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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM Z.A. MAXFIELD!
Probably by now my fear of writing historical fiction is well known. I love reading stories about the past, but haven’t yet conquered my fear of creating some terrible gaffe that everyone can spot while they’re reading. No matter how much research I put into a project, there’s always room for more, and any mistake I spot after a book goes to print haunts me with big gnashing teeth and terrible claws.
I guess that’s why with Secret Light, the historical novella I wrote as part of Loose Id’s holiday celebration, I picked a time in the not-too-distant past, 1955. I was born in 1960, and many of the things I touch on, the subtleties of place and time in Secret Light came from my own memory of my parents, and from the 8mm movies they shared with me as I was growing up.
In fact, I’d have to say I borrowed the character of Rafe from my father. Rafe’s childhood, his cultural identity, his struggles with his new country and his fear of the past are as personal to me as my family photo album.
So in this sense, I went into the writing of a novella that takes place in the past with one true thing. I created a character who shared common traits, particularly a refugee’s isolation, alienation, and fear with my father.
My father, like my character, actually did escape from Austria into Switzerland after the Anschluss. In my dad’s case, he came with his parents, who immediately changed their names and shed their religious traditions. It’s fair to say, since they were a mixed couple — my grandfather was Jewish and my grandmother was a German Lutheran girl — they weren’t very religious to begin with. But fear made them erase from their curriculum vitae any reference to their Jewish past and that makes me very sad.
The sense of not belonging, of having one foot in one’s old country and another in the new is not a comfortable one. Having to create a new life in another country takes its toll, particularly if one chooses to hide any detail of his or her past.
So for my One True Thing, I stuck closely to the simple paradigm of trying to fit in to a new culture, and the truth that in 1955, this new culture was steeped in prejudice — ethnically, racially, and gender-biased up to its eyeballs.
I added to that an exploration of my own city in the years just before I was born through the startling, detailed, and yes… sometimes really long, boring home movies my father took, and I had a very good starting place from which to work.
Dad is probably rolling in his grave right now, but I used my memories of him, of growing up in Los Angeles as a backdrop. I have always loved L.A., its landmarks, its contradictions, its problems and its guilty pleasures — one of which is the famous and easily recognizable Googie architecture of coffee shops like Pann’s on La Tijera Blvd. where I lived as a kid.
With the booming post war economy, new neighborhoods sprang up as people moved here, creating the massive footprint of suburbs and sprawl. Real estate was big business. I felt pretty comfortable with the time during which I set my story.
Add to that an infamous series of storms that flooded parts of California in the four days leading up to Christmas 1955, and I had myself a backdrop against which to set one unlikely couple’s struggle to find its place in a changing world.
I can’t say with any real satisfaction that I got everything exactly right. I wish my mom and dad were still here to ask. But for my first real exercise in creating a piece of fiction set in the past, I think it resonates with the truth of the era, and I hope the reader finds that truth within the pages, as well as a love story to warm the heart.
Z. A. Maxfield started writing in 2007 on a dare from her children and never looked back. Pathologically disorganized, and perennially optimistic, she writes as much as she can, reads as much as she dares, and enjoys her time with family and friends. If anyone asks her how a wife and mother of four manages to find time for a writing career, she’ll answer, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you give up housework.”
Her published books include Crossing Borders, Epic award finalist St. Nacho’s, Drawn Together, Physical Therapy, Blue Fire, Fugitive Color, and Jacob’s Ladder from Loose Id, The Long Way Home, from Aspen Mountain Press, ePistols at Dawn and The Pharaoh’s Concubine from Samhain Publishing, and Notturno, Vigil, Stirring Up Trouble, All Stirred Up, and A Picture Perfect Holiday from MLR Press. Readers can visit her website at: http://www.zamaxfield.com.
The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this yet – write them down and I’ll ask you to email them in on Christmas Eve.)
18. Christmas crackers is rhyming slang for what part of the male anatomy?