Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chris Eboch: Why Write Historical Fiction for Children?

I’ve always loved foreign countries and ancient cultures. My family lived in Saudi Arabia when I was in grade school, and we visited a lot of other countries. We lived in the US when I was in junior high and high school, but my parents moved back to Saudi Arabia when I was in college. For several years, my brother and I met them in a different country each year over the holidays: Britain, Germany, Australia, Italy, and in one memorable year, Egypt. I later traveled to Turkey with a friend.

I’m interested in local people all over the world, and the ancient cultures that came before them. I like to know who these people were and how they lived – not just the kings and military leaders, but regular people like us.

Drama of the Maya

After college, my best friend and I spent a summer traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica. We visited the sacred pool at the ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico. I imagined a girl being thrown into the well, and living. She had to have a lot of courage and inner strength to do that. I wanted to tell her story. Writing middle grade novels seemed like a natural fit to me. I read an enormous amount as a kid, and I still enjoy reading children’s books. It fits my style, with a focus on simple, clear language and plenty of action and dialogue to keep the pages turning.

A few years later I wrote The Well of Sacrifice. I asked myself, “Why was she sacrificed? How did she survive? What did she do next?” The story came from those questions.

Revisiting The Middle East

What kid isn’t drawn to stories of pharaohs and mummies? Growing up in Saudi Arabia, and visiting Egypt in my 20s, I have some familiarity with the Middle East. I wrote a novel about the six daughters of the Pharaoh Akhenaton and Nefertiti, but it was so complex that I couldn’t quite pull it together.

I decided to write another novel set in ancient Egypt, but with a smaller cast of characters and a shorter timeframe. I was able to use much of the research I’d already done, and although writing a mystery had its own challenges, the shorter timeframe and simpler story worked well. I loved being able to bring ancient Egypt to life through a story of mystery and friendship in The Eyes of Pharaoh.

I visited the Middle East again in The Genie’s Gift. This isn’t straight historical fiction, but rather a fantasy based on the mythology in A Thousand and One Nights (also known as The Arabian Nights.)

The Middle East today is very different from the culture shown in my novel. Still, reminders of those days exist in the buildings, artwork, and food. And of course in the stories. The stories in A Thousand and One Nights came from Indian, Persian, Arabic, and other sources. They were collected over hundreds of years, beginning in the eighth century. They were not originally seen as children’s stories, though later translations targeted kids.

As in The Arabian Nights, The Genie’s Gift is a series of interlocking stories that make up a whole. I started with many traditional stories and adapted them to suit my needs. Legends refer to a sorceress who changed a man into marble from waist down. Gnomes were said to dwell in the mountains and play tricks on people. A mechanical/magical horse of ivory and ebony could fly, controlled by pegs under its mane. Simurgh, a magic bird, offered advice and healed people by rubbing her feathers over wounds.

This fantasy element allowed me to explore history and culture from a different angle, and hopefully reach a new audience that might not know they enjoyed history. It also allows teachers to compare and contrast realistic fiction with fantasy, historical fiction with contemporary, and fiction with nonfiction related to the same subject.

Even though historical fiction has been considered in a slump in recent years, I've been delighted by the response from young readers. Give them an angle they enjoy – a mystery, a fantasy, an adventure – and they're happy to delve into ancient worlds.

Website info and samples:
Chris Eboch’s website, with sample chapters of the books, historical fiction resources for teachers, and tips for writers.

Kirkus Reviews called The Well of Sacrifice, “[An] engrossing first novel….Eboch crafts an exciting narrative with a richly textured depiction of ancient Mayan society….The novel shines not only for a faithful recreation of an unfamiliar, ancient world, but also for the introduction of a brave, likable and determined heroine.”

The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life. When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

The Genie’s Gift is a lighthearted action novel set in the fifteenth-century Middle East, drawing on the mythology of The Arabian Nights. Shy and timid Anise determines to find the Genie Shakayak and claim the Gift of Sweet Speech. But the way is barred by a series of challenges, both ordinary and magical. How will Anise get past a vicious she-ghoul, a sorceress who turns people to stone, and mysterious sea monsters, when she can’t even speak in front of strangers?

Amazon links:

No comments:

Post a Comment