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What Makes a Historical Fiction Writer?

3

August 14, 2013 by kristin

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I’ve been thinking lately about what makes a person crazy enough to try to be a historical fiction writer. I follow many such writers on Twitter and Facebook, and I notice a common thread in their “About Me” pages – a deep interest in history from a young age, and often a parent who was also interested in history.

As for me, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t more intrigued by the past than the present. When I was in elementary school, I listened to NKOTB like the other girls (Joe McEntyre 4eva!!), but my favorite music played on the oldies station.

The oldies-lovin’ you could credit to my mother, who played records with songs like “Teen Angel,” and “Lipstick on Your Collar” so much they are woven into my memories. Mom also entertained us regularly with stories from her childhood – a poor, often-tragic past so removed from our comfortable suburban existence that to me it sounded like another world, a fascinating one I’ve tried to recreate over and over in my own fiction.

Then there’s my dad’s contribution. He is an outdoorsman, while I inherited my mother’s pallor and mosquito allergy, so I tried to find other ways to share his interests. He was obsessed with military history, particularly World War II (in which his father served) and the American Civil war, so I read Gone With the Wind and The Last Silk Dress in fifth grade and launched my own obsession.

It’s easy to see how growing up under a portrait of Generals Lee and Grant meeting at Appomattox could lead to the path I’ve chosen, the novel I’ve written, set in the Civil War.

But my younger sister also grew up in that house, listening to Mom’s oldies records and her stories of the outhouse and the tin wash tub, Dad’s stories of his dad fighting the Battle of the Bulge. And my sister managed to come out the other side much cooler than me, with only a normal person’s interest in history. 

So there must’ve been something in me from the start, right down in the DNA. Something that made me latch onto history as the thing I most wanted to imagine, and then to write those imaginings down.

My great-grandmother, Granny Teen, liked to write. She never published anything, as far as I know, but the need to put down words on paper was in her, as it is in me.

Unlike her, I don’t have to work in a hot, noisy cotton mill while somehow raising a daughter with no help from the father. In the 1930s.

That’s one thing being a history lover allows me to appreciate – no matter how busy I am, how hard it is to squeeze in time to work and write and spend time with kids and spouse, I have it better than Granny Teen did, or any previous generation of the less-than-affluent folks I’m descended from.

Maybe I owe it to Granny Teen and all of them to fulfill what nature and nurture demanded: Take your opportunities and use them. Be a writer.


3 comments

  1. Mary says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading Kristin’s well-written post. If only we had asked questions, listened more closely as our elders spun their web of stories growing up and into adult lives. Now it is too late — much of their history is buried along with them and can never be unearthed.

  2. Judy Miller says:

    Hi, Kristin: The above is beautiful. I love it. Please send info on how to get a copy of your civil war novel – I like to read about the civil war. So tragic.

  3. Paris says:

    Hi Kristin, I’m Charlie’s niece. And I feel like a lot of what you said really resonates with me. Moreover, I agree with what my mama said about asking questions that are too late to be answered. I am so interested in what life was like for Teen and Charlie and would love to know more! Have you written about that too? Also I second the pointing towards your novel. Would love to read it! Where can it be found? I love your outlook that we need to take advantage of our advantages and out pen to paper!! Maybe I’ll see you next time we’re at Pop and Teen’s.

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About Kristin

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Kristin L. Walters is the author of YA historical novel THE GIRL IN LILAC AND GRAY. She blogs about writing and reading historical fiction, and the things that inspire her - family, genealogy, old houses, Victorian photographs.

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