I have to confess, for most of my high school life, I hated history. Big fat facts that didn’t mean anything to me, that seemed totally disconnected to my reality, dates and places to memorize – I preferred to do anything else. It wasn’t until I began reading historical novels on my own, putting together the stories of the world, that I understood the cool thing about the past.
History is made up of what people do, and I found I was fascinated by the story of people.
I learned how it felt to be a really lonely soldier during the Civil War by reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. I followed in the footsteps of one of the first detectives hunting down a serial killer by reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr. Reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith made me understand what it’s like to be desperately poor at the turn of the 20th century.
The reason I wanted to write in the first place was to find things out. I focused my writing on real events that happened in the past. By basing my stories on real events, I could read for my own knowledge and pleasure (and call it research), and I could figure out how things happened by writing them down (and hopefully come out with a novel in the end.)
My favorite thing to do in the world, besides eating chocolate cake, is closing my eyes and imagining myself living in another time. I like to ask myself what it might be like living when women didn’t have a vote, or no choice of what job they might do, or who to marry, or how many babies to have. How did they exist without antibiotics? Or when a surgeon was also the local barber? Reading a good historical novel of any sort can give a reader a whole perspective of a time period, one that can even help them to understand what’s going on today by comparison. I think if I knew that while I was in high school, I might have done better in History class.