(April 21, 2009)
I had to do my "parental duty" tonight and go to a choir parents' meeting for my son's choir. So in between work and the meeting, I moseyed over to the local Hastings store to kill a few minutes and check out what was on the shelves for teens and young readers. It wasn't encouraging. Other than the classics and Newberry winners (like Johnny Tremain), I don't recall seeing a single work of historical fiction on those shelves! There was an entire shelving section, about 12 feet long and 6 feet high, devoted to the Twilight series - I kid you not. Across the aisle were all the Twilight-wannabes, with their promise of vampires and dark, angsty teen love. One book pictured a cheerleader with sort of zombie-looking eyes sprawled across a bleacher seat. My son was familiar with that series (apparently it's a series - aren't they all?), and he said something like, "Yeah, all the kids in my school want to read are books about people who are in love with vampires or dead people." (He's an eighth-grader, by the way, and he did like the Twilight series himself.) I said, "In love with dead people????" Sounds like a real fun read, ha ha.
Whatever happened to historical fiction? I fear that if it were not for all those English and Language Arts teachers who require kids to read one historical fiction book per quarter that kids wouldn't read it at all...I know my son wouldn't. That just makes me so sad. I think about all the wonderful adventures I've had, and all the wonderful characters I've met, and all the things, wonderful and not, that I've learned about our world by reading historical fiction. I find it so sad that kids would rather live on a steady mental diet of creatures from the underworld.
As an aspiring author of historical fiction, it also alarms me. How will I ever crack open a slot on those shelves for my book? I was joking with one of my friends that I should have written a book about gossipy, mean-spirited, well-dressed vampires who lived during the Tudor period and then I might have a better shot at getting published. It was just a joke, but I do wonder if ordinary pioneer folks who are struggling to live day to day are going to appeal to anybody. At least they have some of that angsty love going on, lol.
Maybe we need a new label for this genre. Maybe "historical fiction" has gathered too many connotative associations that turn people off. Maybe we need to rename it, something like "Fiction of the Past" or "Pre-modern Narratives." Anybody else have an idea?