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Tuesday 15 March 2011

Guest Post: History As An Inspiration & Device In Writing by Killian McRae

History As An Inspiration & Device In Writing

Those who fail at history are doomed to repeat it, but those obsessed with history are doomed to write about it, and usually at great length.

Professional historians have a horrible truth they rarely share with novel enthusiast and mainstream movie goers. Their deep, dark secret? History has ruined fiction for them. When one begins to delve into the annals of time, they are introduced to the tales of heros and the evil deeds of villains past that are compounded in their dramatic effect by the very fact that their sagas are true. How could one appreciate the lattice of teenage romantic connections or the diplomatic shuttles of a Eurasian peace keeping mission to Asia, for example, when he or she is familiar with the true life events surrounding the birth, life and extended posthumous history of Alexander the Great? (Did you know that following his death, he was deposited into a container of honey to preserve his body and his generals took turns stealing his corpse from one another?)

Luckily for me, I'm not a professional historian. No, I can still skate the thin ice between fact and fiction without cracking through and plunging in, never to be seen again. Instead, I can treat historical fact like my buffet, picking and choosing and arranging what I want from it, perhaps tossing in a few untraditional ingredients, and preparing a brand new menu to suit my desire du jour. More than that, I feel it a great privilege and honor as a history-loving fiction writer to be able to fold real world events into my works, and share my love of our specie's noble and not-so-noble history with a larger audience.

I think in many ways, our educational system (at least in my experience) lets us down in respect to history. To often are dates, bullet points, and maps stressed, that we forget the very human experience these items hold. How many of you read in school about Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants in order to invade Italy? Even the pachyderm placement doesn't make this tale leap off the page with excitement, does it? And yet, this is one of the great stories of all time not because of the Alps, but because of the human experiences that entailed. Even to this day, no one knows the exact route Hannibal took. What we do know is that Hannibal's forces almost abandoned the campaign. Food supplies were scarce, and there's even some suspicion that his men turned to eating elephants who perished in the journey, or even other soldiers. Some mountain passes were so slim that it's believed elephants fell over bluffs to their deaths. Then, once they got to Italy, that's where the real drama begins. I want you to picture being a Roman soldier, your best weapon a spear an arm's length taller than you, and having to defend yourself against a fully-armored elephant.

If there's one thing I want people to get from 12.21.12, it's how exciting history is. True, my book does fictionalize history, and certainly the more sci-fi elements of plot are purely fantasy, but some of that thar' stuff is true. If you take anything away from 12.21.12, I hope that it encourages readers to add to their library. I want to highly encourage all lovers of novels to occasionally reexamine their buffet choices, and perhaps in addition to that Tri-tip, garlic potatoes, and buttermilk roll with butter, take a spoonful of peas in the form of Stacy Shiff's "Cleopatra: A Life" or a hearty bran muffin in the words of Marion Meade's "Eleanor of Aquitaine." See why math can be heresy by reading Petr Beckmann's "A History of Pi." See what a true hero's struggles are, and why tragedy can make you humble and appreciative, by looking at Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken."

And if you find yourself tempted to make a transition and try something historical, but you think you need a crutch, then check out 12.21.12. It's history- sorta. :)

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12-21-12 by Killian McRae

Genre: YA, urban fantasy

Archaeologist Sheppard Smyth has staked his career and the honorable memory of his deceased wife and partner on proving his widely-panned theory: Cleopatra VII, last ruler of Ancient Egypt, was murdered. When a statue of the doomed Queen is discovered in an Olmec excavation site in Mexico, Shep rushes to investigate and, hopefully, find the proof that has evaded him for so long. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of the rivalry between the sexy, enigmatic international thief, Victoria Kent, and infamous rumored Russian mobster, Dmitri Kronastia. Both hold pieces to the puzzle that will finally shed light on Cleopatras death, as they vie for Shep's trust and assistance. As he is drawn further into their world of ancient gods, supernatural powers, and alternative history, little does Shep know that the fate of all humanity may hinge on his ability to discover the truth in between Victoria and Dmitris' fragmented claims and hidden identities. Working to decode the ancient past while attempting to save the future, Shep becomes a common pawn played by forces working to see out a quest older than the pyramids themselves and cloaked by the mayan prophecy of 12.21.12.
Source: Info in the synopsis was taken from GoodReads at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9431764-12-21-12 on 07/01/2011.


Lisa said...

Killian makes a great point about history classes being all about dates/maps. I got a C in my first history class in college (I should mention that I now have a degree in history) simply because it was all about memorizing dates/maps. This teacher sucked. How he got a job as a professor is beyond me, but thankfully I had many other professors who brought history to life. They were passionate about it and it make lectures fun and engaging.
12.21.12 is an amazing book! I really do need to add to my book buffet!
Thanks, Killian, for the great post!

Tales of Whimsy said...

Awesome post. I really do look forward to hearing/reading more about this book :)

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