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As authors, publishers, and readers of historical fiction gear up for the Historical Novel Society Annual Conference, which will be held this year from June 21, 2013 to Sunday June 23, 2013 at the historic Vinoy Renaissance Resort in St. Petersburg, Florida, bloggers are posting interviews with those who will be presenting or participating on panels. Blank Slate Press is delighted to feature author Jack W. London. For more on Jack’s books, visit his website at: http://jwlbooks.com. (edited 6.10)
Q. What got you first interested in historical fiction?
A. In the fifth or sixth grade, when I read Gone with the Wind and several Sherlock Holmes books.
Q. How do you find the people and topics of your books?
A. My novels are of people who are ordinary in their own right but find themselves pulled up into extraordinary events. My characters might be someone you went to school with, or married, or worked with in a shop or farm, but whose lives were changed by being pulled into the Army in World War II, or who left a small town to go to work in a bomb factory. Ordinary people who by living in extraordinary times became extraordinary themselves.
Q. Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
A. I am emphatic about primary source research. For example, in Virginia’s War, when I wrote about a young woman who is issuing ration stamp books in March, 1944, I researched the Office of Price Administration records to learn precisely what stamp symbol (such as a stamp with an image of a tank or a stalk of wheat) was issued that month, for which commodities, such as butter, and how many stamps were required. When I wrote about a young man who is applying field dressings to a wounded soldier, I researched the Army Medical Corps History of the European Theatre to learn precisely what the medical facility would be called, what its personnel roster included, where in Normandy it set up facilities, and the kinds of dressings that were and were not available. When you have that level of detail, the things the characters do is much easier to write because you already are in their ‘shoes.’
Q. For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
A. Events that form the background of a story must be reasonably accurate as to time, date, place, known participants, that sort of thing.
Q. Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you’d like to share?
A. A French-speaking host on a radio interview confessed that he went to the municipal records office in St. Lo, France, to try to find the family names and actual facts of a woman I had made up as a character in Engaged in War. He said that she and her family were so real to him that he believed I had been writing about an actual family and he woke up in the middle of the night worrying about what had become of them after the book ended.
Q. Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
A. Glutted with poorly-written books by people who do not want to learn the craft of writing.
Q. Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?
A. I trained as a medievalist and continue to be fascinated by the period between 1154 and 1485. However, it is not the era that draws my reading but the quality of the writing. Anya Seton wrote a fascinating novel about Katherine de Roet Swynford but was criticized by Alison Weir, an alleged historian, for writing in a number of unknown details as if they were facts, such as the outcome of the disappearance of her daughter, the existence and role of a serving woman who befriended her, that sort of thing. When I read Weir’s own ‘history’ of Katherine Swynford, it was almost unreadable and relied on the words ‘may,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘is possible,’ ‘might have,’ and the kind to an extent that no self-respecting historian would do.
Q. What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?
A. Favorite reads: The war trilogy written by Evelyn Waugh (Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, End of the Battle) and almost anything by Jane Gardam and William Boyd. Favorite movies: I’m a sucker for Out of Africa and Casablanca. Dominating Influences: story telling, romance, and accuracy.
Q. Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
A. Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Simon Schama, Rick Atkinson
Q. What book was the most fun for you to write?
A. Engaged in War
Q. Can you tell us about your latest publication?
A. My series on writing advice, A Novel Approach, is being edited at the present.
Q. Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?
A. I am asked daily some variant of the question about ‘the other’ Jack London, most often whether we are related. Every once in a while someone asks me the home run question: Are you Jack London? I have long since given up explaining and now simply say ‘yes,’ which now and then gets me a hotel upgrade or a seat at the front of the room, but that’s about it.