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So, What Qualifies as Historical?

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If I want to write a "historical" novel, everyone tells me there needs to be a purpose to setting a novel in that era.

I'm currently reading a book titled: "What I Saw, and How I Lied," by Judy Blundell. It's a National Book Award winner. It's about a young high school aged girl, set in the early 1950s. It's touted as a "historical" novel.

So, what makes it "historical" rather than "young adult?"

Yes, one of the characters is recently returned from WWII. The scenes and settings all depict how conditions were back then. But, in my opinion, it could as easily been set in 2009 with the soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. So, what qualifies this book to be "historical?"
#1 - October 29, 2009, 11:24 AM
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ShannonH

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There is an exception to every rule.

However, I was in a workshop with agent Stephen Fraser and he said something to the effect that novels set in the 1970's and 80's are hard to place with editors. The time period is not long enough ago to really feel historical and instead feels dated, like you haven't kept up with what teens say and do today.

I also had a professional critique with Joyce Sweeney and she reiterated what Stephen Fraser said.

Contemporary novels are easier to sell, so unless there's a reason (e.g. say you're writing about the pandemic of 1917, or the Johnstown Flood), why give an editor an excuse to say no?
#2 - October 29, 2009, 02:22 PM

Thanks ShannonH. I guess my big event is the Vietnam War and how some kids were trying to get out of the draft.
#3 - October 29, 2009, 02:32 PM
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So, what makes it "historical" rather than "young adult?"

It's not an either/or situation...it can be both.  I think the issue with setting books in the near past is that some agents have run up against enough books where the history is "wallpaper", so to speak--that it has no real impact on the plot or story, but that's when the author grew up so it's the time they feel comfortable writing about.  So long as your story is firmly rooted in its time and place, then don't worry.
#4 - October 29, 2009, 02:57 PM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)
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Laurie

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For me, as a reader, What I Saw and How I Lied was all about atmosphere and those post-WWII conditions. Soldiers coming home from Iraq are returning to a very different world, especially to a different economy. World War II GI's were optimistic and had all kinds of opportunities available to them. Also the veiled antisemitism of the 1940s was integral to Blundell's story. It's YA Historical all the way....

Laurie
#5 - October 29, 2009, 04:45 PM

is kooky.
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novels set in the 1970's and 80's are hard to place with editors. The time period is not long enough ago to really feel historical and instead feels dated, like you haven't kept up with what teens say and do today.

I get this. I could set a book in the early 90's because it feels dated to me, grunge was a specific era for me...but I think modern teens would just laugh their socks off and call me a wanna-be Mallrats nerd...lol.
#6 - October 29, 2009, 05:09 PM
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Thanks Laurie and Marissa. Some good advice. I checked out "What I saw and How I Lied" and am finding it a well-written novel, but like everything else, I suppose the basic story could be written in any era, but it's been designed to fit the late 1940s, with a background of that era. I think I'm safe with my novel set in the mid-1960s. It's both YA and historic. I just hope now I can find an agent who is willing to take a chance on me, LOL.
#7 - November 02, 2009, 10:32 AM
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hart

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A definition for Historical Fiction is a story in which real historical events or people play a part in the storyline. The events of the times need to help shape the story. You could make a case that any story, set even in the near past, has the atmosphere of the time it takes place in. --Hart
#8 - November 02, 2009, 11:03 AM

A definition for Historical Fiction is a story in which real historical events or people play a part in the storyline. The events of the times need to help shape the story. You could make a case that any story, set even in the near past, has the atmosphere of the time it takes place in. --Hart
Great definition. I think my novel fits the bill. Thanks hart.
#9 - November 03, 2009, 07:32 PM
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