Writing a historical novel is terrifying.
By training, I am a historian, so my desire to “get it right” and be historically accurate is strong. When I read a historical novel, I want to be immersed in the story and connect with the characters, but I also want it to be a learning experience. A learning experience I can trust. So getting the facts correct is important.
When the lightning of inspiration struck for the novel I am currently working on, it was, of course, not centered around a time period I knew much about, or, to be honest, had much interest in at all. And I had even less knowledge of the subject matter. But that’s how these things work. Inspiration doesn’t discriminate. It lands where it lands, and I have increasingly felt that it was not only my desire to write this book, but also my responsibility. My destiny, even, if I want to be starry-eyed about it.
But even scarier than achieving historical accuracy are the steps I must take to get there. I’ve read enough Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements to know that one does not write a novel alone. There are research partners and sounding boards, all of whom are thanked profusely for the help they give. So why does this scare me?
Because I have to open up, to strangers no less, about what I am doing, even in the earliest stages, when the novel is a terrible, in-progress first draft. I have to open myself up to their judgment of me and my work. I have to put myself out there with the understanding that there is no guarantee my novel will end up on library shelves or in bookstores.
But if I’ve learned anything from reading all those Author’s Notes, it’s that the research must be done. It’s not a step I can just skip. To force myself to reach out to those people who can help perfect the historical details, I must believe in my novel, right from the beginning. Because when I believe in it, those contacts are easier to approach, those questions easier to ask.
I truly believe in this novel. I believe I am meant to write it. Too many little “coincidences” have popped up for me to think otherwise. I’ve already completed one research trip, and I made another inquiry just today. It’s still daunting, but if I’m not willing to take the risk, then my book will never be anything more than a collection of files on my laptop.
And that’s just not good enough for me.