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Fictionalizing Family
By Linda Ulleseit
January 27, 2023

Old family stories can be rich fodder for a historical fiction author. But how do you develop your mother’s childhood memories, your uncle’s military service, or the penciled names on the back of a photo into a work of fiction? 

This year at the virtual History Quill Convention the first weekend in February, Lanterns Mari Christie, Kathryn Pritchett, and Linda Ulleseit will tackle the topic of writing fiction based on family stories, using their own work as examples.

All novels start with a spark of inspiration. Linda’s Under the Almond Trees began with a short anecdote told by her grandmother about a female ancestor who sued the county to vote forty-eight years before voting became legal for women. Mari’s Blind Tribute was inspired by a mental picture of her great-uncle sitting at his desk writing something. He passed away only seven years before her birth, so she knew about him her entire life. Kathyrn’s work in progress began when she was on a family history website and read a story about her great-great-grandmother who sewed costumes for famous Gilded Age actress Maude Adams.

The inspiration for the story isn’t enough by itself to make it a novel. This panel will discuss resources to flesh out the details of a family story, from interviewing relatives to examining journals and photos to library research. Discover what elements make family memories worth sharing, and set the story within the larger scope of world events.

We all know, though, that even with a good ancestor tale there are long gaps in a life that are not recorded. That’s where the fiction comes in. The panel will guide authors in using fiction to fill in blanks in the recorded history and add the necessary emotions and motivation. We will also discuss how necessary (or not) it is to stay true to the original story.

Finally, we’ll deal with the big question—what if my family members don’t like what I’ve written? Their memories no doubt differ from yours or from those you interviewed, and they might not remember any of the black spots on the family history. How do you convince them that you are not writing a biography, that your work is fiction?

All this and more at the Fictionalizing Family session at the 2023 History Quill Convention!

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Linda Ulleseit
Written by Linda Ulleseit

Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).

View Linda’s PLW Profile

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