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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Maxwell

Why Historical?

I know that whether it's mystery or romance, contemporary stories sell better than historicals. I know that, but I choose to write historicals anyway. Am I a glutton for punishment? Afraid of success? Just plain stubborn?

The answer to that last one is probably a resounding "yes!" but the real reason I write historicals is because I can't NOT write them. Seriously. Now, I'm a modern woman with modern beliefs and values - I think women should follow their dreams and be given their deserved credit - and adequate monetary compensation - for their achievements. I prefer comfy, casual clothes, drive a car, and yes, I can find my way around a computer just fine. Oh, and no, I would not under any circumstances give up modern plumbing. But whenever I sit down at a keyboard, all of sudden I'm all about petticoats and silk hats, horse-driven carriages, and all the rest. Most of all what fascinates me and excites me as a writer are the challenges people faced a hundred-plus years ago.

How does one solve a crime without modern forensics like fingerprints, DNA testing, etc? That to me presents a twisting, turning, and, in my mind, three-dimensional puzzle that I can't wait to get my hands on. I take my cues from Sherlock Holmes (classic, not the new Sherlock, although I'm a huge fan of that, too), and look at a crime scene from a very basic, observant viewpoint: footprints and anything that might have been tracked in by the killer, shape and size of the wound, signs of a stuggle, etc. I have my sleuth piece the evidence together to see what it all has in common, and what might be missing. As in the pursuit of science, each piece of the puzzle should lead to more questions about what hasn't been discovered yet. Poor Emma Cross, my sleuth, can end up criss-crossing Newport several times in a day as she questions suspects and traces clues.

Then there are the social restrictions. It was not easy to be female at the turn of the 20th Century, so I enjoy looking at the challenges women faced and figuring out how a spirited, smart, independent-minded young woman would have overcome those challenges. Wait, you say, aren't those modern attributes? Isn't the notion of being independent-minded an anachronism? I believe assumptions like that are incorrect, not to mention stereotypical. There have ALWAYS been women who've refused to be limited by the rules of their society. Eleanor of Acquitaine? Queen Elizabeth I? Or let's take an example from the time period I'm writing in: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, nineteenth century leaders of the suffragette movement, or Nelly Bly, female reporter who searched out hard news (in sometimes dangerous situations) and traveled around the world by herself in under 73 days. It's Nelly who most directly inspired Emma Cross's character.

I'm not suggesting historical heroines should be feminists in the modern sense. But, within the context of their society, education, and economic means, a young woman could endeavor to stand out, be extraordinary, and achieve something special - something to be remembered long after she left the world, and she would have done so in spite of, and in direct defiance of, social convention and probably most members of her own family. Now that's courage!

Not to mention that I always keep in mind that I'm writing for modern readers. And when we read fiction, do we want ordinary characters leading ho hum lives, or characters who lift us out of our daily grind, take us on adventures, and leave us cheering? Now, I ask you.....

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