Writing Back Then Right Now

I finished writing the last book in my second historical fiction series, just as The Faith of Ashish, book 1 of the Blessings in India trilogy, was being released.  It is set in India in 1905.  In the Grace in Africa series, all three books are set in the late 1700s—The Call of Zulina in Africa, The Voyage of Promise in London, and The Triumph of Grace in the American south. 

Every historical era has people afflicted with blind spots.  Their ideas may have seemed perfectly fine at the time they lived, but when we look back, we cannot help but exclaim, “What were you thinking?!?”  

Whether it was packing people onto slave ships to be sold on the other side of the world, or battering a little boy for taking a drink of water from a well belonging to the wrong caste, or burning suspected witches at the stake, or allowing congress to cripple its own country in an effort to get its way, or driving a three-ton SUV to the store for a carton of ice cream, blind spots do exist.  They are embraced by otherwise thoughtful, intelligent people–yes, even Christians.  One of the most difficult tasks a historical fiction writer faces is to create characters who have these blind spots, yet who still manage to compel readers to see something of themselves.

In The Faith of Ashish, most readers seems to accept little Ashish’s caste beating, but a couple of people argued that I should have had the child convert to Christianity by the end of the book.  Here is the thing:  I had to ask myself, “Would such an outcome actually fit the times and circumstances?”  The blind spots? Despite what we might wish to see?  I decided it would be better to allow my character to grow increasingly uneasy, then to give him a reason to identify with a personal God. 

In both my trilogies, I chose to allow the characters the entire span of three books to change and grow.  It seems reasonable and believable to me, considering the circumstances and backgrounds of both Grace and Ashish.

What do you think? 

Do you have any historical blind-spot pet peeves?

“Let them eat cake.”

Marie Antoinette—supposedly spoken upon hearing that the peasants had no bread    

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One response to “Writing Back Then Right Now

  1. Jeanette

    Thanks for this post, Kay. It really challenged me! I’m in the beginning stages of an historical novel involving a visually impaired girl living during the early 1900s. It took a long time for me to understand and accept how different my main character’s life would have been compared to mine. Ironically, that’s exactly what drove me to write the story–the burning question, “How different would my life have been if I’d been born with this vision problem in another time period?” At first, I had this girl going to school for a short time then realized wait, even when I entered kindergarten in the early ’70s, teachers told my parents that I’d eventually have to transfer to a school for the blind. (Instead, praise God, we moved and ended up in a school district with special programs for students with low vision.) So she most likely would have either gone away to a blind school and struggled there because, having some vision, she didn’t really belong, or been stuck at home. Both scenarios made me very sad. (I won’t give away which one I chose.)

    I must constantly remind myself that, like most families, her parents and sister would have made decisions based on what seemed best at the time, but that some of those choices will still leave readers screaming, well, I’ll borrow your line, “What are they thinking?!” Then there is the constant challenge of being realistic without turning her into a perpetual victim. But I’m enjoying the journey.

    Suddenly, I desperately want to figure out how I can devote more time to working on this book. Hmm. Is sleep really necessary?

    Have a wonderful day,
    Jeanette

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