The Seductive Allure of History and Why I Love Writing About the Same Family

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Writing about the 1860s spins my thoughts endlessly, in countless directions. I am admittedly over-sensitive, apt to become too caught up in what I’m researching; since I was small, I have found myself almost (but not quite, because surely part of me must welcome this feeling) unwittingly ensnared by a bit I’d read or heard, and then I pine for something (a place, a time period, maybe) I can barely articulate, even to myself.

The first time this struck me hard (gaining my complete attention) was in third grade, after researching the Oregon Trail for an essay assignment. Lying in bed that night, my imagintion pinwheeling like the lights thrown from a county fair Ferris wheel, I kept circling back to one notion – I had been there. I had walked along the prairie once upon about a hundred fifty years ago. I could smell the scent of the tall grass broken by the tremendous weight of the onward-rolling wagon wheels, I had gathered wood through the day for the fires at night when the wagons circled up for safety, I had scanned the distance all through the long summer days and dreamed of the places over the horizon from behind the brim of my sunbonnet. Yep. Don’t accuse me of romanticizing or anything…

I don’t fully know how I feel about past lives. I would never discredit the possibility. There is so much more to the world than we could ever begin to understand. If someone tells you they have the answers, they are wrong, wrong, wrong. They don’t. No one does. It’s the speculation that makes life grand and heart-wrenching and rife with meaning, sometimes even outright stunning. Now, as an adult, I write with real passion for the late nineteenth century, where I still feel a piece of my soul belongs…remains, maybe. There is an allure to this era that I cannot shake. Maybe half the problem is that I can picture it so fucking perfectly, with all senses afire. It’s seductive, because when I’m “there” it seems real…I write characters, but truly they come alive and then the story unfolds around me. I may very well be typing furiously to keep up with the action, but often I feel as though I’m observing as you would when dreaming…there but not there. Watching events unfold and recording them, not creating them. Does that make sense?

I am so invested in the fictitious¬†families I write about¬†that it actually hurts a little (ok, significantly) to think there might come a time when their story is “over,” in that I won’t be writing it any longer, because it will have been told. The two storylines (contemporary and historical) interconnect in so many ways and I don’t want to be finished. For now, there is still so much to tell. And so thankfully I get to continue indulging myself in researching and writing about the 1860; I sink delightedly into the rhythms and textures of this world. And for now, I have no desire to surface.

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