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June 12th ~ Q & As

By Ana Brazil
June 12, 2020

This Friday the Paper Lantern Writers want to know What do you love most about writing historical fiction?”

C.V. lets us know that “I love puzzles and, for me, writing historical fiction is like putting together a puzzle.

As I do research, there are interesting historical tidbits that I include just to help build the world and make it come alive for the reader.

I had a wonderful discovery the other day. I needed my character to have a valid reason for keeping everyone away from a person he was hiding. I thought I could suggest the person had the plague. Low and behold, when I did the research, there happened to be another outbreak of the plague during those years. Actual history to the rescue, making my story line completely plausible.”

Katie says “I love the world-building that comes in historical fiction.

What does the street smell like? What foods are the people eating? How is it EXACTLY how we are? How is it different? There are so many bits that you could lift from diaries and receipts that are the same as our modern lives (save the electric tea kettle), which I find heartening. That with all our modern conveniences, people are still people living their lives. 

As a runner-up, I love finding the unexpected tidbit. That piece that surprises everyone. That said, it is often very difficult to work that into a piece of fiction precisely because it challenges the “common knowledge” of today. (For instance, that there were professional women boxers during the Georgian era).“

Linda shares that “My first love in literature was fantasy, because I enjoy exploring unknown worlds.

After I began to learn a bit about history, I started reading historical fiction. I enjoyed diving into those worlds just as much because they were just as unknown to me as the fantasy worlds. The first historical novel I remember reading was JOHNNY TREMAIN by Esther Forbes, in eighth grade. I loved the depth that the fictional characters gave to what I already knew from the history of the Revolutionary War. 

As a writer, historical fiction challenges me to weave a plausible story between historical details that may be incomplete or missing. An author of historical fiction has to be well-versed in the period they are writing about so they can fill in the missing pieces with fiction that is appropriate for the era. You can’t have a medieval woman zipping up her cloak, for instance, or a frontier woman baking a cake from a mix.  

My own historical fiction focuses on real women who aren’t well known. Researching their lives reveals information I already knew, like that women fought hard for the vote, or the lives of frontier women were hard. That research also allows me to discover fascinating details I didn’t already know, like how families got out of Honolulu after the Pearl Harbor attack, and the huge number of famous people that passed through Fort Snelling in Minnesota around 1835 (Will Clark, Zachary Taylor, Jefferson Davis, Seth Eastman, Dred Scott, George Catlin, Abraham Lincoln, Eliza Hamilton).”

Ana answers with “I love that sometimes while writing historical fiction, I get it really, really right—the history is fascinating and accurate, the characters are true to the people of the time I’m writing about, and I’ve created a conflict that readers give a damn about.

The Writer’s High I get when those tricky parts are really, really right let me know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life—exploring the “What if…..” of history and fiction.

Who wouldn’t love that?

“The Seamstress” by Joseph DeCamp (1916)

Kathryn concludes with “My first career was as a design writer for newspapers and magazines, showcasing the latest design trends and forecasting what buyers would want in the future.

But my great-great-grandmother’s story kept calling me and I turned to writing about the past. What I discovered writing historical fiction is that writing about the settings and objects of the past was as intriguing as describing current and future interiors and landscapes. The common threads are making the most of whatever circumstances you were in. And, of course, human emotions and desires are timeless. I see some overlap with science fiction where you’re building a world with different physical components and cultural expectations and then playing out a relatable story.

For example, the protagonist of my new WIP is a costumer in a turn-of-the-last-century theater company. She uses her sewing skills and imagination to create theatrical illusions—just like costume designers do today.  In this early stage I’m hunting down historical details to tell her story. What fabrics would have been available in that time and place? How would she research historical dress without Google? In that way, writing historical fiction is also like writing a mystery as you research answers. I love the revelations along the way.”

Ana Brazil
Written by Ana Brazil

Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.

View Ana’s PLW Profile

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