Have you ever read a story—whether a novel or a children’s book—where you rolled your eyes at the unbelievable? In fantasy and fairy tales, we expect to encounter extraordinary or even absurd characters, people, and settings. That expectation allows you to continue on and enjoy the story despite the fiction. But if we experience a contrived plot or unfactual statement, no matter the genre, we feel cheated and deflated.
I would say the genre of Heretics of Piedmont, historical fiction, has a similar but deeper challenge. Very little has been written about fifteenth century Waldensians. What accounts exist are described in, at most, a few vague paragraphs. I admit, I was deliberate in choosing that century versus the later ones; we have many more vivid accounts in the 16th and 17th centuries. Historical details of men such as Joshua Janavel or events like the Piedmontese Easter are easy to find. The preceding periods of Waldensian history are spotty and mostly from their papal enemies.
It might appear that I had a blank slate on which to paint a tale. In some ways, that is true; all Waldensian characters are fictional, and the plot is completely from my imagination. Still, the story can be both believable and accurate.
First, I wanted Heretics of Piedmont to be believable. Though none of it happened, I wanted readers to feel that it could have. The story was crafted to help readers understand a time in which they don’t live—without leaving them unsatisfied by plot twists and character interactions contrived to preach or ride my hobby horse.
On top of that, I needed the facts to be accurate. My philosophy from the beginning, before I typed the first word, was for readers to be led to truth rather than exaggeration or outright lies.
Kindle e-readers, and I imagine most others, have a feature where you can tap a word or phrase, which then sends the reader to a dictionary definition of that word. Oftentimes for proper nouns, a Wikipedia definition is also available. It would be embarrassing to me if, say, a reader highlighted “Sacra di San Michele” and it contradicted my description in the novel—or if someone wanted to check the Pope in April 1458 and found it to be someone other than Callixtus III.
A few weeks before Heretics of Piedmont was released, I read a book about the siege of Constantinople that filled in some details. I briefly reference this event in the book; I also happened to have a minor fact wrong. So I went back and fixed it. True, I don’t want to mislead readers, but I also want them to have confidence in the author. What about all the made-up, fictional details? Yes, they are a creative work, but I still needed them to be believable.
So, as many of you read the book, I hope some will check my facts. To be honest, I doubt the average reader will care about the nuances of a Latin phrase or who was the Doge of Venice in the mid-fifteenth century. Yet for those readers who are hyper-engaged and take time to verify a statement, I want them to give a little nod and smirk, not a disgusted eye roll.