Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scholarship, Authorship

Like many people, I fancy myself a history buff - but, for me, there is a distinct and a clear dividing line between my interest (scattershot, variable, and personal as it is) and An Historian.  It is likely I know more than any layperson needs to about pattern welding, horse breeding in Late Antiquity Northern Europe, grave goods, grave goods, grave goods, and grave goods - yet what I know is both ephemeral (once I've used it to my storytelling ends, I let it go) and deeply, utterly unprofessional.  I will never be the person to whom *anyone* should ever turn with actual substantive questions about the history of my periods and places - and I do not want to be.

There are history nerds and historical fiction authors all over, who would consider themselves competent to expound on the points of their personal interest in our past.  I am not one of these people.

For one, even years into the writing, I still must turn to a spot of research now and then, to reassure myself I've done something right (or that, in revising it, I won't do something wrong).  For two, I still occasionally find sources I did not find when work was in full force, and new ways of looking at the way I've treated the story myself.

And STORY is the ultimate key word.  Not history.

I came to Late Antiquity Gaul for a *reason* - I used it - I have spun out of it something both history and fiction ... and there is no soul less likely in this world than I, to tell you that historical fiction is remotely like the science of *history*.  I want only to tell a story.  It'd be nice for me, to keep all those guitarists off my back, to feel I've told it without too much glaring stupidity.  But, at the end of the day:  I am not rigorous.  I am not disciplined.  I am not a good source.

Gossamer the Editor Cat sez:
"I do not play guitar."

I have written nothing resembling the product of work and dedication and critical thinking which we like to think of as actual history.

I thought critically about what would make for a good novel.

I was dedicated to my writing.

I have worked, now for enough years I don't even want to tot the full duration up for you right now.  The next novels will not take so long.  I won't be educating myself how to write one (at an advancing age).  I won't be educating myself how to get the thing published.  But it's a lot of years ...

MY critical thinking and my work and my dedication - even my enthusiasm and confidence and - yes, I'll use the word - passion for The Ax and the Vase, are in no way the same thing as the scholarship and the work of a professional.  Not a professional historian, anyway - one hopes we'll be able to call it the work of a paid, published, and agented author.

If someone ever asked me about the costume of my period - the gender roles - the religions and the laws - I would hope I could at least provide some response.  But I would hope, simultaneously, that anyone asking me about that was doing so in the context of knowing my work - not as a student, nor expecting worthwhile instruction.  Conversations and considerations of history are fascinating and exciting.  But I will never be a resource for study.

It seems to me unlikely in the extreme that anyone will ever look to Diane Major as an authority of any kind.  Yet there are authors who like very well to participate in documentaries and studies of history.  I admire *their* confidence - and I know authors who do have the chops to expound (Elizabeth Chadwick, I'm looking at you).

Me, I fear the very idea of anyone trusting me that far.  I took what I needed, built with and built ON it.  If Ax feels authentic at all, that was the aim and intention.  That and my own fascination with the time, the place, the people.

But my tools are blunted, now the building is up.  They're no good for anyone else's use.

The tour through the edifice is all I care about now - people seeing what's inside, exploring, enjoying what I've built.  Not looking to me as a true architect.


Leila said...

Beautifully said.

DLM said...

Aww, thank you my friend!

Mojourner said...

Nope, sorry, you're a historian, if not An Historian, or an academic. A historian has had the interest to do the study, if not the academic publication. A historian is someone her brother can turn to when he wants to know about Gaul. A historianmay have wanted nothing more than to validate her DAR application, or curate family stories. We have always had and will always need these humbler historians.

DLM said...

I would not want to be a source, I would not want to be the end of the line for anyone. To be a spark? I would be most humbled. But to think I had the whole (hi)story to tell. No ... I want to whet. Not to finish.