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Old 02-28-2010, 06:34 PM   #1
Bookewyrme
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Looking for Opinions (or Advice!)

I am about to embark into the wide world of historical fiction for the first time, which is going to be an adventure. Luckily, my chosen time-period and place are both the subject of my dissertation (I can research them both at the same time!! and get my dissertation advisor to help with my research for it! muahaha!) so I'm pretty confident about the research end of it. But I'm running into a dilemma. The story I want to tell comes from an Ancient Egyptian village (Deir el-Medina) and much of my story sources are coming out of the written records of the place (many and detailed! *glee*) including the characters.

Now my dilemma is this. There are two people (characters) who I think would play off each other incredibly well in the setting of the story. But, due to the nature of the evidence, I have no idea when they lived exactly (I know the era, and can probably approximate Dynasty, but that's not very specific) and thus have no idea if they were alive at the same time (I don't think so), a generation apart, two generations apart, etc. Now, it is unlikely that anyone else knows this information either, though quite possible and I just haven't found it yet. So I am thinking of putting both the characters into the story, regardless.

What would you do? With people these obscure (these are all villagers, no great kings or anything) people would you still stick as rigidly as possible to exact times that they lived, or would you be willing to mix it up a bit, while remaining true to the real people in other ways?

Anyway, I appreciate any opinions/advice/input at all. Thank you in advance, and apologies for the long-windedness.
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Old 02-28-2010, 06:50 PM   #2
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Hi Bookewryme - If you can find the information, someone else can too. First caution.

If the names of the two people were ones that would have been used by others - in the same generation or prior or subsequent ones - you're probably all right using the names and the information.

An option always is to change the names and use the information as you've found it.

Hope that helps. Puma
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Old 02-28-2010, 06:51 PM   #3
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I think the key thing for me is, at the end of the day, you're writing a work of historical fiction. It is your authorial privilege to change the historical details to fit the needs of the story. Yes, you should be careful doing this (unless you're writing an alternative history and even then you don't want to make changes willy-nilly without considering the consequences) but I don't think anyone but your advisor or your dissertation committee is particularly going to care if you choose to situate two relatively unknown historical figures into the same time and place. (And I'm guessing you're not going to give this to your advisor for feedback...? )

If it's really bugging your historical sensibilities, you could always change the two characters' names and have two entirely fictional characters who are based on your historical figures (personality, life, etc.) but are not actually the same people.
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Old 03-01-2010, 02:27 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bookewyrme View Post
.

What would you do? With people these obscure (these are all villagers, no great kings or anything) people would you still stick as rigidly as possible to exact times that they lived, or would you be willing to mix it up a bit, while remaining true to the real people in other ways?
Obviously these are known historical figures of some sort even if they aren't royalty so I'd make it as accurate as I can. You'd be surprised at how much readers know. If you plan any kind of a career in writing historical fiction you want to avoid inaccuracies. Historical readers are astute, they'll call you on it and may likely never read anything else you write. I don't know if she has time to help or not but you might try contacting Michelle Moran and asking her if she knows anything about the people you want to put in your book. She's written several novels set in ancient Egypt. Just Google her for her website. Good luck. Research can be frustrating at times but so worth it when it all comes together.
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Old 03-01-2010, 07:28 AM   #5
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I think you...

have two choices.

1.
Write an author's note saying you know that these two people lived a generation/two generations apart but you put them together for the sake of the story.

2.
You do as Puma suggested and rename them but use their lives as your research has found. You also add an author's note that you are sure astute readers will recognise them as fictional characters based on the lives of Bill and Ben.
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Old 03-01-2010, 04:06 PM   #6
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Thank you all very much for your feedback. I think I'm going to make an extra effort to find out exactly when these various people lived. If I can't find that information, I think I can be safe in assuming it is not known (at this time) and let the two interact since for all we know they may have. And if I can find it, then I can make an informed decision, based on the info.

Thank you again, I really appreciate the help.

ETA: After several hours of concentrated research, it seems that it is possible the two could have lived during the same time period. There is a gap of about 30 years between the two times when I can pin-point them, which is within the range of a normal life-span. There does not appear to be any evidence either confirming or denying the older still being alive by the time the younger is around.
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Old 03-01-2010, 09:24 PM   #7
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Hello, Bookwyrme!

I'm also writing fiction set in ancient Egypt. I have a novel agented (18th dynasty -- Thutmose I and Queen Ahmose, plus wee baby Hatshepsut at the end of the book) and am working on two more Egyptian novels. I've got ideas for more, as well. So I'm glad to meet somebody else who'll be writing Egyptian fiction! Woot!!!

I ran into some similar issues with my book. My problems came specifically from how Mutnofret was related to Ahmose (if at all) and the ages/maternal parentage of Thutmose I's three eldest sons (the ones who all died before he did.) As you know, evidence can be incredibly sketchy. This is both good and bad, from our perspective. On the one hand, if evidence is sketchy to support the choice you've made, then you're pretty justified in making it. You know how to do your research, and you've probably got more resources than the average historical fiction reader, so you an really thoroughly explore the options. If you still feel evidence isn't STRONG for the choice you want to make, but it is a PLAUSIBLE OPTION, and if you feel the story really would be best told by making this somewhat unorthodox but technically POSSIBLE choice, then I say go for it.

On the other hand, historical fiction fans can be vicious, and Egypt nerds seem to be especially so. I think something like an author's note explaining exactly why you made such an unorthodox choice could go a long way in defraying any potential backlash or bad reviews. This has worked fairly well for Michelle Moran -- a whole lot of learned readers have been able to overlook the fact that in "The Heretic Queen" she chose to make Nefertari (Ramesses I's Nefertari, that is) the daughter of Mutnodjmet even though there is clear historical evidence showing this cannot really have been the case.

If something so obviously inaccurate can fly with readers, you ought to be able to make something much less obviously inaccurate work. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway, about the choices I've made in my own Egyptian novel(s). For my novel that will hopefully be going on submission soon, I did include an author's afterword to explain how I arrived at some of the conclusions presented in the book. It should mollify most vicious Egyptophiles, I hope, to at least know that I am aware that some of the choices I made in the name of "good storytelling" probably did not really happen.

Good luck to you! If you ever want to chat about Egypt stuff, you know who to talk to!

Also, I'm dying to know what your book is going to be about. Yay, we need more Egyptian fiction!

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Old 03-01-2010, 10:50 PM   #8
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Hi Libbie! Thanks! PM me your IM (I have gmail, ym, aim and skype) if you want to chat sometime about Egypt stuff (my favorite subject ever, pretty much!) and writing about it. I'm just starting on historicals, so depending on how this one goes depends on whether I may write any more, but if I like the genre, I have plenty of ideas for more!

As for this one I think the foreword is probably the way I'll go, judging by the number of people advising for one here! I am also keeping track of my sources, so I may put an abbreviated Bibliography at the end as well, or note which papyri mention the various people or both.

Of course, it is a long time before I'll need to know this, but when you are submitting a novel with a foreword like that to agents, do you include the foreword or not?

*As a side note, one of my new favorite Deir el-Medina books, Village Life in Ancient Egypt by A.G. McDowell, has no Bibliography! I discovered that today, when trying to figure out other places to read about the same people. And she has most of the Papyri listed in full, and all of them in abbreviations. But no Bibliography! WTF!! *
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Old 03-02-2010, 09:27 AM   #9
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I freakin' hate it when there's no bibliography! Arrrgh!!

I actually didn't bring up the author's note (which I envision going at the end of the book rather than the beginning) until the revision stage with my agent. I don't want it put at the beginning of the book because I'd rather start with the story instead of a history lesson. It's pretty short, too -- about 400 words. It wasn't a part of the manuscript I submitted to her, but we've added some tidbits to it since January. A historical timeline and a family tree, to be precise.
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