Archive for June, 2010

Time Travel and the Compartment of History

Thank you to everyone who attended my book signing, particularly Janet, John, and Darlene–it wouldn’t have been a success or even possible without you there!  I’ve had so much support from my friends during this crazy publishing process, and I can’t thank everyone enough.  Now I know why there’s a ship in friendship–it’s because loyal friends provide a ship to carry one over rough seas to new horizons.

The book signing was a great chance to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in years.  Some of the conversations I had about The Witch Awakening and what inspired the setting got me thinking again about my writing process.  Dr. Billinger, the head of the history department at Wingate University and one of my favorite professors, asked thoughtful questions that caught me off guard (as he did during class lectures in my undergrad days), questions that led my thoughts down some unfamiliar and interesting paths.

History has intrigued me since I witnessed my father pouring over books about the Old West to ensure his realistic woodcarvings of Native Americans and rangers with Henry rifles were as accurate as he could carve them.   In the sixth grade, I had a wonderful teacher named Mr. Wilson who made world history come alive–I particularly remember the day he called one boy and six girls to the front of the room.  He lined us up and gave the boy a crown (he was King Henry VIII) and then gave us girls each a placard with one of King Henry’s wives’ names written on it.  I was Jane Seymour, and I’ve never forgotten the names of Henry’s wives or what happened to them since that day.  I suspect this is how my fascination with the Tudors and their world started, a fascination that has informed and inspired the fantasy world in my novels.

I’ve had many wonderful teachers and professors since Mr. Wilson.  Dr. Billinger’s presence at my book signing reminded me of his and other professors’ lectures during my time at Wingate.  Pieces of those lectures have made their way into my fantasy fiction.  Pieces such as Wallenstein (the Bohemian general who was more powerful than the Hapsburg king during the Thirty Years War), the conflict between the nobility and the rising merchant class in early modern Europe, the oppression of Native Americans in the Americas, and Tituba (the slave woman who played such a major role in the Salem witch trials, only to vanish from the historical record afterwards.)  

Dr. O’Neal (another favorite professor who tragically passed away in 2001) and I did a research project on women in pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia when I was a rising senior.  This project allowed us to travel to Philadelphia and gave me access to precious primary source documents such as diaries and letters, words from women who lived two and a half centuries ago.  The past I envisioned from this trip and the documents was rich to me, almost but not quite tangible.  That’s the wistful thrill of immersing oneself in the study of history–one can read the words of those long gone from this earth, see where they lived sometimes, perhaps touch an artifact or two, hear the whispers of ghosts even, but ultimately the past is unreachable.  The passage of time has left history an infinitely tantalizing mystery, so many stories that will never be known by us, so many stories waiting to be discovered.

In my case, studying history expressed  my desire to travel through time, to somehow see it for myself.   This impossible longing led me to the world in The Witch Awakening.   The present is so compartmentalized–we work in one place, sleep and eat in another, play in yet another, and our relationships these days are guided by firm boundaries.  If you don’t believe this, work for a corporation and see what happens when you try to hire your spouse.  Or see what happens when you ask your therapist out on a date.  Or try practicing law without a license.  We have strict roles, a necessary development in a democratic society where all are supposed to have equal rights under the law.

Relationships were far messier in early modern Europe.  Forget the romance–your marriage might be the best business deal or worst political blunder of your life.  Your children, particularly your eldest son, expected to work with you in your trade.  Most business ventures were family ventures.  The fields you worked in, the village you lived in, the family you were born in–all were within sight of each other.  You weren’t ever getting away from these people!

This contrast fascinates me–our sharply pixelated relationships versus their relationships with blurry edges.  What would it be like if my father were my boss, if he had trained me from the time I could walk to follow in his footsteps through my career?  What would it be like if I had to marry someone I couldn’t stand because it was politically expedient for my family?  What would it be like if my day, instead of being divided between work and personal life in firmly deliniated clock hours, simply flowed according to the rising and setting of the sun?  I’ll never know for sure, but I’m going to pursue the mystery in my writing the rest of my life.

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