Reading Past, Present, and Future

I’m in a holding pattern with my own writing at the moment while I await editorial feedback on my book in progress (more later) so I’m able to tackle the books on my bedside table. Here’s what’s happening now:

 

I just finished This Tender Land  by William Kent Krueger  Set in 1932, the book follows four runaways from the Lincoln School, where Native American children are forcibly sent, as they launch a canoe and head for the Mississippi River. They encounter tragedy, heartbreak, kindness, and hope. Some lovely passages, exciting incidents, and interesting characters. Think Homer’s Odyssey.  I greatly enjoyed the book and will search out another by William Kent Krueger.

I’m now reading (gobbling up is more like it) Fountains of Silence by the brilliant Ruta Sepetys. Madrid, 1957. Silence, secrets, danger, fear.  Such writing, such research! I’m gobsmacked.

Next up is an indie titled The Serpent, The Puma, and the Condor, written by Gayle Marie. It’s a tale of Machu Pichu. Incas, conquistadors, and the tragic conflict of cultures. I can’t wait.

California Gold Rush Expansion

There were so many immigrants moving to California during the Gold Rush, from the East Coast and other countries, that the population of San Francisco grew from 1,000 to 20,000 in two years. Can you imagine the construction and the need for sanitation, food, and medical practitioners? Teachers?

The Harvard University Library Open Collections has photos you can study, quite closely, for your own research into the period, as well as digitized newspaper and magazine articles, passenger lists, maps, and more.

At the foot of the Big Tree, Grant National Park

For instance, Hunting for Gold, by William Downie, shares his personal recollections of hunting for gold from California to Alaska.

Sunset magazine, published by the Southern Pacific Railroad, published “Gold Mining in California,” by Chas. G. Yale, in August, 1899, describing California’s status as the leading gold mining state whose mines in 1899 were still “productive and profitable.” The photo below was published with this article.

Ten Dollars a Day

Ballad of Lucy WhippleMy book, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, is set in the heyday of the California Gold Rush, in Lucky Diggins, California. When Arvella Whipple moves to this gold mining town to become proprietress of the boarding house, she brings her three children with her. Her oldest, California Morning Whipple, who later renames herself “Lucy,” is the narrator of this story. She resents the move from Massachusetts and wants to return to civilized surroundings. An avid reader, there are few books in this rough-and-tumble town. Will she ever grow used to her new surroundings?

In no other place or time

Q. Some people feel that if the writer has lived through it, it can’t be termed historical fiction. Teachers are considering historical fiction to be anything before 2000, because their students didn’t live through those times. How do you feel about this? Is The Loud Silence of Francine Green historical fiction?

A. Jane Yolen says that children think a historical novel is about anything that happened before they were born. But that misses what I think is the most important attribute of a historical novel: it tells a story that could not possibly have happened in any other place or time, a story that results from the combination of character and circumstances. The character would not have been faced with the particular situation or issues at any other time. The situation springs from the period, focused through individuals. For example, The Loud Silence of Francine Green and the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s/early 1950s. Or Catherine Called Birdy facing an arranged marriage for her family’s gain. Or the science that made alchemy believable while superstition prevailed in Alchemy and Meggy Swann.

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The McCarthy Era

Moderator: How did the McCarthy Era affect you? When you were living through it, did you think of it as “an era”? Is that something we only create in hindsight?

Cushman: I am enough younger than Francine so that the only McCarthy I knew was Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist dummy. Joseph McCarthy and his era really were not a topic of conversation in my high school and even most of my college years. I would say that eras are pretty much identified and described long after they have passed. Otherwise we go day to day, step by step, the best we can.

McCarthy Era

About Karen Cushman’s The Loud Silence of Francine GreenSchool Library Journal wrote, “This novel follows Francine’s eighth-grade year, from August 1949 to June 1950, at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles, a year of changes largely inspired by a new transfer student, Sophie Bowman. While Francine is quiet and committed to staying out of trouble, happy to daydream of Hollywood movie stars and to follow her father’s advice not to get involved in controversy, Sophie questions authority and wants to make a difference. Her questioning of the nuns’ disparaging comments about the Godless communists frequently leads to her being punished and eventually to her expulsion from school. Francine begins to examine her own values, particularly when an actor friend of Sophie’s father is blacklisted and Mr. Bowman loses his scriptwriting job. At the novel’s end, Francine is poised to stand up to Sister Basil, the bullying principal, and exercise her freedom of speech.”

Is this historical fiction?

The Meaning of MaggieIs a novel set in 1988 a historical novel? I’m sure every ten-year-old would say yes although I think of 1988 as just yesterday. Megan Jean Sovern’sThe Meaning of Maggie is set in 1988. I didn’t even think of it as historical until days later. I just thought it a terrific book, charming and touching. Smart, funny, stubborn Maggie deals with her father’s incurable illness as well as all the other vicissitudes of being eleven. The characters are appealing, the situations believable, and the ending realistic but filled with hope. I recommend it to you and all the eleven-year-olds in your life.

Meanwhile, at a school for gladiators in Pompeii

Curses and SmokeCurses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Schecter introduces us to Lucia, the daughter of the owner of a gladiatorial school in Pompeii, and her childhood friend, Tag, a slave who tends to the wounds of injured gladiators. Lucia is unwillingly betrothed to an older man who will invest in her father’s school, and Tag hopes to become a gladiator and buy his freedom. Mount Etna however  has other plans for them. The historical setting is compelling and the story suspenseful. I’d especially recommend it for young readers not familiar with the tragedy of Pompeii.