Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Interview with Denise DiFulco, Freelance Writer and Editor

Denise DiFulco is a freelance writer and editor whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Ladies Home Journal, and numerous other publications. She is currently working on her first book, a historical novel that spans fifty years and four countries. She will be speaking on the Sunday morning panel "Historical Fiction: The Search for Research" at the 2013 Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. Visit her website here.

1. What first got you interested in historical fiction?

I’ve always loved history. In college I majored in history, what some might call the “easy history” of the 20th century. But that period always fascinated me most. I was so obsessed with World War II that I would head up into the university archives to pull the West Point war atlases for the various theaters of operations. Sound easy?  Not really. Let’s just say I wasn’t necessarily seen as dating material in college.

2. How much research have you done for your novel?

Sometimes I feel as if it never will be done. There’s always more to read, more to learn. Already I’m nearly four years into my research, which includes genealogical inquiries since the book is loosely based on my maternal grandfather’s life story. Part of the issue is that the novel spans so many years and so many countries. It starts in Germany in 1910, detours to South America in the early 1930s, then finishes in Cuba at the time of Castro’s Revolution. Getting the details and tone just right for each time period and setting has been time consuming, to say the least. Most days I just want to put words on the page, but first I need to know what that stewardess would have worn on a flight in 1953. What kinds of planes were even in the air then?

3. How do you organize your research?

For this book I began with a simple timeline, combining key dates from my grandfather’s life with major world events, as well as local history in the places where he lived. In many ways he was a victim of history, so it was critical for me to know what his mindset might have been at a particular time. I also maintain a bibliography to keep track of what materials I’ve read and what I’d still like to read. Beyond that, Scrivener helps me to stay organized. I can keep character notes and old photos and maps all in one place that’s accessible with a single click. The other thing I’ve found useful is Google Maps. I mapped all the locations where my characters live and work, so I can see how they would move about and also know what was in their range of vision. It has been invaluable for scene setting because I can imagine the physical world as they viewed it. It also helps me understand better how they went about their daily lives.

4. For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

Since I’m writing about people who actually existed and of whom some record exists, that line would appear to be quite thin. But while the story follows the trajectory of my grandfather’s life, ultimately the main character is not actually him. It’s something of which I’m constantly reminding myself. In fact, it wasn’t until I finally divorced the real person from my protagonist that I was able to progress with the story. One of the reasons I’m writing this novel is because there is so much I don’t know about what actually happened to my grandfather. I’m imagining his life for him, which by definition makes this fiction. Above all, I want to be true to the time, the settings, the history—the things that are measurable and real. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Q and A. It's interesting to get a little insight into the important intertwining that research with imagination play in writing historical fiction. Denise's observation that it wasn't until she "finally divorced the real person from my protagonist that [she] was able to progress with the story" really resonates with me. I don't write historical fiction (at least not at the moment), but many of my stories are grounded in real-life experience and it's only when I let go of the concreteness of the initial memory and let creativity take over, that the story really blossoms. Thanks, ladies!