I recently finished writing the final (and sixth) book in my Mindhunters series (hallelujah!). As I developed the backstory for my hero, Andrew “Einstein” MacKenzie, an ex-SEAL who works for my fictional serial-killer-hunting agency SSAM, I worked backward from the few facts I’d already revealed in the previous books. I realized he would have been in college at the time of the 9-11 attacks, and being the genius that he is, it didn’t take long for me to figure out he could easily have attended MIT and was in his senior year there when 9-11 happened. I added a personal stake in the horrible events of that day and decided he'd signed up for military service the moment he graduated, wanting to prevent terrorists from claiming more innocent lives. (Eventually, he was injured, left the SEALs and wound up in my book, of course.)
While my book doesn't take place during 9-11, I bring this up today because thinking about Einstein—my character’s nickname, not the scientific icon—had me thinking about fictional stories in which actual historical events either impacted the characters directly or came alive for me because I was seeing history through his or her eyes.
One example that came to mind was a historical romance trilogy I read many years ago. I still recall the vivid use of the real event in the three stories, probably because that particular event was one I knew little about. Susan Wiggs’ Chicago Fire Trilogy is set during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed hundreds of people and left about a hundred thousand people homeless. Though I’d briefly heard about the fire in history class, it really came alive when experienced through Wiggs' characters.
|Artist's rendering of the fire, by John R. Chapin, originally printed in Harper's Weekly; the view faces northeast across the Randolph Street Bridge. Image as shown on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire.|
Another book that stuck with me was Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The love story (or love triangle) unfolded against the backdrop of the French Revolution.
Which brings to mind Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Part of what makes this such a great story are the endearing and powerful characters who are challenged by the lives they led in French society in the early nineteenth century, from the Battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.
Is there a period of history you enjoy reading about or experienced more vividly after reading a fictional account? Any memorable books that used history as a backdrop in a way that challenged the characters (I know there have to be thousands of examples!)? What era or event would you like to see more fiction set in?