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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Historical Novels Show Where We Are Now

I was talking to another author a few weeks back and she said she thought historical novels were a hard sell. I guess they may be, though it seems to me every book has its challenges in this age of videos, movies and TV shows on demand.

It can be tougher, though, to convince readers of middle school and young adult fiction that history has anything to tell them. Another friend once said she was told historical dramas and books were really trying to show us something about our own times. I'd have to agree with that.

Sometimes using a historical period for a story makes it easier to see the prejudices or mistakes people made in earlier times. We can see how sick the world was when we watch a show like Underground and see what African Americans went through, just trying to be free. Or we can look at someone growing up in the 1950s and see the world through her eyes.

What I'm hoping people will see in The Beat on Ruby's Street (and other books in this series) is that Ruby's struggles may be rooted in a certain time and place, but a lot of what she deals with involves the same dilemmas many tweens face now. These include parents breaking up, authority figures not listening and how no matter what you're going through, art in all its forms (poetry, books, plays, etc.) can help us heal.

We tend to think of long-ago times the way we think of pictures on the wall--people dressed up in costumes (crinolines, poodle skirts, bustles or whatever) talking or dancing in ways that make us laugh. But there's always a darker side to those pictures, just like there is in our own lives. (Of course there's also the fun stuff, too--and a lot of that is similar to what makes us happy now).

The fifties were supposed to be about idyllic days in the suburbs that surrounded our cities. But they were about a lot more than that. The Civil Rights movement and protesting the atomic bomb were pat of the era. So were leaders like Cesar Chavez, fighting for the rights of migrant workers and the Blacklist that put artists out of work because of fear of Communism.

It may have looked calm in the sitcoms and movies, but there was really a lot of turmoil. That's why Beat Generation poets in New York City, San Francisco and elsewhere had so much to write about.

Our own times look pretty rocky too, with people fighting about politics and civil rights and wars  and... oh, yeah. Lot of turmoil going on here, too.

My hope is that Ruby's story will resonate with you because of the times we live in--not because you want to "learn about the 1950s." Though hopefully there's enough in these books that is true to the era that will be fun to read about.

I guess I mean to talk about one book, though, because the second one is still being written. But if you want to read chapter one, sign up to receive a newsletter on my website and you can read the start of the new book! Sign up by scrolling down on the home page at

1950s girl photo: tiffany terry
Lady Liberty photo: Alex m. Hayward