How Do I Bring The Past to Life?


***This post is part of the OWS CyCon, a 3-day event for readers and authors hosted by Our Write Side.***  

For me, the short answer to the question “how do you bring the past to life in your fiction?” is “through characters”. My writing is all about character. My first book is a work of contemporary short stories in the psychological fiction genre, and my more recent historical fiction continues in that vein. Characters, for me, are not just what they do but how they think, feel, act. What they don’t do, think, feel, and act is as important to me as when they do. I write about their psychological reality as well as their physical reality. Their own personal past is always relevant in the stories I write. For example, in my current series, the Waxwood Series, secrets hidden in the past come back to haunt a Gilded Age family and force them to look back in order to move forward.

Adding a layer of history, or, if you prefer, the collective past to the personal past, complicates matters, because my characters show themselves to be both products of their time and rebels of it. This is not true for every character, of course. Some of my characters are stuck in their own time warp, unable to behave and do anything beyond what their era expects of them. But some recognize the limitations in which their time forces them to exist and break free from them. This is especially true of some of my women characters. Women’s history has always been very important to me. The separate spheres has always fascinated me and my female characters often recognize their entrapment and want to transcend it. The main character of my series, Vivian Alderdice, becomes aware of the limitations put upon her as a  debutante in San Francisco society through her grandmother’s own struggles, which are revealed to her in letters from the past. Vivian fights throughout the series to come to terms with these limitations and find her own version of life. Her struggles may be part of the late 19th century about to be thrust into the modern era, but some of them overlap struggles many young women have today, even though the expectations of the 21st century might be very different.

For me, it’s not enough to get all the physical details as accurate as you can (though that’s important too). History comes to life only when we see people on the inside speaking to us about their time so we can know about ours.  

To what lengths will one go to exorcise a specter?

One rainy morning in 1892, people gather to mourn the death of San Francisco socialite Penelope Alderdice. Among them is a strange little woman named Bertha Ross, who claims to have known “Grace” in the 1850’s in the small town of Waxwood. But Penelope’s granddaughter, Vivian, has never heard of Grace or Waxwood.

Bertha reveals surprising details about Grace’s life in Waxwood, including a love affair with Evan, an artist and member of Brandywine, Waxwood’s art colony.Vivian’s mother, Larissa, insists Bertha is an imposter who has come not to mourn a woman she knew in her youth but to stir up trouble. 

Vivian, however, suspects the key to her grandmother’s life and her own lies in Waxwood. She journeys to Brandywine where she meets Verina Jones, Evan’s niece, and discovers a packet of letters her grandmother wrote forty years ago about her time in Waxwood.

As Vivian confronts the specter that holds the truth to secrets buried in the family consciousness, she examines her grandmother’s life as a mid-19th century debutante and her own as a Gilded Age belle. Will she find her way out into the world as an autonomous being, or will she be haunted by the specter of her grandmother’s unhappiness all her life?

To purchase a copy of The Specter, now at a special pre-order price for a limited time, you can go here.

Please go on to the next author on the blog tour, Richard White:

With an established career of published works, Richard White wanted to take on another writing challenge. As his agent put it, like Mountain Dew, and Mello Yello.

A pseudonym offered him a new opportunity to reach a new and different group of readers. The first western Shotgun Bo Rivers book, Letters From The Grave was published in 2017, and readers were soon drawn to the concept of Beauregard Rivers. With Laramie’s Thunder well on its way, Shotgun Bo Rivers will leave his mark in the Western Genre.


Author: tammayauthor

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with the town’s more conventional ideas about women’s place. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy plant-based dishes.