One of the reasons I most enjoy researching and writing about World War One is that it’s a time period rich in issues that interest me. For instance, in Great Britain during World War One, woman suffrage was still being debated, and sex between two men was still a crime. These gender issues are still relevant today, as women continue to fight for true equality in education and employment, and the right to marry a same-sex partner (or even to have such a partner) remains illegal in many countries.
Though The Moonlight Mistress is an erotic novel, and a pulpish adventure, I still wanted to offer views of these issues seen through different lenses and incorporate them into the novel’s themes, especially through my use of werewolves as a paranormal element.
For those reasons, I included several female characters who were on the edges of acceptability in 1914. One is a professional chemist. Unable to obtain an academic position because of her gender, she works as a nurse, stealing research time when she can find it. Another, unable to make a living at her chosen trade, disguises herself as a man. Both of these women, in taking on roles separate from what their society expects of them, mirror the shapechanging werewolves in the story.
Another subplot follows a gay man who longs for acceptance even more than he longs for love. He cannot know if the object of his affections shares his preferences, and if he reveals himself the consequences could be dire. Another character is slowly coming to terms with the idea that he is bisexual. It’s easy for the present-day reader to identify him as such, but the character doesn’t know if anyone else like him exists in the world. They, too, can be seen as mirrors of the werewolves: hiding in plain sight, always looking for others of their kind.
The werewolves can stand in for any outsider, whether societal outcast or stranger in a strange land. The reader, hopefully, will find her own resonance in the story.
Science fiction, often ostensibly about the future, offers a truer picture of the writer’s world. Historical fiction, too, doesn’t represent the past as it happened, but the past as we, looking back, see it. The view is distorted by our past experiences and opinions, not only those we consciously notice but those that are so ingrained that we don’t even think to question them.
As a writer I can’t control, for the most part, what interpretations readers bring to my stories. Too much happens in the gaps between what I’ve written and the reader’s personal experiences. The two mingle together and give a different picture to each reader. The best I can do is offer the reader as much fodder for the subconscious as I can possibly manage.
Great insight! Historical fiction always reflects the time when it was written. What a great device for juxtaposing the present with the past to enrich our thinking.
What I personally worry about is the unconscious issues I bring to my writing, that might one day horribly date my work…but of course, if they're unconcscious issues, they're harder to spot.
Very well said. I like how you are marrying the two attitudes of past and present.
Victoria, I've always wondered what it would be like to truly know the mindset during historical periods while retaining my current and growing mindset.
Probably impossible, but there ya go.
I don't worry so much about my novels having a certain mindset a future reader might not understand or comprehend. It's there for the ages however it's interpreted and may offer insight not gained by what that person of the future has learned.
Savanna, good point!
Your take on using historical fiction is the number one reason why a historical does or doesn't work for me. Too many historical novels have a "good old days" air about them which given the issues I'm interested in (racism, homophobia, classism) absolutely does not work. Thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.
Anna T.S./Michal Scott
Thanks for commenting, Anna.
I don't know if I necessarily succeed at addressing issues, but I'm working on it.