Monday, April 28, 2014

Capris Pants and Stockings

I have always loved writing, and very slowly I think I’ve become moderately tolerable at the whole business of storytelling! Whenever I describe my writing to anyone, most notably when talking about LINCOLN’S BODYGUARD, I get questions about writing historical fiction.

Did you always want to write historicals? What about other genres? Science Fiction?

The truth is, I have no idea! I love reading everything—especially anything really well written. But when I first sat down to write, I somehow landed on historical fiction. I’ve thought quite a bit about this, and at first I came to the conclusion that I was lazy, or scared. Historical fiction gives me a backdrop that my story has to fit into…like finding how the jigsaw puzzle fits back together when you only have the edges built. There are rules with a world already pre-built that your characters and their struggles might somehow mesh with. But with that comes great responsibility—research!

When I’m wading through my fourth or fifth book trying to dig up enough background to fully understand the time period, I’m really envious of those writing science fiction. They can just put a warp drive wherever they need, bend the rules of physics around their story, and otherwise form a world they need to make the story perfect. Us poor saps writing historical fiction don’t have it so lucky.

Don’t get me wrong—while I love not having to invent my own world I also love the research end of things, even taking field trips to museums and other grand historical locales to get the setting right. You might be able to do some of that in Science Fiction, but you quickly have to start using your imagination. And since I only have so much of that fairy dust in my back pocket (that’s where I keep it), I like saving it for my characters and their main conflicts.

But there’s a unique element in writing Historical Fiction, and that’s the way the present world, the modern world, views the past. If I truly wrote a story exactly like it would have occurred in the past, chances are no one would like it. Pick up Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage. The writing is so very different. Even though I think it’s an amazing piece of literature, my bet is that it would not have enjoyed the same success if it were published today…if it could even get published (that’s a whole other conversation). So there’s a trick to writing historical fiction. You don’t necessarily want to write in the style of days long ago. You want to write it to convince all of us readers that we’re in that time period, while still relating to the world of today. It’s bad enough that I can’t stick a random warp drive into my next thriller set in the Revolutionary War, but now I’ve got to figure out how to make Paul Revere not seem like a ninny in stockings. Even with all the research I still haven’t figured out why the capris pants, powdered wigs and the stockings were all the rage back in the day…I think I’d even take bell bottoms over those things!

I should have written vampire love stories. 

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