How much of historical fiction is history?

Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard FlanaganThe 2014 Man Booker Prize winner was announced this past week. The accolades judging panel chair A.C. Grayling heaped on Richard Flanagan‘s WWII-era novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, included this seemingly odd comment:

Historical fiction is not history.

The comment seems odd because by definition, historical fiction is about history. Or is it? Grayling’s comments raised intriguing questions: Is the story more important in historical fiction? Or the history?

Every writer of historical fiction makes choices about what and how much historical detail to include. I know I wrestled with this question as I wrote Go Away Home. Two historical novels I read this month demonstrated the broad history-to-story spectrum authors can explore.

a-time-of-traitors, David LawlorA Time of Traitors is David Lawlor‘s third novel featuring Liam Mannion, a young Irishman who fought in the Great War and then returned to Ireland and became active in the Irish war for independence in the 1920s. Lawlor’s books are fast-paced action stories featuring vivid characters and strong plot lines. Twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat, totally engaged because I cared about the characters and what happened to them. Oh yes, I also learned a lot about the IRA and the fight for independence.

A Time of Traitors will appeal to readers who enjoy action adventure. They’ll learn about Irish history without realizing it’s happening.

Ambitious Madam Bonapart, Ruth Hull ChatlienIn The Ambitious Madam Bonaparte, author Ruth Hull Chatlain goes to the other end of the spectrum. Historical details abound – clothing, furniture, modes of travel, historical figures in government, design of cities, architecture. Chatlain’s research is meticulous. Characters and story line take a back seat to descriptions laden with historical details.

The Ambitious Madam Bonaparte may appeal to readers more interested in 18th – 19th Century history than the characters around which the story is built.

Fortunately for us authors, there are readers for all types of novels.

How do you react to the comment: “Historical fiction is not history?” If you write historical fiction, how do you balance telling the story with telling the history? As a reader what do you expect?

NOTE: A.C. Grayling’s comments were included in an article in the Daily Mail. His comments add nuance to the quote I pulled out for this post.

The big questions: Memoir or fiction? Is the Past ever Past?

Life is full of so many questions. What’s for dinner? White wine or red? Is it time to turn on the furnace?

The writing life is no different. Three events coming up in the next several days let me join other authors in discussing some of the big questions writers face. I expect those discussions to both fun and challenging. Equally fun is that you can join in on some of those discussions even if you’re not in Iowa.

The Big Decision – Memoir or Fiction? - On Thursday, October 15, at 6:00 p.m. CDT, my long-time writing buddy author Mary Gottschalk and I are the featured guests in a free teleseminar hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers. If you’re interested in exploring The Big Decision with us, there’s still time to sign up. Click here.

Celebrate Writing PosterCelebrate Writing at MPL - On Saturday, October 18, at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, I’ll join other fiction writers in a panel discussion on “The Art of Fiction.” Other panels will explore the Perks & Perils of Self-Publishing, Writing Memoirs, and Selling Your Book: Marketing. After lunch, Mary and I will reprise the Fiction or Memoir discussion in a small group workshop. If you’re in the area, seats are still available for the morning panels and a noontime Lunch with the Authors. The afternoon workshop is already wait-listed. For event details, click here.

Live from Prairie LightsIs the Past Ever Past? – On Sunday, October 19, from 2-3 p.m., I’ll be in Iowa City for a book talk and reading at Iowa’s iconic indie bookstore – Prairie Lights. Reading at Prairie Lights is an honor in itself, but this event is even more special because I’ll be joined by author Shirley Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World. Shirley and I have more than a little in common even though we grew up 1,000 miles apart. Just one tidbit: we’re both dairy farmers’ daughters who grew up to be authors. We’ve only met online, so it will be great fun to meet in person and share the podium.

Since our three books are all set in the past, Shirley recalled William Faulkner’s quote “The Past Isn’t Dead. It isn’t Even Past,” which we adapted for our talk title. If you’re in the area, join us. If you can’t be there in person but you’d still like to hear what we talk about, you can tune in as Prairie Lights streams readings live.

These events offer a unique ability for in person or live interaction over the airwaves. I hope you’ll join in for one or more.

Since I’m still preparing for these presentations, I’d appreciate your thoughts. What do you consider the major factors in whether to to write about a topic as memoir or fiction? What comes into play for you in considering fiction “art”? How do you react to Faulkner’s quote? Is the past dead? If not, why not? How can it be that the past isn’t even past?

A few of my favorite blogs – One Lovely Blog Award

When I began blogging in 2009, I posted my writing for a full year before telling anyone I was doing it. I was trying out my voice, learning the “rules” of blogging, and seeing if I would stick to it. one-lovely-blog-award_thumbFive years later, I’m still at it, my topics as eclectic as when I began.

Since I could not stick to one topic (one of the rules of successful blogging), I was surprised and honored when author Bernice L. Rocque nominated my blog for the One Lovely Blog Award this past week.

On her blog 3Houses, Bernice shares family history stories, recipes, seasonal crafts. Her topics are eclectic (no wonder I like her) and fun. I encourage you to take a look at Bernice’s blog.

As I reflected on all I’ve learned and the many friends I’ve made in the blogosphere, I thought this an appropriate time to recognize them and say thanks.

Here are the Rules for this Award

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link to that blog.
  • Share 7 things about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of!).
  • Contact your bloggers to let them know that you’ve tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award.

Seven (7) Things About Me

  1. I played the accordion for many years as a child. If I strapped an accordion on now today, I expect I could still play “Lady of Spain” and “The Beer Barrel Polka.”
  2. At my son’s urging, I joined him for a day of sky-diving. The thirty seconds of free-falling was a close to flying like a bird as I’ll ever get.
  3. I grew up on a dairy farm and actually enjoyed milking cows. If I could find a B&B that included milking cows, I’d be there.
  4. I have a prairie patch in my front yard where I enjoy learning the lessons of life and the names of each of the native plants. Someday, I plan to study the medicinal uses of each of these plants.
  5. My publishing company Rising Sun Press is named for the small unincorporated village I live in. I would have called it Rising Sun Publishing, but that was already taken.
  6. Enjoying the moment is a skill I continually work on. I work hard to remember, “Just this.” “Just now.”
  7. Oct. 1 – An edit after posting – I frequently miss details, like there were supposed to be 7 things about me ;) Or maybe this was another rule I broke.

Bloggers I Admire

My Blogger Friends
Many moons ago I vowed to pass on the endless stream of chain mail-like opportunities that come through on social media. It’s a personal decision. No offense intended to anyone who likes them, participates in them, or tags me. Yet here I am. Many thanks to Bernice L. Rocque for nominating me.

I thank each of you for the wisdom and enjoyment I’ve gained from reading your blog. You’ve enriched my life. Please know that I release you from any obligation to continue this award/chain.

My Reading Friends
I find each of the blogs I’ve listed to be well written, interesting, entertaining, and educational. Check them out. You may find them worth regular reading, too.

They did me wrong! Now what?

Someone cut you off in traffic. Cheated you out of a promotion. Stole your big idea. Or worse for us writers – Reviewed our books with words that stung. Then gave us a One Star rating. They’d have given us zero stars if Amazon let them. Ouch!

How do you respond when you’re wronged? Do you rage on Facebook and Twitter? Curse the wrong-doers? Nurture the hurt until it becomes a festering wound that damages everything you do for weeks and months after?

Or do you find a way to let it go?

Author Kathryn Craft shared great advice on Writers In The Storm for handling the inevitable negatives. I’m sharing her words that are written for authors but apply equally well to every person whose suffered injury at the hands of another. Plus there’s a great video. Don’t miss that.

Here’s the beginning of her post. Click to read more. It’s time well spent.

You Did Me Wrong—Right?

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine into Gold

This month I’ve been seeing a lot on social media about the benefit of positivity. It is the simplest and most immediate cure for whining!

A positive attitude will keep you in problem-solving gear and
win you many champions in the publishing business.

In this great interview between Porter Anderson and my friend and NYT bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, Jonathan says, “more doors will open if you go into the business with happiness and joy and optimism.”

No truer words, my friends.

Negativity

As storytellers we get to play God. We can make good and bad things happen, and have it all come out the way we want it to in the end. But real life is less ordered. It requires us to deal with circumstances beyond our control. To surrender. Reframe. This skill set will help you leave despair behind and turn toward optimism and hope.

Dealing with it

Keep reading by clicking here.