Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Historicals, Should Be You Know, Historical

Every month the Donald Maass Literary Agency posts sort of a wish list of what the agency is looking for or might like to see in fiction, and I'm always interested in what they come up with. For September and October the focus is on historical fiction centered around a particular historical event:

"Historical novels are evolving. Once, they were sweeping epics. Today, historical novels often revolve around a single historical event.

For example…
E.L. Doctorow’s The March follows five characters over the course of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's devastating 1864 march through Georgia and the Carolinas.

The following are some suggestions of historical events and stories that could be built around them. As usual, this is not all we're looking for. Our intention is not to suggest paint-by-numbers plotting or to limit authors' scope. We do hope to promote discussion of what would be fresh and exciting.

What really happened as Neal Armstrong landed on the Moon (1969)? (I'm guessing that this would be science fiction or fantasy, not exactly my interest or strong suit. Conspiracy theorists could go nuts with this since there are some people who think the moon landing was faked)

A female centered retelling of the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, or Epic of Gilgamesh, a la Anita Diamante's THE RED TENT. (Could be interesting but I think that Margaret George and Amanda Elyot took care of this with their Helen of Troy novels, although it might be interesting to see what went on back in Greece from Penelope's POV during the 20 years Odysseus was gone, or even Noah's wife having to deal with all those animals on the ark)

First Tour de France (1903) from the point of view of one of the cyclists. (Seriously? Why not the great automobile race? Now that would be interesting. They made a movie out of it with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood but the real story is even more interesting)

A thriller set during the fire of Moscow (1812) (Wasn't this already done and called War and Peace?).

The explosion of the Hindenberg (1937): What secrets were riding across the Atlantic on the zeppelin and what may have been the real cause of the disaster? (Now this would be interesting and I'm surprised that Max Allen Collins hasn't already done this)

The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962): romance and betrayal in Cuba during the standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. (This wouldn't interest me either in terms of writing or even reading it. )

New Orleans (2005): Can a New Orleans homicide detective solve a murder in the 24 hours before Hurricane Katrina hits? (Interesting idea, having to solve a murder just before evacuation. Very Dan Brown in that the whole thing would take place in 24 hours or very 24! Perhaps Keifer and Company could take this on. Might make a better movie script than a book. I'm seeing Ed Harris or Dennis Quaid from The Big Easy trying to solve this. Isn't there a detective series set in New Orleans by James Lee Burke?)

Royalty, romance, diamonds, yachts and intrigue in Monaco in the year (1955) that Grace Kelly became engaged to Prince Rainier. (Wasn't this kind of done in To Catch A Thief?)

During the liberation of Paris (1944) there was one Nazi who stayed behind… (Hmm, not sure about this would have to look this up. What Nazi?)

I would be curious to know if any writer has looked at this monthly list and had their creativity sparked by it and started a novel based on their suggestions.


Amanda McCabe said...

I'm a big historical fiction reader, and have to say none of those (except maybe the Russian one, which does sound suspiciously like War and Peace...) strike my interest. Though I've heard WWII is on the cusp of being big, maybe that's the Nazi idea.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I found the list really curious in terms of what they were looking for. I have to wonder if this is just what the agents are interested in, in terms of story, or whether any editors have mentioned that this is what they would like to see. I know WWII is on the brink of being big which makes sense since the Greatest Generation is slowly dying off, but seriously the Tour de France idea had me baffled.

Sarah said...

There have already been two female-centered retellings of the Aeneid just this year - Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia and Jo Graham's Black Ships. For the Odyssey, there's Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad, though it's not exactly typical historical fiction. Max Allan Collins did write a mystery called The Hindenburg Murders, plus Henning Boetius had a novel on the subject called The Phoenix a few years ago. Personally I don't find the Tour de France concept that interesting either, or most of the rest of the ideas aside from the Katrina one.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thanks for the information. I had a feeling that Max Allan Collins had written a book about the Hindenburg. And I knew that the Iliad and the Odyssey had to have been done from a female point of view besides the Helen of Troy versions. I do remember Marian Bradley Zimmerman doing a book about Cassandra, having survived the murder of Agamemmnon. I agree with you, the Hurricane Katrina is the only one that I really think has legs, although I wouldn't really call it historical fiction.