I have a confession to make.
But you can’t tell anyone, OK?
I’m not fond of historical fiction.
I’m a huge reader with wide-ranging interests, so it pains me to say there’s a genre I don’t particularly like—especially when I know many writers who are working hard to create very valuable books in it. It also pains me because I’m smart enough to know that there’s probably historical fiction out there I would like if I got past my prejudice that historical fiction is all 800-page tomes full of hoop skirts, archaic language and obscure references.
So knowing that about me, what genre would you guess my latest picture book belongs to?
Yup. Historical fiction.
What can I say? Life is funny sometimes.
Interestingly enough, it’s not like I set out to write historical fiction. I kind of stumbled into it. I was initially writing a book called THE FASTEST FEET ON FLEET STREET, set in current times, about two girls competing to see who was the better runner, jumper and double-dutch rope skipper.
But the story needed something more. I wasn’t sure what.
The answer came from a discussion with an editor at a writing conference. She suggested anchoring it in a specific time. That one suggestion set off the proverbial light bulb. I immediately thought of Wilma Rudolph.
I knew the outline of Wilma’s story—overcoming polio and other illnesses as a child to become a three-time Olympic gold medalist and the fastest woman in the world—but not exactly when it had taken place. Research was obviously required.
I used to work as a newspaper reporter, so I know how to conduct research and interview and generally find things out. That part felt familiar as I read books, searched online and emailed experts.
And, as happens anytime I conduct research, l learned things. Things that fit right in with the story I was writing. My research filled in the gaps in my story, strengthened the weak parts and gave it the needed oomph, for want of a more technical term. Soon, the story’s title was THE QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE, a nod to Wilma’s hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee.
I was able to weave in facts about the poverty Wilma grew up in and how her hometown was segregated during her youth. I also learned that Wilma paved the way for the town’s eventual integration by insisting that her victory parade in 1960 be open to everyone.
I wrote an author’s note. Got the rights to use a photo of the real-life Wilma riding in her parade.
Before I knew it, I had a historical fiction picture book. That I liked. Maybe it was time to rethink my priorities.
So, when my middle-school daughter came home and grumpily said she had to read a historical fiction book and she didn’t want to because all historical fiction was “boring,” I did not agree with her.
Instead, I put out a call to my online friends and soon had a list of more than 50 historical fiction middle-grade titles they recommended. My daughter and I spent an evening at the library looking some up. She left with THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS and TWERP, while I left with TURTLE IN PARADISE and AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS.
While I still wouldn’t say historical fiction is my favorite genre, I now know that I like it more than I used to.
And I’d certainly be open to writing some again.
As I researched, I found great quotes by Wilma that apply to any era. Here are a few:
Thank you, Pat! Sometimes agents and editors advise writers, “This story needs another layer.” You found yours in historical fiction!
I’m giving away a copy of this spunky book! Just leave a comment to enter and a winner will be randomly selected in early March!