I’d like to welcome Sophie Schiller to Layered Pages today to talk with me a little about Historical fiction, the importance of the genre and what it means to her. Sophie was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. Among other oddities her family tree contains a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a French pop singer. She loves stories that carry the reader back in time to exotic and far-flung locations. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently working on a new historical thriller set in the Caribbean.
Sophie, what are the periods of history focused on for your writing?
Late Victorian period through WWI.
Why Historical Fiction?
I became enamored with HF as a teenager when I spent a summer with my father complaining I was bored and he handed me his copy of QBVII by Leon Uris. That book and Exodus by the same author changed my life.
When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?
As a child I knew I wanted to write a novel that would capture the island of my youth—St. Thomas—as it existed back during the Danish colonial period. It was a lifelong goal that I was thankfully able to complete.
How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?
It ends up being about a year to 18 months of research. I use period history books, contemporary history books, magazine and newspaper articles, memoirs, diaries, maps, charts, paintings, old photographs, anything I can get my hands on.
What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?
HF opens up a window to the past. But more important than that, it gives those who are no longer here a chance to live again, even if only in the pages of a novel.
Who are your influences?
Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ken Follett
How much fiction (in your opinion) is best to blend with historical facts?
Enough to create a vivid story but not so much that it overpowers the facts.
How do you feel the genre has progressed in the last ten years?
It seems that there is much more romance nowadays than there used to be, or it may be that I am noticing it more. I think there’s much more acceptance of HF nowadays in general.
What are the important steps in writing HF?
Learning the period, the lingo, the major historical events, the big players, and how all that affected the average person.
What must you not do writing in this genre?
It’s very easy to inject revolutionary 21st century values into a historical character but in doing so you break the magic of writing about the past.