History. You either love it, or you hate it, right?
Who doesn’t remember sitting in 8th grade history of civilization class, listening to the teacher drone on and on about Aristotle or the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution? My class didn’t quite reach the 20th Century before the school year ended and suddenly a new batch of high school students was unleashed on the world, knowing nothing of World War I or II, and little more about Western Civ because no one had actually listened or cared. Not even me.
But today, I can tell you more about Henry VIII and his social reforms and international policies than I can about the current government of my own country. I can gossip about his family and courtiers as if I watched “The Real Housewives of the Tudor Court” on Bravo every week.
Write what you know. When I decided to kick-start my writing career, I figured this was pretty good advice. At the time, I was a preschool teacher, surrounded by picture books. And I figured what the world needed was some really good, interesting picture books about the Tudors.
I can’t write picture books. I learned that in about fifteen minutes. I view picture book writers with utter respect and deep-seated awe because they can. So I wrote a middle-grade time-travel adventure. In the meantime, I attended a workshop on voice at a conference. We did a writing exercise and shared our work, and at the end of it, Sydney Salter, author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters and Swoon at Your Own Risk approached me and said, “You know, you have a really good YA voice. Have you ever considered writing it?” And that’s all it took.
So I write historical fiction for young adults. I write it because I believe people are the same whether they lived in the 16th Century or the 19th Century or in some future post-apocalyptic world. We have the same hopes and fears, we thrill at a great first kiss, mourn a broken heart, dream of a better life.
I write historical fiction because I love to imagine these historical figures as real people. I like to look at the way history has viewed them and ask the big question: “What if?” What if Catherine Howard wasn’t an ignorant, airheaded bimbo but a sly, manipulative mean girl? What if Anne Boleyn was afraid of falling in love with the wrong guy? What if Henry VIII really was just looking for love in all the wrong places?
I write historical fiction because I want the chance to experience it. To feel the fabrics and lace, smell the rich food and the rank rivers, walk the halls of Greenwich and hear the crash and splinter of the joust. I don’t actually want to live in Tudor times – I like antibiotics and hot-and-cold running water and shock absorbers. But I love to have history come alive in my imagination, and I hope that comes across in my writing.
And, ultimately, writing historical fiction gives me a chance to tell some really juicy gossip. It’s just 450 years old.