Am I a Historical Character?
I subscribe to a several newsletters that inform me of upcoming promotions my books would fit into. Because of the Shipwreck Point series, which takes place in the Gilded Age, one of the genres I’m notified about is historical fiction. That’s still a fairly broad category, so I generally read the details of each promotion to make sure it’s targeting readers like mine, who are generally mature women like myself.
As I was scanning one of those recent emails, my eyeballs came to a screeching halt (alright, they didn’t actually screech, but you know what I mean) when I read the phrase “must take place prior to 1950.”
You know why, right? In case you don’t, 1950 is within my lifespan. That can’t possibly be historical fiction. Or is it?
I suppose the person running the promotion can decide what qualifies as historical fiction for the one they’re running, but honestly, 1950? I imagine, if you were born in the latter part of the twentieth century, or (this is hard for me to digest) in the twenty-first century, 1950 might seem like ancient history.
I’d had this kind of revelation once before, when I read a news article that pointed out that anyone born in the twenty-first century didn’t remember 9/11, an event that drastically changed us and our society. They don’t remember when you didn’t need an ID to get on an airplane, didn’t have to pass through a metal detector, didn’t need a passport to cross the border into Canada. And a large portion of them aren’t children. A significant number of them are voting adults.
What I’ve come to know is that age gives you perspective that’s impossible to have when you’re young. I grew up in a neighborhood where no one locked their doors, night or day. Where you played outside with the other kids—no formal organization required—until the street lights came on.
I lived through the Civil Rights Movement, heard Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech live, saw the US Marshals escort six-year-old Ruby Bridges into a formerly all-white school. Desegregation didn’t happen quickly or peacefully.
I was part of the Viet Nam War protests, which really were mostly peaceful, at least the ones I went to. And I agonized with the boys who had to make the choice of whether to go to war when they were drafted or flee to Canada. I had no idea of what was really going on, why we were fighting that war at all.
I was part of the Women’s Movement. I belonged to a “consciousness raising” group. I remember Martina Navratilova and Billy Jean King fighting for equal pay for women athletes. And on a personal level, I remember the favoritism towards men when it came to promotions on the job.
As far as I knew, everyone believed in God. Nobody questioned that. The biggest differences were which church—or synagogue—your family went to. We had shared values that led to common expectations in behavior. We got along, without the antagonism or hate I see today.
It’s hard to explain to young people today, people who have only read about those years in their history books, not experienced them. And I don’t see them coming back. Not that they were perfect. I had an aunt who married a divorced man which was whispered about but never brought out in the open. On the other hand, nobody ostracized my gay cousin. He was still family.
I keep trying to think of a sentence to end this with, something that captures the point I’m trying to make, but maybe there is no point. Maybe I’m just another old woman longing for what used to be.