Monday, October 29, 2007

The fate of historical fiction

There was an interesting interview highlighted on Favorite PASTimes today. Agent extraordinaire Chip McGregor did the interviewing, and the interviewee is Dave Horton, the incoming VP of Fiction at Bethany House.

Bethany House has a reputation for producing stellar historical fiction. A full 3/4's of the books in my house are Bethany books. To me, having grown up with Judith Pella, the Thoene's, Gilbert Morris and Michael Phillips, Bethany is the Holy Grail of the publishing industry. I know that a historical published by Bethany is held to a higher standard of historical accuracy. I know I'm going to LOVE that book. I have never read a Bethany book that I didn't like and they have a truly amazing stable of historical authors. I've learned more about writing good historical fiction from reading Morris and Phillips than I've ever learned from reading books on craft. (and I've also learned not to expand a family tree too much because then you get bogged down in a war and you have to stop the series 60 years before you'd planned!)

So why am I pointing the interview out? Because I find some of Dave's comments about historical fiction in general disturbing. In particular, the second sentence of his first answer. I don't know about you, but I don't read historicals because I'm in a rut. I read them because THAT'S WHAT I WANT!

I do agree with his statement that historical fiction is a broad category, and not easily compared to other genres. He's very right on that point. We are a broad genre and many mainstream genres are covered in historical sub-genres. It's like comparing apples and squash.

I think the falling historical numbers in CBA is more of a reflection on people thinking history is dull and boring. We historical authors and history nuts know it's anything but boring and our passion is to share that with the people who think history is dull and boring. I've always viewed Bethany as the house that shared my own personal goal of breathing Life into history, and focusing on the great Christians who have helped to shape history.

My generation of readers doesn't really read all that much and they've been taught white-washed, made-up, dull, boring history. I saw it every day when I was still at KH. Children who have no idea what makes this country great, what their own history is, and who don't even know their own family legends. How can a readership like that be expected to read historical fiction? They think it's boring because they've been taught that it's boring. The way history is taught in many schools IS boring.

As a historical author, I see part of my mission to be showing people that history is interesting. That it's passionate and full of life. It's not just dates and names, but people and places and stories that are too fantastic to possibly be true. But they are true, and we must remember them.

If we do now know history, we are doomed to repeat it. Yes, it's a cliche. And it's completely true.

1 comment :

  1. You make a fantastic point. The way history is taught is so dull. So. Dull. In fact, there's been such a shift away from teaching history and civics, etc. that this generation is in terrible trouble on that front. I never related it to reading historical fiction. Great point.