I met Luciana Cavallaro at a writer’s conference in San Diego. We sat across from each other at a huge round table during lunch, crowded with ten historical fiction writers, but managed to have a wonderful conversation that ultimately inspired the entire group and became the foundation for a lasting friendship. I found our interest in history, our focus on ancient times, and the way we wrote so alike, you wouldn’t know we lived half a world away from each other (she’s in Australia; I’m in the US). And, we are both teachers! Since then, I’ve followed her blog, Eternal Atlantis, emailed back and forth, and hope to see her in person again at some future writing conference.
Luciana has a wonderful trilogy set in ancient Greece called Servant of the Gods. I’ve read the first two (Search for the Golden Serpent and the Labyrinthine Journey), can’t wait for the third, and drew on Luciana’s wisdom about writing trilogies, now that I’ve found myself smack dab and unexpectedly in the middle of one. We decided to share our different answers to questions that likely will interest all historical fiction writers.
Here they are:
Who or what was your inspiration to write historical fiction?
Luciana: It was Homer who inspired me to write Historical Fiction/Fantasy. After reading the Iliad and Odyssey, I knew that was what I wanted to write. The meddling of the gods in the lives of the mortals, changing fate and the outcome of history was for me a pivotal moment and I started to toy with the idea of writing.
I also was inspired by the myth of Atlantis. I read Atlantis: the lost continent by Charles Berlitz when I was fifteen. I was mesmerized by the concept of an advanced race of people, who created technology, flying vehicles, writing, engineering, etc that was destroyed. For a fifteen-year-old country kid, it was as if the whole world opened up for me and I was privy to some of its secrets. (Yes, even back then my head was in past 😊) I caught the Ancient History bug and delved into self-education, reading and learning about the mythology of Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, Persia, and Mesopotamia.
Me: Mine was a path of discovery. I wanted to understand where man came from, why we are who we are today. I read dozens of books, everything on the library shelves, but still didn’t understand. I decided to try imbuing it with fiction’s traits for building characters, bringing the setting to life, and creating a dramatic story. I got a pack of Red Bull, fired up my keyboard, and went to work. That’s when I got it!
Luciana: Ancient History is for me a drinking fountain. Each time I investigate the history of the ancient past, I learn something new, and I want to know more. It was a period of great inventions, burgeoning knowledge and principles, and where to this day, these concepts—arts in all forms, sciences, maths and technology stem from. When I visited the ancient sites in Italy, Greece, parts of Europe, Turkey–haven’t yet been to the Middle East—I am overwhelmed by what the ancient people created without the technology and education we have today. That’s why I love ancient history, it continues to astound me.
Me: Prehistoric man was so different from modern man! He was not the apex predator we are today, not Earth’s ruler (that was Nature). So what happened to change all that? Simplistically, it was our big brain but I didn’t believe that was the whole story. And to see our evolution from that first iteration of man (Homo habilis) to the next (Homo erectus)–the star of my upcoming trilogy Crossroads–is stunning. There is no dramatic, thrilling story than that!
How important is research when writing about history?
Luciana: For me, research is one of the most important processes when writing about a particular historical period. I read non-fiction books and identify reliable sources from the internet. I will not use Wikipedia (the exception are the images as they are commons free) for my research. I keep researching until I find the nugget of information I need and make notes. I have exercise books for each of my novels where I write my notes. I find it helps consolidate information and I learn best by writing it down rather than typing it out.
Me: Let me stipulate: I’m not a mind-reader. If I don’t read or hear what happened, I don’t know it. As such, research becomes critical. More importantly, historical fiction writers must be based in fact. That what our readers look for. During the research that goes into my novels, I find that the truth of our roots inspires me with the nobility of these ancient people, in their time and circumstances. I actually channel my protagonist, Lucy (and now, Xhosa in Crossroads) as I walk through my day, wondering how they would solve a problem given their different set of tools.
How important is it to you to represent history accurately? Do you do this at the expense of the story or not?
Luciana: I try to be as accurate as possible as it gives authenticity to a story. When describing a place, a building, what people wore, what they ate, the ships built at the time, and so on, I believe it gives the reader a vicarious experience; it allows them to travel back in time and get a taste of what life must have been like. That has been one of the strongest compliments I get from readers who’ve read my books.
I do use artistic license, most authors do, and playing around with timelines, or changing a few details is part of the creativity element. However, I won’t change major structures or events. For example: The Temple of Thebes (Book 1 – Search for the Golden Serpent) or the Parthenon (Book 2—The Labyrinthine Journey), these are very well-known landmarks and require respect in the description and what they represented.
What I hope and is translated through my stories is learning about ancient history, even if you’ve never studied it or know much about that period and wanting to know more. I’ve had emails from people who’ve read my books let me know how much they’ve enjoyed my stories and gone to read more about the places I’ve written about. That is awesome.
And of course, my ultimate goal is to entertain the reader.
Me: Here, as often, I am very much like Luciana. I try for accuracy, allow myself artistic license, and understand that too many facts will not be entertaining (unless I wrote like James Michener, which I don’t, darn). Early in the 25-year saga of writing the Man vs. Nature collection, I planned to offer it as creative nonfiction to support anthropology classes that dealt with ancient man. I included tons of background, footnotes, as well as the robust bibliography I still include. My early readers got bored and eventually, so too did I. I needed more enthusiasm and less expertise so I switched to fiction, still reliant on authentic events but accepting I had a lot of black holes to fill in with creative (albeit extrapolated) thinking. I like this better!
Am I right or am I right? This gal is amazing!
Here are a few places to contact Luciana:
To purchase her books:
More author discussions:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and Born in a Treacherous Time, first in her prehistoric fiction series Man vs. Nature. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.