White Mane Kids recently published Margo's middle-grade children's book Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg.
Welcome, Margo, I'm so happy you could join us on such a chilly morning, and congratulations on your new book. After reading the early chapters in critique group, it's exciting to see the book in print and read the final version.
Finding My Place is a wonderful book of historical fiction. The setting is Vicksburg, Mississippi, in the summer of 1863. Thirteen-year-old Anna Green and her family are thrust in the middle of the attack on Vicksburg. Here's what Margo has to say about writing historical fiction.
Stopping the History from Getting in the Way of Historical Fiction
By Margo L. DillI loved researching the Civil War, especially the Siege of Vicksburg for my historical fiction middle-grade novel, Finding My Place. I actually went to Vicksburg, Mississippi for a few days and toured homes that were standing during the Siege and spent hours on the battlefield where the Confederate soldiers tried to hold off the Yankees. I went to the library one afternoon and poured through the vertical files, finding an actual newspaper from 1863 printed on the back of wallpaper. I read diaries of women who survived the siege, living in caves slaves built out of the yellow Vicksburg hills, and other historical fiction books set in Vicksburg as well as history books about the battle itself.
So, with all that research, when did I start writing the fiction and how did I balance it?
That’s the hard thing about writing historical fiction, especially if you love history. You have found a period of time you’re interested in as a writer, and you love to research. You want to share every little fact with your reader, but your reader doesn’t want to read a history book. If she did, she would go to the nonfiction section and pick one out. She wants to read about your characters and plot, while learning some history on the side.
I struggled with this balance. I wanted to have thirteen-year-old Anna Green, my main character, experience everything that the citizens of Vicksburg did in 1863. I wanted to share every sacrifice that the people had to make, what happened on each day of the Siege, and how the people survived with so little supplies. But kids especially get bogged down with too many facts thrown into the story.
Mostly what I did to keep my balance, and what I’ve heard from other historical fiction writers, is that I focused on the story. Instead of thinking to myself, I am writing a historical fiction book for kids set during the U. S. Civil War, I had to think—I am writing a book about a 13-year-old girl who doesn’t know where she belongs—physically and emotionally. She has a brother and a sister that depend on her, but she’s not ready for this role.
Once I started focusing on the story and the characters in my setting of the Siege of Vicksburg, I found balance. When Anna is trying to decide whether or not to take James and Sara back to their cave and stay on their own, it was easy to work in some of the daily tasks that people had to do back then and even how the soldiers bombed the citizens most of the day, resting only for meals. Focusing on the story made the research details that much easier to fit into the story—naturally.
Historical fiction is fun! It’s a great way to learn about a time period. It’s not easy to write, until authors start thinking about the story and the characters and less about the actual history.
Thanks, again, Margo for your insight on not letting history get in the way of writing historical fiction.
Margo L. Dill is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, a historical fiction middle-grade novel about 13-year-old Anna Green and her struggle to keep her family together during the Siege of Vicksburg. To read a summary or purchase an autographed copy (a perfect Christmas present for children ages 9 to 12!), please go to http://margodill.com/blog/finding-my-place or on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Finding-My-Place-Strength-Vicksburg/dp/1572494085/