I hang out in the past where suspense lives.
July 16, 2014
I DON’T LIVE IN THE PAST. But my mind wanders there quite often, and my imagination hardly ever wants to leave.
Why? I asked myself.
Maybe, it’s because I’m bored with the present, I told myself.
Life has its hardships still. Life has its conflicts still.
But life is too easy for fiction.
Need to go cross-country? Grab a plane.
Car broke down in the middle of the desert? Call AAA roadside assistance.
Scared on a lonely street in the middle of the night? Fish out a cell phone.
Someone following you? Call 9-1-1.
Where is the fear?
Where is the panic?
Where is the threat?’
Where is the suspense?
For me, it’s all buried somewhere in the dark and murky shadows of the past, which is why my last two published novels have all been set during the early days of World War II, when villains wore the faces of evil, and we never forgot the way they looked or the travesties they committed, and we knew who our enemies were.
As I wrote in Secrets of the Dead:
The German’s eyes were bright and beginning to dilate. A sudden rush of unbridled adrenaline had shot through his veins. His hands were trembling. He had killed from afar. He had hidden in trenches and behind hedgerows and shot down soldiers who had no names and no faces, only forms marching across an empty field.
Now he must kill face to face.
Now he must kill close enough to smell the garlic on the dying man’s breath.
Now he must kill close enough to watch life depart from a man’s eyes.
A man who hesitates always dies long before his appointed time.
It was a thriller that could not have been set during any other period of history.
For those under forty, it might well be regarded as historical fiction.
But for those of us who remember World War II, even as young children, the events, the memories, the fears are still as vivid as if they had happened yesterday. For us, it’s not history at all. It is a black and white snapshot of our lives, taken when the world was black and white with no gray lines to smear the two.
I was asked a month or so ago whether or not I wrote historical fiction. I had never thought about it, but I don’t think I do. It is fiction about the past, and the events are real, the places are real, the basic conflicts are real, and some of the major players are real.
But it the story is a lie.
The story is fiction.
It didn’t happen.
It could have.
But it didn’t.
“No,” I said, “I don’t write historical fiction. I write fictionalized history.”
“What’s the difference?” I was asked.
“Historical fiction is written to satisfy professors and historians,” I said. “I simply write novels about times, places, and characters that I would like to read.”
“But they’re in the past,” he said.
“They weren’t when I lived them,” I said.