We’re talking about one of my favourite subjects again today: historical fiction. Larry Peterson is my guest and he’s mulling over whether a story set in the past, within living memory, can be an historical fiction. In January he released his first young adult book, The Priest and The Peaches, which is set in the Bronx during the 1960s.
They find an ally in the local parish priest, Father Tim Sullivan, who tries his best to guide them through the strange, unchartered and turbulent waters of the “grown-up world.” A story that is sad, funny, and inspiring as it shows how the power of family love and faith can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Welcome Larry. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on writing historical fiction.
LP: When I was knee-deep into the writing of The Priest and The Peaches I never considered that it might be considered historical fiction. I was of the mindset that I was simply writing a book at the YA level. In my mind “historical” dealt with things that had taken place way before I was but a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. Then the reality of the concept sunk in. The story was taking place during my early years on this planet. I was alive and experiencing those days that I was writing about. I suddenly felt old because I had become “historical” also. I realized that the time frame I was dealing with was almost 50 years ago. I was here and still reeling (as were so many others) over the Kennedy assassination. The Vietnam War was escalating and a close friend I had gone to school with, Stevie O’Shea, had just been killed in action bringing the war home to our neighbourhood. Medicare had just been signed into law. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been passed. A year earlier, the Civil Rights Act had also been enacted. There were riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles and The Sound of Music was released. I could go on but it is obvious why this work is classified as historical fiction.
I discovered that the advantage for me, as a writer and having actually experienced those days, was that they are part of who I am. The result is, when writing about the time frame, you can “feel” it. You were there and the sounds and sights and people are indelibly embedded in your mind. I did not realize that until I started jarring memories loose, memories that must have been stuck deep down in a hidden cave somewhere in my brain. So many things began popping up. It was like I had stuck a shovel in the ground, dug down and hit a hidden reservoir which contained my past. I was amazed that I was seeing “Joe the Bungalow Guy” driving his ice-cream truck down the street. Or “Little Louie,” the UPS man, and Gus, who had a merry-go-round on the back of a pick-up truck and for ten cents a kid could get on it and Gus would pull the thing around by hand. The subways, the candy stores, the movie theaters and so much more once again became vivid sights.
I guess I should end by saying that unexpectedly revisiting all of these memories became a part of the journey. It enabled me to see not only myself but my family and friends and so many things from days gone by. It was almost as if I were watching an old Super * movie reel. Talk about “perks” of the job. WOW!
Thanks, Larry, for sharing with us what you discovered about writing historical fiction as you worked on your novel. Readers can learn more about The Priest and The Peaches at Larry’s blog and can also find the book online in numerous places, including Amazon.
About Larry Peterson: He was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. A former Metal Lather/Reinforcing Iron-worker, he left that business after coming down with MS. He, his wife and three kids moved to Florida 30 years ago. Larry began doing freelance newspaper commentary after graduating from Tampa College in 1984. He lives in Pinellas Park, Florida.
His first children’s picture book, Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes was published in 2011. In 2012, his full length novel, The Priest and the Peaches was released and he is presently working on the sequel.