Story Time

Now that Tomorrow is published and I’m on a writing “pause,” I hope to get some reading done. For instance, a birthday present I’m finally getting around to:

[Photo by me, 2019.]

That sort of reading for pleasure is nothing new to me.

[Photo by me, 2019.]

Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time there was an online article posted in 2010-11 by an agent/publisher in which he decried memoirs. People kept sending him personal non-fiction, he wrote, and he wished they would f-#@*^g stop. He wrote that unless you are, say, Nelson Mandela, your life just isn’t interesting enough for a non-fiction memoir.

However, he added, if you fictionalize your life so it becomes a story… now, well, you may be onto something there as a writer. I saw that cautionary advice around the time I was thinking of writing fiction and looking for my own personal “angle.” I had been thinking of perhaps a time in my own life fictionalized as a basis for a novel because I wanted “to write what I knew” in order to write the best novel I felt I could. I knew any novel(s) I wrote had to be “human”-centered too; I was long aware I had nil talent for writing sci-fi and fantasy distant worlds and assorted fake whatnot.

That article confirmed to me that I was possibly on the write right course. I thought… of travel novels? Europe? Americans? Study abroad students? Certain relationships? What I knew pretty well…

Five novels later, three of which are based on that initial idea of modern “new adult” (although I did not know they were that “genre” until discovering that “fact” much later) romantic fiction, and since then as you probably also know two massive romantic historical fiction novels, I do NOT have her problem. She is not uncommon either. I see it mentioned all over the place.

I am the reverse. I write under a pen name. Early on I did not announce to (most) family/friends that my books even existed. I did NOT and I (still really) do NOT want my family and my close friends reading my novels.

The major exception at the start: I dithered for about two years before in early 2015 I finally told my (now late) novelist uncle my little secret – I was writing novels… based around our lives. I wanted him to see the books. But I had also been terrified of telling him about them mostly because in them I had fictionalized him; and doing that fictionalization was necessary: he was such a large part of my life then, and the “goings on,” and so interesting as a person, as a writer himself, and as a potential “character,” that I could not have written the books without “him”:

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995, Copyright, 2013. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

After I told him about the books, he practically jumped through the telephone at me asking to see them. He died about six months later; but by then he had read my first two novels and… thank goodness he liked them. Yes, they were not his genre or thing (he wrote “gritty” crime novels), but he told me to keep going with it.

He had approached reading them with an author’s eye and not as a family member looking for themselves among the characters and trying to analyze how “accurately” he/she had been portrayed or what “family anecdotes” I had re-fashioned as “fiction.” I think he was also flattered at being fictionalized. He was not easily “insulted” either: he did not even mind how at times his fictionalization was not, err, entirely positive. (Again, based on fact.)

Thus the main reason I did NOT and do NOT want those I know well reading any of my books. I believe I would have been, and probably be, less honest as a writer in creating the tales and less willing to put myself out there and take chances if I knew the entire family would read them. I would hedge and probably blandify matters. (Certainly I would not have written some of the, uh, sex and relationship bits.) I have all sorts of stories in my books…

[Excerpt from Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996, Copyright, 2014. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…and I don’t want to have to explain to anyone from where I got them.

For a close relative would of course you know exactly who those three characters in that kitchen table scene just above are based upon.

In keeping the books to myself, I don’t have to explain either to, say, my father also about fictionalizing my (now late) mother in “1787” amidst assorted other “personal” issues I have alluded to here:

[Excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace, Copyright, 2019. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

In comparison, you would never know about any of that “insider” stuff… if I did not share it with you here. It is so much easier to write for a public for whom I am a stranger; potential readers are merely seeking “a good read.” So in keeping my books away from my family and my friends I can be entirely myself as an author and concentrate on writing good stories – be they modern or historical.

Writing romantic historical fiction was for me probably also inevitable. Growing up, as you know if you are a regular here I loved reading history. Our house was full of books – history books and historical fiction novels in particular. By the time I was age 13, history – or as they called it in New York schools then (and maybe still do?) social studies – was by far my best subject. Looking back, I know now that was mostly due to how I was raised.

Eventually in university, and afterwards teaching college politics and history, I discovered how many of my classmates and then my students had not been exposed to history the same way. By then I knew history in particular was also not usually well taught in high school. Myself as a student, I recall one great personal exception: in a class of suburban Long Island white young teens (we were age 13)… our social studies teacher was a black woman who taught it so well I have never forgotten her or that class in all of the decades since.

I became determined my university lecturing would make a similar impression on some student too. Maybe I did. Often students signed up for more than one of my courses.

I came to feel part of the reason history did not grab them was it was presented to them too distantly. Students didn’t feel the connection of the past to themselves. They did not quite grasp that they were merely the latest to live in this same world as our ancestors once did: the fundamental humanity needed to be emphasized and I aimed to do my best to do so.

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Copyright, 2017. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

I resolved as well that someday I would take that approach to many more people than are found in just a college classroom.

Why we write. What we write. We all have our stories. And what happens if I ever become massively famous? Let’s just say I’ll cross that family/friends bridge when I get to it. LOL!

Have a good writing and reading Monday, wherever you are. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Story Time

  1. I loved The Silk Roads: it satisfied my nerdy ancient-historian heart as much as Myke Cole’s Legion v Phalanx. I think you’re the first other human I’ve seen voluntarily reading it, so this is my history-nerd head nod in your direction. Enjoy!

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