Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pictures in a Picture

Although not exclusively a device of historical fiction, I’d like to look this week at the ways photographs can be used in a novel. Obviously, photos are only relevant in novels set in periods in which photos existed, but I have found that even when a photo is only described verbally it can still be worth “a thousand words.”

In my first example, a photo is used to connect two scenes in the novel that are hundreds of pages apart. The reference to the photo is used to remind the reader of an earlier scene and so the emotions and relationships described earlier. From an
An Obsolete Honor:

An Obsolete Honor: A Story of the German Resistance to HitlerThe photographer managed everything “just like an opera director,” according to Eberhard, telling them exactly where to stand, what pose to take, and even turning their heads this way and that or arranging their hands and accessories.

While they were standing together with the photographer pushing them about, Philip finally got a chance to ask his brother, “When were you promoted to Hauptman?”

“When I got a Staffel.”

“Congratulations!” The flashlight flashed, catching that moment when Philip turned in delighted surprise to Christian. “When did you get the Staffel?”


“In JG 23?”

“Yes, but in Africa”

Two hundred pages later the photograph is referenced like this:

In her study, Philip helped his mother into a chair, glancing at the photo that stood prominently on her desk. It was the photo from his wedding when he’d turned to congratulate Christian on his promotion. Philip and Christian were ginning at each other as if no one else existed. His mother had made two copies of it: one for here and one for her bedroom dresser.

He kissed her forehead and then withdrew, slipping his arm around Alexandra and guiding her toward the door with the remark. “My mother needs to be alone with my brother.”

In the next example, taken for The Lady in the Spitfire, the protagonist slips into his girl-friend’s parlor and finds himself confronted with photos of her missing husband. The photos are his first “face-to-face” encounter with the man who is keeping them apart. The photos tell Jay about his competition.

A solemn young man with dark hair and dark eyes stared back at him accusingly. He was very good-looking, J.B. had to concede. Good-looking and he had the DFC and three rings on his sleeve, too. J.B. sighed and straightened.

The Lady in the SpitfireThere were two other photos on the secretary also. One showed the same young man, this time with only one stripe on his sleeve, at what appeared to be a garden party. Ladies in big-brimmed hats and white gloves stood around in the background while the young RAF officer shook hands with a man even Jay recognized: King Edward VIII. The photo was striking because there was a tension between the two men that the camera had captured – a flash of anger in the King’s eye and defiance on the face of the young officer. Jay found himself wishing he knew the story behind the picture. It certainly wasn’t your standard celebrity with unknown-member-of-the-public shot.

The third photo at last contained Emily as well as her husband. It had not attracted Jay’s attention at first because it was taken from father away, so that the people were shown at full length and their faces were very small. J.B. picked it up to look at it more closely. It showed Emily in an elegant, high-waisted wedding gown with a veil down her back and a long train arranged in a fan at her feet. She held a bouquet of flowers in her right hand. She looked lovely, fragile and yet proud, not radiant. Not at all. In fact, she wasn’t really smiling. J.B. thought a bride ought to look much happier than that! Her left hand was hooked in the elbow of an RAF officer, and J.B. had to lean closer to convince himself it was really the same man as in the other photos. The man in the wedding photo was dressed in a rather ill-fitting uniform, with a turtle-neck rather than shirt-and-tie, and was still wearing flying boots. J.B. was offended. How dare he marry Emily in old flying clothes rather than dress uniform?! It was an insult. But he had hardly thought it, than he noticed the bandages on the bridegroom’s hands and an inkling of what must have happened sent a shiver down his spine. He noted, too, that Emily’s husband’s unkempt hair was falling over his forehead, his eyes were sunken in his face, and there were very dark shadows under them – but he was grinning from ear to ear. J.B. recognized that look. It was the look of slap-happy disbelief at things having turned out alright after all.

As this example shows, photographs are an effective way to tell the reader something that does not fit directly into the narrative of the story. They can be particularly effective, if a photograph exists that the author wishes to use in the cover or a video teaser. As electronic media evolves and makes it increasingly easy to mix visual images with text, the use of photographs in fiction will, I believe, increase.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Two New Reviews of the Olympic Charioteer

The Olympic Charioteer
Jennifer Walker of SharedReviews (http://sharedreviews.com) wrote:

The Olympic Charioteer:

Soon after politician and chariot horse breeder Antyllus buys the slave Phillip from the quarry, it becomes clear that his new purchase is not just any slave. Phillip possesses a remarkable level of pride for his station; but more than that, he has a death wish. He nearly manages to achieve that goal when Antyllus purchases him just in time to prevent a horrifying end. Antyllus soon learns just how unusual Phillip is. For one thing, despite his insolence and liberal sarcasm, Phillip has apparently been trained in rhetoric and deportment. For another, his ability to handle horses rivals that of anyone Antyllus has ever met.

Antyllus hopes for an Olympic victory with the team of horses he bred, but he needs a skilled driver to give him the best chance. He teaches Phillip to drive them and assist in training sessions, and Phillip learns so quickly that he soon surpasses Antyllus in skill. Antyllus decides that he has found his Olympic charioteer, but when Phillip surprisingly refuses, the mystery of the slave's background is finally solved.

The Olympic Charioteer transported me back to ancient Greece and plunged me into a world of politics and intrigue. Author Helena P. Schrader deftly paints a picture of social and political life in Tegea and Sparta of the times, which I found fascinating. Schrader’s story is fictional, but she obviously has an intense level of knowledge of the time period, which brings the story to life in a very authentic way. She explores in this story the conflicts between these two city-states--a conflict that eventually led to the formation of the Peloponnesian League through a series of non-aggression pacts.

I found Helena P. Schrader’s The Olympic Charioteer to be a brilliant tapestry of Ancient Greece, with robust, lifelike characters and scenery. This story has a little something for everyone: it is a realistic historical fiction for those readers, with a sweet romance for those fans. There is even mystery, action and drama. It was a brilliant and fascinating read that I truly enjoyed. This book retails for $22.95 and is 416 pages. It is available at Amazon and other online retailers.

Overall Rating: 5.0
Acquired by: It was a gift
Category: Fiction Books
Published: Jan 31, 2011
Feature Ratings:
Genre: 5.0
Author / Illustrator: 5.0
Length: 5.0
Content: 5.0

Review Author: Jennifer Walker

ALSO, April Renn of http://mybookaddictionandmore.worldpress.com wrote:

THE OLYMPIC CHARIOTEER by Helena P. Schrader is an interesting historical fiction set in Archaic Greece. It is well written with depth and details. It is a tale of one slave,two men with Olympic ambitions, two cities at war and the finest charioteer in Greece. It has tragedy, olympic triumph, romance, slavery, intrigue, alliances, struggles, Archaic Spartan society, love won and lost.  It is about the struggle of one slave who will become the greatest Olympic charioteer of all and his sacrifices, triumphs and the first non-aggression pact: the Peloponnesian League. This is a very intense story with many faceted characters. It expands on the Spartan culture and shows much research was done in order to write this story. It is packed full of action, adventure,tragedy, and is fast paced. If you enjoy learning more on the Spartan culture,their trials,triumphs,slavery and be transported to a different time and place this is the book for you. It is a great read and is fast paced. This book was received for the purpose of review from AME Virtual Author Tours and details can be found on amazon.com.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Man's Best Friend

Human relationships with animals are nearly as complex as those with other people. At the most basic level, humans have slaughtered and consumed animals for tens of thousands of years. For thousands of years, we have exploited domesticated animals for their strength as beasts of burden, for transportation, for powering mills, and for such bi-products as eggs, milk, wool, and leather. Some privileged animals have been turned into quasi-partners, helping us hunt, frightening away predators, and keeping our homes mouse-free. Others have provided entertainment in one form or another, for example, dancing bears, fighting cocks and race-horses, just to name a few.

While the age of the spoiled pet with diamond-studded collars, designer grooming, and trust-funds is a relatively modern phenomenon, we know that thousands of years before Christ some animals were revered enough to be recorded in history by name. The names of the horses that won in the Olympics, for example, were recorded on monuments, and Darius, the Great King of Persia, set up a special monument to honor the stallion who helped him win his throne. Ancient Greek and Persian art depicts hunting dogs. The ancient Egyptians mummified many different animals including cats.

Thus, the relationship between humans and specific animals is one of the many constants that can make a novel set in a period different from our own come to life. The interaction between an character and an animal can greatly enrich an novel and help the reader learn about the characters -- provided the novelist is careful to keep the role of the animal consistent with the period in which the novel takes place.

Here are some examples from my own work. In the first, from The Lady in the Spitfire, a dog overcomes hostility because of shared emotions.

The Lady in the SpitfireEmily had never had pets. Her parent’s flat in Portsmouth had been too small, and her mother hated them. Didn’t they make messes and leave hair all over the furniture? And dogs barked at all hours of the day and night, too. Emily was sure she’d never be able to get a good night’s sleep with a dog in the house.

Philippa could see her dismay and begged, “Please, at least come and meet her. She’s waiting out in the car.”

Emily didn’t feel she could say no to this, but went along with mounting resistance to the idea of having an animal in the house. It was rented, after all, as were the bulk of the furnishings. What if the dog ruined something? And a bulldog, of all things! It might bite the neighbor children or attack the postman.

Philippa led her out to a run-down Austin parked in front. As they approached the car, a small, cream-colored bulldog leapt up and stood with her front paws on the car-window ledge. She pressed her squashed, dark face against the glass, and her large dark eyes devoured Philippa. Philippa opened the door, the dog jumped down, and Philippa swept the dog up into her arms. Then she turned to Emily with an appealing look on her face. “She’s wasting away before my eyes, all skin and bones. And she hasn’t said ‘wuf’ once since Barry died.

The dog gazed solemnly at Emily, breathing heavily, as if she knew her fate depended on Emily’s decision. The look went straight to Emily’s heart; they were both grieving.

In the next example, from The Olympic Charioteer, the relationship between the principle character and horses is seen from the outside. Rather than describing the relationship itself, an incident remembered by Lysandridas’ father underlines the importance of horses to him. It also informs the reader about important aspects of Spartan society.

The Olympic CharioteerTo get into town for dinner at the mess, Teleklos often rode one or the other of their horses and left it tied in front of the mess. Spartan law, however, gave any citizen the right to ride any other citizen’s horse, if he had need. A certain Akrotates, seeing Teleklos’ horse waiting for him, decided he ‘needed’ it for some reason. Teleklos couldn’t remember what his excuse had been any more, but he took the horse and started riding it through the streets with a heavy hand and flapping heels. Unfortunately, he crossed the path of Lysandridas’ agoge unit as they returned from the drill fields on the far side of the Eurotas. Lysandridas had recognized his father’s horse instantly, and in a blind rage at what he considered “maltreatment,” he leapt up and dragged the citizen off the horse.

In so doing, he’d broken the law twice over. Not only did the citizen have a right to ride the horse – anyway he pleased, but as a mere youth still in the agoge, Lysandridas owed every full citizen obedience and respect. Pulling a citizen off a moving horse, throwing him to the ground and pinning him there while the horse got clear away did not exactly fit the Spartan ideal of obedient and respectful youth. Lysandridas got soundly flogged for that and Teleklos had made a point of being there to watch, emphasizing by his presence his approval of the punishment ordered by Lysandridas’ instructor.

It had been one of the few times they’d quarreled.

In the following example from Are They Singing in Sparta? the cat is more a symbol than a character. She signals that Tyrtaios, after being an exile for many years, has finally come home – to a place he’s never been before.

Are They Singing in Sparta?After sleeping in so many different beds and chambers since leaving home, never spending two nights in the same place in all that time, the first morning at Alethea’s kleros was no less disorienting than all the others. And yet, almost at once, Tyrtaios sensed something was different. It was warm and comfortable in this bed, soft and warm and cozy. Stirring, he was astonished to discover a large calico cat curled up on the bed beside him. He reached out hesitantly. The cat lifted her head with her eyes still closed and let him pet her. He scratched her behind the ears and she started purring loudly.

In this final example, the dog is an allegory as well as a character – as readers familiar with the Leonidas Trilogy will recognize. This excerpt comes from Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge and introduces one of my favorite characters, his dog ‘Beggar.’

As was to be expected, the bitch followed him, trotting about three paces behind him. As he got closer to the city, however, she lagged more and more, and he expected she would soon give up and return to her familiar territory. Instead, just as he reached the bridge, she sat down on her haunches and howled.

Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the AgogeLeonidas turned around and called to her. “Go on back to the wild, girl. This city enslaves all her inhabitants.” Then he resolutely turned his back on her and continued on his way.

The bitch let out another long, wailing howl. This time Leonidas went back and down on his heels to pat her and explain. “Out here you have your freedom, girl. If you come with me, I will expect you to serve me. I’ll get you cleaned up and get rid of those ticks and see that you have plenty to eat, but you’ll have to come and go at my bidding and share the fruits of your hunting with me. You’ll never be your own mistress again. Are you sure you want that?”

She panted happily as long as he was petting her. But as soon as he turned his back on her and started for the city again, she howled as if he’d stabbed her. This time Leonidas ignored her and kept walking. A few moments later something cold and wet touched his calf, and he looked down to see the bitch at his heels. She gazed up at him desperately. He shook his head at her. “It’s your choice, girl,” he told her and kept walking. She clung to him, almost tripping him in her determination to stay beside him and to be protected by him. Leonidas resigned himself to his fate. She had adopted him, and short of killing her, it was obvious he was not going to be rid of her.