Historical fiction is one of the most popular forms of fiction being written today–along with young adult, zombies, romance novels, and sci-fi.
I am interested in learning why people like historical fiction books. I have a few theories, but I would like to know what others think.
I enjoyed writing the Finding Billy Battles trilogy that begins in the Old West of Kansas, moves to the colonial Far East in the late 19th Century, and then to early 20th Century Mexico during its revolution and finally, back to the United States.
As a reader (or writer) what is it that draws you to this kind of fiction?
I take pleasure in doing the research necessary to create an accurate portrayal of the people, places, and events of other eras, such as the 19th Century. I especially like “slowing” down the pace of life.
What I find appealing about the past is that people were not overwhelmed and seduced by the high-tech gadgets and social media that dominate our waking moments today—smart phones, I-pads, texting, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
BSM (Before Social Media) you had time to THINK rather than merely react. The art of conversation was alive and well—not the 140-character verbal blitzes or the shorthand texts that pass for it today.
When I worked as a foreign correspondent, I can recall telling my office (via telex) when I was covering Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, etc. in the 70s & 80s that I would be out of touch for several days. Then I would go to some remote area and spend time talking with people, analyzing what I was hearing, and what I was seeing. Then I would return to write a story that wasn’t filled with “instant wisdom” as we so often see today from uninformed reporters who “parachute” in to cover a story.
Writing about the 19th Century, as I did in my trilogy, allowed me to slow the pace down, provide historical context, and give my characters time to think.
Today, we are all in such a hurry to do things, to pack in as much as we can in a single day. When I think about my characters in Finding Billy Battles, I envy the fact that they were not sped up by “galloping technology” as we are so often today.
What do you think? Do you like reading books where the pace of life is slower, where technology is not sovereign, where civility and propriety (usually) reigned?
Let me know what you think. I would like to take those thoughts and comments and use them in another post on this topic. Don’t be shy. Leave a comment!
5 thoughts on “What do you like about Historical Fiction?”
I like reading historical fiction because there is a connection with a real place that I am connected to in some way.. I like reading Pat Conroy novels because I have a connection to South Carolina having spent two months there in 2004. I like reading stories that take place in Chicago, because that is where I grew up. And I have taken to reading fiction that takes place in the south, since I have lived in the south for the last 40 years. I can tell by the intricate details if an author really knows about the place he or she is writing about. I have found some authors that should have done a lot more research in the details. It’s more than words, it’s a feeling one has to their connection, and it is the author’s job to make the reader feel at home in the setting they are writing about. I have been to Italy and come from Italian ancestry, but I would not feel comfortable writing a historical fiction novel using Italy as my setting. I know a lot about Italy, but not living there or spending a lot of time there, I don’t have the “feel” connection. Pat Conroy was a native of South Carolina and his novels reflected this “feel” that I speak of. Historical fiction is like reading two stories combined into one; the fictional tale and the documentary of the place or places the story takes place in. When I have an interest in a particular book, the preview on the book jacket is a very important indicator for me, not to say I haven’t been disappointed at times, but 90% of the time it’s right on.
You are right Barbara. I sat my trilogy in places I knew well–places I lived in worked in as a foreign correspondent. I’m a native Kansan so I know my home state very well and I lived in Chicago for about 10 years spread out over two different periods. Of course, I lived and worked in Asia and Latin America for almost 17 years, so those were obvious locales for the trilogy. Naturally, I had to do a lot of research on the periods covered in my books–the 19th and early 20th centuries. But I love doing research, so that was a joy.
Barbara—”Two stories combined into one.” — Such a wonderful way to put it. In historical fiction, we can have the warp of real places and events interwoven with the weft of a creative story. Especially enjoyable are the occasions when the author sprinkles in contacts between the fictional characters and actual historic figures who display historically accurate traits. Historical fiction can create a tapestry that educates and entertains simultaneously.
Well put, J.C. and Barbara. That was what I was trying to do in the trilogy–an intermingling of real people with my characters.
Was looking for your article by Rabbi Dov Fischer, it was great & I like to share it frequently.