I was invited to be a second round judge for the Sarton Prize for 2020. The winners were just announced and you can find them at https://www.storycircle.org/contest/story-circle-womens-book-awards/. It was a privilege to read three of the finalists and to see these wonderful books get the recognition the authors have earned. If you’re looking for a good book to read, I recommend any of these titles–official winners and finalists.
Here I go again—for a third time. The 30/30 project for Tupelo Press is a wonderful opportunity to spur your poetry forward and help fund a fabulous press. After your application is accepted, you write a poem a day for a month. There are generally 8-10 participants each month and each day’s poems are available here: https://www.tupelopress.org/the-30-30-project-january-2021/
I’ve participated in the 30/30 project twice before and it has always deepened my work and helped me expand my vision and my writing to new levels. I treasure each opportunity to participate in this program. I’m grateful to Tupelo Press for their innovative thinking in creating this program and accepting me as a participant.
Check out our work at the above link in my post. If you’d like to chip in a few dollars to support the press, pick the name of a poet whose work you like and contribute those dollars to Tupelo in that person’s honor. Both will be delighted. And you have my thanks.
My review of If Mother Braids a Waterfall just went live. A fascinating look into the world of Mormonism, women in Mormonism, and the struggle to come to terms with Mormonism. You can find my review at https://www.tupeloquarterly.com/carrying-within-you-what-you-choose-to-leave-behind-a-review-of-if-mother-braids-a-waterfall/
In Part I, I addressed the issue of “truth” in historical fiction, focusing on facts and bias. I promised to address the “emotional truth” of historical fiction in Part II.
Emotional truth is about feelings which may or may not have anything to do with actual facts. An author attempts to convey how characters “felt” about their time and the facts, the research, provides the context for those feelings, whether those feelings relate to the character’s family, historical events, or the character’s philosophical beliefs.
And that’s the key. How characters face the challenges of their own time and how they feel as they wrestle with ethical dilemmas and make decisions help us to understand issues of our own time. The distance of history and the mask of fiction enable us to draw parallels to our own time and consider our problems through a new lens. That’s the joy of both the “history” and the “fiction” aspects of this genre of writing.
Growing up, I devoured historical fiction. I read works by Jean Fritz, the American children’s writer of biography and history, and learned about the founding fathers of this country. As a teenager, I read the historical novels of Jean Plaidy (real name, Eleanor Alice Hibbert) and remember particularly her novels about the Tudor period. I loved the intrigue and the romance, no matter how badly it ended up.
Now, I read historical fiction all the time. I still enjoy the adventure and romance, but I value what it teaches me about my own world. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about World War II as part of the research for my own novel, as well as history and biography and reports and diaries, because I wanted to know how other authors present their “emotional truth” of the period. I want to add my own perspective of that truth, based on what I read and what I learned from the stories my parents and their generation told me when I was young.
We are at a point where the survivors of WWII are now dying. Shortly, their time will be fully “history” and we will no longer be able to hear their stories directly. We will have only written, oral, and media presentations of that time. This is my chance to add a perspective from what I read and from what I learned from those who lived through that time and conveyed their stories to me. I want to honor that gift in my work. I anticipate completing my novel in 2021 and look forward to sharing it with the world, adding my own perspective to the collective view of that time in history.
I’ve been working on a historical novel set in WWII, most intensively in the last two years. Why another WWII story? Because I see parallels to our own time, I grew up in Britain in the aftermath of that war, and my premise is based on a “true” story from WWII that was told to me by my mother.
The key is my first reason: parallels to our own time. George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The challenge, however, is not remembering the past, but figuring it out at all. As we approach a time when those who lived through WWII are slipping away, and those of us who were brought up immediately after that war and were affected by it, I wanted to explore the war from the intimate perspective of family.
A historical novel is undoubtedly biased and wouldn’t claim to be “true” in a factual sense, although authors of historical novels strive to set their work within an accurate context. A historical novel presents a view of events that attempts to bring the reader closer to the emotional “truth” of those who experienced that period in history. Before I address the idea of “emotional truth” in a blog post in a couple of weeks, it’s important, first, to address the nature of history itself.
History is a slippery slope. Records are lost, suppressed, formally locked up for a certain number of years, interpreted. Where does that take us? To bias. Even primary documents can be biased. Diaries, obviously, but even a simple factual form. Someone chooses to check the wrong box for his/her/eir age. Why? Vanity? Fear? Some practical reason? Someone falsifies a document in order to survive; another person is forced to write what a person in power wants to hear. Who can blame them? You survive in the moment. That’s why I often put the word “true” in quotes.
Our biased behaviors probably go back to the beginning of the human race. A classic example is Galileo. He believed the sun was the center of our universe and that got him into trouble.
Enter the Roman Inquisition. In 1615, they decided his belief was heretical because it contradicted the sense of Holy Scripture. When Galileo defended that belief in print, this was interpreted as an attack on Pope Urban VIII. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, found heretical, and forced to recant.
Why was Galileo was put on trial? Politics (court intrigue, problems of state) and emotions (anger, fear on the part of the Pope). The nemeses of historical truth.
As an addendum, Galileo didn’t originate his belief. He learned it from the work of Copernicus (b. 1473). It is believed that Copernicus came to his conclusion independently of Aristarchus of Samos (born around 310 BCE), who probably originated the idea. So someone knew how the universe was structured centuries before the majority of people accepted it as truth.
In one way, this pressures a historical novel writer to be as accurate as possible as regards facts. In another way, the very instability of history gives the historical novel writer permission because “truth” is far from absolute.
Written: November 17, 2020. Pt. 2 coming Dec. 1.
My review of Refusal: Poems just went live on Tupelo Quarterly. Such a thrill to have a book review there. Here’s the link: