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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Writing Historical Novels

I have four novels that qualify as 'historical fiction' (is there such a thing as 'historical mystery'?  I think so...)

I love history because it's about people - and I can't understand teachers who make history boring - it is, after all, about people.  There's humor, horror, pathos - I tend to concentrate on the humor, pathos and heroism.  Try looking up 'The Defenestration of Prague', which signaled the start of the Hundred Years' War - and use your imagination.  Try not to burst out laughing: no one was hurt!  Except in the war.

One of the most enjoyable things, for me, in reading history is to catch, from the distant past, an echo of something that is up to date for these times. A sentiment in a letter; the account of someone's actions - and you can imagine saying or doing it, yourself.

We tend to be isolated in our own minds. No one else has faced the troubles we have. No one understands how we people in the 'post-modern' times feel and what challenges we face.

It's interesting to feel a connection with people who lived centuries ago and suddenly realize that they felt as we did, and while their lives, to us, seem odd, romantic, exotic, it was to them the same day-to-day reality that we feel now.  What would someone from the golden age of Athens think of New York City?  Would he think it as exotic as we do his world?  Perhaps.

I've seen a number of stories involving people from the past who somehow came to this time period.  They generally stand around, bug-eyed, and exclaim over all the things that we have and do.  I was thinking this over the other day and it occurred to me that, people being people, they wouldn't stand around and goggle at what we have and do, but would probably adapt fairly quickly.

One of Henry V's Heavy Cavalry Heading to Agincourt
Can you see William the Conqueror quickly envisioning the usefulness of tanks in the Norman Conquest?  Or Alexander the Great using railroads to move  his troops?  The armies of the early middle east would be quick to appreciate the usefulness of polarized sunglasses (Crown Prince Hori of Pharaoh's Son would probably wear mirrored aviators by Ray-Ban)

I write all over the timeline.  I have three books in a cycle of five that take place in New Kingdom Egypt; I have one Civil War novel published and another being polished.  Paris in the 1830's has always fascinated me and I'm finishing up a two-part story that is set in that time. (Finding maps pre-Haussman era are rather hard...) And I have an alternative history series that isn't fantasy because there's no magic, but is alternative history because I couldn't resist placing Imperial Rome, Middle Kingdom Egypt, Tang Dynasty China and the height of the Norse period in the same book.

There's nothing particularly erudite about historical fiction.  If you think about it, anything set in modern times will ultimately be historical.

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