Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why Do We Write?

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you, — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.
  -- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I am going to kick off this blog by introducing myself.

My name is Elizabeth Huhn. And I am a historical fiction writer.

So why do I do it?

It's been said before, and it'll be said again. I imagine that it's been said about me. We're oddballs, recluses, artistes. We're interesting and interested. We see things differently. We're insecure and conflicted.

But the way I like to think of it is this: I'm haunted. "Ghosts", as far as I'm concerned, are metaphorical things. They're the conjuration of fears and hopes, not the spirits of the dead. At least, that is what a "ghost" is to me, because that's what haunts me. Not people who have lived, but people who might have lived. Even when writing about historical figures, I'm writing about who they might have been. They're still a conjuration.

Maybe as a historical fiction writer, I'm more prone to thinking about the dead and hauntings then writers in other genres.

Maybe I'm a writer of historical fiction because of the ghosts. One of my favorite things in the world is to visit historical sites, particularly historical homes. At sprawling Civil War battlefields, with the tall grass swaying and the bugs humming, and with the old farmhouses tucked cozily in their hillsides, one can imagine oneself standing there, a hundred and fifty-odd years ago, seeing and hearing the same things. Standing in the attic of an old antebellum farmhouse, you can imagine the anxious men climbing the ladder onto the roof to look out for approaching enemies. In the kitchens of a palace in London, you can smell the roasting meat and imagine the feast that would have been laid out in the Great Hall.

It's that sort of experience that fires my imagination. And when my imagination gets going, it doesn't really want to stop. It goes and goes, even when I'm not consciously asking it to. My subconscious is always working away, and sometimes when I have a moment of calm, my subconscious presents its solutions to me: a eureka moment.

Don't get me wrong, though. Writing takes a lot of mental discipline. You have to focus on one story, and you have to pull together a thousand disparate strings of character and plot. It isn't just one big daydream that magically becomes a coherent, well-paced story, no matter how it may seem from the outside. Ideas have no form; giving them one is as much a mental feat as, say, rocket science. (And yet, writers get paid pennies and are treated as disposable by the industry...)

So what is it I write, specifically? At the moment, I have three completed novels, two of which are more "completed" than the other. Two of the three are set in Antebellum America, mainly in the South (Channing and The Cotton War). The third is set in ancien régime France (Grove of Venus). I've also written a novella set during the Civil War in the Shenandoah.

The question is, of course, whether any of these will see the light of day, i.e. publication. The good news is that I am represented by a literary agent: Erin Niumata at Folio Literary. The bad news is that we have no book deal yet, even though we've been on submission to publishers since late last year with Channing. But then again, the bad news is tempered by the fact that we may start subbing the other novel, The Cotton Wars, soon. Grove o Venus is currently on hold, waiting its turn.

Until one of those novels gets a book deal somewhere, I am going to be blogging here occasionally about books, writing, and the history that inspires my writing. Oh, and I won't stop, either. If I ever am lucky enough to be published, I'll put up little extras here for readers. A caveat: I have a day job. I will blog here as often a possible.

As a note, I have a blog over here called MARIE ANTOINETTE'S DIAMONDS, all about the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, the true story behind the ancien régime novel I mentioned above. That blog moved away from its original intention, which is part of why I decided to begin this blog with a broader scope. I hope you'll all stay tuned.