Why Historical Fiction?

Why Historical Fiction?

One of my favorite authors is Alison Weir, and the reason I love her work so much is because she began as a biographical nonfiction writer. When she started writing historical fiction, her research paid off ten-fold by adding an element of realism that you just don’t get with other authors who don’t thoroughly research.

In the back of one of her books, Innocent Traitor, she says, “where the evidence is scanty or missing, I have used my imagination.” In truth, that is why many historical writers turn to historical fiction. When you’re researching and you come across holes, you desperately want to fill them, but you can’t do that when writing non-fiction.Weir also says, “Some parts of the book may seem far-fetched: they are the parts most likely to be based on fact.”

Anna Katharine Green said something very similar: “I have found that the incidents in books which people pick out as improbable are the very ones which are founded on fact. Truth is stranger than fiction” (“Why Human Beings Are Interested in Crime”).

History fascinates me, especially when you find something difficult to believe that turns out to be true.

In my book about Anna Katharine Green, one of the quotes I incorporated was a line about one of the reasons she finally sat down to write her first novel, The Leavenworth Case:

“The other night I had a dream, which has impressed a story on my mind…so passionate, so strong, so subtle, so dread, dark, and heart-rending, it ought to be written with fire and blood. It will require all my enthusiasm, study and power, and then I may fall short, but I believe I shall try. Perhaps it is somewhat sensational, but I hope by characterization and earnestness to lift it to a higher ground.”

As “sensational” and completely Victorian this quote may seem, it is, in fact, a line straight out of one of Anna’s letters written to Mary Hatch, which was then quoted in “An American Gaboriau” by Mary R. P. Hatch (published in 1889). This makes it an example of something that seems difficult to believe, and yet actually happened historically.

It excites me to research and find more and more fun little tidbits about the past that seem difficult to believe, and yet only press upon us how much we can learn from history.

That is why I have chosen to write historical mysteries. Why do you read them?

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