Historical Fiction: A Conversation about Genre and Meaning

It was my great pleasure to be interviewed recently by Alden Jones of the Fiction Writers Review about the “genre” of historical fiction, the process of researching Will Poole’s Island, the differences between writing novels and short stories, and more. Here's an extended excerpt:

"The Historical Novels Review has a working definition of historical fiction: it takes place more than fifty years in the past, and the author is constructing one crucial element of the setting—the time period—from research rather than direct personal experience. But is historical fiction actually a genre in the way that fantasy or science fiction or romance or crime are genres? I don’t think so. Not if you consider that by the above definition, books as divergent in approach and structure and voice as A Tale of Two CitiesBlood MeridianThe English Patient, and The Pillars of the Earth would all be grouped in the same genre . . . 

And here’s the thing about writing historical fiction: you’re not trying to reconstruct or mimic history, which would be altogether boring even if it weren’t impossible. What you’re trying to do is to create a new version of it that will tell a good story while simultaneously capturing something essential, not only about the period, but also about contemporary life. Given all this, every one of my characters must, to some extent and by definition, reflect 21st-century American values."

Read the full interview here.