Monday, November 18, 2013

(Popular) Historical Fiction

Ever wondered why historical fiction authors only ever seem to write about Queen Elizabeth or Marie Antoinette?  Me too.  I have a fantastic historical fiction author (well, two really, but this post primarily applies to one of them) named Meghan who has written an amazing manuscript about Blackbeard and has another work-in-progress about famed dancer and courtesan Carolina Otero.  Editors have been incredibly enthusiastic about her writing style - in particular my good friend Laura Fazio over at NAL.

She shared some advice about writing historical fiction with Meghan and me that I found interesting.  Laura said that for books in that genre to do really well, they need to be about a popular person, either told from that person's perspective or through about that person through another character's story or set in a popular time period with recognizable characters.  If its in an era that reader don't know much about or about a person that isn't well known, it's a much harder sell.  Oh, and also the narrator should be female, ideally.

Because Meghan's book about Carolina Otero takes place during La Belle Epoque, she is working on it to make it more commercial, and we are currently giving her book about Blackbeard, RED SKY IN THE MORNING, a rest because it has a male narrator and yet is not a swashbuckling manly man story, which makes it difficult to categorize.

I've found myself reading a lot of historical fiction lately, and the titles I've been drawn to confirm all of Laura's statements.  I just finished CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran, which tells the story of Kleopatra Selene and her twin brother, who are raised in Rome by Octavian's family after their parents' suicide, and am getting ready to follow it up with another book of Moran's: THE SECOND EMPRESS, about Napoleon's second wife, Princess Marie-Louise.  Both books examine the lives of famous people through the lens of another character and both take place in well-known times.  I can think of plenty of other historical fiction books that also follow this recipe: MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER for example.

Meghan is trying to rework her novel and ideas for subsequent ones to fit this mold and my other historical fiction author, Jane Ann, has a manuscript that she is getting ready for submission that takes place in medieval France that has already gotten some interest.  While a big part of me understand and agrees with these "requirements" for historical fiction, another part of me wonders why readers aren't interested in being taken to periods and introduced to people that they've never heard of.  Then I think to myself, "Well, would I, for instance, be interested in reading about a key figure from the history of Belarus?"  Probably not, but maybe if it was a great story!  What do you think?