Apricots and Wolfsbane, Writing Tip

Bringing the Past To Life – OSW CyCon 2019 Historical Fiction Blog Hop

An enticing plot, memorable characters with relatable flaws, and fast-paced tension will draw a reader into any story, but for historical fiction, the goal is also to transport them to the past. Here are my tips for bringing the past to life:

  1. Details paint a scene in a reader’s mind but they should not be blatant. Simply mentioning “she rested a hand on her bodice” instead of “hip” begins to place a scene in the past. The historic period should be another aspect of the scenery and plot, but not the dominating characteristic – meaning avoid paragraphs of detail dumps. Instead, integrate historical context into subtle actions, the way characters converse, and in word choices through entomology research.

  2. Use all the senses; do not just describes objects that are seen. How did clothing of the period feel against skin? How comfortable was the furniture? The way food is prepared affects the flavor and smell. What ambient sounds are in the scene?

  3. Research. For as much as details pull the reader in, wrong information can also throw them right out. A single anachronism can destroy the entire moment the author has meticulously crafted. It sucks, but that’s the truth. This condemns the historical fiction author to countless hours of research for the tiniest details we take for granted with modern time periods. To help with the never-ending task, here is a list of my favorite historical fiction research resources.

  4. Make sure the problem – and solution – are historically accurate. History can bite the author in so many ways. For my novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, I spent several days researching if it were possible for my Tudor assassin to have a greenhouse to overcome her ingredient shortage. (You can read about that research saga here.) Your character may not have had access to loans, education, or even a trustworthy food supply based upon their gender, race, and historical period. But at the same time, these historical hardships can help shape your character, provide opportunities for growth, and force the author to take less-predictable plot choices.

For another perspective on bringing history to life continue the OWS CyCon blog hop with: Robinette Waterson, who writes about the Victorian era.

Wait…What is OWS CyCon?

Our Write Side Cyber Convention is a virtual book fair May 17-19, 2019! Check out the site for book giveaways, live panel discussion, virtual fair booths, cover wars, and more!

While you’re there, please vote for Apricots and Wolfsbane in the HistFict Cover War!

K.M. Pohlkamp is the author if Apricots and Wolfsbane, an award-winning novel following the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England. She is a blessed wife to the love of her life, proud mother of two young children, and a Mission Control flight controller. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. She can be found at http://www.kmpohlkamp.com, Twitter, or Facebook.

Apricots and Wolfsbane
Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies, to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Her morbid desires are balanced with faith since she believes confession erases the sin of murder, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge against her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder, but the betrayals are just beginning.

Book Review

Book Review: The Serpent and the Eagle

This multiple POV journey allows Rickford to depict each scene from the view point with the most on the line, heightening tension. But by switching from the heads of Cortez’s crew to that of the native Mexica, I found myself rooting for both sides and falling ambivalent to who would claim victory.

The Serpent and the Eagle is an emotional journey through the eyes of a Mexica King, conquistadors, a slave girl, and so many more caught in the Spanish hunger for gold. Dramatizing the landing of Cortez in the New World, the novel follows his social maneuvering with natives to obtain riches. Each chapter changes the narrator’s POV allowing the reader to also experience the anxiety the “pale ones” bring to native Mexica. As a result, the tension in this book is created from mental turmoil rather than militaristic campaigns, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are also so many characters in this novel it can be hard to keep them straight and none are really fully developed. The closest developmental arc follows the power struggle between Cortez’s translator, Aguilar, and the native slave, Malinche. As the only one who speaks Nahuatl, Malinche quickly realizes she can exploit her skill to raise her station and later how she can twist Cortez’s words to influence perception. I enjoyed watching her subtle, clandestine grasp for power and hope to see her manipulative side further developed in Book 2.

However Rickford’s engrossing story telling makes up for any shortcomings associated with the large ensemble of characters. His words flow from the page like silk, pulling the reader into period not commonly seen in historical fiction. Each character’s voice is masterfully crafted and distinct. I never would have picked up this book without prompting, but I would have missed out. This is a perfect read to branch out from a reading rut, learn about a different era in history, and try something a little off from mainstream.

Buy on Amazon

Checkout GoodReads

About the Author, Edward Rickford

Ever since Edward was young, he has enjoyed writing. College gave him the chance to combine his interest in history with his passion for storytelling and he mainly writes historical fiction now. To research The Serpent and the Eagle, Edward read centuries-old texts and traveled to Mexico repeatedly, even retracing Cortés’ route through central Mexico. For his writing, he has won the Best in Category prize in the 2017 Chaucer Book Awards and the Deixler-Swain prize for his undergraduate thesis on the Spanish-Mexica war.  

Book Review

Book Review: Three Dark Crowns


(Amazon Description)

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. 

My Thoughts

Three Queens fighting for a crown? Sign me up!

But unfortunately this book is a broken promise.

The first scene is riveting, following the poison queen prepare for her 16th birthday celebration. The book then introduces the other queens, her sisters, as they come upon their “ascension year” where they must hunt each other until one survivor claims the crown.

However that battle never comes. Instead this is 398 pages of mundane social relationships, queens admitting they have no special magical gifts, and constantly changing points of view which I found made it hard to get engrossed in the story.

The premise of this book and the word Kendare Blake has imagined is amazing, but the story does not live up to that potential.

I strongly believe a book should have its own story arc, even if a sequel is inevitable. Three Dark Crowns has no satisfying conclusion and instead just ends in the middle of a slow story hoping you’ll buy the sequel.

I will be passing.

Writing Tip

My Favorite Historical Research Resources

Small details transfer the reader into another world, and for historical fiction, another time. Lingering honey upon a tongue after a character sips mead, the warmth of a candle flickering in the mind, the sound of a metal zipper opening in the corner…

And nothing destroys the mood more than an anachronism.

All of this condemns the historical fiction writer to hours of research – a thankless task necessity for our genre. To aid the burden, here are some of my favorite resources available from the comfort of your favorite writing place.

A Timeline Of Slang

These timelines were developed by Jonathan Green, a “slang lexicographer.” His website has timelines for 31 terms including oaths, weapons, rich/poor, death, money, and private body parts.

For example, clicking on “drunk” brings up this visual timeline of what people called that slop in the tavern over the last hundreds of years.

Online Etymology

Etymologies are explanations of what words meant and how they sounded in the past. This Online Etymology website is a fantastic way to check if a word was common in the period of your manuscript and the origins of a term.

Ngram Viewer

Another way to check if a word was used during a time period is Google’s Ngram Viewer. This tool lists the earliest written record of a word. Keep in mind, especially for early historic periods, a word was likely used in speech decades before written records.

Historical Thesaurus

Well shoot, the word you just typed was not used during the era of your manuscript. No worries, use this Historical Thesaurus!

Historical Maps

My favorite source for historical maps is Old Maps Online. You can search via geographical area and obtain links to historical maps within the search field. For example, I’ve zoomed in on London, England and historical maps are linked to the right.

Another great map source is the Leventhal Map & Education Center, part of the Boston Public Library. This site allows you to also search by date with the timeline selector on the left.

Historical Names

What’s in a name? Well, a lot.

I find naming characters stressful. They can affect a reader’s preconceived notions before any description is offered. Are they an eccentric pirate with an exotic name? Are they one of a hundred farmers named Thomas?

Here are my favorite lists of early English names:


Have 30 minutes during your commute or jog? Why not research your novel at the same time?

Listening to historical podcasts from your period of history can be a great way to pick up little bits to weave into a manuscript and make the world come to life for your reader.

My favorite history podcast is the Renaissance English History Podcast produced by historian, Heather Teysko. Her casts are short, entertaining, and jam packed with interesting facts. I especially enjoyed this episode about 16th century cosmetics.

Historical Bibles

Given the domination of religion upon past society and politics, religious quotes often come up in historical fiction. But historic bibles are different than modern ones. Bible Study Tools provides multiple translations from different eras and languages.

Social Media

Yes, you read that right.

Facebook has a breath of historic groups and societies, many of whom are pleased to answer your questions. My current WIP takes place near Hinckley, England and I’ve received aid from the Hinckley Past & Present Facebook Group of historians. Shout out also to the English Historical Fiction Author’s Group who have helped me with research in the past.

Similarly, there’s a a breath of historical fiction authors on Twitter who are ready and willing to help. Checkout these historical fiction hashtags:

What else?

What is your favorite research resource? Please leave a link in the comments below!


Cover Reveal: The Evolution of Jeremy Warsh

Today I’m excited to host the cover reveal for The Evolution of Jeremy Warsh by Jess More. You’ll have to wait until November 23 to get your hands on this YA contemporary, but you can add it to your GoodReads shelf or pre-order it now.

Jess More Cover



Jeremy Warsh has been in off-mode ever since his grandpa’s death a couple years ago. He set aside their shared passion, comic art, and hasn’t looked back. As an introvert from the other side of town, he fully expects to spend his boring life bagging groceries until, maybe one day, he’s promoted to store manager.

Yet, his two best friends, Kasey and Stuart, are different. They’re not afraid to demand more out of everyone. When Kasey comes out, Jeremy’s inspired. He picks up his colored pencils and starts drawing comics again, creating a no-nonsense, truth-talking character named Penny Kind. Who speaks to him. Literally.

The friend group sets in motion Stuart’s plans for a huge Homecoming prank, and if they can get Penny’s comic trending, they might be able to pull it off. Could this be a stepping-stone to a future Jeremy’s only dreamed of? And after he kisses a boy at a college party, will Jeremy finally face what he’s been hiding from?

About the Author

Jess More

Jess Moore makes books, homemade pizza, and is a so-so knitter. She lives in historic gold-mining California. But originally being from the Midwest, she still looks back east in the fall when the leaves are wild with color. She has worked as both a teacher and social worker for fostered youth. Currently, she writes novels in the early morning while her family sometimes sleeps.

Visit her author page
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