Historical fiction exists in the sometimes murky world between literature and scholarship. As authors, we rely upon sources both in the public domain and out of it, both contemporary and ancient. Yet, no uniform procedures or system for recording and giving credit to sources have yet been adopted.
While footnotes are called for in academia, they distract fiction readers. Consequently, historical fiction sources are most often cited in the acknowledgements page or at the end of the book in an author's note. Unfortunately, due to the cost of printing paper, this solution is often discouraged by the publisher. Even when a publisher is amenable to this solution an author may only have a certain number of pages he or she can dedicate to the enterprise, and any information that crops up after the publication of the book cannot be added to the list.
Jan. 4, 2011
Given the rise of the electronic book, this may soon prove to be no problem at all. However, we currently exist in limbo between a world of electronic books and a world that is still dominated by print. While this is still the case, I would like to humbly suggest an alternative solution. Given the ubiquitous nature of websites, authors should adopt a uniform system by which we record our sources on bibliographic pages on our own author websites as I have done here.
Some might argue that this is not an ideal solution, because readers often fail to visit such websites at the end of the reading. This may be true, but can be alleviated by a standardized system of reader expectation. If all historical fiction authors adopt this mechanism by which credit can be given to the writers who have come before us, those whose words or ideas have inspired our own work, readers will seek out this information. They’ll come to expect it. Best of all, such efforts might lead readers to learn more about the history than they might otherwise learn from our narrative fiction.
Stephanie Dray is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of historical fiction novels set in the Augustan Age, starting withLily of the Nile: A Novel of Cleopatra's Daughter. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.
She is currently sponsoring the Cleopatra Literary Contest for Young Women, the deadline for which is March 1, 2011, but join her newsletter now for updates and a chance to win a free copy of Lily of the Nile and additional prizes.