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