Until I was probably about twelve years old, the majority of books and stories I wrote took place in the 19th century. I was still doing some 19th century writing when I was thirteen (primarily a long-abandoned, unfinished novel that was about three kids who travel from Vicksburg to Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, and meet President Lincoln and his son Tad when they get there), but for the most part, I was fully converted to writing about more recent history.

My favorite historical eras now are the 1960s, the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1930s, the 1980s (because I was a child of the Eighties and feel very sentimental towards most things Eighties, even though I know it’s way too recent to be true “history”), the Civil War, prehistory (Neanderthal man is my favorite of our prehistoric ancestors), the Middle Ages (probably the last few centuries of that rather large historical designation are my favorite part, since that’s when we got all of the great writers, thinkers, and artists who paved the way for the Renaissance to happen), the Enlightenment, and the Renaissance. And of those eras, the only eras I’ve been in love with enough to want to write about are those of the just-passed 20th century.

As a child and a preteen, I had a character named (I kid you not) AnnAnn Terrick. Until I was a preteen, I wrote what could best be called picture books, stories consisting of both words and illustrations. I didn’t start writing text-only full-time till I was probably about eleven years old. Thankfully, I realized how dumb the name AnnAnn is, and changed it to Anne when I wrote what was the first journal in a planned series of journals going from 1840 to her death in the early 1950s. I started writing the second book when I was twelve, and it’s a long story what happened to it. I wonder if it’s still hanging around in some box or other somewhere in storage. I guess there were shades of the Duggars going on in my mind, since Anne’s older sisters were Anna and Abigail, although thankfully I didn’t continue the theme and called their little brother Herbert. There was a lot of weird stuff going on in the first book alone, stuff that just wasn’t historically accurate, or even accurate period, like Anne’s pregnant mother going after her when she runs away and then getting stabbed by Native Americans, only to find out in a future book that she was brought back to life by being struck by lightning that went into a tube placed somewhere on her body. Hey, I was only twelve years old, and it sounded believable in my immature mind! There was also the whole thing about a twelve-year-old running away from home because she was upset at getting too much corporal punishment recently, and her sweetheart plus all of her cousins and grandparents deciding to tag along on their wagon train that goes from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Pocatello, Idaho (which of course wasn’t a state yet in 1842, the time this happens) in about a month or two. Yeah, totally not publishable, even if I were to make massive revisions on it twenty years later. It just wouldn’t be the same story anymore.

Anyway, I’m long over my love affair with 19th century American history (with the exception of the Civil War era). The Gilded Age I’m sorta interested in, but that whole pioneer thing just doesn’t do it for me anymore. As a lifelong Native American ally, I just realized that “manifest destiny” was pushing the Natives off of their ancestral land. While I realize that that doesn’t mean that all or most pioneers were racists, I personally am very uncomfortable with the whole concept of “manifest destiny.” Most people are products of their times, and shouldn’t be unfairly judged for that, but that doesn’t mean I have to continue writing about a period in American history that makes me feel very uncomfortable. Maybe if I wrote a book about that era from the Native American POV, though, I’d be okay with revisiting it. I also realized that women’s and minorities’ rights were in the toilet in the 19th century, and it’s harder to create a character who is believably feminist for her era while also staying true to how the average woman thought and was treated prior to the 20th century. It’s much easier to believe any girl who came of age after 1914 would be more influenced by feminism than by someone who lived in an era when women didn’t have the vote, couldn’t own property, routinely had children into the double digits, were legally allowed to be beaten by their husbands, almost always lost their kids in the event of a divorce (it was extremely rare when Mary Ware Dennett, one of the pioneers of sex ed and reproductive rights, got full custody of her two sons), couldn’t get a higher education, had their bodies deformed by corsets, et al. I know it’s historically accurate and don’t want to rewrite the past simply because it offends my modern sensibilities, but it’s just not something I would feel comfortable doing.

So now I’m entirely in the 20th century. My Russian novel begins in 1917 and ends in 1924, with at least three more books planned in that family saga. (I began working on the second one, which starts in 1924 and goes to I believe 1930, but haven’t been back to work on it in a long time. I know it’s long past overdue to get back to it, esp. with all of the notes I still have for the second and third books in that series!) I also have plans to write an eventual prequel to the first book, showing how it all began for these characters when they were growing up in pre-Revolutionary Russia and Estonia. The main set of characters were born about 1898-1900, and their children are born in America in the 1920s and 1930s, in New York City and Minnesota. The oldest two of their children are born in Russia in 1917 and 1919, and eventually that boy and girl get married.

My Atlantic City books, which I’ve been writing since 25 November 1991, originally went from 1941 to 1950, and then I jumped back, on the eve of their first day of college, to write what was intended as a three-book prequel series, covering the years 1938, 1939, and 1940. I got so into it, and indeed feel like I made my breakthrough and completed my transition from competent, interesting writer to a really experienced and great writer during this period, that I decided to write one more book, about the first six months of 1941. That book ends right where the first book in the next series picks up. The series I wrote first (and which is in serious need of revision and lengthening, given that I was only 11-13 years old when I wrote the first drafts), covering late 1944-September 1950, overlaps with the second series from 1944-55. The fourth series, which runs the longest, starts on the day Pearl Harbor is bombed and goes to 2050, when the protagonist passes away at the age of 120. In the case of these characters, even though they were primarily “born” from 1929-31, I feel as though I literally grew up with them. They were about the same age I was when I created them, and I was going through the process of becoming a more experienced and better writer as they were going through their own teen and early adulthood years. I’ve been with them for going on twenty years this November, and some of them are now great-grandparents. (I’m currently up to the fall of 1998.) I truly feel like this is the series I was born to write. It’s also the only thing I still write using the past tense. And even now that the original main set of characters are in their sixties, in my mind’s eye, I still see them the way I drew them in my illustrations on the back notebook covers of my rough drafts, in their preteens and teens, young people who haven’t gone grey or developed wrinkled skin. It’s like they’ve just become older versions of the kids I created way back when, never dreaming I’d stay with this series for twenty years and counting.

The book I just completed starts in 1959 and runs till 1974, and takes place primarily in Manhattan. It starts in the Lower East Side, in the part of the neighborhood that is now considered the East Village; the other primary neighborhoods they live in are Hell’s Kitchen, the West Village, Two Bridges, the Meatpacking District, and The Bowery. I loved doing all of my research on Manhattan history and neighborhoods, and now know the map of Manhattan neighborhoods and what’s next to what and what overlaps what probably almost as well as a native. It ends in Upstate New York, the setting of the next books in the series as well. This is probably not considered true historical fiction, since many people feel that anything past mid-century isn’t real historical fiction the same way that a story about the Middle Ages, 18th century, or Ancient China would be. Even calling the Sixties historical fiction might be stretching the definitions of the genre to some.

Even when I am writing about relatively contemporary times in my Atlantic City books, they’re still about past events. The idea of writing in an entirely contemporary milieu is foreign to me. What’s considered edgy, relevant, and contemporary in one era is laughably outdated the next. I also have about a dozen or so planned soft sci-fi/futuristic YA books, one of which I began writing a long time ago but put on hiatus, and another two which I began a few years ago and also put on hiatus. I still have all of my original notes and such for these books, taking place at various times and settings in the future. I will be getting back to most of these books at some point, but there’s only so much one can write about at one time! And I feel very sure that I can resist the urge to turn each and every single one of these futuristic books into serials!

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