Tag Archives: near history

Where I Belong

After working with a story over a long period, I develop an attachment to my characters. That’s probably why they reappear in later novels, often in cameo roles. Joe Harlan, an older Foreign Service officer, appears off and on as a kind of mentor to the younger characters. I finally made him a main character in Tender Shadows.

The author Wendell Berry, in his series of writings about the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, does much the same thing. Main actors in one novel become supporting actors in another.

His novels, like mine, are not a connected series featuring one main character.

After completing Tender Shadows, I began a story about Mark Pacer, a transplant from Mocking Bird, Georgia, to the Foreign Service in 1976. I decided to let Mark have his own series (Where I Belong). A series lets me enjoy Mark from youth to—who knows—old age?

Following Mark’s life through the years also allows me to indulge my love of near history. The seventy years from 1945 (the end of World War II) carried us from early television to smart phones, from daily print newspapers with occasional extra editions to news from the far corners of the globe at the flick of an iPad.

What did this warp speed journey do to us? How does a fairly conservative young man, raised in an Appalachian village in the fifties and sixties, react to the changes of the seventies and beyond? Where does he belong? Will he become a refugee from the past?

Mark is twenty-one when the series begins, just finishing college and accepting an appointment with the U.S. Foreign Service. His father objects. “Too dandified for people like us,” he says, and we’re off into the story, which I’ve almost finished.

 

When Story Explores How We Became What We Are

I recently discovered two fictional series, one in the detective genre, the other in the mystery category. Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series and James Runcie’s Grantchester series begin in the mid-twentieth century, a decade or two after World War II.

Critics describe both, as going beyond their genres. They are immersed in the social and cultural changes of their eras as they follow the main characters through time. They appeal to me for that reason.

My own novels have changed. In the beginning they tended toward romance, then women’s fiction, but the characters were wedded to the time period of the seventies and eighties. They explored a time period not considered either historical or contemporary. The era of near history is my niche, because it lends clues for how we became what we are in the present. In addition, nobody writes truly “contemporary” fiction. As one is writing the words, the present becomes past.

Time features even more in the series I’m writing now, which follow a man’s life from the late 1970’s into whatever near present I’m able to reach. Few would deny the tremendous changes during this time period.

Why did the changes happen? How did they develop? What do the changes mean to us today? What do they mean to relationships and families? What do they mean to our belief systems?

Another change occurs, too. The novelist is changed as a result of considering the changes to his/her protagonists. It makes for an interesting journey.