Three Reasons to Love Historical Fiction

Welcome, Marie Sontag. I’m already an historical fiction lover, but really appreciate your take on this topic. The idea of a “sliding glass door” that helps us understand others different from us…whoa! Do we ever need this today!

Readers, please see below for Marie’s offer of THREE free copies of her novel.

What happens when Daniel Whitcomb, a fictional thirteen-year-old, meets twelve-year-old Virginia Reed, an historical member of the Donner Party, on a wagon trail to California?—a friendship Daniel doesn’t think he needs, mentorship from the man who leads whites into Yosemite Valley, and an historical fiction story that shows how what we want is usually not what we need. 

1. Historical Fiction Creates a Web of Meaning

I love historical fiction. It brings the past to life as it touches readers’ emotions within an historical context. This wedding of narrative and history creates a web of meaning that helps readers relate to and remember what they’ve read.

California Trail Discovered, my latest middle grade novel coming out this fall, places my fictional protagonist alongside historical figures, providing a context to help readers relate to the trials of the trail in 1846—when pioneers left family and friends to move into the unknown. 

2. Historical Fiction Can Create Empathy

I also enjoy historical fiction because it provides a window into people’s lives and cultures. Good historical fiction provides readers with a safe way to move in and out of their own experiences and into those of others. This kind of “sliding glass door” can promote empathy for those different from us. 

Jim Savage, a historical figure and member of Daniel and Virginia’s wagon train, warns a member of the Donner Party to return a buffalo fur the man stole from a Lakota Indian’s burial site. Jim had once lived with Indians. At first, Keseberg refuses. “The Indian is dead. He won’t need it.” Jim fires his pistol into the air. He tells Keseberg,“It’s not open to discussion. This is how Lakota honor their dead, and there will be consequences for stealing it. Put it back.” 

3. Historical Fiction Provides Insight into Our Own Lives

Like all good stories, historical fiction teaches us something about ourselves. We all have wants, but it’s often difficult to discover what fuels those wants. 

In California Trail Discovered, Daniel doesn’t want to move with his guardian to California. He wants to get back to Illinois and find out who murdered his parents. One afternoon, Daniel walks beside Virginia as she picks flowers. She comments, “Friends are like flowers. They add sunshine and color to your life. Don’t you agree?” 

Daniel shrugs. “Sometimes, I think friends are like mosquitos. They buzz around in your ear, waiting to take a bite out of you, then leave behind an itch you really shouldn’t scratch.” 

Through the friendships Daniel makes on the trail, he discovers that wanting to find out who killed his parents has masked his real need to connect with others and to become part of a new family. 

Take It Home

What historical novel has helped you better remember factual events? How did it do that? Did it help you relate more with those from a different culture? In what ways? How did the plot help the characters better understand their wants, and reveal the needs behind those wants? Did it give you any insight about your own wants and needs? In what ways?

Feel free to share any of your answers in the comments below, or send me a note on my Facebook author page. One week after the posting of this blog, I will hold a drawing for those leaving a comment. Make sure to provide your email, or PM my on Messenger or my email. Three lucky winners will win a copy of California Trail Discovered.

Marie Sontag enjoys bringing the past to life, one adventure at a time. Her fifteen years of teaching middle school and high school have given her insight into what students find entertaining, and her B.A. in social science and M.A. and Ph.D. in education provide her with a solid background for writing middle grade and young adult historical fiction. 

Born in Wisconsin, she spent most of her life in California, but now lives with her husband in Texas. When not writing, she enjoys romping with her grandkids, playing clarinet and saxophone in a community band, and nibbling red licorice or Tootsie Pops while devouring a good book.


12 thoughts on “Three Reasons to Love Historical Fiction

  1. What a wonderful insight into an amazing storyteller. I loved the phrase “… it brings the past to life.” Isn’t this what great writers are meant to do; bring life to their stories? I too enjoy historical fiction as it combines the factual truths of history with story to create a memorable learning experience. I read a story not long ago of settlers near the Mogollon Rim. There is such a place. However, the author made it so much more than a set of map coordinates. It came to life! Best of luck with your middle age series; and God’s blessings.

    • Congrats, J.D.! You were one of the three winners of a free book of ”California Trail Discovered!” It will be sent to you after it comes out Oct. 14. Please send me your address in a private message or email. If you haven’t yet ”liked” my FB author page yet at Facebook authormariesontag, you’ll be able to follow the pics and video clips I share in the next few weeks leading up to the book’s launch. My weekly posts will highlight the places my husband and I recently stopped at sites along the Oregon Trail where my characters stopped. It sort of makes the book more interactive when you read it, seeing these locations mentioned in a historical fiction book in real life!

  2. Thanks for your comment, J.D. I appreciate it. I also love visiting places I’ve read about. A few years ago my husband and I visited Austria and heard a concert in the Musikverein. I had heard about this place in a WWII book titled “Vienna Prelude.” It was so fun to actually go there. I felt like I was back in time, living the book! You will be entered in a drawing for a free book of “California Trail Discovered.” Please email your email so I can let you know if you win, and I can then find out where to send it!
    Marie Sontag –

  3. Today will be the 7th day of this blog’s posting, however, my husband and I took a driving tour of the Oregon/California Trail when this posted, and the week we returned I was unable to share the post due to a week-long illness. To give others a chance to view the post and enter the contest for a free book, I am extending the opportunity to win a free book by one more week. It will end September 11. Feel free to share the blog and opportunity to win a free book, then check back here for the winners on September 11! Feel free to email me or send a private messenger on Facebook to let me know your email so I can notify you whether or not you are a winner!

  4. Marie. I purchased one of your books from another series, but have yet to read it. But I am anxious for my 13 year old granddaughters to discover your love of history via your educational expereience and interesting style of writing. I hope to share some of your books with them after I have read them! I have enjoyed following your Oregon Trail experience on fb and look forward to your sharing more of your own travel story!

    • Oh, yay! Thanks for sharing, Sharon. Let me know your thoughts after you read them. Hopefully, you’ll win a copy of “California Trail DIscovered,” and be able to share it with her.

    • Congrats, Sharon! You were one of the three winners of a free book of ”California Trail Discovered!” It will be sent to you after it comes out Oct. 14. Please send me your address in a private message or email. If you haven’t yet ”liked” my FB author page yet at my Facebook author page, you’ll be able to follow the pics and video clips I share in the next few weeks leading up to the book’s launch there. The link is above. They will be in a better, more sequential order there than the few you’ve seen on my public FB page. They will also be on my blog, along with pics of my ”random wheel” showing the three book winners’ first names from this blog! So glad you were a winner. You have been a great cheerleader for me!

  5. What a fantastic interview, Marie and Gail. I love historical fiction for many of these reasons. And, your newest novel, definitely exemplifies this, Marie. I wish you all the best with your upcoming release. Your readers will love it!

  6. Being part of a multicultural family I like to read some historical books to learn about what the different cultures had to go through to get them to where they are today. Having the story told through a fictional character lends the author some more room to bring in other bits and pieces of history and daily life. I look forward to reading this book!

  7. James Clavell’s Shogun and Gai-jin gave me insights into Japanese political history. I already knew quite a bit about the customs from my research, but Clavell delved into the competing factions of government more than I had. I read a nonfiction account of Lewis and Clark when I was a kid, and it fascinated me. I’m looking forward to reading your story of the California trail!.

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