I Feel Lucky – Why I Love Historical Fiction
An author once told me he preferred writing fantasy so he’d not have to waste time researching history. He just imagined details as he went, building fantastic worlds in made-up places. Well, let me tell you why I love historical fiction.
I have to admit I didn’t realize just how much time I’d spend researching when I began writing stories set in the past. But what can you do when that’s your passion? Over the years I’ve spent many months reading books about the periods my stories play in, studied old newspapers, websites, images, maps and so on. No detail is too small as I recreate the historical setting in my head.
In the case of one of my novels, ‘Escape from the Past: The Kid,’ I read many books on Billy the Kid—luckily I have Indiana University’s library at my fingertips—as well as studied the Wild West in detail.
Visiting Billy the Kid’s Grave
Sorting out the Puzzle
It’s sort of like a puzzle that starts with a location and a year. From there I work my way into the “atmosphere” of smells, sounds, vistas, clothing, foods, weather, my characters’ habits and lifestyles. And after a while when I’ve read and analyzed enough, I’m able to envision my historical world in great detail, so it becomes natural to move my characters through it.
Near Fort Sumner along the Pecos River
There are always things I miss and study while writing. For instance how much do a horse and saddle cost in 1881? Or what do you pay for a meal in a saloon? I also studied guns though I’m not a big fan. Of course, in the Wild West of New Mexico, pretty much all people carried them.
Research Visits are a Must
What I find most helpful is the actual research visit. Yes, I do go wherever my stories take place. Images, no matter how well done, never reflect what the air, sunlight, wind, spaces and vistas really look and feel like.
Exploring the Black Range
So in April of 2015 I took a 10-day trip to follow in the footsteps of my protagonist, Max Nerds. Beginning in Fort Sumner, NM, I visited the two Billy the Kid museums, went to the Kid’s grave, traveled southwest across the Rio Grande and into the mountains of the Gila Wilderness. I stopped in Chloride, a former silver mining and almost ghost town at the end of a bumpy road—a few residents are painstakingly refurbishing and rebuilding to return the village to its 19th century glory.
High Pine Forest in the Black Range
From there the trip led farther west and south into the Black Range. In the 19th century the Warm Springs Apaches called it home, traveling through the vast mountains, maintaining a nomadic lifestyle. On a whim we turned off the main road and found ourselves traveling up and down ridges, through beautiful pine forests smelling so fragrant I wanted to bottle their scent, valleys, shrubby hillsides and along lakes. All the while I imagined how the Apaches must have loved this place and lost it to the greed of the white man.
Vistas in the Black Range – the Land Goes on Forever
I Love Historical Fiction
What I came away with is as always flowing into my stories, each part a revelation. The way the sky is so huge and seems to go on forever. The way the land is peppered with prickly plants and shapes itself into folds and ravines, gravelly pits and high ridges. The way the wind whispers through the trees and pine needles form a carpet snuffing out your steps. The harshness of cold and hot every given day, the low moisture in the air attacking your nostrils.
Each detail is precious and an experience. For myself and for my characters. The way I see it, I’m lucky I write historical fiction.
Date Published: March 15, 2017
***An IWIC Hall of Fame Novel***
***Winner 2017 National Indie Excellence Award***
"This book needs to join the ranks of the classic survivor stories of WWII such as "Diary of Anne Frank" and "Man's Search for Meaning". It is truly that amazing!" InD'taleMagazine
"This family saga is wonderfully written and, aside from the emotional ramifications, very easy to read. I stayed up too late a couple of nights reading it...I highly recommend this book!" Long and Short Reviews
Spanning thirteen years from 1940 to 1953 and set against the epic panorama of WWII, author Annette Oppenlander's SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND is a sweeping saga of family, love, and betrayal that illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the children's war.
SURVIVING THE FATHERLAND tells the true and heart-wrenching stories of Lilly and Günter struggling with the terror-filled reality of life in the Third Reich, each embarking on their own dangerous path toward survival, freedom, and ultimately each other. Based on the author's own family and anchored in historical facts, this story celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of war children.
When her father goes off to war, seven-year-old Lilly is left with an unkind mother who favors her brother and chooses to ignore the lecherous pedophile next door. A few blocks away, twelve-year-old Günter also looses his father to the draft and quickly takes charge of supplementing his family's ever-dwindling rations by any means necessary.
As the war escalates and bombs begin to rain, Lilly and Günter's lives spiral out of control. Every day is a fight for survival. On a quest for firewood, Lilly encounters a dying soldier and steals her father's last suit to help the man escape. Barely sixteen, Günter ignores his draft call and embarks as a fugitive on a harrowing 47-day ordeal--always just one step away from execution.
When at last the war ends, Günter grapples with his brother's severe PTSD and the fact that none of his classmates survived. Welcoming denazification, Lilly takes a desperate step to rid herself once and for all of her disgusting neighbor's grip. When Lilly and Günter meet in 1949, their love affair is like any other. Or so it seems. But old wounds and secrets have a way of rising to the surface once more.
About the Author
Annette Oppenlander is an award-winning writer, literary coach and educator. As a bestselling historical novelist, Oppenlander is known for her authentic characters and stories based on true events, coming alive in well-researched settings. Having lived in Germany the first half of her life and the second half in various parts in the U.S., Oppenlander inspires readers by illuminating story questions as relevant today as they were in the past. Oppenlander’s bestselling true WWII story, Surviving the Fatherland, was elected to IWIC’s Hall of Fame and won the 2017 National Indie Excellence Award. Her historical time-travel trilogy, Escape from the Past, takes readers to the German Middle Ages and the Wild West. Uniquely, Oppenlander weaves actual historical figures and events into her plots, giving readers a flavor of true history while enjoying a good story. Oppenlander shares her knowledge through writing workshops at colleges, libraries and schools. She also offers vivid presentations and author visits. The mother of fraternal twins and a son, she lives with her husband and old mutt, Mocha, in Bloomington, Ind.