Thursday, May 11, 2017
Mad About Long Buried History
by Suzanne Morgan Williams
One of the joys and frustrations of writing middle grade historical novels is discovering little known history. I feel like an explorer or an archaeologist unearthing facts and societies I've never known - or that I totally misunderstood. That's fun too. But then there's that thing about "little known" that means there may not be a lot of information available, or what information there is may have been ignored or buried. Often this deep silence creates the historical narrative that we, in the dominant U.S. culture, have become comfortable with. Taking on an era or event that's been set aside in this way can be jarring, difficult, or frustrating.
The second layer of frustration, that's true of any novel with a tense plot, is that for hours at a time I drop into a different world, I virtually dwell there as I become witness to the combination of historical fact and my imaginings of how it would have been to experience that. I feel what my characters feel, or more accurately, they feel what I feel while writing. Often, I emerge from the dream/writing state exhausted. And in case you don't know, there is a point in almost all writing where good writers throw up there hands and say, "What am I doing? This is gibberish." (Okay we don't usually say gibberish), Right now, I'm struggling to pass that point with my new Work In Progress (WIP) set in the 17th century. I'm almost there, but not quite.
So it's not surprising to me that I got a reminder this morning of my upcoming posts and, oops, I have a post due today. This accounts for the stream of consciousness you are reading. I'm creating this blog while at the same time I'm wondering what kind of embroidery was popular in 1660 and how many beers led to intoxication if you drank beer atmost meals already. You get it, the important stuff.
But the real joy, and the prize I'm going for, is discovering the details of a time and people who shaped us, though we may not realize it, and bringing that era to life. I won't get it all right. If I could bring back someone from my manuscript's time and place they might respond to the work with a long polite, "Hmmmmm." But I can interpret what I know for modern kids. I can try to make them feel what a sixteen year old who knew nothing of electricity, airplanes, bombs, or proms would feel. I need to do that without giving her our modern day expectations but with giving her all the drama and human emotions that we suspect haven't changed much over 10,000 years. Now that is fun. I can't wait to hear a reader say, "I feel just like that." Then I've done my job. Wishing you peace, kindness, and discovery.