Dean Hughes: Why I Love to Write Historical Fiction

Dean Hughes has written more than 100 books and has sold more than a million copies of his books. Solstice is thrilled to have him back this year, teaching a class on Historical Fiction. Below, Dean explains why he loves the genre so much.

I’ll tell you what I love about writing historical fiction: I have to read before I can write, and I love to read.

Actually, there’s more to it than that. It’s not enough to know the broad outlines of a historical period to start my fictional version. I have to steep them in a time and place, both to know the attitudes and “the feel” of another time, but also to know the details of daily life. It’s really important, in doing research, to lift myself out of my own assumptions and learn to think like the people of another age. And it’s just as important to know the price of bread, the dress styles, the methods of farming, harvesting, cooking, etc.

In other words, to write historical novels, you have to read a whole lot. And why do people start writing? It’s usually because they love to read.

The reading also supplies the conflicts of an age, and it suggests possible stories. When I start “thinking up” a contemporary story, I have to imagine a character and place that character in some circumstance that leads to a conflict. But when I write historical fiction, I find people in my reading who, with a little adjustment, become the characters in my story. The setting suggests all sorts of challenges for that character to face. Usually, once I’ve done a fair amount of reading, I start to see my story.

Now, having said that, remember that the reading becomes a lovely excuse for putting off the writing. The old blank screen is still waiting for you, no matter what. It’s wonderful to sit in an easy chair with a good lamp and an old book and tell all who will listen: “I’m working on a book.” But that only lasts so long. It’s important to read enough to plan the plot, but then you have to face that painful process of drafting the story.

The reading is great fun, but here’s the tricky part: to some degree, you don’t know what you need to know until you start to write. Google can help at that point, but only if you’ve read enough to understand how the details fit into the larger picture. Still, over and over, you find yourself realizing, you don’t know enough—and it’s back to the reading.

So what’s better in life than reading and writing? I seem to remember a few things, from younger days, but when all those other things are gone, there’s still the joy of learning new stuff. I’ll admit, writing is hard work, and nothing can change that, but historical fiction is the ultimate escape. You not only get to time-travel to learn what you need to know; you are also forced to look deeply inside to imagine yourself living at another time.

I’ve sold myself. I’m going to write another historical novel. Oh, wait. I am writing another historical novel.

I better get to work.

If you would like to sign up for the Historical Fiction Class with Dean Hughes this summer, go to http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice.

 

Louise Plummer

Solstice teacher, Louise Plummer, answers a few questions about writing:

Why should writers consider writing nonfiction?

It requires the same skill set as writing fiction: choosing subject matter, characterization, setting, voice etc.

What’s your favorite nonfiction book?

An impossible question, but today I’ll say, David Shield’s Remote.

What are your writing habits?

I am not writing any fiction anymore and don’t plan to.  Occasionally, I do short personal essay pieces on request, but mostly I keep my blog going.  I write it in bed on my laptop.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s lame, but I have a sizeable reading audience either way.  It’s a way to know that I’m still alive.

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

Watching movies. Reading. Watercoloring.  Hanging with Tom.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Believe in yourself and your talent.  Do the work and send it off.  There is no magic dust to make this happen.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as a writer?

Each writing project feels like the first time.  The middle of a book is the most difficult to get through.  Beginnings are the easiest.  You’ve got to want it more than anything else.

And just for fun…salty or sweet?
Salty, definitely.  If there isn’t a tragic underpinning to comedy, then it’s just burlesque.  Life is a tragedy with a really bad ending.  That alone makes me laugh until snot comes out of my nose.

 

Thank you, Louise!

You can sign up for Louise Plummer’s Memoir class by going to http://www.highvalleyarts.org/solstice

Aaand We’re Back

Hello Writers!
Plans are starting to take shape here at Solstice! We hope you’re as excited as we are for this year’s retreat.

Returning to our faculty this year are Louise Plummer, Ann Cannon, Dean Hughes, and John Bennion. We’re also happy to have Chris Crowe joining us for this year’s Solstice. Also new this year, we’ve got a couple of editors lined up and you’ll be able to meet with them for some one-on-one time where you can pitch your ideas and get valuable feedback. And if you’re lucky, we just might do some more dancing!

Leading up to the retreat, we’ve got some things lined up for you to look forward to. Look for some giveaways, an early bird special, and guest posts from our faculty.

In the meantime, polish up those manuscripts, dust off those family histories, and get ready to join us in July!

Why Should You Attend?

Let’s face it. Writers are weird. You know what I’m saying. When I tell people I’m a writer, they give me a funny look and I can tell they’re not sure how to respond. It might be that I haven’t published anything in the nonfiction world yet. It could be that I disappear from my social circles for weeks at a time because I get so caught up working on my manuscript. No matter how you slice it, I am not like my non-writing friends.
However, there are places I can go where I feel less weird and more like my normal self: writing conferences. As an assistant for both Solstice and Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR) this year, this topic is near and dear to my heart. I have attended and/or planned several writing conferences over the years, and the the things I’ve learned have made me a better writer than when I first began. Teachers attend professional development seminars to become better at their profession. Doctors go to medical conferences to gain deeper insight into best practices. Writers should do the same thing. Here are three reasons why you should attend conferences and workshops like Solstice:

Fellow Weirdos Unite
When you first walk into a writing workshop, you’re a bit overwhelmed. You’re self-conscious of the fact that you’re new. Then you look around and you see someone wearing a Harry Potter T-shirt. Someone else has pencils stuck in her hair. Two guys are discussing some author’s most recent blog post. You recognize a bit of yourself in all of them and realize you have finally found your people, so you relax and pull your notebook from your Charlotte Brontë book bag.

Networking
As the conference progresses, you get to know people. Here in Utah, there is a vast and talented writing community, full of people who are willing to help each other improve their craft. When I’ve attended conferences like Solstice, I’ve set up critique groups with people I’ve met, kept in contact with editors, and have even had instructors who were willing to help me well after the conference. Beyond that, I’ve developed friendships with people I might not have otherwise met.

You Become a Better Writer
This really goes without saying. Take the opportunity to dive in and do the work, to learn from others within the industry. It motivates you to keep going. You’ll workshop your manuscripts and you’ll rewrite passages, and by doing so, you will improve your own writing. At times you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and information you gain, but you’ll learn to contain it into something manageable and use it to shape your own voice and writing style. And when you do that, you’ll realize you weren’t so weird after all.

So take that step and sign up for a conference today. Solstice is a wonderful place to start. If you’re interested in writing fiction, come to WIFYR in June. Just do it!