My dictionary of literary terms defines the historical novel as “A novel in which the action takes place during a specific historical period well before the time of writing (often one or two generations before and in which some attempt is made to depict accurately the customs and mentality of the period).”
As for generation (switching the dictionary) “The average time it takes for children to grow up, become adults, and have children of their own, generally considered to be about thirty years, and used as a rough measure of historical time.”
Well then, my newest novel, Catch you Later, Traitor, is set in 1951, which is to say some sixty-four years ago. That would seem to qualify it as a work of historical fiction. See above. Except, it is based on things I personally experienced, when I was about thirteen years old.
Is my life historical fiction?
Not so simple. What happens in the novel—a mystery, a spy story, a family saga, maybe even a love story, a political drama, a sports book—did not happen. It is fiction. That said many parts of it are based on things I do remember. They are factual, sort of.
For example: One of the key characters in the book is a blind man, for whom Pete (my hero) works, going to his apartment and reading him the newspaper. The fact: at about this age I had just such a job. Fact: his name was Mr. Smith. Fiction: I decided that name was too prosaic so I changed it to Mr. Ordson. Fact: While I found Mr. Smith interesting, he was not very important in my life. Fiction: In the novel, Mr. Ordson plays a key role in my protagonist’s life. Fact: in life, I had an older brother and a twin sister. Fiction, an early draft of the novel had three siblings, an older brother and a sister, plus Pete, my hero. Finding that the sister had no particular role to play, I took her out. [“That wasn’t nice,” said my real sister.] Nevertheless, all the facts about the New York Giants are true, and my reaction to the team I just started to root for is also true.
The most important point is this: it does not matter what parts of the book are true, or fiction. What matters is that the book feels true throughout. Never mind my life. Catch you Later, Traitor has a life of its own.