Renee Collins + RELIC Interview

Today we’re celebrating the release of Renee Collins’ fascinating debut, RELIC, which comes out tomorrow!

RELICAfter a raging fire consumes her town and kills her parents, Maggie Davis is on her own to protect her younger sister and survive the best she can in the Colorado town of Burning Mesa. In Maggie’s world, the bones of long-extinct magical creatures such as dragons and sirens are mined and traded for their residual magical elements, and harnessing these relics’ powers allows the user to wield fire, turn invisible, or heal even the worst of injuries.

Working in a local saloon, Maggie befriends the spirited showgirl Adelaide and falls for the roguish cowboy Landon. But when she proves to have a particular skill at harnessing the relics’ powers, Maggie is whisked away to the glamorous hacienda of Álvar Castilla, the wealthy young relic baron who runs Burning Mesa. Though his intentions aren’t always clear, Álvar trains Maggie in the world of relic magic. But when the mysterious fires reappear in their neighboring towns, Maggie must discover who is channeling relic magic for evil before it’s too late.

RELIC is a thrilling adventure set in a wholly unique world, and a spell-binding story of love, trust, and the power of good.

And now…it’s time to pelt the author with questions from the rest of the group!

Sharon Biggs Waller: What inspired you to write a story based in the Old West?

Renee Collins: Actually, it started with a book, (as most good things do.) The book club I’m in read These Is My Words by Nancy Turner. I was captivated by the harsh and wild setting of Old West Arizona, and immediately fell in love. I live in Western Colorado, near gorgeous red rock cliffs, and it all kind of took off from there.

Jessica Spotswood: What kind of Wild West research did you do? What’s one fun tidbit you learned?

RC: I did quite a bit of research, especially in regards to the Apaches. I wanted to be very careful that my portrayal rang true, even though these Apaches are set in an alternate history world, and are therefore somewhat different from true Apaches.

I often had to research terminology. There’s a character at The Desert Rose saloon who I refer to as a “bouncer.” My editor questioned the word choice, but I had done my research! In fact, bouncers were very important in the Old West, in the brothels and saloons, to keep order and manage the crowd. And they were called bouncers. It’s where the term originated.

Jenn McGowan: Your book creates an extraordinary Wild West-meets-Magic world for readers to explore. What was the best part of building this world for you — imagining it, researching it, or writing it — and why?

RC: For me, the best part was blending the fantasy world with the history. I made the deliberate choice to use some of the iconic characters and settings of the Old West, but I tried to give each one a fantasy related twist. It was challenging, but also very fun!

Katherine Longshore: What was the most difficult part of combining the Old West and fantasy? What was the easiest?

RC: The most difficult part was using the tropes, but avoiding cliches. Adelaide, for example, is a theme on the “Whore with the Heart of Gold.” But I didn’t want to make her only that. So, I had to be very careful to give each of my characters their own unique layers. And as any writer will know, that’s not easy!

What *was* easy was describing the landscape. I live in the West! In the shadow of gorgeous red rock cliffs, just like Maggie. So, when I needed some inspiration in describing the dusty, sun-baked atmosphere of Burning Mesa, all I had to do was look out my window.

Jillian Anderson Coates: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from another author?

RC: Don’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. It took me a while to really take this advice. And it’s still hard not to compare sometimes. But, truly, nothing good comes from it.

Cat Winters: When you’re not writing novels, what do you like to do for fun?

RC: I’m a very social person, so I love hanging out with family and friends. I love playing board games. Settlers of Catan? Anyone? So fun! I also love movies. In another life, I would have been a filmmaker. I studied it a little in college, but now I’m happy to just watch and enjoy.


Thanks so much, Renee! If you’re intrigued about RELIC, you can find out more at Renee’s website or by following her on twitter! ​


The Ugliest Word in Historical Fiction: Anachronism

Anachronism: The Scarlet Letter of Historical Fiction

A is for Anachronism

In the age of the Internet, it’s extremely easy for readers and movie viewers to hunt down holes in a historical writer’s research—and to publicly cry out “ANACHRONISM!!!” on blogs and in website comments sections. Even bestselling, award-winning historical novelists aren’t immune to the accusations, as exemplified by Elizabeth Wein’s Setting the Record Straight post about readers’ complaints of anachronisms (that aren’t even actual anachronisms) in her hit novel Code Name Verity. In his NPR article Historical Vocab: When We Get It Wrong, Does It Matter?, Geoff Nunberg explains that even the greats like Shakespeare and Dickens were guilty of anachronisms in their historical fiction, but their audiences were likely ignorant of the errors…or at least they couldn’t publicly complain about them with the ease of twenty-first-century Internet users.

Modern consumers of historical entertainment, however, are on high alert for inaccuracies.

As a reader and a writer of historical fiction, I can see both sides of the coin. I want to believe the novels I’m reading are as thoroughly researched and edited as possible. When a historical novelist is blatantly lazy or knowingly inserts a major, clunky anachronism for the sake of the story, that’s when I bristle. However, I still remind myself that I’m reading fiction. If the rest of the book is stellar, I’m willing to forgive some mistakes. There’s a sense of smugness and self-satisfaction when catching writers and filmmakers in the act of historical blunders, but it’s much more fun to actually sit back and enjoy the work.

dunce-capAs a writer, I find that accusations of sloppy research sting more than negative comments about my characters or plot. It’s the equivalent of working on a school essay until your eyes and fingers hurt, only to have your teacher give you a D and claim you didn’t put in enough effort.  The hard truth about being a historical novelist is that anachronisms could be lurking in every single sentence that you write. Words that seem too modern to be from the past are often, surprisingly, historically accurate, but the phrases that everyone—including you, your editor, your copy editor, your proofreader, and your historical fiction-writing critique partners—overlooked because they sounded time-period-appropriate? Those seemingly safe choices may very well be the dreaded A-word of historical fiction. The errors just sit there in the published copies, and we all have to live with them.

Even though some skeptics might believe otherwise, we writers, along with our publishers, truly do our utmost to keep historical inaccuracies at bay. There are no behind-the-scenes, “The Making of…” featurettes proving the hours we spend perusing historical slang dictionaries and hunting down rare historical documents. I could post pictures of what I look like after spending a full day researching a minute historical detail that will show up in a mere three sentences of my novel…but that wouldn’t be pretty. Trust me, anachronisms make us authors shudder far more than they make readers cringe, and we do whatever we can to strike them down with our editorial swords before our books reach your sharp and watchful eyes.

The great William Shakespeare—yep, guilty of anachronisms.

The great William Shakespeare—yep, guilty of anachronisms.

Anachronisms simply happen. That’s life. We writers could beat ourselves up about them and feel like big, old phonies, but the truth of the matter is we need to simply get over them. No matter how skillfully we may transport readers to the past, we’re still modern-day people writing about eras in which we never lived. Heck, even if we had lived in these time periods, our fuzzy memories would likely cause us to slip up and use an anachronistic phrase now and then.

Our jobs are to entertain readers and to pique their interests in time periods we find absolutely fascinating. I can sleep at night knowing I put in the time and the effort to make my debut novel as accurate and intriguing as possible. I’ve done my best to provide further options for learning about my book’s time period in my author’s note. And despite any criticism I may receive, I know that no one—no real person, anyway—has ever died from an anachronism.


Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, is a nominee for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults and was named one of Booklist‘s Top Ten Horror Fiction for Youth. Her second novel, The Cure for Dreaming, is coming Fall 2014 from Amulet Books. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at


The A-Word

The A-word.  It’s not four letters.  It’s not universally recognizable.  But it’s a dirty and sometimes hurtful word that many of us try to avoid.


Anachronism, in my dictionary is defined this way: a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists.

For example: People in the Tudor era drinking tea.  Or eating fluffy white cake.  (I cringed when I came across these in historical fiction by other writers).  Or talking about a best friend (which my own character does in Gilt.) Or creating characters who believe they deserve free choice and want to fall in love (which I do in all of my novels, but unfortunately was probably not the case in most 16th Century women).

So if anachronism is a dirty word, you ask, why do you use them?

I think it depends on the writer.

Sometimes, it depends on the level of a writer’s research. A basic study of Tudor eating and drinking habits would reveal that they didn’t drink water (streams and rivers were both rubbish tips and open sewers, so can you blame them?)  Closer historical research would tell you that tea wasn’t introduced to England until Catherine of Braganza (Charles II’s queen) brought it from Portugal in the late 17th Century.  A systematic investigation would reveal the exact ingredients of hippocras (something pointed out to me by my thorough and thoroughly lovely copyeditor recently).  A mistake or an assumption at any of these levels could lead to an anachronism.

Sometimes, it depends on the scrupulousness of the writer’s sensibilities.  I’ve heard of historical novels where the author refuses to use contractions like don’t and can’t.  And more famously, there are very few contractions used in the Coen brothers’ True Grit, because by the late 18th Century, they were considered almost vulgarly informal.  To a modern reader, however, an entire novel written without contractions might seem overly ceremonious. Inflexible.  So a writer might choose to be anachronistic to ease the reading flow.

Sometimes, it depends on the writer’s voice.  This involves not only word choice but attitude, sentence structure, dialogue.  I know that I use a modern writing voice.  I hope that’s part of the appeal of my books to a modern reader.  Sometimes I make mistakes (like best friend in Gilt).  Sometimes, I choose to make them (when I use best friend again in Book 3).  I’ve discovered that the anachronistic choice is sometimes the best one to make.  For me, clarity and shared understanding sometimes tip the balance against precision.

This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt when I’m called out.  An early professional reader damned me with the opinion that my writing voice was “coy and anachronistic”.  I don’t know which word hurt most.

Because one of the joys of historical fiction is the research.  Is getting it right.  Getting the details into a novel that make that fictional world—and the past—come to life.  To us, the past is very, very real.  Being accused of anachronism is like discovering a shocking secret about a family member—a kick in the gut.  How did I not know?

Since that early critique, however, I’ve come to embrace my writing voice (which is a good thing, because I can’t change it now).  I do tons of research.  I do my best not to make mistakes.  I have amazing copyeditors who catch them when they slip through my fingers.  And I’ve thickened my skin for when the inevitable comes.  My voice may be anachronistic, but I’ve done my best to ensure that my content isn’t.

The Cahill Witches Take on Social Media

After reading Sharon’s post about Edwardian communication, I started thinking about social media choices. How do we balance connection with fellow writers and readers with the space we need for our own work to thrive? Since I started writing seriously, I’ve become more of an introvert. A night out often means I need recovery time – not from cocktails, mind you, but from the hustle and bustle of being with people for hours, which drains my energy and doesn’t always leave enough left over for writing. Similarly, sometimes all the noise of social media can seem overwhelming.

But I get something from it. At least, I think I do. I love email – I find it easier to express myself in writing than in person, and I’ve developed friendships with several other writers this way. I like reading blogs, especially ones that deal with the creative life and trying to find that elusive work-life balance. I like twitter, love celebrating other writers’ milestones and talking books – though a few too many humblebrags or “I’ve got a secret but I can’t tell” tweets can sour my mood pretty quickly. Facebook I reserve mostly for interacting with old friends, seeing cute pictures of their kids, etc. I love Pinterest. It makes me feel the same way Real Simple or walking into Whole Foods does – aspirational, filled with the hope that one day I too will make the time to create all of these amazing crafts and recipes (unlikely, but I still hope). I will confess that I don’t really get Tumblr – I’m not hugely into gifs or invested enough in fandoms, I think? And scrolling scrolling scrolling for the content I really want (usually posts by authors I like) takes forever. I’d say I’m not visual enough to love it, but I do love Instagram. Cat pictures and new-book pictures and food and pretty scenery? I’m in.

My own preferences made me wonder about what Cate and the other Cahill girls would prefer. I think Cate would dig Pinterest. She could pin pictures of  flower arrangements and gardening ideas. For that matter, I bet she’d be totally into Instagramming pictures of her garden. I can see Maura mastering the passive-aggressive tweet – but also using twitter to mobilize other witches and girls like her. She and Elena would be into reading feminist blogs and follow pertinent tags on Tumblr. Tess would just be thrilled to pieces about the internet – all that information right at her fingertips! I bet she’d have a zillion wikis. And she’d love being able to email Papa Cahill and Clara Belastra and Mrs. O’Hare.

As for the other characters…wouldn’t Rory get into trouble with Instagram? Or Snapchat? I feel like she’d be really into selfies – perhaps of the R-rated variety. Sachi would love being able to shop online. Maybe she’d have a fashion blog where she and Rory show off their crazy outfits every day. I don’t see Mei being into social media much – she’s more of an introvert – but she’d love online gaming. If she had an iPhone, she’d be all over Words with Friends and Candy Crush. Rilla would have a more journalistic blog – detailing all the injustices she comes across  – and I fear she’d be an annoying Facebook friend, asking you to sign all the petitions. Also, my husband suggests that Brenna could use Vine to make creepy videos of her prophecies.

What about you? What social media do you think your main characters would enjoy most?

Twitter in the Victorian and Edwardian Era

This week’s blog assignment is to write about what our characters would have tweeted.  I love to think about how historical characters would react in modern times and it was fun thinking about how my main character, Vicky, would have taken to Twitter.  Being an artist and an admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, I’m sure she would have some handle like @preraphVicky.  Or reflecting her own skills: @paintergirl.  Her Twitter bio would be:

Victoria Darling.

I’m a girl who loves to draws the nude figure and I’m a suffragette. Deal with it. Fangirl of J.W. Waterhouse. London, England.

Vicky’s dad was not tech-savvy so I doubt that he’d know anything about Twitter or how to use it, so I think Vicky would have felt free to tweet whatever she felt like:

Dance lessons included the #mazurka at Miss Winthrop’s today. Epic fail. Thank God for @sophiefashion or else I’d never have learned it.  #lame #kmn

Watching @the realchristabelpankhurst talk at Parliament today. She’s much prettier than her waxwork at #madametussauds. #WSPU #votesforwomen

Just drank a ripping cocktail called the hanky panky at the #Americanbar at the #Savoy. Made by a girl bartender named Ada Coleman.  So. Good.  Love Fernet Branca and gin. #tipsy with @edmundrower.

As fun as it is to consider historical figures tweeting, people in the days of yore (well, the Victorian and Edwardian days of yore) could communicate quickly via the telegraph. In 1843, the early part of the Victorian era, the first telegraph line came into service in England, and in 1866 transatlantic telegraph cable began operation.  Now messages, news, and business communication could be sent by the Post Office over the globe in minutes.  It was inexpensive and efficient.  During the Crimean War (1854 to 1856), reports from the very first war correspondents were sent via the telegraph lines across Europe and printed quickly.   It was the outcry over horrible conditions in this war that allowed Florence Nightingale to supply nurses for the military.  Funds from the general public, collected by The Times newspaper, allowed her to do so under her own terms.  Even after telephones were installed in business and wealthier homes, people still preferred using the telegraph.  If you think about it, a telegraph is a lot like a text or e-mail. Today, more and more people prefer this mode of communication to the telephone, too.  Interesting, right?


In 1840 the penny post was established, which ensured fast and cheap postal service.  Before the penny post, mailing a letter was very expensive and priced by the sheet.  So people would turn the letter and write in the margins (called a crossed letter) to save paper.  Envelopes weren’t worth paying for, so the writer would fold the letter, seal it with wax, and write the address on a blank spot on the back of the paper.  What was more, the receiver had to pay for the letter.  This sounds really bizarre on the face of it, but think about it: without a formal post office service, you’d have to rely on the person taking the letter to actually deliver it. What was to stop him from collecting money first and then throwing it away? Receiving money from the recipient meant that the letter was likely to get to the right address.  But COD was fraught with its own difficulties.  What if the recipient couldn’t afford the letter or couldn’t be found?  What then?  But all this changed in the penny post.  Now, letters cost one penny for half-ounce, no matter where it was going in the country.  Adhesive stamps went on the mail, the letter was put onto the train and clerks in mail cars sorted it and handed it off to carriers at the stations.  Hey, presto! Here is your letter.  So efficient was this service that letters often reached the recipient within 24 hours.  In London, recipients could receive their letter a few hours after it was sent.


We like to think instant communication is a modern invention, but the Victorians and Edwardians had their own way or getting the word out quickly.  Still, I can’t help but think Vicky would have loved tweeting.  What do you think Elinor Dashwood, Catherine Earnshaw, or the unnamed protagonist of Rebecca would have tweeted?

Sharon's bio

Sharon Biggs Waller is the author of A Mad, Wicked Folly, an Edwardian-era novel about a young artist finding her own way during the time of militant suffragettes (Viking/Penguin, Winter 2014). You can find her at or on Twitter @sbiggswaller.