July 20, 2011

10 Reasons to Read and Write Historical Fiction

Most often, historical fiction is my genre of choice for both reading and writing. Why? Here are my top ten reasons:

1.      Introduction to significant events and influences from an era before my time. Whether it’s personal research or as a benefit to another author’s careful digging, historical fiction brings yesteryear to life. In Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, compelling characters introduced me to life on a plantation and to the widespread affects of the Civil War.

2.      Information is an inherent feature of historical fiction and immerses the reader in a specific time and place in history. In Maid to Match, Deeanne Gist showed me what life might have been like in George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate. I learned about scullery maids, footmen, and the role of a lady’s maid. In Ticket to Tomorrow, author Carol Cox put me in the Machinery Hall at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

3.      Illumination of faith and life beyond the natural boundaries of my imagination. Life in a North Carolina mansion, a Seattle logging camp, a medieval castle, the lowlands of Scotland, etc. Historical fiction sheds light and offers an explanation for a variety of historical mores. Yes, we’re talking about fiction, but in the best historical fiction most of the story components are rooted in truth.
4.      Intersection with characters with whom I share a connection. Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Women was one of four sisters, as am I. She was also a writer. I connected with Jo at both of those crossroads.

5.      Identification with characters who share my basic values and struggles. Sometimes the rapport and empathy may come in having experienced a similar situation, such as moving into new territory like Marty did in Jeanette Oke’s book, Love Comes Softly. Even though I haven’t experienced widowhood as Marty did, or married for the sake of convenience, I have felt lost in a new situation.

6.      Interpretation is an imperative in the best historical fiction. A solid story set in history offers readers an analysis of the past and can help bring understanding in the wake of war, a natural disaster, or a personal or societal tragedy. Through the actions and reactions of characters like Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler, we gain better understanding of human nature, ourselves, and interpersonal relationships. 

7.      Importance grows out of the heart of a historical novel. Harriett Beecher Stowe poured her heart and soul into her ground-breaking novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Historical fiction can mark personal and societal milestones. A story may shed light on an issue such as slavery. It may chronicle the emergence of women in business as in my novel, Too Rich for a Bride. Or it may feature the exhilaration and scandal stirred by the foolhardy new activity of cycling as seen in Deep in the Heart of Trouble by Deeanne Gist.  

8.      Inspiration is a given when I become immersed in the lives of the stalwart women of the past, whether actual or fictional. In each of my books in The Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series, I include a real life woman from the time period and Cripple Creek history. In Two Brides Too Many, Sister Mary Claver Coleman serves as the real life woman. The reverend mother of the Catholic Order of the Sisters of Mercy who came to America from Ireland to establish schools and hospitals in needy areas. Inspiring! Driven by her personal loss and her hunger for retribution, DiAnn Mill’s fictional character in A Woman Called Sage is a bounty hunter. An inspiring tale of courage and second chances.

9.      Imagination is stirred as I place myself beside characters on a plantation, in a mining camp, on a prairie schooner, in a boardinghouse, or at Kitty Hawk, watching the first airplane shudder in its lift off. Details stir the reader’s imagination. Whether it’s the hilarity involved in a British Lady’s decision to become a ranch hand out west as in Cathy Marie Hake’s novel Fancy Pants or the characteristics of a logging camp in search of brides as seen in A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist, the particulars an author chooses to include engage the mind’s eye of the reader.  

10.  Independence that grows out of a need to be a self-starter. In The Inheritance, Tamera Alexander uses family responsibilities and connections to spur her main character to draw on her independent spirit in a fresh start. Her parents gone, big sister McKenna Ashford loads up the family wagon and heads West with a rebellious brother at her side. Cholera epidemics, fires, war, widowhood, drought, a gold rush, and more served as the impetus for new beginnings.

I count it a privilege to work as a historical novelist, to be able to weave truth from historical events and settings with characters who are true to human nature. I’m taking what I’ve learned from my favorite historical novelists and pouring it into my debut series, The Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek.

Which historical novels do you count among your favorites, and why? 

Learn more about Mona and her books at www.monahodgson.com and connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Mona-Hodgson-Author-Page/114199561939095. 

To read the first chapters of Two Brides Too Many and Too Rich for a Bride and to watch the videos, go to www.monahodgson.com. Click on Mona’s Books, then on Sneak Peek or the book trailer.


jtwebster books said...

An interesting blog post, Mona. Most of my favourite historic authors - including yourself - are mentioned. I've now added Tamara Alexander to my TBR list. Have you tried Nancy E Turner's trilogy starting with 'These is My Words'?
I find I write and read mainly historical fiction too. The lives of people in the past are fascinating and how they cope with what life throws at them speaks to me on so many levels.
I'm looking forward to the next Cripple Creek book :)

Mona Hodgson said...

Hi JT,
Thanks for reading the post and commenting. You'll love Tamara Alexander's work. I haven't read Nancy Turner's whole trilogy, but I do have "These is My Words."
Happy reading and writing!