Excellent videos on Versailles Friday, Mar 28 2008 

The website for Versailles now offers excellent short videos on-line — called podcasts — in both English and French.


More on (historical) fact and fiction Tuesday, Mar 25 2008 

I really liked this blog post: Fiction Versus History: Which is most truthful?
To quote: 
What turns me off from traditional historical writing is the distance from which the story is told. When I pick up a book on a historical figure, I want that book to take me into the head space and emotional state of the person I’m reading about. Unfortunately most history books are unable to do that. They are told from the view point of the observer or researcher. And despite the historian’s best efforts to give the protagonist a personality, it always seems to fall short of what the real person must’ve been. 
My alternative to history books has become historical fiction. They provide the depth and complexity of character that I crave as a reader and the historical background that I appreciate learning about.  
Discovering the past is my main motivation for writing historical fiction. Research sparks me, but it’s only through delving deeply into the day-to-day lives of my characters that I even begin to understand.

The fuzzy line between fact and fiction Wednesday, Mar 12 2008 

It disturbs me that “fiction” is getting such a bad rap in the U.S. press, that publishers feel they can’t market a novel, but that a “true” story is okay, that readers hunger for “truth” and will pay for it.

Since when has memoir been held to documentary standards? Memoir is a story created from life. I write historical fiction, and in delving into the research, I’ve come to see quite clearly that historians write fiction, as well. The line between fact and fiction is fuzzy, always, and I don’t understand this urge to nail it down. Facts can be misleading, and fiction can be revealing.

Story is how we explain the past—our history—to ourselves. Story is a powerful tool, and it is story that sets us apart from the world of animals (at least insofar as we know!).

Yet I’m guilty myself, I know. I love that “wow” moment when reading historical texts, thinking: Imagine—this actually happened. I think the issue is not whether something is true or false, but the understanding, the contract that is created between the author and reader. The outrage is: “We have been misled.” Frey’s memoir was more fiction than fact, but was marketed as fact. Even so, I have trouble understanding the furor.

One of my first historical reveries was brought on by a diary I read of a Quaker young woman in 18th century England. I was swept away by this “true” account. On my next trip to London, I researched her life; it was there that I learned that the diary was fiction, a novel. I felt disillusioned, let down, but then thought: “What a good novel.” For it drew me into the world of the past in a very real way—and that’s what fiction can do that fact cannot.