yet.

 

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