Written by Meredith Allard
Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction was very much a passion project and one I’ve had simmering on the back burner for a while now. I’m happy to be able to share it with others. Writing the book allowed me the opportunity to gather all my crazy ideas about writing historical fiction in one place, which makes it easier for me and for anyone else who wants an idea or two about how to tackle that historical story they’ve been wanting to write.
Why I Love Historical Fiction
I came up with the idea for writing Painting the Past in 2017 (seems like an eon ago, doesn’t it?). I was excited at the prospect of sharing what I’ve learned about writing historical fiction. I’ve been wondering what it is about historical fiction that keeps me coming back for more. As a reader, I love historical fiction because it allows me to explore different eras through points of view other than my own. As a writer, I love historical fiction because it allows me to connect my life today with people’s lives in the past.
I can connect to times I can never experience for myself. Learning about people’s day to day lives—from what they wore to what they ate to how they survived difficult circumstances—makes historical fiction intellectually as well as emotionally satisfying. As far as I’m concerned, historical fiction is the best of all literary worlds. Historical fiction is a truly grand genre that is a joy to read and a joy to write even though writing historical fiction may require more commitment than other genres.
Staring To Write Painting The Past
I started organizing and drafting the chapters, and I even commissioned the cover. Then I had to focus every ounce of energy on finishing my Ph.D. dissertation. After I passed my dissertation defense, I needed a brain break since I was certain my fried brain cells were no longer capable of functioning in any meaningful way. After I recovered, my focus turned to finishing Down Salem Way. Family medical issues ensued, along with other life stuff, and before I knew it we were engulfed in a world overturned by COVID-19.
Like many people, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching brought on by living during a pandemic. I’ve had more time to sit, think, and be. If I’ve learned anything over the past year it’s that everything changes, including us. We evolve over time. My evolution includes the realization that it’s time for me to focus more on my writing, and that included completing Painting the Past and putting it out into the world.
The Vulnerability Of Non-Fiction
After some hems and haws about releasing the book, it occurred to me that I was nervous. After a lot of introspection (and more journaling), I realized that there’s nowhere to hide in nonfiction. After a novel is published, if anyone says anything about a character or the story, I can say simply, and truthfully, it’s fiction. It’s make-believe. I pretended that story into being. I haven’t the slightest fear about releasing my fiction.
I know that not everyone will love everything I write, but I have been blessed, truly, with readers who like what I do. When my Victorian holiday novella Christmas at Hembry Castle was finished on November 28, 2020, I made sure everything was all pretty-like and the book was published—that fast. Not a second thought. Not one.
With nonfiction, I find that I can’t hide behind a fictional story or an imaginary character. That knowledge nearly paralyzed me into not writing Painting the Past. Still, after the year that was 2020, and with everything we’re still contending with, I decided to be brave. All I’m doing is sharing ideas, after all.
My ideas about writing historical fiction have been developed over 20 years of reading, writing, teaching, and editing historical fiction. While my ideas about writing historical fiction aren’t the end-all, be-all of writing historical fiction (no one’s ideas can be because we’re all different), they are shared with the thought that maybe there’s something in the book that can help others along their journey.
Ultimately, that’s what helped me past the fear of releasing Painting the Past—the thought that I might help someone else the way, say, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg or Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott have helped me.
My Writing Process
Some of the chapters in Painting the Past began life as blog posts. I fleshed out the blog posts with more in-depth information and added some writing exercises that will help readers discover how they can write their historical tales. I’ve also addressed some of the frequently asked questions about writing historical fiction that I get as the executive editor of a literary journal of historical fiction.
Most of the questions are related to researching historical fiction, so I went in depth about the research process. As writers we cannot create believable historical worlds if we know nothing about the time we’re writing about.
Painting The Past: A Guide To Writing Historical Fiction
I breathed a sigh of relief when the first reviews for Painting the Past started coming in, primarily from NetGalley. Three reviews, three five-star reviews. Thank goodness. The nice reviewers got my off-hand sense of humor, my constant references to Poppy (my cat), and my message about how as writers we are all Dorothy discovering that we already have the power. Suddenly, putting myself out there, all me, all the time, sharing my ideas about historical fiction doesn’t seem so scary. I’m already outlining my second nonfiction book because I realized I have so much more to say about writing. Writing has been my lifeline. I’m not sure who (or how sane) I would be if I weren’t a writer. I’m excited to share more of what I’ve learned in the future.
Find more from Meredith Allard:
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!