20 Works of Historical Fiction You Should Read Right Now

Qwiklit

Historical fiction is not necessarily a “new” genre, but  many of the authors below have painstakingly recreated the past through years of academic and on-location research. As a window into the past, historical fiction is a healthy way to remove modern prejudices that affect our judgement of the olden days. Sometimes, it is easy to think that everybody was once simple-minded, brutish and downright inhumane, but these intimate portraits set in unfamiliar eras allow us to think otherwise.
This selection includes many skilled authors who boast many other quality works that should also be considered. At Qwiklit, we are merely showing you how certain authors have approached certain periods of time, and we are well aware there are dozens of other great selections worth looking at. Some recreate entire cities from the ground up, while others take conventional histories and turn  them on their head. Either way, the past can…

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Writing Idols

“It is indeed a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest; and the sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire. Our hour of triumph is what brings the void.”
William James.

It is not my habit to live in the present. I either linger on past moments of tenderness or future dreams of glory. Suffering brings the present–the present as gift and challenge. Living life as a cup in need of filling (by other people, by success, by healthy foods and by writing) is a sad fiction with tragic consequences.

So often I strive (in search of what?). I don’t believe creative pursuits are meaningless or bad yet when I make idols I miss things. I hunger after food that does not satisfy. I forget others. I avoid others. They interfere with my goals (my declared and undeclared wants disguised as needs).

I’d like to write a better post this week yet winter lingers here at Middlemay Farm with a host of sufferings and difficulties. I confess that January felt laden with disappointment, boredom and wasted time. February was no better until one day when I’d gotten up especially early to get stuff done before having to wash staph-infected goats with lime sulfur (yes, it smells of rotten eggs) I stumbled upon a verse from the Bible.

“The Lord is peace.” Judges 6:24

Four simple words. Words almost cliche. Yet they struck me as the opposite of how I’d been living my life. After years of striving, yoga, green smoothies, tantrums, therapy and complaint, I suddenly saw that I’d bought into the lie that I was a cup “needing” to be filled. God led me to write novels. Some may scoff at such a notion but there are just some things that jump out at you in life. The mission placed on me, embedded in my DNA, is to write fiction for those of us who are terribly flawed. Those of us who believe we’ve taken things too far and are irredeemable. I once was there.

But missions can get corrupted as easily as anything else. A review comes in. A reader finds a book’s characters too damned flawed. For a moment, maybe even a day, I wander the farm wondering: Is it true that some people are just not lovable?

On an intellectual level I believe God loves us–all of us, but I fall prey to feelings, and feelings lie. I let my characters go through quite a lot of hardship. They grow that way. I love them and the people I write for. Fictional characters live in the past and future.

In the NOW there are real people who suffer minor slights and major catastrophes all around us. I find them insufferably flawed. I say to my husband things like: if this one goat I love does not get better soon I want her taken out back and shot. Do I mean it? Sometimes. Maybe? Not really.

It’s very easy for me to blind myself to the suffering of others when I’m stomping my feet and needing my cup filled.

So what is this peace?

I used to think it was an easy thing for the Lord to have peace. If I had complete control wouldn’t I have peace?

Honestly I’d have to say no. It’s obvious that none of us are gods, but I make idols of people and things all the time. Idols bring no peace. Striving brings no peace.

I think the point of the four words is that while there are lesser things to love, to struggle with and to mourn over God remains present. As in the moments. Right now. As writers we create characters, serenely aware of our deep love for them (would our characters know that as we allow their suffering?). Unlike us God isn’t scripting for an exciting dystopian young adult novel. His story is sadly not as well known as it should be.

At the end of our suffering there is peace–something we are only awake to on rare occasions in this life. Those times in suffering when a nurse stays with you all night or when a dog jumps into your sick bed. Those moments temporarily fill our perceived empty cups. But here is where we look at it wrong. God’s peace is for the givers more than the takers. To look at a creative pursuit or mission as a love offering to others instead of a way to pant after good reviews and limelight is to change everything.

I’m no saint. I hate kids, animals and the world for brief moments every day when I’m looking to be filled.

But there’s something better.

PEACE.

 

Sitting by the Fireside: African American History, Women’s History, and Food

Circulating Now

Circulating Now welcomes guest blogger, Psyche Williams-Forson, PhD. Dr. Williams-Forson is an associate professor and chair, Department of American Studies, University of Maryland-College Park and the guest curator of NLM’s exhibition, Fire and Freedom: Food and Enslavement in Early America.

A detail from a painting showing a black woman carrying a tray between buildings.Leaving the month of February, when we celebrate Black History Month, and entering March, when we highlight the achievements of women, seems a fitting time to discuss Fire and Freedom: Food and Enslavement in Early America. The exhibition recognizes the ways in which meals can tell us how power is exchanged between and among different peoples, races, genders, and classes. Food, as an object or set of objects, reveals a great deal about who we are, and some of the life experiences that we have and have had.

Only in the last several decades have food and cooking as a cultural process, been given serious attention. Prior…

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Fiction: The Priesthood

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After a big night William considers a change . . .

“So, give us the news, Bill. Was she some socialite back east you left behind with a broken heart?” Haviland asked always edging too close—close enough to see the dried spittle at the corners of his yellow smile and the dandruff in the coarse dark hairs of his eyebrows.

William said nothing for a moment. “No, just a friend of the family—a cousin—from Englewood.”

“Ah, Englewood, it always sounds so green and luxurious when you talk about it,” Haviland said. “You’re lucky for the culturing you got—art and all that truck.”

“Yes, well . . .”

“I thought certain that you must have sparked her sometime, the way she gushed seein’ you,” Haviland said, his glassy eyes always looking for an angle.

William looked up from his drink, momentarily excited by his friend’s interpretation of Thankful’s behavior but remembered what had happened this afternoon. “No, that’s just her way with people. All people. But she’s nice though.”

“That lieutenant seemed impressed with her this morning. He’s trying her on, I’d say,” Haviland said, waiting for reaction.

“She’s leaving soon. But . . . well, she’s had some trouble. Listen, Haviland, I’ve got to go now. I’m awful wrecked.”

Haviland laughed. “You were some wild son-of-a-bitch last night—see you later, then?”

William hesitated. “Jay, what exactly did we get up to last night?”

“The usual, I reckon,” Haviland replied, hoisting himself up on to one of the bar stools.

“Did I seem to have more money or anything?”

“Why? Did you get paid?” Haviland asked like a cat regarding his mouse.

“No, it’s that my cousin, she’s lost a heap of money and thinks . . .” he said more than he wanted to.

Haviland got close. “Listen, Bill, I wasn’t gonna ask how you got all that cash . . . two hundred dollars is a lot.”

“How’d you know it was two hundred?”

Haviland hesitated, but then laughed and shook his finger at William. “Why, you told me last night. You were blind drunk here and talking up a storm.”

“But, Robinson said I didn’t pay him.”

“I couldn’t tell you if you did or didn’t. You don’t remember a thing, do you?” Haviland probed. “I keep tellin’ you to watch out—someone will land you in deep shit one day.”

“I couldn’t have drunk up that much and Madeline was huffed at me for paying her only a few coins.”

“You don’t remember anything? Bill, that ain’t good.” Haviland looked concerned. “You don’t remember racin’ the greaser with your pony?”

“A Mexican?”

“Spect he’s gone now—some rider he was and you bein’ so drunk and all . . . I’d say you lost yer shirt.”

“I remember putting Sophie to bed at the stables.”

“You sent me to go fetch her again.”

William said nothing. He never took a horse after drinking—ever.

“Come, Bill, have a little hair of the dog.”

“No, I’ve got to go see Sophie.” William jammed his hands deep in his pockets. He licked his parched lips. “I have to get control of things, somehow,” he thought. He walked toward the stables, but the Catholic Church, with its open doors and dark, cool interior, called to him. He took a seat along the back wall and leaned his head against the adobe.

Hours later the Spanish accented priest Father Diaz nudged William awake. “Son, I’m closing shop.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to camp out here,” William said, pushing his greased hair off his face and behind his ears.

“Well, you have to leave now.”

William stood and looked around a minute. “Sir—I mean father or reverend or whatever—I was considering the priesthood.”

The priest laughed. “Are you a Catholic?”

“No, but I’m sure I could learn the basics—don’t you want more people to join up?”

“Why suddenly do you think of the priesthood? This is a small settlement, Bill Weldon. I know what you get up to every night. Are you ready to confess your sins and renounce that sort of living?”

“What’s renounce mean?” William asked. “And if you know my faults why do I have to say them? But if you want me to, I guess I could.”

“Do you feel sorry for your behavior?” the priest asked with an indulgent smile.

“Sometimes, I guess, but it’s hard—I think if I’m a priest then—“

“Son, I don’t think you’re ready for the priesthood. It’s not a hiding place from your lustful nature.” The priest snuffed a candle.

“Well then, what’s it for? What else can you priests do but pray and hope for Indian converts and the end of the world? I think I could do that. I don’t seem much good at anything else. Maybe I have a calling for it.”

The priest shook his head at William in his rough clothes. “Bill, the priestly garments would hardly fit you and there’s a lot of study—theology and that sort of thing. You need some real intelligence.”

“Numbers get mixed up in my head is all—are there lots of figures and geometry in knowing God for Catholics?” William asked with an edge.

“I didn’t mean to insult you. Becoming a priest—or just a Catholic, for that matter—is no small thing. That’s all I was getting at. It takes commitment and all I’ve seen you commit to since arriving is that rascal, Jay Haviland, and the girls in the whorehouse.”

“I’m not committed to Jay Haviland! We go on larks together, that’s all and he doesn’t mind my lack of brains.”

“Of course not. It benefits him that you are so—let’s say generous.”

“He watches out for me when I . . .”

“When you drink too much, then he spends your money. He’s no good, son, and it’s the laugh of the town that you don’t see it. Listen, consider giving up the drinking and the women before visiting me again with foolish notions.”

William stalked off for home, remembered Sophie and went to the stables.

PREVIOUS EPISODE

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

 

Classic Family Sagas

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“The family saga chronicles the lives and doings of a family or a number of related or interconnected families. The typical novel follows the generations of a family through a period of time to portray particular historical events, changes of social circumstances, or the ebb and flow of fortunes from a multiple of perspectives.” (Goodreads)

LINKS: DEAR BOOK LOVER: CLASSIC FAMILY SAGAS

             TOP 10 EPIC FAMILY SAGAS

              WRITING AN EPIC FAMILY SAGA

 

Fiction: Sobriety Lost

William pushed aside his glass, remembering the first time he took a drink.

When William and a few greenhorn privates, hanging together like newborn pups, had first visited town Haviland sauntered up.

“New to these parts, I see. Are you going to stand on the corner barking at a knot or do something with your freedom?”

William didn’t trust a man with sayings that made no sense—his mother told him not to.

Haviland leered at the pioneers with a mix of pity and scorn. “Look, boys, there’s a lot of bad types out here to take advantage of new recruits and the four of you standin’ here is advertisement enough that you’re wantin’ to be taken. You don’t know me from a wohaw, but my family built up this town and I’m like the hemp committee and the welcoming team all in one.”

One soldier whispered around, “What in heck is a wohaw?”

The others shook their heads at him like they knew.

“And a hemp committee—is there hemp growed out here in the desert?”

William spoke. “No, Baker, it’s the folks who do a lynching.”

“Oh, so there’s one bright spark! Course he’s smart enough not to sell his soul to the government—lying bastards,” Haviland said, and smacked William’s back.

William scratched his head with a small grin, but said, “We should go, boys.”

“You ain’t the boss of us, Bill Weldon. Everyone knows you ain’t clever!” one soldier replied.

“So, young lads, would you like an expert to show you town?” Haviland waved his arm all around him as if they were viewing a grand wonder of the world instead of a single street of false fronts and ne’er- do- wells.

They shrugged and gave each other tentative glances as they followed the shiny-looking Westerner with all the latest gear.

The tour started off with a short history of the settlement, tales about Indian fighting and then a look-see in the general store and the haberdashery. One of the boys plunked down his money for a big cowhand hat. The others laughed. Further along the short, dusty and exciting road Haviland noted, “Fellows, when a good carte-viste won’t do it for you and you want a real fuck, this is the place to go first. It’s a high-class place though and they’ll want cash. Cards are on the ground floor and the women on top (if that’s the way you like it).”

The boys eyed everything with enthusiasm, but William and one of the others, a Methodist preacher’s son, hung back.

“You don’t like women?” Haviland asked.

The preacher’s son replied, “Course I do, but my daddy raised me right and this ain’t nowhere near right. I’m leavin’ back for the post. Bill, you comin’?”

William liked the preacher’s son, but something, a memory, made him stay.

The soldier shuffled off. “Friendship over,” William mumbled.

The other soldiers laughed.

“Can we get a girl in broad daylight?”

“Course. If you have enough for it.”

The soldier took out his pay, minus the money spent on his ostentatious hat and Haviland shook his head. “No, this is high class, I tell you—go down to the bed bug hotel if you want a quick and easy cheap lay—no tellin’ what you’ll end up with.”

The men turned up their noses.

“Hmm . . . now, if you were to maybe win a hand at bluff . . . do you fellows play?” Haviland asked.

“Our captain says we shouldn’t,” the soldier, who had followed up until now in silence, said.

The last soldier with the big hat remained steadfast in his enthusiasm. “Come on, men, we’ll try our beginner’s luck. If I win big, we’ll all get a girl. Anyway, I’m damned good at cards—you’ll see.”

“Now watch your manners—you don’t want to wear your welcome right off,” Haviland warned, dusting off his hat at the door.

Two men inside the thick-aired room heavy with drapery and cheap art turned and stared. William’s gut burned. This parlor—the smell and feel of it—was so familiar and, in some small way, comforting. He couldn’t bring himself to leave though nothing good could come of staying.

The two soldiers took seats at the long, beat-up table. If this was high class what was low?

“You with the gimpy leg, are you playin’ or babysitting?”

“Neither, sir,” William replied.

The man stared at his manners.

“Are you in or not?”

“Not, sir.”

“Then, boy howdy, take yourself to that there settee. Your gangly self is makin’ me jittery. Where’d you drag him in from, Haviland?”

“He was part of the package deal,” Haviland replied.

William knew from the start that his friends would lose everything and they did. His parents had instilled in him a deep distrust of cards. When the soldiers rose from the table, beaten and demoralized, William tried not to appear too self-satisfied, but clutched his money even tighter in his pocket. A long, miserable hallway led from back to front. Light from the back door lit the kitchen and William stopped short. A young lady shot by and ran out back.

Haviland laughed, “What a wretch that one is—ugly as a one-eyed cat.”

“Pardon?” William turned to him.

“I bet you can get that one cheap—she’s from down the road, but wants to step up. There’s not a chance in hell.”

“I don’t want her!” William replied, horrified at the thought, but shaken, too. Something about her. . .

The soldiers snickered and Haviland slapped William’s back. “It’s been a rough time for you cubs—fleeced like sheep. I’ll treat you to some Shepherd’s Delight at The Buckskin—it’s the best whiskey for miles, I tell you.”

“My daddy back home, he makes the best. . .” the cowhand soldier said.

“Yes, yes.” Haviland dismissed the soldier’s small talk.

They followed the westerner, impressed and put-off by him at the same time.

“Bill, are you coming?”

“Sure.” But he had promised his mother. . .

The soldier wearing the tall hat whispered, “Bet he won’t take a drop—afraid of his own shadow—bet he’s scart he’ll tumble over on that crooked leg of his.”

“You ain’t one of them religious crazies, too?” Haviland asked.

“No, sir.” William followed the others into the saloon.

“Whiskey all around, Robinson.”

The bartender shook his head at the greenhorns.

William spoke. “I’ll just have, well, a lemonade, sir.”

Robinson didn’t bat an eye, just poured him a lemony drink and added something unfamiliar. William sipped it. The other’s threw back their whiskey and waited for more. They laughed at William so he finished his with a gulp.

William felt pressured to buy his friends a round. He had only brought his money along so he wouldn’t misplace it. The soldiers stared, bug-eyed, at William’s fund as he brought it from his pocket and laid it on the bar.

Haviland kept a close eye on him. After two drinks William no longer hurried to go and after five drinks the soldiers had to mind him and the money he left unattended. William relaxed and the soldiers liked him.

WEARY OF RUNNING PREVIOUS EPISODE

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

The Ghosts in Our Walls: History and Tales from the Haunted South

Kristen Twardowski

There are ghosts in the walls of old houses. They roam abandoned plantations. They float down the side streets of southern cities on sticky, sultry summer nights.

Tales from the Haunted South.jpgThat is what the dark tourism industry would have us believe at any rate. Dark tourism is travel that is steeped in suffering of one sort or another. In the American South, this industry overlaps with the ghost tourism industry in which people investigate potential hauntings. Historian Tiya Miles explores these ideas along with the historical memory of slavery in Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era.

In the book, Miles focuses on ghost tours to help understand how people reinterpret the Civil War era. The narrative follows her as she travels to places like Charleston, New Orleans, and Savannah as well as more rural plantations. Histories can often be dry texts, but Tales…

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