Sunday, September 25, 2011

Genre: Why Do You Read It? Why Do You Write It?

I was forced to watch Star Trek growing up--my brother loved it and often had control of the remote before there was one. I enjoyed all the Star Trek movies growing up, but my real love is historical romantic fiction.

                                [imagine Spock & James T. Kirk pic here]
                                (pic not posted due to copyright: live long and prosper)                                                        

So, why did I gravitate to read and write historical romantic fiction instead of sci-fi or fantasy?

I think it started in second grade when Mrs. Andrews read Little House on the Prairie to us. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls. I had a sunbonnet and a centennial style cap just like Laura. I mean who didn't want to be "half-pint"?  I even sneaked the cap for my school picture after I'd seen people wearing them in the 1976 centennial parade that year. Though I haven't done that since then, I think fiction writers have a penchant to dress up like the characters they love.  Sigh.....

Was I nuts then? (or nuts now for posting this pic?!) or did I just resonate with something deeper?

There is something about history that grounds a person and ties you to your roots. I think its a basic human need to be and feel connected. At age thirteen I helped my mother search our family history and sat captivated by the old style script of the census records we viewed on microfilm. My curiosity grew intense. Who were these people, what lives did they live? What made them move or live where they did?

I learned the best way to search a family member's history is to follow them decade by decade through the census. Soon, a picture of their lives appeared on paper and I began to wonder more about them--and not just wonder, but imagine what might motivate their choices.  Choices to move, to marry, to work, to be educated. Then, if you put that individual's life in the context of the historical setting of the times they lived in, you get a sense for the culture they lived in.

This is an 1880 Wisconsin census page. I used this to research for my first book, Elizabeth's Key (still unpubbed). The census is great for getting good name ideas, or plot ideas.

The family listed first in this 1880 census is a couple aged 57 and 52 and a 22 year old adopted daughter and a 13 year old "chore boy". The head of house is from New York, his wife is from Massachusetts, and the adopted daughter and the chore boy are from Canada. They live next to the Lars family from Norway.

So, don't you want to know their stories? How did they adopt the woman from Canada? Is the "chore boy" an indentured servant? Could they even communicate with their neighbors, or was there a big language barrier? How would they forge a friendship with neighbors they couldn't speak with?

When have you looked at a historical document and imagined a story about the person?

What makes you love the genre you read or write?

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