May 4, 2016

Writing a Historical…A New Appreciation

By Rodney Page

So…after authoring several Beltway thrillers and whodunits, how different or more difficult could writing a historical be? After all, plots are plots and characters are characters, right?

Not so fast!

I took the benefits of writing novels set in current time for granted.

A character must communicate…easy, he picks up the cell phone, calls or sends a text. Problem solved.

Another character needs to travel…equally easy. She hops on a plane, gets on the interstate or calls a cab.

What about ‘place?’ We usually set our stories in environs with which we are familiar. We know where the strip malls, highways and eateries are. Depending on the type scene, we know how to describe a bustling airport or a secluded cove on the lake…we’ve been there.

And there’s the blessing of the Internet. A character needs to know something, anything. He sits at his computer and Googles away. Better yet, he employs a nerd, or a hacker who can research anything, break into any database in the world and presto, the facts needed to advance the plot appear on the monitor.

Now, consider characters undertaking those same activities…communicating, traveling and obtaining information…and the narrator’s sense of place is the nineteenth century. Hmmm…that’s exactly what I faced writing Murcheson County.

An entirely new mindset was needed to write the book. In a sense, time slowed down. No phone call, but a letter requiring two months for delivery. The trip to a wedding on the Georgia coast, not a three-hour drive but a two-day journey by horseback. Notification of an out-of-town death, not by email, but an obituary in the weekly newspaper a month after the fact.

The challenge of presenting a reasonably accurate sense of place taxes one’s imagination...and research skills. Even if using familiar locales, what did they look like 160 years ago? Where now there are trees, were they once pastures? Was the road no more than a rutted path? If the house or building remains, how has it changed?

And there’re the bedeviling little details…If a character falls ill, what were the remedies of the time? Exactly what was the process for cotton cultivation? Georgia seceded, but what was the vote at the Secession Convention; what were the opposing factions? Sure, Confederate currency was viewed as relatively worthless, but what did a gallon of corn liquor cost? Of course, Sherman ravaged Georgia, but what restrictions were placed on his foraging parties?

Needless to say, I have a new appreciation of historical fiction authors. It’s a challenging genre. However, I encourage anyone to give it a try. It will the stretch the limits of your imagination, hone your research skills and force you to put yourself in a time other than the present.
Rodney Page’s business career included a variety of senior management positions and consulting engagements in companies and industries ranging from startups to Fortune 50 firms. A graduate of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, in 2005 Rodney authored Leading Your Business to the Next Level…the Six Core Disciplines of Sustained Profitable Growth, a hands-on guide for companies navigating the perils and pitfalls of a high growth environment. An avid student of history and political junky, Rodney combined those interests with his lifelong desire to write a novel. His first, Powers Not Delegated, was published in 2012. Rodney’s second novel, The Xerces Factor, and Murcheson County, a historical novel set in Georgia in the nineteenth century was released in 2016. His short story, Granny Mae’s Journey appeared in Steps in Time anthology. He has a murder mystery, The Fourth Partner that will release in the Fall of 2016. Rodney lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina. His passions include hiking, photography, history, reading, and, of course, University of Georgia football. Rodney’s social media links are:

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