Hello, all! Anna-Marie McLemore here, author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, stopping in with this month’s installment of Fall Fifteeners Talk Genre. In the coming months, I’m chatting with a few of my fellow Fall Fifteeners about their genres, and a little later I’ll be talking about why I what I write. Last month Mackenzi Lee, author of the incredible historical fantasy THIS MONSTROUS THING, and I chatted about being CPs. Today she’s here to talk about her love of all things historical.
1. What genres do you write?
Historical! Sometimes there is fantasy involved, sometimes there is not, sometimes it is steampunk, sometimes it is alternate history. But there is generally always history in everything I write.
2. What do you love most about historical fiction?
First off, history is freaking awesome. I obsessively collect historical anecdotes and usually whip them out at social events and everyone around me pretends to be interested, but never invites me over again. Historical settings, to me, are like fantasy, because the world is so different from ours now it often doesn’t feel real. BUT IT IS. Which is so much more exciting
When we study history in school, I think we fall into a trap of generalizing everything. We say things like everyone was horrified by a certain event. Everyone ate honey on their toast. Everyone wore bonnets and fastened their hair in ringlets whenever they left the house. Which is as crazy as saying that today, everyone wears skinny jeans all the time and had the same reaction to the last election. It can be hard to see history as individual lived experiences that are as variant as people, and I love how historical fiction does this. Not only does it bring history to life, but it creates an individual lived experiences within a greater context.
And historical fantasy is fun because I love inserting make believe stuff into real stuff. The what might have happened can be as exciting as the what actually did happen. If you do it right, you’re looking at and commenting on how the world really was no matter whether there are fantasy elements or not.
3. What genres does historical fiction sometimes get confused with? Where are lines drawn, and where is there genuine overlap/blurring between genres?
Historical is a hard thing to misconstrue, but sometimes when you mix in fantasy elements, the lines between historical fantasy and high fantasy get blurred. Adding fantasy elements to history is not a license to throw out all accuracy and make up whatever you want (I’m looking at you, CW shows). For me, a really successful historical fantasy book has to have some grounding in the real historical context of the time it’s set in. The story has to be reliant upon both the historical elements and the fantasy.
4. What are some of your favorite historical fiction books?
I love the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld--I think that book is a masterclass on how to blend real historical context and events with fantasy. I also love Airborn by Kenneth Oppel and Boundless as historical fantasy novels set in a sort of nebulous, never named year but clearly rooted in the past and with totally riveting fantasy elements and honest historical anxieties and context living side by side in perfect harmony. And I’ll throw out a small endorsement for the last historical fantasy book that knocked me over--The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. Another beautiful example of keeping your feet firmly in a historical context while also weaving in fantasy details that enhance it. As far as straight historical fiction, I also looooove the Jacky Faber series by LA Meyer. Those books just make me laugh, and Jacky is a great example of a heroine both of her time and ahead of her time enough to be relatable to a modern audience. And Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is my all time most favorite book ever. If permitted, I would never stop talking about it.
5. How did you come to write historical fiction?
A good chunk of my teenagerhood was spent in the 19th century--from age 14 to 18 I worked as a blacksmith at a Civil War-era reenactment park. That was where I started to understand and love history as a lived, individual experience within a greater context. And when your formative years are spent in ankle length dresses and petticoats (until you accidentally light them on fire, and then they let you wear trousers), it sort of predisposes you to write YA historical fiction (side note--I also met my first boyfriend there, and we basically had an antebellum courtship). I went on to study history for my undergrad, thinking I wanted to be a museum curator or an academic (or a set decorator for films, which is still sort of a weird dream of mine) until a professor told me my papers read like novels--apparently I was not allowed to say “Richard the Third felt angry” or write dialogue for Alexander Hamilton. My frustrations with studying history in college reminded me that the thing that fascinated me most was social history and individual lived experiences--the story of one person navigating a period of time, rather than wars or politics or big global movements--which was how I sort of wandered into writing historical fiction. The added fantasy elements come from a childhood love of high fantasy and epic fantasy. Mostly I’m writing the books I liked reading as a teenager.
6. Regardless of whether you write them, what are your favorite genres to read?
Nothing gets me excited like a good historical novel. Especially one with an intriguing fantasy element. I read pretty diversely--for me, the premise is always more important than the genre.
Thanks for talking genre, Mackenzi!
About Mackenzi: Mackenzi Lee is reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults. Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING will be published on September 22 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home. Visit her online at her website, blog, or Twitter.
Anna-Marie McLemore writes from her Mexican-American heritage, and her love both for cultures she grew up in and others she’s learned about along the way. Among her favorite things are fall leaves, Irish dancing, and lesser-known fairy tales. Her YA debut is THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a magical realism story of traveling shows, girls who can make anyone believe in mermaids, and tightrope-walkers who wear wings.