We are asked to step into a time machine—to fiddle with bright dials, tinker with metal gearshifts, set the clock backward to the period that most inspires us. The past is a world we’ll attempt to pin down by means of recording new sights, sounds, and smells.
Guest author Zetta Elliott, a vibrant, engaging speaker and the author of ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼A Wish After Midnight, reads an excerpt from her work.￼￼ Times have changed for women and minorities in this country, but her protagonist fears “ghetto” is stamped onto her skin just as boldly as “slave” might have been 150 years ago. Elliott speaks passionately of sankofa, the notion of “go back and fetch it”; we learn that there is no shame in going back to retrieve something of value you left in a darker time.
Jennifer Epstein, author of The Painter from Shanghai, describes world-building as a sensory experience, not a march of dry historical facts. Next in the process comes character, followed by conflict, which propels the story forward. Human beings don’t differ significantly today from our ancestors, and ultimately the tale we want to tell is about struggles that resonate in the present day.
We choose a point of conflict—money, poisoned water, a baby, a murder; any charged incident will do—and use it to introduce chaos into our orderly historical world. Whether we use meticulous research or create wild alternate histories, whether our books are based on vintage news articles or on the imagined history of Grandma’s favorite hatpin, we are stirring the pot, adding drama to our already-foreign and fascinating scene.
As we leave the workshop, inspired by the company of so many female writers of all ages and backgrounds, we ruminate on Elliott’s talk of magic doors. “The Door of No Return” is both a real historical aspect of the slave trade and an imagined rabbit hole, a tunnel through which our characters plummet, leaving the present behind to explore the wonders of the past.
From The Workshop
- Bushra Miah, Historical Fiction
“I remember walking down the broken road with my brown leather suitcase in one hand and my father’s business bag in the other. Pieces of glass, pebbles, broken items and drugs of every kind were crushing and lingering under the soles of my black military boots, custom made by the most famous and #1 designer in Afghanistan. After a few more steps, Babu and I turned back around to look one last time at what was left of our beautiful mansion, and the greatest piece of land in all the country. But now, our life had completely changed.” Read More
- Maxine Armstrong, Historical Fiction
“Tears swim down Liam’s vibrant pink cheeks as Lyra shuffles across the cold wooden floor to him and grabs him from his crib. I feel almost misplaced as she cuddles him closer to her chest and Rye adjusts himself underneath the mountain of sheets while Robyn lay perfectly intertwined with him. The stars outside are hidden by buildings and the moon by the fog of the factories. I sit near the fire slowly unlacing the last of my boots that seem to be clung on to my skin from the day.” Read More
On The Blog
“I imagined my grandparents as they first met in the 1930s, and had a lot of fun with two characters who were too shy to even say hello. (Spoiler alert: someone did.)”
- What times would you travel to? Discover what one mentor chose to explore!