Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Eilis Flynn: Building a Story: The Victorian Spartacus (Uh, Spartaca)

When my friend Heather Hiestand and I started to talk about writing a project together, we threw around ideas for what the story should be. Now, since she knows her English history (in fact, her upcoming historical romance, Marquess of Cake, from Kensington, is solidly in the Victorian period) (release date July 4, 2013, so preorder now!), and I love research that has little to do with everyday reality (my major was in anthropology, with concentrations in folklore and linguistics), we figured that in combination, we could come up with something that was both intriguing and fun to write. (And even fun to read!)

This seemed like a good time to use a plot device I had been tossing around for a few years: vampirism as a result of science gone awry. Fun idea, but since we all have a Pile of Ideas to be Fleshed Out Later (PITFOL for short), I just hadn’t gotten around to it. This was the time, I decided.

We tossed that into our cauldron o’ cooking up our story. Now, because Heather had all that good history she’d already done the research for, we decided to make use of that, and decided it would be good to use the Victorian era, and make it steampunk, a fun subgenre. We decided it was going to take place in 1888, that year gouged into the memory of those who remember a little something about British history (hint: Jack the ------).

Now, our characters—the people of our story was a whole ‘nother challenge. Our hero, Lucas, came about little by little with all his strengths and weaknesses, but the heroine of the piece—well. She was a fun challenge.

In the course of her endless historical research, Heather told me, she had found someone that she wanted as the heroine. I reminded her that there could be problems using real people in fiction, and we’d have to adjust for that (that is, history fans go crazy when history is tampered with). There wouldn’t be a difficulty, she said, because this woman seemed to disappear from the historical record after having made a momentary splash. There was precious little about her before and after what made her famous.

Perfect, I said. So who is it? Nellie Clifton, she said. A prostitute, Heather added, jogging my memory, a woman who was known to have had a dalliance with the son of Prince Albert and inadvertently caused the death of Queen Victoria’s husband. Okay...interesting choice, but Heather persuaded me with the lack of historical record. It’s always fun to use real personages who seem to disappear into history. (We can call her the Victorian Spartacus. Spartaca?)

So we decided to use Nellie Clifton. She ended up being a wonderfully fun character to write, using history, fantasy, and even romance, even though she does attack our hero from time to time:

Only an instinct made him turn back around just then, because Nellie took the opportunity to run at him with a second sword, planning to skewer him like a piece of meat. He leaped up, angling toward her, getting perilously close to the archer.
“Damn you,” Lucas shouted. “Stand up and fight like a man!”
At that Nellie laughed. “But I’m not, Mr. Dudley,” she said, her lips curving into a broad smile. “I’m better.”

You might have heard the old saying, “History is written by the victors.” I’ve always had the uncomfortable feeling that studying any cultural history would be one-sided. At least with anthropology you’re studying a historical record without a written record. With a story like Wear Black, it’s a reimagined history, with a reimagined historical character. AND it was fun to write!

From Wear Black:
Death did not end his service to the British Empire
Beneath Windsor Castle, a shadow network of immortals keeps the British Empire safe. Army captain Lucas Fitzrobbins becomes one of them when the cure for his mortal wound turns out to be a vampirism potion. He is abruptly inducted into the secret St. George Protector Society…and it’s not long before the Society’s newest recruit discovers it has dark mysteries as well…

Marked as a target
Hampering Lucas’s efforts to adjust to his after-life is An Tighearn operative Nellie Clifton, a beautiful and enigmatic assassin, who has marked Lucas as her latest quarry. But then…

Secrets are threatened to be revealed
A brutal killer stalks the seamy underside of London. Protectors and assassins alike must leave the shadows to find the fiend before their existence is revealed to the world. Tasked with the job of tracking down the murderer, Lucas discovers that the crazed butcher may have connections that go to the heart of the British Empire. One thing is certain:

The Queen must never know!

Eilis Flynn worked in Wall Street and Wall Street-related firm for almost 35 years, so why should she write anything any more based in reality? Published in a number of genres, she lives in Seattle with her patient husband and the ghosts of her spoiled rotten cats. She can be reached at, at Facebook, and Twitter. Her first collaboration with author Heather Hiestand is the steampunk vampire historical fantasy, Wear Black.


EilisFlynn said...

Thank you, Lee!

Nancy Northcott said...

Hi, Eilis--

I read Wear Black. Very interesting concept and fun to read! I especially liked the character of Nellie, and I think Lucas has an interesting dilemma going forward.

Pat Cochran said...

I agree with Nancy, very interesting! Will go onto
my keeper shelf.

Pat C.