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Why I Love Historical Fiction

In 1983 I walked into Wilson Jr. High School and into Mr. Perdy’s World History class. My life has never been the same. He opened up a world of people and places. It was in his class that I watched 1963’s Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor & Sir Richard Burton.

I was blown away with the costumes, the plot & the culture clash of Romans and Egyptians. (I really didn’t get the whole Ptolemy Hellenistic thing yet.) But what I understood most of all was that this was a story about people. People who loved, hated, got drunk, got jealous and got scared.

To my 12 year old mind, this was a revelation.

I once had a graduate school professor who said that “The past is a foreign country.”

That statement is true.

There are many things we take for granted today as moral and ethical truths. However, when we peer into the lives of our ancestors, we are shocked by what they thought was acceptable. The further back we go, the weirder things get.

Oh sure, human desires haven’t changed. We’re still human, but how we express and fulfill those desires does change over time. How we try to build a life for ourselves, create a legacy, or even navigate our world are – those things are circumstantial

And THAT is where great story begins. What do the characters want? Why can’t they have it? What are they willing to do to go get it? When you right historical fiction, the question of Why can’t they have it, tends to glare at me.

A story about an interracial romance is nothing new. But set it in 1830s Mississippi and you’ve got tension.

A story about brave soldiers and civilians fighting the good fight is old hat. Set that story in 1945 Nagasaki and you have tension galore!

A story about a talented seamstress might make interesting chick lit. Place her in the court of Louis XVI of France and you have a story!

  • Every Time Period Presents It’s own Problems

Placing a story within a historical context presents both reader and writer with fresh and interesting problems, fixes and themes. Besides, there is a tension in telling a story around the facts of an historical event. Even if your story is completely fiction a to wrap it around the basics of things that already happened can be a challenge a but it’s a challenge I relish. Whether your story is about the life of famous and powerful, like in The Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory or you’ve created a cozy world of fictional characters in a historical setting, like in Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan, your still writing within the parameters of factual events.

Besides, nothing excites me more as a reader than when I discover a new perspective on a piece of history I thought I knew. It lights the imagination and gets me to dream.

For example, everyone knows how Blacks are portrayed in Gone with the Wind. Now compare that with the complex and heartwarming look at Black women in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Different story, different perspective, different representation. A

  • Historical Fiction is a Great Way to Introduce Under Represented Cultures

Writing a western story about Native Americans fighting it out with cowboys can be dated. Writing about how the cowboys were Black, turns the tale on its head.

Take a story arch-type we’ve all heard before. The plucky band of heroes fighting the good fight. Sounds good, right? OK, maybe a little trite? Well, let’s see if history can spice it up?

You could write about German guerilla’s fighting the Nazis, or Spanish guerilla’s fighting Napoleon. How about a story involving Quantrill’s Raiders.

But with a little research you could find something better.

Like the story of the thousands of Filipino’s who enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight the Japanese in World War II.

Who are these people? Why did they enlist when the Philippines had their own army? What happened to them after the war? All these questions can lead to in depth characters and better story telling. It can also shed light on a period of history not a lot of people know about.

Good story is good story. But when I read a good piece of historical fiction I not only enjoy a story, I also learn.

Helping others and what I’ll be doing at MalCon

I’m gonna be at MalCon this weekend. I’ll be on eleven panels and will be sitting at the Shiny Garden Non-Profit table most of Friday, so come on by and say hello! But that’s not the main reason I’m writing today.

June was really hectic for me and I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about it.

Before I go, let me say that I’m gonna keep names out of my story because I want to protect people’s privacy.

My Hectic Month

I started June house sitting for a friend of mine. My friend has dogs that have special needs and it was more convenient (and cheaper,) if this person had someone stay at their house then kennel the dogs. I’ve house-sat people’s animals before, so this was no big deal.

I was there most of the month. By the end, I was dying to sleep in my bed, shower in my bathroom and cook on my stove. It became harder and harder to live in someone else’s home. When my friend came home, I was relieved.

The last weekend I house/dog sat, an acquaintance of mine received notice that his family had to move out of the house they were renting. My friend’s wife was nine months pregnant, at the time. So the call went out for help and a bunch of people came to pack and clean the house they were renting in preparation for a move that had to be made by the middle of July. On top of this, I had a friend leave Denver, so I went to their two parties, I volunteered at my church, and mentored a couple of new writers.

Finally, I ended up on eleven panels at Denver Comic Con, half of them as moderators on panels that I did not submit. If you know me, you know I am morbidly obese and getting around the Denver convention center can be difficult. Yet I did it anyways.

Why? Why did I commit – some would say overcommit – to help so much in June?

It took me a while to figure out an articulate answer.

I did it because people are worth it.

I have come to the conclusion that humans are built for community. It is where we feel the safest, the most whole. It’s also where we are the happiest.

I did these things because I felt a sense of obligation, a duty, if you will, to help my friends.

Words like duty and obligation don’t have the value they once did in our society. That doesn’t mean they’re still not important.

My wife came with me to help our friend pack. We weren’t sleeping well and dreaded both the drive and the packing we volunteered to do. While I helped my friend pack their house, something interesting happened. Instead of feeling burdened with obligation, I enjoyed myself. I had a good time being around my friend and their family. I met wonderful new people. In addition, I got to know the family better. It was a really good experience.

I know for myself that sometimes people can be a drain. That trying to be a friend to that person always in need, can leave you hallow and empty. But the reverse can leave you calloused, alone and brittle. It’s better to be open with your time and get a little taken advantaged of then to be guarded and along. I’ve watched some friends take that path. They turned into paranoid loners, scared of people, weary that they’ll be taken advantage of.

Like I said I am morbidly obese. Standing for any length of time is difficult for me. But I remember my master’s degree ceremony, where I had to stand for an hour in a line that didn’t move, then walk a couple of hundred yards to a field where the ceremony took place. The funny thing is I remember being in pain – but the actual pain I have forgotten. What I do remember is the satisfaction of knowing I had my degree and the warmth of the people who came to celebrate with me.

THAT is the Point

Many times we don’t do things because we don’t want to suffer, or be inconvenienced, troubled or put out. But when the struggles are over, we don’t actually remember the inconvenience or trouble. We remember overcoming the difficulties. We remember the accomplishment. If we do it with loved ones, we’ll remember the laughter too.

I encourage all of us to try to do more for one another. To serve each other. In doing so we will create or foster bonds of friendship. We will have great stories to tell and fond memories to relive. We will weave meaning into our lives.

This is why I am proud to announce that I am the Chairman of the Board for Shiny Garden, a new non-profit dedicated to bringing all kinds of fans together to enjoy each other. Shiny Garden will be the administrative head of Myth & Legends Con. We will also organize WhimsyCon in March, as well as Hexacon, a new gaming convention, in January.

Through Shiny Garden I hope I can better serve the literary and fandom community.

 

Here is my MalCon schedule:

Fri, 8:00 PM-8:50 PM, How to be a better Roleplayer (Nevernever)

Sat, 9:00 AM-9:50 AM, Merging Steampunk and Fantasy (The Shire)

Sat, 11:00 AM-11:50 AM, Diversity in Fandom (Serenity)

Sat, 12:00 PM-12:50 PM, Costuming 101 (Room of Requirement)

Sat, 1:00 PM-1:50 PM, Lord of the Rings: Digging Deeper (The Shire)

Sat, 3:00 PM-3:50 PM, Corsets Q&A: Tightlacing, Waist Training, and Myths (Room of Requirement)

Sat, 4:00 PM-4:50 PM, Game Of Thrones: The TV Show Beyond the Books (Kings Landing)

Sat, 9:00 PM-9:50 PM, Epic Rap Battles of Literature! (Helms Deep)

Sat, 11:00 PM-11:50 PM, Author Readings (15 min each) (Kings Landing)

Sun, 12:00 PM-12:50 PM, Shiny Garden and New Events (The Shire)

Sun, 1:00 PM-1:50 PM, Catastrophic Seasonal Climates in Game of Thrones (Kings Landing)

 

 

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