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



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

Solstice Faculty: A Veritable Who’s Who of Writers

Solstice is proud to introduce you to some of the best writing talent anywhere:

1. Ann Edwards Cannon

RETREAT TOPIC: Writing Columns and Blogs

Ann is the writer of a well-known column in the Salt Lake Tribune and the author of a widely-read blog, The Writers’ Corner (And Also What I Ate Today). She’s also the author of several novels, children’s books, and essays. If you’re familiar with Ann’s style, you know you’re in for a good time.

2. John Bennion

RETREAT TOPIC: Nature and Outdoor Writing

John is a creative writing professor who specializes in nature writing. He often takes his writers on hiking expeditions where adventure (and good stories) ensue. John has published books for both adults and young adults alike. If you love the outdoors, John will teach you how to put it into words.

3. Dean Hughes

RETREAT TOPIC: Writing Nonfiction for Children

As someone who has made a career of writing (Dean has published over 100 books) this is a class not to be missed. Combining his wit and vast experience, Dean will offer extraordinary insight into what it takes to write for children.

4. Louise Plummer

RETREAT TOPIC: Writing Memoirs

Louise has published in both the fiction and non-fiction markets. She has used her own experiences to create works that are witty, original and thought-provoking. She spent many years as a writing professor, but her style is anything but “professorial.” If you’re looking to write your personal or family history, this may just be the class for you.

So there you have it! With an all-star line-up like that, Solstice promises to be a dynamic, entertaining, and highly informative writing conference. And there are still a few weeks left to get early bird pricing – so don’t wait any longer. Sign up today!