On Writing Historical Fiction

As someone who writes historical fiction myself, I wonder what it is about a particular historical period that attracts you?

—Bradley Greenburg

I’ve been curious in thinking about this question if there’s a generally accepted definition of historical fiction and just how far in the past something has to be set to be considered historical. Read more…

Was there a breakthrough moment in the research for Suite Harmonic, or a surprise discovery? Did anything in the process of doing the genealogy research, or anything you learned from it, affect the way you view your own family or yourself? —Michael Moran, Boston, Massachusetts

There really were two aspects of the research as your question suggests, Michael. One was the part in which I learned about all the battles John Given fought in and what happened to the people in Company A, what the demographics of New Harmony were like, and other general matters of that kind. Read more…

How did you get interested in writing historical fiction? Is there something about building on an underlying “fact” based narrative that you like, or is it just a love of history?

—Kate Klonick, New York City

I’m mulling over the different ways I can answer this question, Kate. I should probably start with my usual caveat. Read more…

In doing research in Ireland, which repositories/sources did you find most useful, and did you come across any relatives still in County Donegal?

—Rachel Murphy, Dublin

Rachel, as you probably suspect, these are not two entirely separate questions. For someone doing research on ancestors in Ireland, and that was a significant part of what I was doing on my various trips to Ireland for Suite Harmonic research, the national institutions that hold archival materials for the country are important and so are the organizations such as yours—Eneclann—that have a more specific genealogical focus. Read more…

I work in an archival respository and utilize primary sources on a daily basis. You, as a writer of historical fiction, also use primary sources but in different ways than I do. How do you go about deciding when and how to take “aristic license” with the historical record?

 —Susan Welsch, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

I’d like to quote from the end of the Suite Harmonic acknowledgments to begin the answer to this question, Susie. Here it is: “The vast majority of the characters, places and events in Suite Harmonic are real, not fictional, but the subtitle of the book—A Civil War Novel of Rediscovery—is as true as anything it contains. Starting with John Given’s handwritten letters, my first goal was to reconstruct his world with as much fidelity as possible. My second and equal goal was to internalize the facts of that world in order to make the shimmering story implicit in them emerge with all the force of imagined life.” Read more…

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