Friday, February 16, 2024

Bits and pieces of historical fiction news

Cover images

I had meant to post this roundup earlier, but I've been sidelined with a cold since Wednesday and am just starting to feel human again; I didn't even feel like reading much.  Frustrating.  But on with some links. I've been collecting articles from around the web dealing with historical fiction that I felt offered particularly noteworthy insights.

In an article for Esquire, author Vanessa Chan discusses the emphasis on research in historical fiction ("There is a curious, almost voyeuristic desire to peer into an author’s process") but expresses the importance of a different approach, the one she used for her debut novel, The Storm We Made: drawing on family history and recounted memories to ground a story in its setting. Plus, she covers the importance of using oral accounts as sources when few actual records exist, or when they're about people "ignored by the Western sources."

Armando Lucas Correa explains for CrimeReads why he decided to write a psychological thriller (prompting a groan from his editor) following a successful career in historical fiction.  "If my historical novel The German Girl sold more than a million copies, she said, why would I suddenly want to switch genres?" It's all about how bits and pieces of research can lead you in new directions and how genres fall along a continuum rather than being firmly fixed. The article got me interested in reading his historical novels, and the thriller too!

Also for CrimeReads, H.B. Lyle writes about his enjoyment in incorporating colorful real-life characters into his historical spy thrillers, from Mata Hari to two bungling Royal Marines officers and more.

Author Laurie Frankel contributes a piece for the Washington Post about how her contemporary novel suddenly became "historical" because of Covid and the Dobbs decision that took away the constitutional right to abortion in the US. Rewriting her plot became necessary.  Even though I think it's a stretch to call novels set just a few years ago "historical fiction," the article does make you think about how history is changing all the time—thus shifting how people (and fictional characters) behave—and, as she writes, how that change doesn't always move in a positive direction.

The winner of the 2024 Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction is Susanna Moore, for The Lost Wife, which is inspired by a real-life woman taken captive by Dakota Indians in 1862 Minnesota, during the devastating Dakota War. American Ending by Mary Kay Zuravleff, a novel of immigrant life in early 20th-century Pennsylvania, was the finalist.

From Bill Wolfe at Read Her Like an Open Book, a Substack newsletter I follow for its focus on female writers: James McBride and Elizabeth Graver win National Jewish Book Awards. These were announced several weeks ago. McBride's The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store has already won multiple other awards, and Elizabeth Graver's novel Kantika, a multigenerational saga inspired by her grandmother's life, focuses on a Sephardic Jewish family.

This isn't historical fiction-related specifically, but since I thought readers may find this interesting: On Wednesday, when I was home sick and unable to concentrate on much, I found myself going through YouTube watching genealogy shows (my favorite), which led me eventually to a video of a lecture given by geneticist Dr. Turi King of the University of Leicester for the Royal Institution about the work she did in identifying the remains found under a Leicester car park as the lost king Richard III. The presentation is an hour long, and I found myself riveted.... it's worth watching in full as she's an excellent speaker. I learned new things even though I've read extensively about the discovery before.  Definitely recommended!


  1. Katharine O4:53 AM

    Thanks for the historical fiction potpourri! We watched "The Lost King" (2022) last October and were fascinated by the story also - a great use of mitochondrial DNA in the end! Glad you're feeling better!

    1. Thanks! I also saw The Lost King and am fascinated by how they traced the modern descendants. The lecture goes into how they tried to trace a male line as well but discovered what must have been "non-paternal events" along the line somewhere... oops!