I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post by author Willard Thompson, who answers my question...
ELF: What do you think is the strongest attraction about the genre you like to write in?
I am unashamedly a writer of historical fiction. My first published novels, The Chronicles of California series: Dream Helper, Delfina's Gold, and Their Golden Dreams, each covers a different period of California's history. My newest novel, The Girl from the Lighthouse, is a historical romance set in the Paris of the 1870s, the start of the Belle Èpoque, the beautiful time. But it was also a time of strife, so the novel depicts the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune uprising, and their impact on my characters.
In each of my novels, I bring together historical figures with my fictional characters and they interact. The reader gets a real feeling for the important people of the time. In The Girl from the Lighthouse, you meet Monet, Renoir, Degas, Berthe Morisot, and other famous artists as well as high fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth and world-class actress Sarah Bernhardt. All of those historical figures are well researched by me to give my readers a real sense of the time and place.
Without a doubt, the most consistent comments I receive about my historical fiction writing is that my readers feel they have been well educated about the period I have written about, as well as entertained. What better way to learn history, while at the same time reading a great literary novel.
I think the historical novelist bears a heavy burden of accuracy. To my mind, a lot of what is marketed as historical romance is heavy on the romance and woefully light on historically accuracy. Readers may get a good buzz from a book like that, and that's fine, but they should beware that what they have read is not necessarily the true story. That's not the way I write. My readers can be sure the story is historically accurate. For example, my first novel, Dream Helper, told the real story of the mistreatment of California Indians at the Franciscan missions; Delfina's Gold, the second, revealed that gold was known to be in the Sierra Nevada foothills long before the "discovery" in 1849; and the third novel, Their Golden Dreams, covered the efforts by southerners to involve California in the Civil War on the Confederate side.
Historical fiction authors, in my opinion, can't be formulaic writers who turn out yearly books. They must take each subject as it comes to them, respect the historic basis, do the research and find creative ways to work their plots into the historic setting. No two stories should be the same.
The idea for The Girl from the Lighthouse came to me one afternoon when I was in the Santa Barbara Art Museum with my wife, standing in front of a painting by Berthe Morisot, one of the characters in my novel. The painting was titled View of Paris from the Trocadero. In it, two women stand with a small girl looking off into the city of Paris far in the distance. The women are blocked from moving forward into the city by a wooden fence that cut diagonally across the painting. It isn't a strong barrier, more symbolic. Because I have done a lot of research and writing about the history of the Victorian era, I was struck by how the painting represented the restricted status of Victorian women, and I got the idea to write about a woman of that era who was strong and independent, and in no way indoctrinated about women's roles.
by Willard Thompson
GENRE: Historical Literary Romance
Abandoned by her mother at an early age, she was raised by her father, a lighthouse keeper at Point Conception in California, where early on she discovers her artistic talent. At the age of 17, Emma travels to Paris with a chaperone, to attend art school but is separated from the chaperone when the woman becomes ill. Emma arrives alone in Paris with no money, no language skills, and no friends. A chance meeting with a young working girl in the train station becomes her first Parisian friend.
The setting is Paris in the 1860s-70s, the start of the Belle Èpoque. France soon is involved in the Franco/Prussian War and the Commune Uprising; difficult times for Emma and all Frenchmen. Initially rejected by art schools, her determination keeps her moving toward her goal in the art world, where the Impressionists are starting to change the world. Frenchmen fall in love with her beautiful face and lustrous dark hair. Some wanted to paint her, others to court her, but either way, she does not abide by the rules they try to impose on her because she never learned them. She grows into an accomplished artist but never gives up her own principles... even when someone steals something precious to her and she fights to get it back.
The story is told in the first person, present tense, allowing the reader to enter the story and feel a part of it as it unfolds, sharing with Emma her highs and lows, loves and rejections, all focused in the art world of Paris. The novel is filled with vivid characters, both fictional and real people, and the story unfolds gracefully from the 1870s until 1912, just prior to the start of WWI.
The next morning, I go to the orchard with my easel and a canvas to capture the early light and the dew on the leaves of the apple trees. I set up the easel midway between two rows and concentrate on getting the perspective just right, as the trees appear to merge in the distance. It is delicate, tedious work, but the charcoal pencil I sketch with comes alive in my fingers, eagerly welcoming the challenge. In my mind's eye, I see myself in solitude on the bluff looking out at the headlands of the rugged California coastline merging into the mist.
"That is a very brilliant thing you have done to capture the complexity of the apple orchard fading into the distance," the voice over my shoulder says around mid-day.
When I look up, I see Lamar scrutinizing my morning's work. "The flowers are so delicate," I tell him, "So hard to get right. Tomorrow my challenge will be to reproduce in oil what I've sketched." I pause then ask, "How has your morning been, mon cher?" I wait for his reaction.
"Well enough, I suppose. I've read my mail and a couple of newspapers that came with it. What do you say we drive into the village for lunch? I'm ready."
"Can you wait just a few more minutes?"
"Ah, but Emma, I am hungry now."
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Willard Thompson is an award-winning historical fiction and romance writer living in Montecito, California with his wife Jo. His newest historical romance, THE GIRL FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE was published in early 2019. His previously published three novels of historical fiction DREAM HELPER DELFINA'S GOLD, and THEIR GOLDEN DREAMS are part of his CHRONICLES OF CALIFORNIA trilogy. The Independent Publishers 2009 Book Awards selected DREAM HELPER for a gold medal as the best fiction in the Western/Pacific Region.
Thompson is a past president of the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. He is a native of Manhasset, New York and a graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York
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