The Ins and Outs of Historical Paranormal

Today I am thrilled to provide another Halloween Treat in the form of guest blogger Jana Denardo. Jana writes historical paranormal, a growing sub-genre and one that I find particularly interesting. Don’t forget to leave a comment for Jana to enter my month long Halloween Treats Contest in celebration of my upcoming release Little Red Riding Wolf from Passion in Print Press.

The paranormal and urban fantasy subgenres are heavy on modern day stories, but the genre has begun to grow up and down the time line. One notable series that’s moved paranormals from the current era is Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, set in the ever-popular Victorian era. Using a historical setting adds another level of difficulty to the world building and plot.

The first level, of course, is typical of any paranormal story. Who are you your paranormal entities? Are they good, evil or, like humans, both?  For me, the real consideration is what are their abilities and weaknesses. Any bobble in what you establish early on can destroy reader faith and I’ve seen it happen to the best of them. I remember a scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where a vampire didn’t go to dust. They passed it off as him being so old, that he reacted differently than usual. Later in the series, they came up with another even older vampire and he dusted fairly normal. A little slip like that can make the blogs light up as fans nitpick away.
For me, the easiest way to keep their abilities straight is to keep records of how the paranormal aspects work. I’m not an outliner, and while this sometimes leads me into blind canyons that I’ll have to write around if there’s a sequel, I am a good note taker when it comes to character attributes and supernatural abilities. This way if my vampires don’t burn up when hit with holy water, I don’t have them blistering three chapters after I’ve made that announcement. It is embarrassing to get called on a mistake like that by an editor.

Still, coming up with the paranormal attributes is the fun part. You can world build and bend things to fix your story. You can take an old creature from folklore and twist it into something new and exciting. However, when adding the layer that is the historical setting, you lose the ability to bend certain historical facts. Regardless of genre, most readers who enjoy historical settings are sticklers for accuracy. The exception to this would, of course, be alternative histories and steampunk. Even with those, historical research is necessary. You can not believable create an alternative history without first knowing the actual facts.

Nothing makes me run faster than reading an author’s blog and seeing them proclaim they hate research but are going to write a historical story anyway. I’ve seen that more times than I want to think about. A quick look at Wikipedia might be enough to say, knock out a short Buffy the Vampire Slayer  fan fiction with Angelus and Darla cheering on Jack the Ripper  – might – but it is not enough, by itself, to be the foundation for a historical novel.

However, this blog entry isn’t really about how to do the research. Most of us have experience in that if only from high school history classes. I’m more concerned about considering the possibilities inherent in a historic setting. In the 1800s, the belief in vampires was stronger than it is today, so it could impact your story in a variety of ways. Prey with built-in paranoia and armed with crosses and holy water, which were often part of the household goods, could present difficulties for a vampire. Ever see a vampire hunting kit from that time? They are very interesting and would make a fun addition to a story.

Go back a hundred years earlier, and almost everyone would believe in ghosts and spirits.  This could work for or against you, depending on what your story needed in way of the characters’ belief system. Heck, even going back a mere twenty-five years could take the tension up a notch, because it would be easy to isolate the protagonist from potential aid, leaving them at the mercy of a paranormal entity by the mere fact no one had cell phones and couldn’t just place a call out.
Another concern is the morals and cultural stigmas of the time period and the country in question, or even what part of the country you are in. I came up against this when I started my 1930’s era demon hunter series. Without thinking about it, I knew I wanted a world-wide organization and pulled the characters from all over then assembled the team in my hometown of Pittsburgh. These demon hunters included Hindu and Chinese men, and all four are homosexual, which ran me smack up against the prejudices of the day (and to what degree of prejudice they faced would vary depending on where in the country they are). A minority or female protagonist would have to face very different circumstances and have even more hurdles to clear.

I could keep on going about the pitfalls of trying to cram too much research into the story, or getting caught up in the lingo of the day but we’d be here forever. The historic paranormal story may be a bit more work up front, but if you enjoy the research like I do, you won’t mind that one bit. It’s fun to play in various points of history. Thanks to Jessica for allowing me the time to talk to you all. I hope this was help. If you’d like to find my blog, I’m at http://jana-denardo.livejournal.com/ and if you’d like to read my 1930’s demon hunter series, you can find them here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_202&osCsid=8dlkb1ua7verd7mcgid4uug4o5 and they are Snowbound (which includes Temple, urban fantasy/historical) in the anthology Necking  and  A Brief Respite is hidden on my author’s page as a piece of ‘Halloween candy’

In celebration of my upcoming release from Passion in Print Press, Little Red Riding Wolf, I am running a contest for the entire month of October! Leave a comment for Jana and enter to win a copy of Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole!

Monday’s winner of my Halloween Treats contest in celebration of Little Red Riding Wolf is Kerri. Congratulations Kerri, send me your address through my contact box on my contact page and I’ll ship you your book!

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13 Comments

Filed under paranormal inspiration, roots of paranormal romance, Thursdays Bite

13 responses to “The Ins and Outs of Historical Paranormal

  1. Great post, Jana. As the kid in high school history class who routinely had a chalkboard eraser whizzed by her ear, I’m glad to know I can count on time period accuracy for my NEW source of history lessons. Fiction. Much more fun than that dull history teacher. In re: internet research in high school. Really? No. Really? I gave myself away with the chalkboard eraser comment, didn’t I? Color me ancient. Color me from Pittsburgh, too. I grew up In a suburb of a suburb of a suburb — in the Greensburg/McKeesport area.

    Jessie, can’t wait for your book. The deep-voiced, “Hey, there little Red Riding Hood, you sure are lookin’ good. You’re everything that a big, bad wolf could want….Howooooo!” (The Animals version) plays in my head every time I read your book title. You should make that your cell phone ringtone. (No charge for my marketing advice ;-)) I know Sam the Sham did a version, but I don’t think that has the deep, deep voice.

    Whoop! Break is over. Back to writing. Great post!

    • Thanks Gloria! Now that is running through my head as well! Howoooo! LOL! Thinking up a new novella for Goldilocks now. See what you can do with that one!

    • Jana Denardo

      Thank you very much. Yes, the chalkboard eraser comment gives you away. I’m the crazy sort who can’t stop researching (which is why for nano, I had to chose between pure fantasy and the next story in my demon hunter series, and I decided not to risk getting lost in the research).

      I know where that is. I grew up in the country about 25 miles outside the city (over where the ampitheatre is) The demon hunter’s headquarters is next to Pitt.

  2. Thanks for the accuracy and consistency reminder, Jana. That applies to so many things, the choreography, (a character puts down something they never picked up), setting (sunny day/raincoat) and description (a blue-eyed character suddenly has dark brown eyes). And yes, how do their ‘super-powers’ react? My psychic doesn’t feel comfortable with her gift and feels it is unreliable, and I have to be consistent as she learns that her emotional responses do interfere with how she perceives the messages so she can eventually embrace her gift.
    Easier blogged than done, lol.

    • Jana Denardo

      That is so true. I still use character information sheets that I came across in the paper zine fanfiction days of the 1980’s so my character’s tatts don’t change arms etc. I’ve actually read a series where the author forgot the character was blind and she ended up deaf in book 2 though how you forget something that major…)

      your psychic sounds fascinating.

  3. Great article, Jana. My love of research led me to write my first book which was a historical, but I’ll admit I felt a little research worn by the end of it, so I decided to write a paranormal set in contemporary times. This book gave me just the right amount of research for me, but I agree, as writers we should strive to be as accurate as possible with every detail.

    • Jana Denardo

      Thanks. I definitely try to give myself research breaks as well, points to my comment above about how I chose this year’s nano novel and why.

  4. Jana- What a great post. I see things that bug me with choreography in movies where they’ve missed their linear mark in objects and people movement. I loved your Buffy reference as an example of worldbuilding where they “forgot” the rules. Also, I’ve read Soulless and you’ve reminded me that I want to read Gail’s other books. *must add to TBR list* . I’ll be adding your demon-hunter series to my TBR list as well!

  5. Jana Denardo

    Thanks. Oh it bugs me a lot, like on Star Trek TNG when things aren’t supposed to leave the holodeck and yet they occasionally do (Wesley dripping wet springs to mind). I’ve read the first two of Gail’s series but how #2 ended has kept me from #3 though it’s on my shelf.

    And thank you again. If you click on my author’s page and go to each book individually you’ll eventually find the link for A Brief Respite. it’s a freebie (i forget where they put it). Hopefully, they’ll buy the novella with guys in it. I should hear about that soon.

  6. Love the article Jana and this is exactly why I write paranormal and not historical. I know I would never get any writing done because I would be immersed in the research. Luckily with modern paranormal or urban fantasy you can create a world to suit your research. As long as the tattoos stay put!

    • Jana Denardo

      And sometimes the tattoos have minds of their own. Without a doubt, there is a time-suck when it comes to doing the research and it’s very possible to end up with way too much of it in the story. And, if you’re a big enough name, some editor is unlikely to remove it (and I’ve seen that a few times recently where the author obviously loved the subject and overwhelmed the story with extraneous facts)

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