Thursday 5 May 2016

Fact or Fiction for History Writing

I'm delighted to welcome Rose Fairbanks to the salon to pose a question...  Do you prefer reading fictionalized accounts of famous people and events or do you enjoy the creative license authors may take with historical settings? 


Rose Fairbanks
It is a truth universally acknowledged that many women, especially those with an ardent love for Jane Austen and the Regency era, fancy themselves as Elizabeth Bennet. I’ve always argued that the majority of us are more like the much less sparkling, equally opinionated but unapologetic and socially tactless sister Mary Bennet. After all, Elizabeth says of herself: "I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things." 

That sure doesn’t sound like me. For most of my life, it’s always been about reading. Books, books and more books. I love the adventure books take me on. But I’m not really a logophile. I don’t labor over perfect words when I read or write.

I do, however, have a favorite word and a very distinct memory attached to it. 

Merriam-Webster offers this as a definition for defenestrate:  1) a throwing of a person or thing out of a window. 2) a usually swift dismissal or expulsion (as from a political party or office)

I sat shivering from a cold downpour in a basement classroom on my small college campus at 8 am after working until midnight the night before with precious coffee tumbler in hand when I first heard that word. My professor preferred to wax eloquent on the subject of Central European Reformation history—which would not be unusual as the course was titled Renaissance and Reformation. At first, I blamed the sleep deprivation on my reaction to this lecture. Later, I thought perhaps it was from relating to the events as my first memory is of my brother almost pushing me out a window. Now, I know the truth. I am a historical fiction writer.

I had always loved history and had read historical fiction even in elementary school. Hearing the events of the Defenestration of Prague, however, sparked my creative streak, and I couldn’t help but picture it in my head. It appeared not just as a painting, of which many others felt inspired to portray, but as a narrative. 

While hearing how the Catholics said the defenestrated men were saved by angels, and the Protestants said the victims fell in a pile of dung, my mind turned the notable names involved into living, breathing people with motives, fears, and concerns. So passionate were they that throwing a person out a window was a viable solution to their problems. In all my years of reading, I had never read anything like that. The truth is often stranger than fiction, and I consider that day to be the moment my historical fiction writer gene was activated.

Oh, I repressed the urge, fearful of how to make a career out of it. Life has a way of messing all our plans, however, and after falling in love with the Regency era, I could no longer resist. Here I am on wobbly legs like Bambi declaring that I am a historical fiction writer all the while feeling inadequate and undeserving of the label.
Rose Fairbanks
Alas, the specifics of what I imagined in class ten years about the Defenestration of Prague has flitted from my mind. Instead, I have plans for dozens of Regency era stories. I’ve discovered through the years that I prefer to create a new set of events from historical situations rather than writing novels based on one single event or person. In short, to me, historical fiction is about a historical setting that creates endless possibilities. I write because I love considering what might have happened; what story nameless individuals might have. 

In my recent release, Sufficient Encouragement, I pieced together various events which occurred during the Luddite revolts in the North of England in early 1812 for my storyline involving Jane Austen’s famous couple, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. My upcoming Love and Duty Series will focus on events during the late Georgian/Regency era to create the backdrop for character development. The first one, The Earl’s Return, coming this July, centers on a conflict between a couple that occurred during a smallpox outbreak and years later, the emergence of Edward Jenner’s vaccine. A subsequent story in the series, The Marquess’ Bargain, will occur during the Year Without a Summer—a season of global climate anomalies after a volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Instead of covering the explosion itself, my characters in England have no idea what is causing the crazy weather but have to face the consequences of it as it threatens the lives of many in their care. 

I’m curious what other great readers (whether Elizabeth or Mary Bennets, I won’t ask) prefer. Do they prefer reading fictionalized accounts of famous people and events or do they enjoy the creative license authors may take with historical settings? 

About the Author

Rose Fairbanks hears book characters talk in her head. They whisper to her of a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. More than having a love story for the ages, these characters face struggles inspired by historical events such as market crashes, Napoleon, embargoes, Luddites, the Year Without a Summer and more. Merging historical research with the timelessness of Jane Austen, Rose currently has ten Pride and Prejudice variations published with several releases planned for 2016 as well as an original Regency Romance series in the works. 

Rose proudly admits her Darcy obsession and addictions to reading, chocolate, and sweet tea. Always in the mood for a healthy debate, she also dearly loves to laugh. Having completed a BA in history in 2008, she plans to complete her master’s studies...someday. At the moment, having a career combining her life-long interest in history and research with her love for Jane Austen and the Regency Era consumes all of her professional time. When not writing or reading, Rose runs after her two young children, ignores housework, and profusely thanks her husband for doing all the dishes and laundry.

You can connect with Rose on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and her blog:

Written content of this post copyright © Rose Fairbanks, 2016.


Helena P. Schrader said...

Personally, I prefer historical biography because it is the courage and creativity of real people in exceptional circumstances that inspires me most.

Demetrius said...

On Monday 2 May under "Gold Fever" I did a post that involved a lady from a family that Jane Austen knew, Harriet Sneyd, later Macan, later Whitbread. You may find it of interest.

Rose Fairbanks said...

I agree. I do love biographies and tend to like my fiction to be separate from real people. I like monographs too. But I love the character development that can happen in a historical fiction.

Rose Fairbanks said...

Thanks! I'll take a look!

Rose Fairbanks said...

Thanks for having me! It's been an honor and a delight!

Ginna said...

Regarding the initial question: I definitely DON'T prefer fictionalized accounts of famous people. Taking real people and adding fiction to their accounts, blurs the line between fact and non-fact, and eventually it becomes difficult to determine what is real and what is not. (I consider Oliver Stone and his movie, "JFK" as an example.)
I want to comment on the word 'defenestration'. I first learned of that word as a tourist in Prague. I'd never heard the word, or the account, before then. I was struck(and still am)by how there is a very fancy, 'official'-looking word, for such an act. Why did it need this word? What was wrong with the words we already had - 'throw someone out the window'? Why don't all acts like that have fancy-shmancy words? When your brother punches you in the stomach - 'capaunchoofication'? Jamming your little toe around the furniture leg - 'grahyankowifying'? Tearing up something in defiance and anger - 'upyersanyabruddahsing'?

Susan Appleyard said...

I prefer to read and write fictionalized history. I try to tell the truth as much as possible but as soon as I mention the weather or put words into a character's mouth they never spoke it becomes fiction. For those who want facts without any embellishment there is non-fiction.

Rose Fairbanks said...

I agree. I could see a case being made for imagining that a famous person meets and says something to the fictional hero when you know he or she was actually at a place. Such as, I have Lord Byron say something about the Luddites to Mr. Darcy in Sufficient Encouragement. Lord Byron gave a notable speech of dissent in his maiden speech in Parliament in February 1812 about making frame breaking (attacking mills) a capital offense. But I don't think I'd enjoy a novelized account of Byron's life.

Interestingly enough, the "biographies" were actually fictional novels. There was no Tristam Shandy, for example.

Your comments on defenestration crack me up! I've had very similar thoughts! The

My 5 year old son is starting to ask etymology sort of questions now too. Online Etymology Dictionary confirms the word was invented just for this act. I can only think that it truly shows how profound and unique the incident was. Worth noting is the phrase coup d'etat first appears in print about 20 years later.

Rose Fairbanks said...

I quite agree. I wonder if some of it is due to a change in the way history is now typically taught. In recent decades there has been a move away from prescribing to the "great man" interpretation of history. Perhaps I would think very differently about historical fiction if I were reading and writing 50 years ago.