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History Into Fiction: The Writer's Art of Recreating the Past

About this blog

Historical novelists and screenwriters are a masochistic breed. We watch with dismay as our books are shunted off to the fantasy sections. We endure the cold shoulders of those who consider our genre the publishing world’s equivalent of a leper colony. We suffer through meetings with Hollywood producers who want the Battle of Stirling Bridge to be staged like Custer’s Last Stand—and while you’re at it, get rid of the bridge. We toil in an era when Generation X thinks Malcolm X must be a saucy spoof of the television show about a family’s middle-born child.

And yet, despite Gore Vidal’s warning that his embrace of the historical novel shadowed his literary reputation, we persist.

Why? Early in life, many of us were seduced by a hoary tale of battle or a whisper from some ancient ruins. After undergoing such Eleusinian initiation into the Akashic records, how could we not assess the world by looking over our shoulders? History kidnapped us like Hades stole Persephone. As recompense, we are seasonally permitted to surface from our lairs and describe the nether realms for our fellow mortals.

The Archon of History took dominion over my soul at age ten, when my great uncle led me on a tour of the Civil War battlefield at Perryville, Kentucky. Across those rolling bluegrass hills, hardly changed since 1862, his father, a captain in the Army of the Tennessee, fought aside the decorated father of Douglas MacArthur. A few miles farther north, I traced the harried footsteps of Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark to the reconstructed stockade in Harrodsburg, the oldest town west of the Allegheny Mountains. Mossy stones mark the graves of the first Kentuckians killed in Shawnee raids there. Spirits still haunt that dark and bloody ground. They invaded my boyhood dreams.

All as a preamble: I’ve launched this weblog to serve as a castle perilous, a refuge where fellow time travelers, blurry-eyed from their manuscripts and pining for good company, can stop by to trade ideas and hone the black arts of conjuring the past. Readers and history buffs are welcome to participate. I’ll offer humble musings on the craft and post notices of events, reviews, and other news that inform the subject. Any leads or suggestions on how to improve the conversation will be appreciated. In the process, I hope to contribute a little and learn a lot.