reflecting on urgent historical fiction in this weekend's Chicago Tribune

Friday, June 13, 2014

What makes for urgent historical fiction? Having pondered the issue while writing my own backward-glancing novels, I decided to tackle the question for Printers Row/Chicago Tribune and see what some careful consideration might teach me.

I'm grateful, as always, for the privilege of time and space in that wonderful publication.

My piece, which reflects on all historical fiction (which is to say no boundaries between Adult and Young Adult) begins like this:

“There is no real anonymity in history,” Colum McCann writes in the acknowledgments of TransAtlantic, his gorgeous time traveler of a book.

No anonymity. No facelessness. No oblivion.
Life is specific, and so is history. It’s emergent, conditional, personal, and absurd.

Why, then, does so much historical fiction land like a brick, with a thud? Why does it hint of authorial Look what I know, See how I found out? Why do so many writers of historical fiction seem to prefer the long way around the heart of the story? Why ignore the truth that the best historical fiction is as insistent as now?
And continues here.


Serena said...

I've had some hard to read historical fiction, but there are some authors that do it so well...captures the reader, draws them into a different time. I just love those stories. One of my all-time favorites is Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran -- its set in the middle ages...and I felt like I was there but also in the heart of the story.

I think you do historical fiction really well...focused much more on the heart than some who are spouting facts at the reader.

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