Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Historical Fiction Represents Culture?

One person said that historical fiction doesn’t represent the culture of a place.

Then what does?

Historical fiction is fiction, but the culture of the time and place the novel is set plays a huge role. The setting becomes a character. In Under a Copper Moon, I researched the people, the town’s history, the attitudes, the food, the fashion, and the laws that dictated how a character would live and work and love.

All the bigotry, prejudices, and narrow-mindedness revealed itself just as the kindness, justice, goodwill, and caring trumped those lower, petty attitudes. It reminded me a lot of current culture – good and bad are present and celebrated by different groups.

You can read historical accounts, old newspapers, diaries and journals of the people who lived during the time. I did. But to take it a step further, to parallel what our ancestors struggled with and how they coped in their lives, to parallel that with our own requires imagination and literary license that binds the storytelling of true non-fiction.

The fun part is to look back with 20/20 vision. I could visualize the culture of Jerome in the Arizona Territory in 1894 and I could experience it today. I pulled the types of events and characters that would have led the town to its current way of life.

The key is reading historical fiction with an adult view and bringing your own experiences to the story along with the recent history of the setting. From my past in corporate instructional design, I realize that adults bring experience with them to everything they do (unlike children who seem to need more details and repetitious, routine, rote learning) and this allows an author to use a phrase that brings more to the table than the mere words. For example: “those people.” An adult sees the words and knows it is something uttered by a person who sees himself as superior to another group of people, usually by race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities, etc.

Novels embrace you and your willingness to ‘walk in the shoes’ of another. Some readers find this difficult and remain outside the characters and plot while others immerse themselves and their lives in the fiction with the added reward of seeing a different place and time in the context of their own lives.

Historical fiction gathers up the culture of a certain place and time and stirs it with our own. It represents the culture of a place more than facts and dates; it adds the spice of knowing the future and framing the past to help illustrate how we made it here in one piece.

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