Joyce Hostetter: Beginning STEPS to Writing Historical Fiction

Joyce HostetterI wrote my historical novel, Blue, in direct response to an assignment for a Highlights Foundation Workshop. After I registered for the class, the instructor–Highlights’ History Editor, Carolyn Yoder–sent an assignment to research a story from my backyard. At the time, I was dreaming that Carolyn would tell me that my manuscript, set in Hawaii, was a few tweaks shy of being publishable. Instead, she was asking me to focus on something closer to home.

When I called my county history museum in search of a local story, I discovered a polio epidemic. My research revealed potential for a middle grade novel–sickness, war on the home front, a loyal dog, and a president who’d had polio, all lent themselves to the possibility of a fully plotted story.

I took a sample of the emerging novel to the workshop where Carolyn told me to put aside my Hawaii story and write this local one. So much for my illusions of having a nearly publishable manuscript!

However, four years later, Carolyn and Calkins Creek Books published Blue, the story of a spunky teenager staring polio in the face. In addition to all that I’ve learned about researching and writing historical fiction; I’ve also discovered the power of a local story. When we tell the story that is in our own backyard we tap into a one-of-a-kind personal space that can’t help but convey universal truth.

But our backyards are so much more than the places where we’ve lived. They are the emotional landscapes of our lives–our heartbreaks and mortifications as well as our hopes and accomplishments. From the places we’ve been–both physically and figuratively–we can dig for rare personalized gems that add both sparkle and profound significance to our historical fiction.

Blue and its characters have taken up residence in the hearts of readers – especially in North Carolina where people recognize their own culture and history. Because of Blue I’ve made new friends, heard personal stories of polio, visited countless schools, and even inspired reluctant readers to become enthusiasts of both books and history.

And all this in response to an assignment for my first-ever Highlights Founders Workshop! I’m thrilled to be leading a history writing workshop here in October where I’ll share much more about what I’ve learned on the road to publishing historical fiction.

Joyce Hostetter's books
From Blue has grown a popular series called Bakers Mountain Stories. The fourth book will be published in September 2018 and I’m currently working on the 5th and final installment.

In addition to Bakers Mountain Stories, Joyce has published Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story. When she isn’t writing, researching, or speaking about her books she is usually living the quiet friends-and-family lifestyle exemplified in her stories. She does, however, enjoy travel because the world is actually so much bigger than where she is from! Visit her on the web at or

Posted on: March 23, 2018

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