"Historical fiction is struggling,"

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I was told in an ever-so-brief e-mail yesterday.  Strangely, the note didn't do a thing to discourage me from the work I am doing to tell William's story in a Dangerous Neighbors prequel.  Most importantly, perhaps, because I just love this book—the guy-oriented nature of it, the pretty fascinating history behind it, and the way it visits me, late at night (my characters inside my dreams, my dreams beginning alongside a mess of noisy railroad tracks, in the clamor of a newsroom, in the rescue of a red heifer).  But also because when I look around I see books I've loved—historical novels for young adults—that are absolutely thriving.

Let's consider Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs), a Quirk publication, now in its seventh week on the New York Times bestseller list (I'm 70 pages in and loving the mix of image and story; expect a full report tomorrow).  Let's talk about Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray, a book that led me to the marvelous Tamra Tuller of Philomel, and which, in its very first week, debuted on the New York Times list.  Let's talk about The Book Thief, one of my favorite books of all time, still number one on the list, or, for that matter, the award-winning, bestselling The Good Thief, still generating much enthusiasm.  Libba Bray didn't do too badly with The Sweet Far Thing or A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rita Williams-Garcia was deservedly rewarded for her basically perfect One Crazy Summer, and I recall—do you as well?—a certain series of historical novels featuring glamorously clad society heroines that rocked the lists for a very long time.  (I'm also thinking of the big recent award winners like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and about the up and coming May B. by Caroline Starr Rose.)

Then there are those adult books, historical novels all, with which we are so familiar—Devil in the White City, The Help, Water for Elephants, The Paris Wife, Loving Frank, so many others—that locked in their places in book clubs and on lists. Struggle isn't a word that I would apply to them. 

I believe, in other words, that there is room for those of us out here who have fallen in love with a time and place and have a story to tell.  I've been barely able to breathe under a load of corporate work lately.  But the first chance I get, I'm returning to William.  I left him in a saloon down on Broad Street by name of Norris House.  He's been hankering for some dinner. I've got ideas about a multi-media launch.  And this kind of fun is worth having.

10 comments:

Lilian Nattel said...

I've been thinking that historical fiction is particularly vital at this time. Including all the books you mentioned, there are Wolf's Hall, The Golden Mean and many others.

Beth Kephart said...

You are so right, Lilian!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I've heard it's both struggling and making a rebound. Such a strange, interesting world publishing is!

I'm still astounded (and so grateful) my least marketable book was the first to sell and have to believe there are enough historical fiction fans to keep the genre alive.

Thank you, Beth, for listing my May along with these greats!

reiko rizzuto said...

Kai says he loved Leonardo's Shadow. You hang in there and show them they are wrong!

lindsayeland said...

I adore historical fiction (though my book is contemporary), and think that unlike some of the other genres that are so popular right now, historical fiction will outlast them all...it might dwindle a little bit but we will always need to go back and revisit history and honestly, I think there is something in each of us that will always yearn to read about the past...about a time that we have never experienced ourselves, and a time that we can never go back to. Thank you to all of you historical fiction writers!

Jeannine Atkins said...

I love your response to that short email! The gusto reminds me of Louisa May Alcott, whose novel about girls both she and editor had little expectation of selling.

Sarah Laurence said...

Although I tend to prefer contemporary fiction, I have 3 historical novels in my to read stack. Caleb's Crossing was your recommendation. The Invisible Bridge was my 16 year old son's recommendation and my 13 year old daughter recommended Sarah's Key to me. Keep writing, Beth.

Did you see this post at YA Highway: http://www.yahighway.com/2011/08/5-tips-on-writing-outside-your-gender.html
The post is by a debut author in Japanese feudal steampunk written by a man with a teen girl MC.

Melissa Sarno said...

That comment is bogus. You've more than proved it wrong in this intelligent response. I'm intrigued about this 'multi-media' approach to your new book. Can I start making talking toys and an app for it? ;-)

Rita Williams-Garcia said...

Hopefully those who use market trends to decide what gets published will catch on to the latest trend: good books. Regardless of genre or trend it's all a reader asks for.

Rita Williams-Garcia said...

Waiting for the "good story" trend to catch on. It's all a reader asks for, regardless of the market.

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