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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Love of History a Stumbling Block to Writing Historical Fiction

Yeah, I know. That doesn't make much sense. At least not on the surface. But it is true.

I love history. Even more specifically, I am absolutely passionate about learning all I can about Arizona's history. From the minute I switched my focus from screenwriting to novel writing, I knew I wanted to make my mark as a writer of fiction, with every book set in Arizona.

If it were possible, I would spend my life researching Arizona history and writing it. I hope some day to be able to retire to Tucson and volunteer at the Historical Society Museum there.

But being a writer of historical fiction and loving history too much can be hindrance to your writing. Especially if you're a perfectionist. I simply can never read enough about Arizona's history. I cannot tell you what joy I receive out of reading one of the pioneer's diaries. Or an account of post life at one of the forts, or reading the account of the early Arizona entrepreneurs.

It's fascinating. It's exhilarating. It's captivating.

And probably geeky. 8-)

But it leaves me wrestling with myself. "Stop all this historical reading! You've got a book to write!"

"Oh shut up!" my other self will say. "I have a right to enjoy the journey. Back off, toots!" (pistols drawn like Yosemite Sam on the mudflaps)

And so it goes. It's why I'm a very slow writer. Well that and it takes me a while to put together all my plot elements.

However, there's no one standing by, tapping their foot and looking at their watch expectantly waiting for the manuscript. On the other hand, I think about the future. When I finally am published. Publishers like you to churn out books these days. Let's hope I'll have several novels under my belt by then because I don't see how I'll ever write to expected speed in this market.

Speedy Gonzalez I am not.

But eh well. I'll just have to be patient and trust that at the right point in time, the writing and reading will converge and I'll have a finished novel in my hands. Until then, I'm going to enjoy the journey.

And by the way, Arizona will be celebrating her 98th year of statehood come February 14th. Happy Almost Anniversary!


Pat Iacuzzi said...

I agree, Brenda--there's a part one and two to this. Spend a lot of time with your head in history, or do the writing ABOUT the history. Same with me; the Constitution, the 13 Colonies and the Revolution. I hope you get a chance to follow your dream to Tucson. My neighbor lived there and shares your sentiments. Ain't America grand?

Kathleen L. Maher said...

I am intimidated by the sheer volume of my local history, and especially by the gatekeepers of that history, with their masters degrees and their connections. I feel like an outsider of a good ol' boy netowrk. How do you do your research? I like the informality and anonymity of books. i could use some tips.
: )
And I know what you mean about the pressure of having to churn out several books a year. It took me twenty years to write my first book. eeks!

B.K. Jackson said...

I know what you mean, Kathleen. Hard as I try to study AZ history, there are a million people far better versed then me and I feel like a slow learner.

As to how I research, I work primarily by books. There are so many historical reference books on a variety of topics that they alone would take me 10 lifetimes to get through. I have occasionally consulted old newspapers, etc. I especially love reading books penned by various AZ pioneers because they all put their own spin on things. For example, Charles Poston has been labeled "father of Arizona". But I'm currently reading a book by another man of the period, Samuel P. Heintzelman, who didn't have much use for Poston. It's what adds color and spark to the history.

And I have to take copious notes from all the sources I read. I'm not exaggerating when I say I have a lousy memory. So I keep one large file document and in it type notes first by source, then list them again by topic (ie. Arizona Places, Arizona People, etc).

I'm still trying to perfect my system.