Thursday, February 16, 2017

Alternate History by Mary Victoria Johnson, Author of The Ashes and the Sparks


Alternate History

(about the "rules" and "limits" when writing Alt Hist)


by Mary Victoria Johnson

As with most genres, althistory begins with one question: what if? What if Rome never fell? What if the Nazis won World War II? What if the Dark Ages turned into a period of great scientific advancement, or what if dragons really did exist in Ancient China? The possibilities are infinite, which is part of what makes the alternate history such a fascinating topic to explore. My novel takes place in the 1880’s, a period that many would recognize as Victorian. There’s just one key difference: Queen Victoria is dead. Gone. Assassinated. And when you remove such key players, society obviously develops far differently from what happened in our timeline. Really, that’s the core of what althistory is: creating a new, ‘alternate’ timelines.
Few writers enjoy the idea of rules and limits, and as far as genre boundaries go, alternate history offers lots of flexibility. You want the fairies of Irish folktales to be real? Sure. You want massive, gilded airships to be Europe’s primary mode of transportation? Go for it. You want Da Vinci and Michelangelo to be rival vampire-hunting vigilantes? Why not! Time travel, steampunk, and post-apocalyptic dystopias are all totally reasonable subgenres to delve into, but you’ve got to remember to keep the ‘history’ part too. You’ve got to remember that Earth –real Earth- has got to be the basic setting. Even if the magical land of Altoria mimics 3rd century Peru, if there are no connections to reality, then you’re writing straight-up fantasy. There has to be a connection to the real historical timeline. Of course, liberties can be taken; The Ashes and the Sparks involves a completely fictional society based on a mishmash of real Nordic cultures, set on a completely fictional archipelago of islands. But since it’s still set in this universe, with connections to other, real countries, it’s a go.
Another point to remember, is that usually, you only want to shift one major event. It gets way too confusing if the Spanish Armada successfully conquers Britain, leading to a chain of events that make them win the American Revolutionary War, but then a plague wipes out the entire country, so the moon landing never happens, so….lost? Exactly. Keep it simple; it’s amazing how a single event can create a massive ripple effect. Also, don’t leave plot holes. Since you are dealing with real history, your timeline shift has to be somewhat feasible. Nothing irritates readers more than logic jumps.
So go ahead: assemble all your outbreaks and assassinations, and give the past a twist! Set your chain of events in motion.



The Ashes and the Sparks

Mary Victoria Johnson

YA Alt-History Fantasy
Fire and Ice Young Adult Books
October 18, 2016



Welcome to the age of airships. It is a world powered by steam and innovation, ruled by an elusive empress at its heart.

Seventeen year-old Jorun is not part of this world. Hers is one of hidden tunnel networks and lights that dance across night skies, on that has remained separate from the rest of society for over a thousand years. This all changes when a boy appears from nowhere, raving about invaders from a faraway land. Purely by chance, Jorun soon finds herself in the middle of a struggle unlike anything she could have ever dreamed of, and must come to the realization that only she can stop an impending war.





About the Author


Hi! I'm Mary Victoria Johnson, author of fantastical Young Adult fiction. I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, and I haven't stopped since! Now eighteen, my bibliography includes BOUNDARY, the first part of the Other Horizons Trilogy (Lodestone Books, 2015) and THE ASHES AND THE SPARKS (Fire and Ice YA, 2016). I was born in Cambridgeshire in the UK, and I now live on Vancouver Island where I study Creative Writing at the University of Victoria. 


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