I gave another book chat on zoom last week. The title is: “Writing Fictionalized Accounts of Real People in My Historical Novels.” Here’s the link to the recording:
It’s not so typical to use real characters in historical novels. I gravitate towards this. Why? Maybe it’s because my 1st 2 books (non-fiction) were based on interviews with real people – Women Who Could… and Did (publ 2002) was about high-achieving scientists and artists over age 65) and Women Riders Who Could… and Did (2010) was about high level equestriennes.
Maybe I fictionalize real characters because as a psychotherapist and life coach since my early 20s, I’m accustomed to listening to stories of “real” people. It seemed natural to include the following people in my 2 historical novels, Beguiled (2018) and Becoming a Woman of Substance (October 2021):
- Hallie Flanagan, the exuberant iconoclast who directed the wildly successful Federal Theatre Project, 1935-39, during the Great Depression
- Frank Shay, Renaissance man of the 1920s, playwright, bookstore owner, author, who gathered lots of famous people in his Christopher Street salon/ bookstore, most of whom signed his famous “Blue Door.”
- Irrepressible “Romany” Marie Marchand, owner of salon/ cafes in Greenwich Village.
All 3 of these prominent people of the 20s and 30s were fictionalized to become close friends and mentors of my protagonist, Miriam Levine Butler. Although I did extensive research about the time period and the people who lived then, and tried to stay as true as possible to the literature about each of them, I, of course, had to create fictional conversations and interactions between Miriam and each one of them.
I asked the audience this question: When you read fiction that includes real people, what do you expect to discover? How much creative license do you accept graciously? Do you imagine that you’re learning history about the real Hallie or Frank or Marie? Does it matter how closely the novelist strays from what is known about their history? Write Comments to me and I’ll respond.