(aka school librarian) a thirty-something 6th grade teacher came in and
blurted, “Books set in the 1960s are historical fiction, right?” I felt as if he’d
slapped me. I remember the 1960s! Historical fiction is ancient Rome or the
Civil War or at least World War II—not something I remember getting dressed for!
But according to some sources, he may be right.
historical fiction. Set in 1968 in upstate New York, it’s based on memories
that are very clear to me. But despite how it’s classified, writing in a past
time and trying to keep it accurate is sometimes like ice dancing without
skating lessons. Here are the dilemmas I’ve encountered.
NY after breaking off her engagement to a famous local musician. She wants to escape
to a quiet life where no one recognizes her, but, as an English teacher, she
must finish out the school year. Thus begins my problem.
the assassination of Robert Kennedy just two weeks earlier. That puts her move
to the Cavanaugh House in mid-June where she meets an essential character who
invites her to a July 4th celebration. Events at that party are
critical to the plot. So what’s the problem? In New York State, school
calendars end in late June (I graduated high school on June 27!) so she would
not have time to move, get the house habitable and meet this character before
July 4. My choices are: 1. Have Jesse resign her position early, perhaps right
before exams, and move in mid-June, or 2. Rearrange my plot structure and
timing. I tried writing solution #1 into my manuscript and the blood in my
teacher veins curdled. Jesse is a dedicated teacher. Dedicated teachers don’t
resign their positions early because of broken engagements. Ergo, Jesse stays
through the end of the year. That means I move on to solution #2.
party to a Founder’s Day party celebrating the establishment of the Wyndham
family estate and vineyard. A pretty easy fix, but it will require many
extensive changes because the event is referred to throughout the novel. Plus,
the timeframe of the novel is just the summer months, so I have to double-check
the domino effect of changing the date of the celebration on subsequent events.
accomplish, but harder to accept. Jesse has moved into the Cavanaugh House which
has been abandoned for 28 years and is mice-infested. She supports the Woman’s
Liberation movement and is sensitive to any remark that sounds chauvinistic. In
this scene, Joe, her eventual romantic interest, teases her:
glanced at the items in her shopping cart.
like you’re going to be a busy lady—woman,” he corrected. “I can’t get this new
that he tried, heck, that he even was aware of it, she smiled.
getting ready for Erik to bomb my house. He said the subsequent clean-up effort
could be daunting.”
is he coming to do that?” he asked.
bombing on Monday, we’re cleaning up the carcasses on Tuesday and I can move in
and start to clean on Wednesday.”
stifled a grin. “Wow, it used to be laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday,
shopping on Wednesday. ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’.”
flared and she leaned her face into his. He held up his hands in a defensive
was just pulling your chain,” he laughed.
realized he had anticipated her scolding.
were earning some brownie points a minute ago, but you just lost ‘em.” She
scowled at him.
there was one problem…it takes place in June 1968 and Virginia Slims came out
with the “You’ve come a long way, baby” slogan in late July 1968. One month!!!
In order to be historically accurate, I had to change the line, “You’ve come a
long way baby” to “This women’s lib thing is really working.” Arghhh!
writing historical fiction is the ability to immerse readers into a time period
that is so
well-defined by everyday items such as clothing, automobiles, music
or simple facts such as access to only one telephone located in the first floor
hall. This kind of element allows the suspense to build because communication
is not so instantly available.
Cavanaugh House will be delayed a bit because of this additional editing, but I
believe the story will be stronger for it. No revisionist history, here. I’ve
come a long way, baby.