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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Writing in Interesting Times

By Sandra Nachlinger

That saying has been repeated over the centuries and is supposedly an ancient Chinese curse. To writers, however, interesting times can ramp up conflict in a story—and that’s definitely not a curse! I’ve been reading historical fiction (and nonfiction) recently, and events that occur during the books’ timelines add even more drama to plots that would be compelling no matter when they occurred.  

The Secret Wife (by Gill Paul) has two separate plots that come together in the end. One story takes place during the last days of the Romanovs. Russia is at war and there’s unrest throughout the country when a military man and one of the Romanov princesses fall in love. That would be a good story by itself, but the plot is heightened by death threats to the royal family (with the overthrow of the monarchy) as well as military conflict which involves the hero. Definitely interesting times.

The Boys in the Boat (by Daniel James Brown) takes place during the Great Depression. World War I is over; disturbing rumblings are being heard from Germany, where the 1936 Olympics will be held. The story of a crew of dedicated oarsmen who overcome odds to win a gold medal would make an inspiring book; but with the added stresses of worldwide tension and with the climax of their hard work set on Hitler’s turf, a good book turns into a great one.  

Right now I’m reading The Widow of Wall Street (by Randy Susan Meyers). An ambitious man from humble beginnings builds a highly successful investment business by questionable means. Then “interesting times” occur in the form of the subprime mess of September, 2008. (I’ve read that the real-life Ponzi scheme operated by Bernie Madoff inspired this plot.) The character’s phenomenal accumulation of extraordinary wealth and the illegal means by which he gained his success would have made a good story at any time; but because it occurred at a time of crisis brewing on Wall Street, the story’s tension builds even more.

I’ve learned a lot from each of these authors’ research, and I’m looking forward to learning even more about history through my eclectic reading choices. I'll be watching for more books that take place in interesting times to add to my bookcase shelves.  


  1. I find it so interesting when I learn a piece of history through reading both fiction and nonfiction. I don't think we can ever absorb it all, but it gives us a different perspective of the times. Wonderful post.

    1. I seem to be able to absorb history best if it's fed to me through fiction. Maybe it's because I'm invested in the characters.
      I'm glad you enjoyed the post.


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