Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H IS FOR HISTORY


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

When I was in American History class (back in the Dark Ages), we were taught to memorize dates and battles and lists. Lists can bore me still.

I didn’t realize then that I would grow to love American history. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, not realizing they were about history. The missing ingredient in the classroom was people. I needed someone to care about.

Laura’s books involved me in her family’s struggles as they settled in different places across America. She made history come alive for me.

When I write historical fiction, I always begin with a character, a person whose eyes I can tell the story through, a person a reader can care about. The story might be set against an actual event or maybe just an interesting time period. But it has to begin and end with a person.

My characters are fictional, but I try to breathe life into them. If I do that successfully, my readers will be able to live inside that character for the length of the story. They will hear the cannons at Gettysburg, smell the smoke after the Monongah mine explosion, or feel the excitement of a girl seeing an automobile for the first time.


That is why I write historical fiction. I want to transport a reader to a different time and place, to let them see through a character’s eyes, feel that character’s heartbeat. I want them to care enough so that history lives.

29 comments:

  1. So true! Historical dates and things are as boring as a telephone book, but the minute life is breathed into them, they take on whole new meaning.

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    1. So true. It's a challenge I love, breathing life into lives from the past. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. And you are such a brilliant writer! I always begin my Women in US Society classes by presenting content on women in history. I think half of the population is generally left out of the history books. How are we to connect with history when we can't relate to its characters? I love this Jane Austin quote, "History tells me nothing that doesn’t vex or weary me. The quarrels
    of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all
    so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome." Gurrrl, we are here to spice it up and include some previously untold stories!

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    1. Yes, women are definitely a missing ingredient in many history books because they didn't typically fight in wars or serve in government, yet how much richer history becomes when you view it through the lens of a woman.

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    2. Thanks, Juliet, for your kind words. And thanks to you & Shannon for mentioning those all important women whose part in history has been underplayed for centuries.

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  3. I hated history for just that, all that memorization that I quickly forgot after the test. I far more enjoy historical novels that give you a real feel for the places and times.

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    1. You are so right, Sandra. All those lists quickly left my mind, but the people who lived through those times stayed with me.

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  4. I like history too, but worry it is not always an accurate accounting of what happened, what the motives were and so on. Politicians of today are certainly not willing to stick to the facts and the truth. For this reason, I enjoy historical novels so much more.

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    1. It's up to historians & writers like me to dig into all those old diaries and papers to get to the real facts and put them (or a fictionalized account of them) onto the page. It's a challenge I love & embrace.

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  5. Hello! I've always enjoyed history. I don't write historical fiction, but I do enjoy reading it. The Little House books were some of my favorites when I was a kid. I'm featuring authors on my blog for the Challenge, and it's Laura Ingalls Wilder on W day!

    Happy A to Z-ing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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    1. I have been enjoying your authors on Wavy Lines, Laura, & look forward to W day. When my novels hit the shelves, they will sit alongside those of LIW, something that never occurred to me when I first married a W.

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  6. I also hated history in school. They have to teach it through the society of the times, not by dates. Now I learn my history through reading historical novels. though I wrote one also

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    1. I think I learned as much from the novels as I did from the textbooks, & I know I enjoyed them more. What time period is your novel?

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  7. I think transporting the reader is a good goal for all writers.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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    1. Absolutely! With sci-fi, fantasy, & even a contemporary story, putting the reader in the character's shoes is vital. Thanks for commenting.

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  8. I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, although I've only read the first few books in her series. I still remember this one scene where the family would pick up some snow from the outside, put it on a plate, and pour (maple syrup?) or something like that over it for dessert. I've always wanted to try that.

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    1. I know! It's how they made candy. The Long Winter was one of my favorites because they had so much to overcome, snow up to the rooftops & food running out. Thanks for your comment.

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  9. My least favorite subject was reading - now I love it....and teach it. ;)

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    1. Isn't it funny how we grow into our passions? Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. I admire writers who not only put in all the work to write a novel, but on top of that put in tons of research. You are exactly correct that people make history come alive. I think that was one of the most enjoyable parts of Night in the Museum.

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    1. Since I now love history, I don't mind the research. Searching for an elusive fact can be frustrating, but finding one is cause for celebration. Thanks.

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  11. Historical fiction, my favorite genre! Why else would I have read 23 volumes of Alexander Kent's "Bolitho" novels? I enjoyed reading about your approach.

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    1. Thanks, Jer. I'm always glad to "meet" a fellow history lover.

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  12. Writing anything longer than a blog post seems so overwhelming!! Good for you!! :0)

    Hugs!

    Valerie Nunez and the Flying Platypi

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    1. Thank you, Valerie. And Hugs to you! I love hugs.

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  13. I love historical fiction, too. I get to travel back in time and live another life through the characters. MM

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Your Majesty. Always glad to "meet" another fan of historical fiction.

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  14. I love historical fiction.

    I don't know why I stopped at one Laura Ingalls Wilder book. I should've read them all.

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    1. If you want a glimpse of everyday life in the late 19th century, you definitely should.

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