Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. This is a sad day in American history. Fifty-eight years ago, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Most who were alive on November 22, 1963, remember that day. It’s like Pearl Harbor for those who were alive on December 7, 1941, or in more recent years, September 11, 2001. I was only five years old in 1963, but I still remember when my father told me the news. I recall my mother’s tears.
I’ve always admired authors who write historical fiction. There are several definitions of the genre. The Historical Novel Society defines it as works “written at least fifty years after the events described.” Others claim it is novels set before the mid-twentieth century, and still others say anything twenty-five years in the past meets the definition.
Whatever one you use, writing historical fiction requires a lot of research. Knowing someone with first-hand knowledge is a plus. While you may know an aging World War II veteran, you won’t find anyone who was alive during the Salem Witch Trials or the American Revolution. Fortunately, we have a lot of resources to rely on, and with the Internet, the possibilities are almost limitless.
But what about those times when we write about events that happened during our lifetime? Our own Mae Clair set her Point Pleasant series mostly in the early 1980s. I think of those times as “modern” yet so many things have changed since then.
Things we take for granted today weren’t available then. Most people had land lines in those days. Motorola made the first cell phone in 1973, but they didn’t become popular until the 1990s. Use of personal computers wasn’t common in the early eighties and the world wide web wasn’t introduced to the public until 1991.
My short story House of Sorrow takes place primarily in the 1960s. I relied on a lot of memories, but I still had to do my research. In one scene, I mentioned brutal murders which occurred in Los Angeles during August 1969. I almost used the term “Manson Murders” because that’s how we refer to them today. A little research revealed the killer’s identities and subsequent arrest didn’t occur until later that year.
The only other time I’ve delved into historical fiction is a time travel story set between modern times and World War II. Once again, it took a lot of research.
For someone who once thought they would never write anything other than modern-day fiction, those two pieces were among my favorite to write. It could be because I love history.
Although I’m not an expert, my best advice to those who are considering writing historical fiction is “Do your research.” If you know someone who was alive during the time frame of your story, talk to them. Ask them what life was like. Many older citizens enjoy sharing their experiences. And your visit just might make their day brighter.
Have you written any historical fiction? What advice would you offer others?