Wednesday, April 06, 2011

From the Desk of... Diane Haeger!

I was recently asked why I chose historical fiction when there are so many other—and probably easier--- genres in which to write, where detailed research and far-off travel is not a requirement. The simple answer is, I didn’t choose historical fiction, it pretty heartily chose me. In fact, back then, I had no earthly intention at all of writing as a profession when the story that changed all that quite literally landed in my lap, in the form of a random magazine article about Great Courtesans From History. That title certainly caught my eye, and gave me my first glimpse of the fascinating love affair between Diane de Poitiers and her prince, Henri II, about whom I was about to become certifiably obsessed.

Prior to that, with college behind me, and a somewhat useless bachelor’s degree in English Literature from UCLA (professionally speaking) tucked under my belt, I had pretty much given up the whimsical notion of being able to write the great American novel. That was the stuff of fantasy, I told myself, not real life, since I didn’t have a name like Hemingway or Fitzgerald, or even an idea about what I would or could write.

As I entered the work force, those adolescent dreams seemed more and more removed from reality for me. I needed a paycheck and a reality check. I got a job, then I got a master’s degree in clinical psychology, all the while still nursing a secret passion for great meaty historical fiction. I guess I was a strange breed, but for me, authors like Irving Stone, James Michener and Jean Plaidy were my ‘rock stars’. I read their work, and I read about how they worked. Their love of detail absolutely enthralled me, as did the work that grew out of their passion for great stories from history.

As a hobby on weekends and in the evening, I began to delve into the world of Diane and Henri, who were at the time virtually unknown in the fictional market here in the U.S at the time. Reading about their sweeping, epic and true love affair as I continued working on my doctorate, became my secret little treasure trove to delve into—my guilty pleasure. I wanted to know everything: what music they would have listened to, what they ate, what sort of wine they drank, pretty much every little detail. I had to go where they had lived, walk through their gardens, see what they saw. As with all my novels, I just love knowing that these are true stories and that real people once lived these lives! That’s the sense I really hope I bring to readers. It was a very slow process in the beginning, but gradually I began to believe that just maybe I could actually be the one, driven enough to tell their story for them. Courtesan took me four years to research and write, both here and in France and it remains, to this day, my great labor of love.

So having that kind of passion as motivation--- just being obsessed with my characters and their story, was certainly how I came into the writing world. And like a drug, I wanted that same emotional attachment to the characters and their story every time I set out on a new project. I did publish two contemporary fiction-based novels back during the 90’s, Pieces of April and Beyond The Glen, and they are books of which I remain very proud. But since then I have gone firmly back to my roots. I haven’t really looked to a particular historical period to find that passion for the work, rather I find it in each individual fact-based story I discover. Each time, it’s like uncovering a wonderful little jewel tucked away somewhere. Even if the story is more well-known, I try to find a slant on it or an angle that has not yet been done. Making history come alive again, new and fresh, now that is a challenge! In my twenty year career, I have gone from Renaissance France, to Georgian England, to the Civil War South, then back to England, where I have been for quite a while now with my In the Court of Henry VIII series for NAL. Each book I write is an entirely new and separate education for me, and I come away feeling I have made a friend in the character who help me put her story down on paper. Each one of them, in her way, inspires me. Diane de Poitiers, is of course, my oldest and dearest “friend”, but I came to respect and tremendously admire Bess Blount, the character in my most recent novel, The Queen’s Mistake. This career has been a roller coaster ride for me, it has taken me to places I never could have dreamed, but none of it I would have changed for the world. I hope my readers agree because I absolutely adore historical fiction!

**Be sure to stop by tomorrow for a giveaway of The Queen's Rival **


Carol N Wong said...

Oh dear! I goofed! I couldn't find the guest post and now I did. So I want to keep my point on the giveaway form. Sorry, I am only mildly confused. LOL

I am so glad that you are obsessed with historical fiction. I am a little like you, had degree in pyschology but I could not find a job with just that so I earned a Masters in Counseling. Still no job so I ended up in the legal department of a Federal Government agency.
Now that I am retired, I can finally read all my favorite genres, mostly historical fiction.


Vivien said...

I adore historical fiction. It's a great way to go back in time without actually doing it.

Soft Fuzzy Sweater said...

I can relate! I majored in Enlglish lit and had employment counselors laugh in my face. But Ms. Haeger SHOWED THEM! I should be so talented!


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