After completing the fourth novel in my Dr. Lindsey McCall medical mystery series last December, Malthus Revisited-The Cup of Wrath, I’ve started my next book, I, Claudia, a novel about Claudia Procula, wife of Pontius Pilate, instead of the fifth in the mystery series I had planned to write. This switch from medical mystery to historical fiction feels peculiar- but then so did fiction after a lifetime of nonfiction.
- Why do this after spending substantial time, money and energy to gather a following, albeit a modest one, for the mystery series?
- The answer is simple. It wasn’t my idea. I, Claudia, ‘appeared in my head’ exactly like Dr. Lindsey McCall did about ten years ago.
It’s the truth. Writing fiction was a childish dream. If you’re a novelist, then you have some familiarity with the voices. The ones that shout “Forget it! You’re no Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald! Nor Lee Child! Or…” (fill in the blank with the name of your favorite novelist.)
“Write a novel?
“You haven’t got what it takes for a short story, never mind a whole book!”
Back then, I believed that writers were born with that mysterious, mystical entity, The Muse. I had no knowledge of the reality of all that is excellent. That single, critical ingredient of good authors: Grit.
But now, after four novels, each of which is better than its predecessor, I have the confidence to wonder:
- “Now that I finally know what I’m doing, am I crazy to take on a brand new category? One I’ve no experience with? Historical fiction?
- It even sounds intimidating- like that word, genre.
- A quick, rather trivial question before continuing. Am I the only one that dislikes that word, genre? Feels as if she’s in Freshman English again pretending to be an English major? One who never read Hemingway and winces when writing the word, genre?
When I began to attack systematically the pile of books on Claudia, Pontius Pilate, Cicero, ancient Rome, Greece, and Israel, another voice in my head showed up. This time to whisper: “You’re making a big mistake, Lin. The only way to get known is to specialize in your writing…you’re all over the place…physiology, management, ethics…”
This one is real. Back in a time when becoming famous was uppermost among my goals, that voice belonged to my boss. Kathy was chasing fame too. Although the admonition occurred many years ago, I heard her warning once again while pondering why this new genre so eerily appeared. But then I recalled the first book, protagonist and plot line. They showed up while hiking in the mountains behind my house.
I suspect some of you may have similar stories, right? That muse exists. She gains heft the more we listen to her, the more significant our risk when we do so. At least that’s been my experience.
I, Claudia will be done, more or less on time this fall. After reading something around twenty-five or thirty books, articles on Claudia and her husband, my fear has abated. In its place is the knowledge that although these were real people who lived in a specific time and in particular situations, they belong to history.
We know the authentic meaning of that word to be his_(or her) story. Writing historical fiction is not really all that different from writing the Dr. Lindsey McCall medical mystery series. As always, I am intensely curious to see how Claudia and her husband interpret their lives for readers in the 21st century.