WHAT YOU DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL
I’m the first to admit that I’m a history wonk. I used to bore my children silly by insisting on sharing with them tidbits I’d run across while researching. To this day, the now-grown young men will be sitting at supper with me and one will go, “Say, did you know Alexander Hamilton founded the U.S. Coast Guard?” and the other will reply, “Why, no, tell me more, but please wait while I get a knife and slash my wrists before total boredom sets in.”
I’m leaving all my money to the dog.
My area of particular interest, though I claim no expertise, is the early American republic from the founding of the nation until about 1850 or so. I like the overlap with the English Regency period because I read so many regencies, but it’s always puzzled me that American readers love the Regency. How quickly we forget that Britain was our enemy during that period, and the War of 1812 can better be termed “The Second War of American Independence”! Evidence is strong that Britain would cheerfully have taken over parts of the fledgling republic to establish a presence here and disrupt a potential trade rival and ally of France–
I’m doing it again, aren’t I? Anyway, before you start reaching for a knife, I’ll get back to how history relates to my writing.
It relates in the most obvious way, in that my historical romances are set during the period from 1800 to 1845, and they’re largely set in Florida. Some of the fan letters I like best are from readers who say they didn’t even know Florida had a history prior to Disney and Miami Beach, with the possible exception of the Civil War. And some of these letters come from Floridians!
It relates in a less obvious way in my own leisure reading. I especially enjoy how a good history–not historical fiction–makes our Founders come alive and step off the page as living, breathing people.
Right now I’m reading Ladies of Liberty by Cokie Roberts. It follows on the heels of her Founding Mothers and focuses again on the women who helped build the republic, sometimes in less than obvious ways as social hostesses and sounding boards for their husbands and fathers. The women come alive through their letters, talking about fashion, family and politics. They’re not stiff portraits in the National Gallery, they’re women like us who care about work (don’t ever think we’re the first generation of career women–it was Abigail Adams and Martha Washington and women like them who ran the farm while their husbands were off Thinking Deep Thoughts), food (guests are coming to supper, what shall I serve?), shoes (yes, shoes–but hats more than handbags), family, war, and other important issues of their time. They also made time to found social service agencies that fulfilled many of the functions now handled by the state.
The danger you run into as a history wonk, and I learned this from my sons, is that what you find fascinating may make someone else’s eyes glaze over. It’s important to reach a balance, especially as a novelist, in working detail in without becoming pedantic.
So I toss this question out to the readers: Do you have a favorite period of history you like to read about, or a favorite historical figure? I admit to a sneaking fondness for Alexander Hamilton, who usually ends up getting short shrift in the history books, but who accomplished an amazing amount in a life that ended too early.
And I love to pass along book recommendations! If you’re looking for a good history of Florida, or some recommended reading on the early American republic, I’d be happy to share my opinions.
Darlene Marshall is the author of Pirate’s Price and Captain Sinister’s Lady, both winners of the 2007 Eppie Award for Best Historical Romance, and Smuggler’s Bride, finalist in the 2006 Lories for Best Single Title. Her books are available in print, ebook and also in German and Estonian.
Disclaimer (because we don't have a choice): The views expressed by the guest blogger do not necessarily reflect those of The Deadly Vixens.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
WHAT YOU DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL