Building A Former World – Guest Bloggist Haley Whitehall

Haley Whitehall, historical fiction author

One of the movers and shakers of the historical fiction world is a young gal named Haley Whitehall.  When I joined WordPress last December, she was there organizing a critique group, moving around the blogosphere, making friends, and writing up a storm.  I was privileged to help somewhat in the writing of her debut novel.

Living Half Free is quite a story.  Furthermore, I can highly recommend it for its historical fact, adventure, memorable characters, and an energetic, crisp delivery.  I found it to be a page turner, a book that I didn’t want to put down.

So what do fantasy and historical fiction have in common?  Easy!  In both cases, the author has to build a world.  The fantasy author builds a future world, or an alternative world, or a fairytale/fantasy world.  The historical fiction author builds a world from the past.  Here are some words of wisdom from Haley on how she does it, with an excerpt of her novel and her bio at the bottom.


Building A Former World

By Haley Whitehall

In fantasy the only bounds of a story are the author’s imagination and the rules governing how things work in the imaginary world. Magic and other supernatural phenomena are used as a primary element of plot, theme, and/or setting. It is important for the author to clearly describe details of this imaginary world in order to bring it to life for the reader. It is impossible to visit Hogwarts, but J. K Rowling described it so well that I felt like I was there.


Historical fiction authors have a similar goal. Only they work to bring a former world to life. The author relies on research to learn what life was like during the historical era of their story. They use these facts to recreate the setting, their characters’ dress, manner of speech, and personal behaviors. All the details of the story need to sound authentic enough to the reader to be believable.


Why do I write historical fiction? I love the comfort of the facts. I do not need to strain my brain to create everything. I can research all the stops along the Oregon Trail or what the training was for a drummer boy, and be sure I have it correct. Instead of creating a world and everything in that world from scratch, I am recreating.


I also like the limitations of historical fiction. You wouldn’t have a Civil War soldier texting his girl back home. There are enough ways to bend the truth, to put the fictional in historical fiction without crossing the historical line in the sand.


A goal I have with writing historical fiction is to teach history, hopefully in an entertaining way. I like to expose untold or little known historical stories or events. There is so much history that is not in popular history textbooks. I want to give a voice to those people whose lives are not shared in history class. I want my readers to see, to feel, to hear what life was back in the 1800s.


My debut novel Living Half Free follows the life of Zachariah, a naïve mulatto slave. When he is sold to a Kentucky slave trader and separated from his ma and sister, he realizes the true meaning of not having rights. Seeking escape, he falls in love with a Cherokee woman, under whose direction he learns to pass as white. But, he must find his voice, and the courage to stand up for his beliefs or else lose everyone he loves forever.

Here is a short excerpt:


Zachariah’s stomach turned with the smell of sweat, tar, and rotting fish. He could taste the burning acid in his throat. He wrinkled his nose and willed his food back down.


The Mississippi River lapped softly at the docks while white men talked business and smoked. They accentuated their points with a wave of their cigars. Slaves pulled barges or unloaded bales of cotton or unloaded cargo wagons. They lifted boxes of tobacco from wagons and hauled them up ramps onto the two steamboats. A few lucky slaves relaxed over a game of cards or caught a few minutes of sleep listening to the waves. Zachariah struggled to catch a glimpse of the vast muddy water, to see the smartly painted ships.


He followed the barge slaves with his eyes, overcome by a deep yearning to join them. It looked like hard work, the sweat pouring off their brows, their drenched shirts, but he desperately wanted to take a ride on one of those big boats. Most slaves spent all their lives on land. He wanted to see more of the country, wanted to know what it felt like to be on big water, to travel with ease.



HALEY WHITEHALL has been studying the Civil War era since the 5th grade. Her writing style is Mark Twain with a little more faith. She likes to write out of the box stories that feature an underdog. LIVING HALF FREE is her debut novel. Released February 29, the ebook can be found at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Find out more about Haley through her website or connect with her on Twitter @HaleyWhitehall or Facebook.



19 responses to “Building A Former World – Guest Bloggist Haley Whitehall

  1. Sandra,
    Thank you for hosting me. I really appreciate your friendship and support. The article looks great and so does your blog 🙂


  2. Thanks for the informative guest blog! I, too, use facts as a jumping-off point. But I don;t hiunki I realized I did until I read your piece. Thanks Sandra and Haley.


  3. I love historical fiction mainly because it puts me in a time and place and I feel like I am living it.
    I will certainly have to check out this book. thank you.


  4. Historical novels make history come alive. Thanks, Sandra for sharing Haley’s work with us.


  5. Great post Sandra! very informative too. I’m currently jumping between historical and fantasy fiction titles…currently reading Susanna Kearsley’s works and your article has given good insights on the thin line that distinguishes historical fiction from fantasy. Its an interesting approach to learning history not the standard text book form which drones on the most unimportant facts 🙂


    • Glad you enjoyed it, Ash. Haley is a kick-ass writer!

      Your literary diet right now is similar to mine was some years ago, although I also read animal stories (think Albert Payson Terhune) and murder mysteries (think Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe). I think they were a great feast that kept on inspiring me. Hopefully you will be inspired by the books you read as well.


    • Nice to meet you, Ash. I am glad you liked the post. I dabble in writing fantasy from time to time. I do believe there is a fine line between fantasy and historical fiction. 🙂 I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who appreciates both genres.


  6. Hey Sandra and Haley,

    Sandra thanks so much for such a great post! And, I love your “new” look! Nice and classy, fits perfectly with your approach.

    Haley, thank you so much for reminding us how to find “engaging” ideas. Good vibes and GREAT LUCK with your book! How exciting! I hope to reach that pinnacle.

    Happy Spring with Cheers,
    Hobbit Queen


  7. Hey, HQ, nice to see you around again. I still have a post of yours to read – haven’t forgotten 😉

    Thanks for the compliment about the new look. I quite like it myself, but you make it sound nicer 🙂

    Haley’s book is great reading, and I was pleased with her offer to do a guest blog. She has been my first real guest blogger and it was a rewarding experience. I’ll have to do it more often.


  8. I have missed reading your blog lately and couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t see your posts in my inbox until I noticed that you are not posting as frequently – or frequently enough for me, anyway! I do want you to know that you are appreciated and enjoyed. On this past Monday, i nominated you for a Sunshine Award. Please feel no obligation to accept – these awards can be “tedious,” but it is my way of telling you that I sincerely enjoy you and your blog. You do bring sunshine to my blog-day! Here the’s nomination post:


    • Wow, PTC, thanks a bunch. I love getting awards, and this one was particularly welcome because of the needed boost it gave me. You must be psychic.

      As for the reason you cited on your site, I think I like commenting on others’ blog posts more even than writing on my own. If I had the time and energy, I would follow a LOT more blogs, believe me. Unfortunately, that’s not the case these days, but someday this will change 🙂


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