Consider these two items:
- I have been asked to do (and accepted) some lecturing at UCLA on the subject of historical fiction.
- Last week, when talking to a fifth grade class, a boy asked me, “What was it like in the Twentieth Century? Did it have any influence on your writing?”
Let us consider the first item. Most literary historians consider Walter Scott’s novel, Waverly, the beginnings of English language historical fiction. Because he set his story sixty-five years prior to his writing, there is a canonical notion that sixty-five years delineates “contemporary fiction” from “historical fiction.” Debatable on all points, but these are useful markers. I have always—after many tries—found Waverly unreadable, but I like it that the main railway station in Edinburgh is named after the novel, one of the few historical fiction facts I can mention in my lectures. The point is I am going to be hard pressed to talk about my writing of historical fiction in an academic context. I do not know much about it, except that I do it. Yes, I read a lot of history. I know how—being a former research librarian—to do research, but in the main my approach to writing historical fiction is … I find a way to tell a good story.
And indeed my forthcoming novel, Catch You Later, Traitor, is based in large part on my memories of that time. It takes place sixty-four years ago. Does that make it historical fiction or contemporary fiction?
Which brings me to the second item cited above: My new novel will certainly be historical fiction for that young reader, but not for my contemporaries who lived through the same period. These days, most people know history to the extent that they have lived it. We are not a historically-minded society. Not only do most of us know little of history, we have short memories.
As a result, I have a tendency to be dubious about labeling various genres of fiction. I am reminded of something one of my sons said to me when he was working as a musician. “Dad, there are only two kinds of music. Good and bad.”
Concerning writing, that works for me.