I’ve read historical fiction for 40 years, have many historical fiction authors as friends, reviewed historical fiction novels, and believe I have fairly good general knowledge of numerous historical eras.
I have high standards and read intelligent historical fiction. Margaret George is on my “historical fiction author’s pedestal”, with no competition in sight. I was delighted to meet her at the Historical Novel Society conference last June, and I immediately texted my husband:
OMG! Just met Margaret George! Writer heaven!
He didn’t seem quite as excited, but that might have been due to the time exchange. It’s not how he wanted to to woken up at 6:30 am. Oops.
The question “why” remains?
Historical fiction, at least in the world I inhabit, seems to have become focused on the word “historical”. Passionate debates (and, sometimes, outright condemnation) abound on whether author so-and-so blatantly disregarded historical facts in their novel. And, if author so-and-so is deemed to have committed this allegation, a “take no prisoners” approach is undertaken.
The following is a comment I posted in response to a review of historical fiction novel on Goodreads. The author, novel and reviewer details are not relevant.
I have read historical fiction for 40 years. The most important word in that last sentence is “fiction”.
The fact that it is historical does not lessen the word “fiction”. Fiction is created through the imagination of the author.
Reading historical fiction is escapism into another world and time – it takes us away from today’s busyness, worries and stress. If a historical fiction novel accomplishes this, then I consider it a good read.
Oftentimes, a histfic [historical fiction] novel inspires me to investigate for myself what “really happened” during that time. I suspect I am not alone.
Who can tell what really happened? All the players are long deceased. All we have are scholarly interpretations. Are those interpretations correct? Who knows? Everyone is dead.
I personally feel the need for absolute accuracy in every historical, cultural, lifestyle, etc., detail has passed reasonable expectations. Yes, authors should do due diligence because readers are savvy about their historical fiction choices.
But why can’t we just return to writing and reading historical fiction for its true intent, and leave the infighting over “facts” for the scholars?
This is just my opinion, and I know many will disagree with me. For those that disagree with me, I respect their entitlement to their opinions.
I am participating in a two month virtual writers’ retreat beginning February 1. This “accuracy issue” is an immense hurdle I need to overcome. It has held me prisoner for far too long.
In 92 days, it is my hope and wish to fulfill a long held dream: to have written – at the very least – the bare bones of a historical fiction novel of which I feel proud. There will be time after the “retreat” to flesh out those bones into a faraway world which readers find engaging, engrossing, entertaining, and, yes, credible. If I succeed in conveying you from today’s world to another you could never visit otherwise, I will feel blessed indeed.