You have to learn almost everything about a period and the social customs just to get your characters out of their beds, or off of their skins, and feed them breakfast. Sweat the Small Stuff. The authenticity of historical fiction depends on your knowledge and use of historical detail.
The illustration of a fashionably dressed woman, the placement of the pencil she holds in one hand, and the contents of the other. Hours of research and misdirection culminated in a very few, but very gratifying lines of prose.
Such is life for those who write historical fiction. Why I chose, as a Black woman writing intentionally historical speculative fiction and having lived for several years in Montreal, not to include something whose regular omission from Canadian history infuriates me to no end.
After all, it was never something I intended to ignore in the discussion surrounding the novel, despite having chosen not to involve it in the text itself.
What is the use of speculation, of creativity, of fiction, if even there everyone is permitted freedom but us? On top of being strong and resilient, defiant but measured, proud yet humble, defined and undefinable — in addition to taking the very best from the absolute worst, the oppressed must keep the rest of the world from denying what happened and what is happening.
Sometimes that feels like one expectation too far. Writing historical fiction as a Black woman therefore — even speculative historical fiction — would have been as inherently complicated as every other thing had I not omitted whiteness. Slavery, or enslavement, is present after all.
What is missing from MEM is the construction and packaging of whiteness; what is present is what it stands for. Omitting whiteness from MEM required racebending recorded moments in history, removing negative context where people of color did show up, and most importantly refusing it exclusivity or centering on the page.
All of this was preceded however by actively ignoring signs and signifiers of whiteness in my research, an example of which was relying on archived information about the contents of a prominently discussed magazine rather than looking for a copy of the issue in question.
Having found historical research a rewarding but intensely trying endeavor, I would never have imagined that my first google inquiry would result in finding a copy for sale at a rare bookstore.
What remains intact are stories, fashion pages, articles on cooking, and a great many advertisements, most of which seem packaged as gossipy entertainment. There are illustrations of white women, of chubby cherub-looking white babies, the odd white man, and inevitably, toward the end of the magazine, there are tar-black babies in cooking bonnets hawking one recipe or another as though they can be expected to cook.
There are two black-skinned children standing swaybacked, naked but for the kettles worn upside down on their heads and the white bottoms whose silhouette call to mind grass skirts.
And of course, in a larger ad stands a friendly, smiling Black man, dressed all in white, but for his black bowtie, preparing Cream of Wheat. He is much more dignified, and is drawn like a portrait, unlike the cartoonish children.
This image I know well, as the man was still preparing hot cereal clear to the end of the century, when I was a child. I admit to being almost pleasantly surprised by how few egregious illustrations I found on the one-hundred-twelve-year-old pages, but only because I waited so long to see them.
It would have warranted inquiry, nudging my speculative, alternate universe story in a direction too routine to be compelling. Outside of whiteness, outside a constructed identity designed to erase racial heritage in favor of conglomerate power, none of these contexts exist. And finding that Elsie existed beautifully without that, I am certain I would too.
Morrow spent six years living in Montreal, Quebec. Her speculative literary fiction uses a focus on character and language to engage with, comment on and investigate worlds not unlike our own. MEM is her debut novel. She currently resides in upstate New York.As all fiction writers understand, the success of any story or novel depends not only on the writer's ease with technique, with the elements of plot and character and dialogue, but also on the sense of .
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Writing Historical Fiction miniseries. by Rachel Garner, Staff Writer.
I moderate the One Year Adventure Novel Student Forum, and there are three things that get my immediate attention: rumblings of drama, anything to do with Robin Hood, and r-bridal.com it is a writing forum, the history topics are almost always Pleas for Help.
Online shopping from a great selection at Books Store. For readers and writers of historical fiction, these details don’t just lend flavor to a novel. They can make or break the authenticity of a time and place — years or .
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