Anne Mateer: Infusing Fiction with Fact
Jennifer AlLee here. Today it's my great pleasure to present our guest, former founding Inky and fabulous author, Anne Mateer! She's giving away a copy of her newest novel, At Every Turn. Details are at the end of the post.
Having been a history major in college, I have a great respect for historical facts and historical accuracy. But even back then, my goal wasn’t to make a name for myself in the halls of academia. I wanted to write fiction infused with historical fact.
I remember the day I mentioned this, with fear and trepidation, to the professor who was advising me on my senior honors thesis.
“What will you do next?” he asked that spring, as we neared the end of our time together.
I gulped, took a deep breath, and let out the secret dream I’d told to few others. “I want to write historical fiction.”
To that point in my life, most of the historical fiction I had loved had been much more than costume drama. It was authors such as Eugenia Price and Irving Stone who fictionalized real people who lived in an earlier era. I explained this to my professor, thinking it would elevate my goals in his eyes.
Instead, he frowned and shook his head. “Don’t try to fictionalize those big historical figures. Instead, steep yourself in a time period and write a story out of how you know it to be.”
That advice went deep and stuck. But eventually, fictional characters and their fictional stories bump up against historical events. To me, this is a good thing. It’s a chance to educate readers about things they never learned or have long forgotten that impacted at least some people’s lives. This is where my love of history and my devotion to fact intervenes. I simply cannot make my characters interact with a historical event in a way that changes the historical record.
I don’t want people to walk away from my novels believing something about a historical event that isn’t true. So my character can’t be responsible for the outcome--or change the outcome. I just can’t do it. While writing At Every Turn, I truly wrestled with this for the first time. In the story, there are three historic auto races that are significant to the plot. But how could I insert my character and serve the plot without changing the results on record? At first it had me stumped. I pondered and experimented, but I simply couldn’t alter those events. I had to find a way to make them work within the story.
The result? I found more creative ways to get my character into the event and to use the historical record within the plot. And guess what? Doing so actually added more conflict--more obstacles--to my heroines journey! I came away with a story that worked while remaining true to the historical events portrayed.
And to me, that is the beauty of a historical novel--a blending of fact and fiction in a seamless union that doesn’t distort truth.
Are there any historical events you’ve learned about through a fictional character’s interaction with them? Did you ever look up the facts later to compare them to the novel’s treatment?
Win the Book
Anne is generously giving a copy of At Every Turn to one lucky reader. To enter, please leave a comment to the post along with your email address. The winner will be chosen at random on Friday, November 9th.
About the Book - AT EVERY TURN
Caught up in a whirlwind of religious fervor when two missionaries speak at her church, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. She’s certain her wealthy father will simply hand her the money. But when he refuses, she must either stand up in front of the congregation and admit failure, or raise the money herself.
Alyce harbors a secret passion for speed and automobiles. It’s 1916, and the latest advancements in car engines allow some to post speeds upwards of seventy miles per hour! When she discovers her father’s company has sponsored a racing car that will compete in several upcoming events–races in which the driver will be paid and could win as much as five thousand dollars in prize money–she conspires with her father’s mechanic, Webster, to secretly train and compete.
But as Alyce comes across needs in her own community, money slips through her fingers faster than she can earn it. And when her friends cast aspersions on Webster’s past, she believes she might have trusted the wrong man with her secret. Will Alyce come up with the money in time, or will she have to choose between her promise and the man who holds a piece of her heart?
Anne Mateer has a long-held passion for history and historical fiction. She is fascinated by all eras of the past, but currently writes about the years preceding and including World War I. She is the author of two works of historical fiction, At Every Turn and Wings of a Dream, with two more coming in 2013 and 2014. Anne and her husband live in Texas and are the parents of three young adult children.