Creating a Local Historical Book: Fiction and Non-Fiction Genres

Creating a Local Historical Book: Fiction and Non-Fiction Genres

by Tyler R. Tichelaar


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Creating a Local Historical Book: Fiction and Non-Fiction Genres by Tyler R. Tichelaar

Does Your City or Region Have a Fascinating Story that needs to be told before it's forgotten?

Yes, it does, and you can be the person to write it!

In this short text, Tyler Tichelaar, author of My Marquette and The Marquette Trilogy, talks in a conversational format about how he became interested in writing both local history and regional and historical fiction and his research and writing process to bring his books to fruition.

Readers of "Creating a Local Historical Book" will learn:

  • What kind of research is required
  • What counts as research
  • Where to do research
  • How to organize that research into a book
  • How not to go overboard with details
  • Finding images and gaining usage permission
  • How to make your book stand out from others
  • Tips on marketing your history book

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. and seventh generation Marquette resident, was raised on tales of his hometown's past. His other interests include literary studies ranging from King Arthur to Gothic texts. He is also a professional editor and writing coach who has guided dozens of authors through the treacherous seas of composition.

"Our committee would like to honor Tyler with this award in honor of his meticulous research, his enlightened and personal testimony about Marquette and his educational contributions to the preservation of Marquette's history."

--The Marquette Beautification & Restoration Committee, presenting Tyler with the Barbara H. Kelly Historic Preservation Award

"Tyler Tichelaar speaks from the heart about his love affair with the town of his birth. Join him on a nostalgic tour of one of the great small cities of America."

--Karl Bohnak, author of So Cold a Sky: Upper Michigan Weather Stories

Learn more at

From Modern History Press

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781615991785
Publisher: Loving Healing Press
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Pages: 42
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.09(d)

About the Author

Tyler R. Tichelaar is a seventh generation resident of Marquette, Michigan. Since age eight he wanted to be a writer, and at age sixteen, he began writing his first novel, which years later was published as "The Only Thing That Lasts."
Tyler has a Ph.D. in Literature from Western Michigan University, and Bachelor and Master's Degrees in English from Northern Michigan University. He is the current President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction, and of Superior Book Productions, a professional book review, editing, and proofreading service.
In 2009, Tyler was awarded the Best Historical Fiction Award in the Reader Views Literary Awards for his novel Narrow Lives. He has since gone on to sponsor that award. In 2011, he received the Barb H. Kelly Historic Preservation Award from the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee for his book My Marquette and he received the Marquette County Arts Award that same year for an "Outstanding Writer."
Besides writing about Upper Michigan, Tyler has always been interested in the supernatural and the Gothic. In 2012, he published "The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption"-a study of Gothic literature from 1794 to the present day. He has also written Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance, a historical fiction novel with a ghost in its storyline; and a series of novels about King Arthur, beginning with Arthur's Legacy, which include many Gothic elements, including an appearance by Dracula in the fourth novel, Lilith's Love. He is currently working on writing Haunted Marquette.
Tyler's many other books include" The Marquette Trilogy", "The Best Place", "Creating a Local Historical Book", "Willpower: An Original Play about Marquette's Ossified Man", and "King Arthur's Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition."
In addition, Tyler has been the President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association since 2008, is the former guest co-host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012), and the book reviewer for the magazine Marquette Monthly.
Today, Tyler continues to live in Marquette, where the roar of Lake Superior, mountains of snow, and sandstone architecture inspire his writing. He has many future books in the planning.
Visit Tyler at his websites:

Read an Excerpt


Writing Effective Regional Fiction

Understanding Regional Fiction

The first question a person must ask when planning to write regional fiction is "Why will anyone want to read about this region?" That was the question people asked me when I first told them I was writing a series of novels set in my native Upper Michigan. My response was, "Why do we read novels set in Paris or London or Mexico or Australia?" No one thinks twice about reading a novel set in a major city — many of us have never visited New York City, but so many novels have been set there. I know Upper Michigan is just as interesting as New York City, and by focusing on what makes the region unique, I convince my readers to agree with me. Since the regional fiction I write is set in Upper Michigan, I will use examples from my own experiences writing regional fiction, but they are examples that can easily be applied to any locale by any author.

First and foremost, a regional writer must make the region attractive to readers, whether or not they are already familiar with the place. This attraction requires a universally appealing storyline mixed with an emphasis on what makes the setting distinct and interesting. Regional writing is similar in this respect to historical fiction. Historical novelists interest their readers by focusing on the way life has changed since the time they are writing about and what was distinct about that period. Setting a novel in the past is no different than setting a novel in a unique place with its own culture and customs. The past is a strange and fascinating place to us — Isn't it curious that women in 1866 wore hoopskirts? Isn't it bizarre how people wore mourning for two years when a loved one died? Isn't it mind-boggling how they could wear all those clothes during a hot summer just because modesty was more important to them than comfort? What a different world 1866 was compared to the world we know in the early twenty-first century! It is this same focus on the distinctiveness of a specific location that makes regional fiction interesting to the reader.

Regional fiction's origins are really the origins of American literature. Early American writers wanted to distinguish their work from their British counterparts. They differentiated themselves by focusing on what was unique about America. James Fenimore Cooper set his novels in the great forests of New York and brought the Native American element into his novels. Nathaniel Hawthorne used the wildness of the forest as a symbol for human temptations that interfered with the strict Puritan code. Vast and frightening forests had long since ceased to exist in Great Britain, so they were an asset to American literature's originality. The wild animals and Indians that dwelt within these forests were frightening to Cooper and Hawthorne's characters and exciting to their readers. The forest was used to advance the plot and illuminate the motivation of the characters. American and European audiences were fascinated because American literature was unlike anything that had come before it — its regional setting became its distinctive element.

Willa Cather took regional fiction a step further by making the region not only the setting but the protagonist, a character in the story. In my opinion, Cather is the finest American writer of regional fiction — the title of my first novel, Iron Pioneers, is a tribute to her masterpiece, O Pioneers (1913). In her own words, Cather began writing regional fiction because:

I had searched for books telling about the beauty of the country I loved; its romance, and heroism, and strength of courage of its people that had been plowed into the very furrows of its soil, and I did not find them. And so I wrote O Pioneers!

Finding a Readership for Regional Fiction

Willa Cather's great insight was that if she wanted to read books about the region she lived in, others would as well. Regional writers have a great advantage because their audience is right in their own backyard. And believe me, people want to read about where they live.

I always felt Upper Michigan was someplace special, but I did not realize how special until I moved away. Then I began to miss the long winters, the blankets of snow, the stunning beauty of Lake Superior, the incredible autumn colors — so many priceless aspects of the area. Living away from Upper Michigan for six years allowed me to distance myself from it, to see it afresh and come to appreciate it in new and greater ways; that appreciation helped me to depict Upper Michigan in a manner attractive not only to local readers but also to those not familiar with the area. I felt Upper Michigan, its history and its environmental influence on people, was a significant part of the American story that must be told, just as Cather wanted to record as valuable the life of Nebraska's pioneers. My readers have told me again and again I was right, that they enjoy reading about the place they know and love.

A comment I frequently receive from readers is that now they pay attention to the buildings in Marquette as they drive around the city — they try to pick out the sandstone structures built in the 1800s, and they try to imagine what the city looked like back then. My fiction helps them see the region in a new way, teaching them about the area, and encouraging them to find out more about their own family connections to the place.

I have been especially struck by local people's responses to the cover of my book The Queen City. The cover photograph depicts the 1949 Marquette Centennial Parade. It never fails at my book signings that someone will say to me, "That's my grandpa there in the crowd" or "My grandmother was on that float." Senior citizens buy the book because sixty years ago, they stood that day watching the parade on the corner of Washington and Front Streets when they were young and all of life was before them. They are proud they were part of that significant moment in Marquette's history. Their grandchildren buy the book because Grandma is in the photograph, and so they too feel connected to that place and moment in time. Upper Michigan has shaped who they are, and to discover books written about it, written about people like themselves and their forebears, makes them feel their lives are important. These local readers are my core audience, the people who love and revere Upper Michigan as I do.

Marketing regional fiction to readers outside the area is not as easy as selling it to the locals, but it can be just as rewarding. Tourists enjoy bringing home books about the places they visit; if they enjoy the books, they tell their neighbors and friends. Furthermore, a host of expatriates from the region are homesick and longing to revisit it through the written word. I get book orders from all over the United States from people who want to read my novels so they can revisit the home of their childhood. They tell their friends — people who have never visited Upper Michigan — about my books, and soon word-ofmouth, the greatest selling point, expands my readership outside Upper Michigan.

People who have never visited Marquette enjoy my novels because they identify with the characters, with the basic themes of love and survival, with the difficult decisions the characters must make — the reasons for why we read and enjoy any good novel. Think of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind — I first saw the film and read the novel when I was only twelve years old. The impression it made upon me is immeasurable — in fact, the first novel I ever wrote, although completely in my head, was a sequel to Gone With the Wind. The power of that novel lies in its depiction of a specific region — the Old South — and the distinct way of life in that time and place, a way of life all the more fascinating because it has vanished. The land, especially the plantation of Tara, plays a key role in the story's setting and theme. Early in the novel, Gerald O'Hara emphasizes the land when he talks to Scarlett:

Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything ... for 'tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don't you be forgetting it! 'Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for — worth dying for ... And to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them, the land they live on is like their mother ... 'Twill come to you, this love of land. There's no getting away from it, if you're Irish.

This focus on the land makes Gone With the Wind regional fiction. That is what the novel largely boils down to. The fight for home, the Confederates' attempt to keep their land and control their property by living the lifestyle they choose. While today we are appalled by slavery, Margaret Mitchell still makes us sympathize with her plantation-owning characters. The novel's themes resonate with readers because they are the very elements we all feel strongly about — the values of home, the threat of your way of life being destroyed, the determination to survive amid all odds, loving someone you cannot have — these elements have made Gone With the Wind one of the most successful books of all time. It was twenty years after I read the novel that I finally visited Atlanta, but I did not need to visit the South for Margaret Mitchell's world to come alive for me because she effectively depicted it through her words. Through her characters and descriptions of the events and places, I vicariously lived through the Civil War. Effective regional writing will take a reader to that place, whether it is Atlanta, Nebraska, or Upper Michigan. If a reader can identify with the characters and feel he knows the setting, then any region can be of interest.

Personifying the Region as Protagonist

Willa Cather's greatest contribution to regional fiction was that she altered the region's role from being simply the setting to becoming a character or even the protagonist of the novel. O Pioneers! is told in third person through the eyes of Alexandra, but the real hero of the novel — the book's dynamic character — is the land that changes from being dry windswept plains to rich, productive farm country.

The protagonist of regional fiction can be farmland, or equally, a city, county, state, lake, or river. An example of depicting a region as a character occurs in my novel, Iron Pioneers. In the following passage, set in Marquette in the winter of 1884, Agnes Whitman has taken her children sledding. She is waiting for them to walk back up the hill when she looks out upon Lake Superior.

The children were climbing back up the hill, but Agnes still had a couple minutes before they would reach her. She continued to look out at the half-frozen, silent lake, so serene this afternoon; a flood of warm sunlight made its iced surface sparkle like diamonds. Some days that massive lake roared like a bellowing monster; some days it was cruel, as when it had taken Caleb and Madeleine. But the lake was a constant in Agnes's life, something that never failed to revive her spirits when all else came and went. The lake was always there, almost like a family member, someone to quarrel with one day, but ultimately, even if begrudgingly, to love as a familiar extension of herself, its very water flowing inside her. The lake was a part of her as was the snow, the trees, and these hills she loved so well.

This passage personifies the lake. Agnes realizes she has a relationship with Lake Superior as if it were a family member; it is a love-hate relationship — her siblings have drowned in the lake, but she cannot help but admire its beauty, and its very water feeds her body. My Marquette Trilogy covers a century and a half, so the human characters come and go throughout the story; but Lake Superior is a constant throughout the books, a character in itself and one that ties together the novels.

The Strength is in the Details

Writers always say the best advice about writing is to write what you know. I am from Upper Michigan; I know it well, so I write about it. I could not write as effectively about London or Paris or Florida, all places I've visited but do not know as thoroughly.

A regional writer is already the expert on the area — no one is better qualified to tell the story of that place. But to make the story interesting to people from outside the area, the author needs to determine what is unique and appealing about the region. An effective way to emphasize the region's attributes is to focus on the sensory details, the way the characters experience the region through their senses. In my third novel, Superior Heritage, the main character, John Vandelaare, has moved home to Marquette. He wants to write about his native land, and in preparing to do so, he awakens to his own memories and sensory experiences of the region.

As autumn approached, he became aware again of the Upper Peninsula's special environment. That year, the autumn colors appeared more brilliant than he had remembered them in past years. In the mornings, the smell of rotting leaves gripped his nostrils with a comforting feeling he had not known since childhood's countless autumn walks with [his dog] Dickens. The sunlight sparkling on orange and yellow foliage reawoke a sensitivity to light and color he had long forgotten. Soon, the snow would come with its blinding reflections, its cold, its white wonderland possibilities. One evening, he heard the harmonious honking of the Canadian geese on their southern flight. He looked up into the cold northern sky as darkness spread across it. Quickly he tried to count the V of geese — twenty-six, twenty-seven — he was not quite sure how many, but they were a miracle.

His senses had reawakened to the voices of birds and the wind, the beauty of leaves and the lake, the smell of snow and an approaching rain shower, the taste of blueberries, the bitter cold biting at his cheeks and fingertips. The singular elements of this land began to mold his imagination, to heighten his senses and his aesthetic appreciation. He had been isolated from Nature's powerful influence while downstate. If he moved away again, he would not have this oneness with his environment that was so essential to his writing; he refused to let himself again forget these little details that made life so splendid. This land had shaped seven generations of his family, until it had seeped into his being, claiming him as its native son.

This passage demonstrates John's experiences with the region, and vicariously through John's senses, readers themselves sense how it feels to live in Upper Michigan. It is by highlighting what the characters experience through their senses that the region comes alive for the reader.

The power of regional fiction lies in the details, but writers should be cautious because too much attention to detail can be disastrous. I am often asked about writing dialect in regional fiction. Yes, we have a unique dialect in Upper Michigan — the Yooper accent — a mixture of the accents brought by immigrants to Upper Michigan in the nineteenth century from Scandinavia, New England, Canada, and Italy. The accent is similar to that of Northern Minnesota — a slightly exaggerated version of it can be heard in the films Escanaba in da Moonlight (2001) and Fargo (1996). Dialect and accents are amusing to listen to, but they are not fun to read. Use them sparingly and only to emphasize a point. In Iron Pioneers, I have characters who come to the newly founded village of Marquette from Germany and Italy. They speak broken English with an accent, but I only allow them to speak in short sentences. A long string of dialect will slow down the reader who wants to enjoy the story and the plot; readers do not want to translate dialect that is written as if it were almost another language. If you have ever tried to read the Uncle Remus stories, you will know what I mean. They are a perfect example of how not to write dialect. In their day, the stories were commended for capturing slave dialect. Today they are a nearly unreadable curiosity. Leave dialect to the linguists.

Local customs are also something you want to make interesting, but not to the point of boring the reader. It is fine to mention a single unique food from your area, such as the pasty — a meat and potato type pie brought to Upper Michigan by the Cornish miners — but if your book is set in Louisiana, details of a dozen different Cajun foods your readers are not familiar with will not interest them — pick one you want to emphasize and no more. Unless a meal or a food somehow advances the plot or enlightens us about a character, it is unnecessary information.


Excerpted from "Creating a Local Historical Book: Fiction and Non-Fiction Genres"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Tyler R. Tichelaar.
Excerpted by permission of Loving Healing Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Pictures in this Book ............................................................. ii
Creating a Local Historical Book .................................................... 1
Writing Effective Regional Fiction ................................................. 14
Understanding Regional Fiction ................................................. 14
Finding a Readership for Regional Fiction ................................. 15
Personifying the Region as Protagonist ...................................... 19
The Strength is in the Details ..................................................... 20
Write What You Know .............................................................. 24
Books Cited ................................................................................... 25
About the Author .......................................................................... 26

List of Pictures in this Book
Railroad trestle removal in downtown Marquette (1999-2000)
Photo Credit: Sonny Longtine ......................................................... 8
Former Marquette County History Museum where Tyler did his research ........................................................................................... 8
Bavarian Inn - another local landmark which has disappeared ........ 9
The 1949 Centennial Parade has become a touchstone for local families .......................................................................................... 17
Upper Harbor LS&I Ore Dock in winter Photo Credit: Sonny
Longtine ........................................................................................ 20
Marquette County Courthouse - film location for Anatomy of a
Murder Photo Credit: Sonny Longtine ........................................... 22
Tyler gives the "Sidetracked Book Club" a
Marquette history tour .................................................................. 27

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