Historical? Or Fiction? Or both?
by Elizabeth Loupas
Some readers of historical fiction are suspicious of fictional characters introduced into historical settings. Is the fictional character created as a device to tell the story of a famous historical personage? Will she (or he) spend every scene listening at doors and peeping through peepholes? (We know all those Renaissance palaces were riddled with peepholes and secret passages.) Will the author resort to convoluted machinations to justify the fictional character’s presence whenever something important happens to the historical personage? Why not simply let the historical personage tell her (or his) own story?
A good question. And what I like to call “biographical fiction” can be wonderful and satisfying. Margaret George’s novels of historical women are good examples (Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, The Memoirs of Cleopatra, Mary Called Magdalene, Elizabeth I), as is Susan Kay’s unforgettable Legacy and debut author Sophie Perinot’s The Sister Queens, to mention only a tiny few. A meticulously researched and carefully imagined historical “biography” can be both enriching and entertaining.
But sometimes I just want a book with more story. I want plot and drama and excitement and adventure and romance. The real lives of well-known historical personages don’t always include these elements, and trying to add them in by fictionalizing love affairs, conspiracies and betrayals, secret lives as detectives, or magical vampire or zombie powers (no, I’m not kidding, although of course you already know that), aren’t usually very satisfying. Building a story around a fictional character who lives in the same world as a historical personage offers a blank canvas, and for me, anyway, gives much more scope for storytelling.
I think the trick, if one is going to use a fictional protagonist, is to make the fictional character truly the center of the story, with his or her own desires and needs, passions and hurts and joys and sorrows. The historical personages must be supporting characters—and you know, that gives the writer a chance to really look at a historical personage in a fresh, slightly different way. A not-such-a-big-deal way. Because history looks back and sometimes makes individuals more dramatically central than they very well may have been in their own time.
I love all kinds of historical fiction, both with and without fictional protagonists. It’s the history that makes it magical—the sense-drenched presence of another time and place. I love to find new ways to look at real personages from history, to read about them clothed in flesh and blood and flaws and foibles and not as just as names in history books. But I also love the idea that there may be people—call them fictional characters if you will—we’ve never met and stories we’ve never heard before, living their lives around the edges of known history.
The Flower Reader makes its fictional protagonist Rinette Leslie central to her own story, and takes a glancing look at Mary Stuart in the process. For more information, visit Elizabeth Loupas’s website at www.elizabethloupas.com.
I reviewed THE FLOWER READER here a few weeks ago. No need for flowers for me to predict that you'll be swept up in Elizabeth's imaginative yet historically-grounded story!
To celebrate the publication of THE FLOWER READER, Elizabeth has generously offered to supply a handmade bookmark to one lucky reader. The custom-made bookmark is signed and numbered by flower artist Lesley Hegewald and made of real pressed flowers and leaves. Elizabeth will include a note identifying the flowers used and explaining their meaning in Rinette's lush world of floromancy.
If you are interested in entering the drawing, please comment on this post with your email address. Entries may be posted until 11 pm PST on Sunday, April 14, 2012. Winner's name, chosen at random, will be posted on Monday, April 15. Good luck, and best wishes to Elizabeth on her launch day.