Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Makes a Historical Fiction Writer?

Yesterday, one of my colleagues sent me an article that appeared recently in The Independent, one of London's esteemed newspapers.

The article, written by historian Saul David, discussed why historians are better suited to writing historical fiction. Being a historical fiction writer, this caused me to pause.

David cites Alison Weir's runaway success as a historian-turned-novelist, explaining that the public wants to be entertained and educated and that because of this, historians are best at writing historical fiction because they can be trusted.

So I can't be trusted because I don't have an advanced degree in history?


I guess I am lucky because my professional training and education in historic preservation has afforded me my fair share of history classes. As a history minor, I had to write a Bachelor's Essay on a topic involving Elizabethan history. Being someone infinitely interested in social history, my topic was "The Implications of Marriage and Childbirth in Elizabethan England."

According to Mr. David, I might be more qualified than some authors, but no one has the right to assign "qualifications" if you ask me. That's like saying that you must have a MFA in Writing to be qualified to write a novel. But some people just have raw talent, while others have the passion to mold themselves into great writers. To suggest that our lack of an advanced degree disqualifies us is at best, wrong; at worst, just plain stuck-up.

I have read my fair share of poorly researched historical fiction, and because of that, I have set out to write historical fiction that can be trusted. There are many other authors out there who research every nuance of the period they are writing about in order to stay true to history. I know that the last thing I want is to be questioned by my readers about whether or not I've taken liberties with history.

So in response to this article, I ask: "Are historians unfit to write fiction?"

Maybe. maybe not. I've read Alison Weir, and yes, I could trust that what I was reading was the truth because she is a respected historian. But to be honest, the book was long, and in many parts boring. Some scenes were so painfully written that I had to skim through them. Eventually, I laid the book aside, and never finished it. Does this mean that I will never read a novel written by a historian again? No. In fact, the only good thing this article did was put me on to a young historian who is putting out her first fiction next year. I am eagerly awaiting its release.

So in the end, what makes a historical fiction writer? Is it education? Research? Talent? Skill?

I think it's passion. I have a desire to bring a specific period of history to life through fictional characters. It would an injustice to me and my characters if I were to misrepresent them. So how about historians respect our ability to craft great stories and we'll respect all those years they spent trapped in a moldy library researching 17th century merchant guilds?

I think that's a pretty straight deal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are You Like Your Characters?

I am sad to report that I've been so stressed out lately, I can't even think about writing. Ok, well apparently I can think about writing a blog post about being too stressed out to write. How weird is that?

But coming back to my blog dashboard for the first time in over a week, I was quite elated to see that I now have four followers! Welcome everyone! I know it is terribly gauche of me to acknowledge this fact, but it makes me happy.

Now back to the regularly scheduled blog post.

Author agent Nathan Bransford recently asked in his daily blog post whether personal angst was helpful when it came to writing. After a few minutes thought, I decided that it was absolutely necessary. At least for me. Back when I first started 'The Enemy Within,' I could only work on it when I was depressed. Which happened to be my whole freshman year of college...very convenient. I think at first Julienne was such a dark character that I felt like I had to get into character to write about her. Fortunately, I have since lightened Julienne up a little, and she's taken on some of my more eccentric qualities (sarcasm, independence, etc.)

Perhaps my characters are a little too like me. I recently made the discovery that all of my female characters lose their fathers. I am a child of divorce so I have to wonder if that plays into the relationships that my characters have with their fathers. I'm sure that I would be a brilliant case study from some Freudian enthusiast!

So, do your characters reflect your personal experiences and traits, or do you prefer to create totally independent beings?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How People Write

Over the weekend I determined that I don't write like other people. This discovery threw me for a loop actually because I was very afraid that I might have wasted the last ten years of my life on a novel that won't get published because I chose to write differently than the established norm.

Yes, I know what you are thinking... Does it really matter?

Well, after a little research (i.e. a poll posted at my local writing hole), I have decided that I am not doomed to failure (whew!)

The crux of the matter was that I do not do multiple drafts of my novels. I write several chapters and then go back to revise until I feel like I have achieved the effect that I wanted. Apparently, many writers write a full draft, and then go through and revise multiple times, each time resulting in a new draft. That concept makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

One writer pointed out that some people try to write a near perfect first draft while others like to write a "garbage" first draft just so they can get everything out of their heads. I belong to the former category (while my husband belongs to the latter, interestingly enough). And now that I think about it, I HATED writing multiple drafts in high school and college. I found the exercise pointless since I had poured myself into getting it right the first time. Ah, the pitfalls of striving for perfection!

In the end, I did find two other writers who operate in the same manner that I do. I was quite excited to find out that I'm not an anomaly. Of course, I stressed so much about being different that I totally blew a good weekend to get some major writing done.

I think I need to work on that.