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readercon catchup #1: History and Fictional History

History and Fictional History

Chris Cevasco started it off saying fiction is an excellent method of addressing history because history yields gaps (bigger and bigger the further into the past), so fiction allows for ‘understanding’ the motivations and rationales we can never ‘know’ for certain. he also said that he draws on history to serve the story, which i thought an interesting perspective, though probably self-evident to most people. M K Hobson described how fascinating and exciting it was for her to take ‘accepted’ emprical facts (documents, known battles, etc.) and come up with drastically different, but completely plausible, narratives for the same items/events.*

David Anthony Durham flatly denied common perception that history is factual, a statement roundly supported by the panel, and self-evident (again) when he described reading 25 books on Carthage for his own research and every one of those books raised different points, emphasized different themes, and even had different players (ex: 1 of them even mentioned an additional brother for Hannibal that none of the rest did).  Howard Waldrop seconded this with refreence to Salambo by Gustave Flaubert, and how he claimed it all to be researched true, when clearly it wasn’t.** Suzy McKee Charnas agreed, but also described research as perennial, in so far as what she might throw away for one story resurfaces later, relating her own experience reading The Police and The People about The French Revolution (but in the rest of France, not Paris) but not using it until 15 years later to feed a story about a French ghost.

David also described being attacked on his blog by a (and you’ll have to follow closely here) person who said he had not done accurate research in his Carthage book because a particular character David described did not adhere to the references this person listed as sources. the catch? David created the character in question out of whole cloth. the sources the person used were actually mis-quoted references to David’s own work. he was being attacked by someone because a third party had mis-quoted David’s own work. ah, the internet. MK supported this, saying writing historical fiction is like writing fanfic: you don’t mess with the canon. there is significant rigidity in those audiences.

* this bit got me quite excited, as well, and started some wheels turning again that have been dormant a while…

** another book on my to-read list from this conference…

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