Friday, July 26, 2019

I Did Not Make This Up (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)




*Or her.


I've struggled with this month's topic. If I had hidden a secret in my work, why on earth would I tell it in a blog post?

Once you've told a secret, it's not really a secret anymore.

And anyway, I doubt very much that the details of my life are interesting enough to hold a reader's attention for 80,000 or so words. I don't know if I agree with Virginia Woolf, at least not entirely.

But I do think that we can't help bringing our whole selves to the work, all our emotions and experiences, and everything we've learned along the way. I really think we should, in order to create pieces that are as unique as our individual selves. I began my career in academia, where the questions we ask before we begin a work ask us to think about what we're adding to the conversation. (For years, I taught out of a textbook called Joining the Conversation.)
·       
  •   What has already been written about this topic?
  • ·         How is my work different?
  • ·         How can/should I respond to that?
  • ·         What can I bring to the conversation that is unique?
  • ·         Why am I the best person to write this piece?

I bring this training with me into writing fiction, and because I write historical fiction, I bring my training as a historian in, too, and I tend not to gloss over the messy realities of the past.

This has led several people to confront me about the supposed darkness in my soul that would bring me to write about the near-constant violence of the early American frontier.

If the thought of all these terrible things intrigues you, click here.

The Last Sister is set in a barely remembered sub-conflict of the Seven Years War known as the Anglo-Cherokee War. Occasionally, I'll have people say (awkwardly): "Um, I read your book. How did you think up all those terrible things?"

Y'all.

I did not make up all those terrible things. They happened, and I put them in a book.

My whole life, people have been saying to me, "I hear you love history," and I've been saying, "Love is a strong word."

A secret is just anything we don't talk about, and there's a lot in history that we just don't talk about, a lot of reality buried under layers of myth and legend and digestible chunks unmoored from their larger context.

So I guess there are secrets in my work, and the ones that are historical I'll gladly bring to light.

My own, though, I'll never tell.

If you'd like to learn more secrets, historical and otherwise, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or visit my website.


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