Why Historical Fiction?
I am endlessly fascinated with the past, and particularly interested in women’s stories. And not those of queens or warriors, but of the thieves and servants, murderesses and soiled doves and grifters and dancehall girls. The fierce women. The darker stories with tangled lies and hidden motives.
I have been immersed in researching antebellum New Hampshire for my recently completed novel The Companion. The mid 1850s were wild with changes: the Second Awakening, Lyceums, women’s rights, abolition and the Underground Railroad, transcendentalism, industrial growth and the establishment of mill towns and industry. But while all of that informs the novel in some way, it is at heart a tale of a fallen woman convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. As she faces her last days, the story weaves her past and present, delving into conflicts of class and power, sin and redemption, love and vengeance, gender roles and same sex relations – and remaining textually loyal to its Gothic and suspense roots.
I was lucky to receive a research grant to travel to New Hampshire, and had the good fortune to view primary materials such as the prison warden’s reports from 1855, the original 1849 trial papers for the murderess Leticia Blaisdell, the wallpapers and lamps and everyday items of the time at historical societies from Concord to Keene to Peterborough to Sturbridge, MA.
History books written about an era can give the what’s and where’s of a period. But it is through primary sources – diaries, church records, paintings, photographs, court documents – that a vague flavor becomes a rich stew of particulars. People alive in their time, not ours.
Too many to count, but I am a sucker for historical suspense – give me Sarah Waters, Daphne DuMaurier, Sophia Tobin, Laura Purcell, Lydia Kang, Michael Faber or Sarah Schmidt and I am happy. Musty history books on anything from variety theatre to the wild west to Pearl Hart are pretty cool, too.
Besides the daily hobby of walking the family dogs, I am obsessed with fencing saber. I wouldn’t say I’m any good at it, but I love my club, I love my team and I love to compete. Other than that, I love to hang out with my wife and friends in the Portland rain. Which I love. Really.
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