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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Storyteller's Perspective: History and fiction

Today I stray a little from oral storytelling to telling tales of history.

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is taking the Internet by storm. Seriously, has any of you been to Goodreads lately without seeing the banners for the book? Some people cite the show as the "feminist response to Game of Thrones," while others cite the books as the long-awaited revival of historical fiction.
Which is what got me thinking: Is historical fiction really in need of a revival?

I'm going to tell you up front: I don't have an answer to that question. Really, I'm just writing this post to pose the question to the A to Z audience. Visiting blogs as a minion this April I encountered many wonderful authors who work in many genres, and I enjoyed all of those visits. I also noticed that the hottest genre right now seems to be romance and its subgenres (paranormal, erotic, historical, etc.). Which is probably why Outlander reached more exposure (ha! kilts!) and more popularity than many other historical fiction books lately.

I had conversations with people about historical fiction and the challenges authors have to face when they decide to work within this genre (disclaimer up front, I am one of them, hence the interest). The thoughts and opinions I gathered ranged from "Well, no one gives a **** about history" to "It is a lot harder to read than other fiction." Other complaints about historical fiction included "Well, it's kinda boring" (coming from a person that had no problem blazing through 5 volumes of Game of Thrones) and "I have never heard of that place/those people/that time period, so I am not really interested."

With all of that said: Historical fiction lives, thrives, and does have a serious following. People like Philippa Gregory and Bernard Cornwell are doing active and amazing work. The fandom might be less visible than fans of other genres, but that is a topic for another time. For now, I would like to ask a few questions, and see where they take us:

1. Do you read historical fiction?
2. If so, who is your favorite author / what is your favorite book?
3. Do you write historical fiction? What kind? Why?
4. What do you think makes a historical book good?
5. If you want to share any blogs, Twitter feeds, FB pages, etc. related to historical fiction, please do!

Happy last weeks of summer, everyone!

You can find Csenge (@TarkabarkaHolgy) at
The Multicolored Diary - Adventures in Storytelling
MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...


  1. It mostly depends on the story, but generally, I don't prefer historical fiction. I'll go for a little old-fashioned fantasy though.

  2. I don't really read historical fiction, but I’ve read quite a few historical fantasy books. My favourite author is David Gemmell, and my favourite book is 'Sword in the Storm' which is inspired by Rome/Scots opposition.

    I do write historical. My current project is set in 1926 Chicago and is a trilogy of novels. I should say it has supernatural elements too, so I supposed it can be considered fantasy as well. But I'm pouring a lot of effort in making it as historical accurate as possible.

    The reason why I moved from pure fantasy (which I have written for a couple decades) to historical fantasy is that history offers matters, events, reflections that enrich the spectrum of fantasy, in my opinion. It's also quite challenging, because where you can make up anything which suits your story in fantasy, historical fantasy, if you intend to be accurate (and so historical fiction in general) gives you limits in terms of social history, anthropology, actual history, that you have to consider and cope with. I've found this to be extremely compelling and sometimes pushed me on very interesting paths I might have never chosen by myself.

    What makes a historical novel good? Accuracy. If a historical novel isn't accurate, and I realise it, it doesn't matter how compelling the story is, I'll think the author didn't do a good job.

    Well, if anyone is interested in my project, this is my blog (I mostly write about dieselpunk and 1920s history) or you can contact me on Twitter @JazzFeathers

    1. Your project sounds fascinating! And I totally agree with you on accuracy. I enjoyed the heck out of the Steven Saylor Roman mystery series, but he did make mistakes that made me wince sometimes (I was trained as a Roman archaeologist, so I have high standards built in).

  3. I looooove historical fiction! I actually only have one book left in the Outlander series to be caught up (the newest came out in July). I've been listening to them on cd while driving to/from work, which takes 6-8 weeks per book!

    My favorite author in the genre is Jacqueline Winspear, who writes the Maisie Dobbs series. She writes about post WWI, pre WWII London, which is a time period that has always captured my interest. Jacqueline and some other lovely authors maintain a blog at James Born has been doing an excellent series there about how to write a novel.

    For me what makes a historical fiction book is the characters. I was always frustrated with history classes because they'd say 'this battle happened here, this king was murdered' (politics! bleh) but they rarely told you about the impact on real people. A well written historical fiction novel allows us to see that impact and grow to care about the people of the time.

    Great topic, Csenge!

    1. Very true! Historical fiction without real people is just a history book. And history is one of the worst taught subjects in schools right now, in my opinion. It is full of stories, and adventures, and amazing people, and then all they try to teach you are the numbers. Bleh. I actually do a lot of storytelling in history classes to try to balance it out.

  4. I admit it's a genre I don't read, but I'm more of a speculative reader and writer. I do know quite a few authors who write historical fiction though.

  5. I wasn't aware historical fiction was dead. It was a genre in my house growing, but the only thing I can think of off the top of my head was "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. That was a book that stuck with me. Done well, the genre is great. The setting is already there, so the reader and the author just have to immerse themselves in it.It can become too fact heavy though and it's hard to relate to facts.

    1. Pillars of the Earth is amazing, but it is also one of the harder reads. I have heard people call it "Everything you ever wanted to know about building a cathedral but never dared to ask." :D


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