Historical Fiction

Guess who forgot August 1st was the first Tuesday of the month? Then just lost her mind in regards to posting this? Yes, that’s me waving! I’m just diving in.

A few weeks ago, my Teenreads newsletter hit my inbox and I carefully perused the latest YA titles that’ll be hitting shelves soon. I love the Teenreads’ breakdown because they don’t simply list all of their titles, they also provide genre labels.

I happened to see “historical fiction” so I stopped to read the book’s synopsis. I was shocked to learn that the book in question was set in the 1990s. I’m a ’90s baby. And I am not old—I’m not even 30! As far as I’m concerned the ’90s are not historical fiction. It might have gotten my back up.

Later, while I was trying to sleep, I couldn’t help but wonder what I do consider historical fiction. Stories set in the ’70s? ’60s? ’50s? I couldn’t decide. So I decided to look into it.

This speech by Sarah Johnson of the Historical Novel Society turned out to be an excellent resource. Two parts jumped out at me while reading.

First, her definition of Historical Fiction: “My journal, the Historical Novels Review, has a working definition, which we use for consistency purposes in deciding which books to review. To us, a ‘historical novel’ is a novel which is set fifty or more years in the past, and one in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.”

Second, this statement that I feel explains how the label became affixed to the novel that sparked this post in the first place: “I’d say that books are called historical fiction by the publishing world only when no other words could possibly be used to describe them.”

Now I have to backtrack a bit because my research has led me to discover that not everyone knows, or can decide on, what historical fiction actually is.

I came across this site in my travels that I completely disagree with for a number of reasons. The main one is applicable to this post: Despite what the writer says, alternate history is not historical fiction—it’s fantasy. Maybe general fiction depending on what happens and to whom.

For me, historical fiction does it’s best to portray history as close to the facts as possible. Depending on the author, they may have to change a few or many things to make the story work. Compare these prime examples: Diana Gabaldon and Philippa Gregory. Over two lengthy series, Gabaldon has made the conscious choice to change two—yes two—historical events in all of her books to make the story work. She stays true to history to a near fanatical degree. Gregory, on the other hand, has always played it a bit fast and loose with her characters, but she stays true to the major historical points and (in)famous people she depicts.

It all comes down to two things: one, historical fiction depicts the true past; and, two, the writer has done their research, not written a memoir or used their own memories to create the setting. If you’re interested, this thread on Library Thing covers a lot of what I, and Sarah Johnson, believe about historical fiction.

What are your thoughts on historical fiction? I didn’t know I had such strong feelings.

Interesting Finds

Since it’s summer I decided to keep the list light this month. Enjoy! And try not to melt in this heat.

I shared this on Anxiety Ink too because it needs to be shared everywhere! It can’t be a shock that I’m sex-positive. Or that Kushiel’s Dart has moved up my to-read pile. Bonus: this article starts off quoting one of my favourite writing books, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and one of my favourite sections therein. http://www.tor.com/2017/07/19/kushiels-dart-is-the-sex-positive-fantasy-we-need/

I love the idea of a women’s history museum. This piece features info about a solely American museum, but it’s a start. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/18/carolyn-maloney-womens-history-museum/

This article is rather alarmist but it raises excellent points about branding and Amazon in general. Since Amazon directly affects artists now it seems relevant here. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazon-going-kill-your-brand-job-jr-little?trk=eml-email_feed_ecosystem_digest_01-hero-0-null&midToken=AQHTbzDnBqWmog&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=0dfKthMwwrCDQ1

Follow up to a link I shared a while back about The Man’s Right to Know Act. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2017/07/20/turning-the-tables/

A Book with Something to Say: The House of the Scorpion

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of joyless books. They’ve been excellent, thought provoking reads, but they’ve left me a bit saddened and appalled over what humans can do to other humans. Not to mention what humans can do to everything else. I’m not sure how this trend came about, but after my current read I am picking up something fluffy. Very fluffy.

In the midst of these reads, I happened to finish Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own; therein, she mentions that women writers, since that is the focus of the essay, should not strive to write a book that speaks to those who criticise women writers. On page 73 of my version*, and in other parts, Woolf notes that the stories that speak to something more than the story the writer is trying to tell are not nearly as grand as “pure” novels. When writers try to write about something specific, like the treatment of women by men, they lose the art of storytelling.

My Woolf comments may seem like a random aside, but I’ve encountered these thoughts in recent years. On the one side, there are writers who refuse to admit that they have a social responsibility when it comes to their work. On the other side, there are readers who think books about social issues are boring. There’s even an entirely different set of people who think fiction can’t teach them anything.

I call bull on all of them. There are numerous writers who handle major issues adeptly and integrate them into their stories so that some readers don’t even know they’re being educated.

This brings me to Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. This is a book geared towards the 9-12 crowd. It’s a coming of age story about Matteo Alacrán who we meet when he’s three years old and leave when he’s fifteen. It’s a futuristic, science fiction tale. It’s a horrific depiction of human selfishness and cruelty. And it also happens to be a book about sociopolitical, ethical, and scientific issues that were in serious debate at the time of its writing (2002), specifically cloning, pollution, immigration, and the treatment of migrant workers.

Compared to other books that try to teach, which can be extremely heavy handed, Farmer weaves these issues into her story seamlessly. I recently finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, which concerns itself in large part with the issue of global warming. However, the problem came up so often in such a not-so-subtle fashion that I couldn’t help rolling my eyes towards the end. For me, the difference was learning about these sociopolitical issues through Matt’s eyes and ignorance versus having a narrator say it to me repeatedly.

The fact that Farmer writes for kids likely influenced her treatment of the lessons she was trying to impart. There’s a reason people told kids fairy tales to keep them safe. Kids are much better at intuiting the lessons of a story that entertains them than listening to repeated lectures.

As someone interested in science, I usually enjoy stories about cloning. It hit me reading The House of the Scorpion that every book, regardless of genre, that I’ve read that contains clones sees them treated horribly by the rest of humanity. I was young when Dolly the sheep hit the scene and I have no idea what the general response to her existence was. Personally, I have a pretty strong grasp of science, especially genetics, so the idea of cloning doesn’t bother me one bit. I might be an oddity.

In regards to immigration and the treatment of migrant workers, it saddens me that the future Farmer depicts is extremely relevant now fifteen years after her story was published. Anyone who does not believe slave labour exists in this world, or even on our continent, is grossly mistaken.

Overall, as a reader, Farmer’s novel has given me a new appreciation for books that say something. As a writer, I feel educated about dealing with heavy topics now that I’ve read books that handle it well and not-so-well. I highly recommend The House of the Scorpion, but fair warning: It is a difficult read. The pages fly by, but the horror depicted is hard to digest in big chunks.

What’s the last book about a serious topic you enjoyed or felt changed your outlook on something?

 

*Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Annotated by Susan Gubar. Harcourt: NY, 2005.

Interesting Finds

I have been all over the internet this month, so there’s a lot to share. Enjoy!

Have you ever wondered what those schoolyard bullies turn into? I’ve had to deal with a Regina type. Funny when she left how everyone at my job started getting along a lot better.  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bullies-youll-meet-business-sarah-w-browne

It’s hokey but true: a picture is worth a thousand words. What words come to your mind when you see all these male authored books flipped backwards? https://heatst.com/culture-wars/ohio-bookstore-flips-male-authored-books-displaying-them-backwards/

If you’re a language nerd, like me, check out these 10 things about the Englihs language. http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2015/08/ten-things-you-might-not-have-known-about-the-english-language/?utm_source=March21-17&utm_campaign=od-newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_content=10thingsaboutenglish-list-toppanel

I am a naturally negative person. I simply have trouble seeing the bright side of things. But I’m willing to try a few of these 10 things to make my life better. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/10-habits-that-will-dramatically-improve-your-life_us_58cae67ae4b0e0d348b3416b

This infuriates me. Good thing Angela Merkel has a better hold on her temper than me.  https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/21/trump-did-to-merkel-what-men-do-to-women-all-the-time

If you don’t know the horrifying events happening in Chechnya right now, this is an important read. It makes me sick to my stomach. http://feminist.org/blog/index.php/2017/04/12/persecution-of-gay-men-in-chechnya-escalates/

And if that got a fire burning under you, here are 8 calls to action so you can help.

http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/35576/1/help-stop-the-torture-of-gay-men-in-chechnya?utm_source=change_org&utm_medium=petition

I’m finding this world a difficult place to exist in right now. It’s hard to believe what humans do to each other. All any of us can do is stay positive, stay informed, and help in any way we can.

A New Way of Keeping Tabs: Things in My Face, Reader Edition

Early this month, I shared a post on Anxiety Ink about my newest means of keeping tabs on my writing goals. I created an ugly chart and I mark on it every single day whether I write fiction words or not. There’s no better way of keeping an eye on myself than with a bright blue item I can’t escape.

One month in, it’s really working for me. My return to reality week has been the hardest because I caught some bug on the plane home and I was just not present in my life. I nearly didn’t make my “write at least 3 days a week” goal that week, but writing on my chart made me realize that. So I opened my WIP and got some words down ASAP so I didn’t disappoint myself.

As I mentioned on Anxiety Ink, part of the reason I made the chart was because last year by the end of the week when I was finally able to sit down at my desk and see my progress, it was way too late to catch up. I was behind before I even realized it because I wasn’t keeping track where I could easily see my progress, or lack thereof.

One of my goals this year, again, is to read at least 68 books. Early on, I’m coming to understand that the same reason I failed at hitting my writing goals last year is keeping me from staying on top of my reading goals this year: I don’t know I’m behind until it’s too late.

So, I’ve commandeered a small corner of my 6 Month Plan and devoted it to tracking my reading. Every time I finish a book, I write down a number–my last read was the third one I’ve finished so a three went down in roman numerals. I also decided this would be a great chance to learn more roman numerals…mostly because I’m weird.

6 Month Plan (2)

I keep track of all the books I read on Goodreads, but I don’t pay enough attention. Goodreads is distracting so it’s easy to ignore my progress. My chart, which is pretty bare-bones, makes me so much more accountable to myself and makes shirking that much more difficult.

Have you taken steps to improve your productivity this year?