I’ve changed my site identity to reflect my expanding interest, writing historical fiction inspired by family history. Since I’m in the process of negotiating a contract for my first book and finishing the draft on my second, I thought it was time. I also changed the URL for my site, only a little, dropping the “wordpress” designation. Each of these changes take a little time to finalize so let me know if you see glitches.
I decided to honor these upgrades with a post about my favorite historical fiction and non-fiction writers. The criterion was simple; the author held such high esteem in my mind that he, or she, surfaced immediately. Why three? I like three. Rules of three are everywhere.
My three favorite writers of historical non-fiction
Bernard Bailyn–At 93 years of age, he still writes, having recently published a book of essays, Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History. Winner of numerous awards, he writes in with an ease that makes facts of early America come to life. My favorite is Voyagers to the West, but if you want a quick introduction to his work, try The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction.
Stephen Ambrose–Author of Band of Brothers and my favorite, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the American West, he breathed humanity into the famous and life into the past. He died in 2002 at seventy. A quote of his: “Love of the past implies faith in the future.”
David McCullough–Another award winning historian, 83 years old, and still producing. To take a year, as he did with my favorite, 1776, and interweave the details of the places, people, and incidents so artfully, requires an incremental understanding of history. And his television documentaries are outstanding.
(Runners-up: Jon Meachum because I loved Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Doris Kearns Goodwin for Team of Rivals and her TED talk, and Colin Woodard because his book American Nations is so provocative.)
My three favorite writers of historical fiction
Diana Gabaldon–I cannot lie. I’m a BIG fan. Not for the arc of her plots. They tend to run off and run on. But even when she goes rambling tangentially, I follow willingly because her description and her characters, and her attention to historical detail, mesmerizes, and I am there. My favorite book of the series is Drums of Autumn, because it explores a father’s love. (And yes, I watch the Stars channel’s Outlander series…I said I was a BIG fan.)
Geraldine Brooks– She is a master of a seamless, profound plot. Also, as in People of the Book, she interweaves the present to the past into her plots, a technique I use myself. When I was about ten, I read every Louisa May Alcott book, every one. Brooks is my modern day Alcott. In March, she tells the story of Little Women from the father’s point of view. “I would do my best to live in the quick world, but the ghosts of the dead would be ever at hand,” says it all.
Irving Stone–He is a classic, and the classic, The Agony and the Ecstasy, accompanied me throughout Italy. It brought Florence to life. Besides, the title…wow, and his Van Gogh novel, Lust for Life…the man had a gift for titles–and beautifully evoked stories. Some authors should never die.
(Runners-up: Mary Renault because her stories of Alexander the Great inspired me, Tracy Chevalier who takes people famous and interweaves them with those ordinary, and James Lee Burke because he is my husband’s favorite author of mostly mysteries, but wrote White Doves at Morning, an unflinching account of the cost of the Civil War.)
And you? Which authors would you add to the list?