Writing Historical Fiction
June 5, 2015
THE MOST COMMON QUESTION I receive about writing historical fiction is whether the historical scenes presented on the pages are true. The simple answer is yes. Of course, the yes comes with a twist.
Come and Take It-Search for the Treasure of the Alamo depicts the historical period leading up to and following the siege of the Alamo. Volumes of research material exist regarding Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, Santa Anna and Joe the slave and they were all real people who lived and died in this time period. And yet, as with all historical fiction, some of the novel’s action must be extrapolated from facts and circumstances that confronted them at the time.
For instance, any stories about Bowie and the other heroes of the Alamo must cross into the unknown because all of the Texas soldiers died in the battle. Questions about the motivations and thought processes of the characters who fought the Mexican’s army at the Alamo necessarily must be left to the imagination. And that’s where the fun starts.
Peaking inside the head of a man who lived over 170 years ago is a presumptuous exercise even for the greatest historical scholars, but the exciting thing is anyone can do it. Does the reader agree, disagree, or is he/she willing to suspend analysis to come along for the ride? Historical fiction must convince the reader of one important thing—it could have happened that way.
The reality is we will never know for sure what happened in March 1836. There is no correct answer why Bowie stayed in the Alamo knowing he faced certain death. Or why General Fannin planted himself at Goliad despite the mounting evidence that Santa Anna planned to march there next. These are questions that even the living Bowie and Fannin might have been conflicted over and unable to explain, but historical fiction can take a shot at answering them.
I was inspired to write about Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and Joe the slave – as well as other characters of the Alamo—because the myths and legends of the heroic battle and its combatants are ingrained into young Texans from birth. Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad! These are chants all Texans know. But what’s lost in the heroic stories is the humanity, hopes, dreams and fears of the brave soldiers who died in these battles.
Jim Bowie, for instance, could have left to be treated for the disease that was ravaging his body before Santa Anna’s attack. Why didn’t he? Could it be that he was protecting a treasure he’d previously stolen from the Mexicans until it was safely hidden away for General Sam Houston? Bowie’s treasure – the treasure of the Alamo (also know as the San Saba Treasure or “Lost Bowie Mine”) has been rumored about since the warrior’s gallant death.
Questions like this confront Nat and Renee in Come and Take It and they must solve the mystery before their search for the treasure can be fulfilled. The protagonists are propelled from Texas to New Orleans to Alabama and back again in their treasure quest.
Feel free to comment on crossing the line between fact and fiction.
Landon Wallace is a native Texan, trial attorney, and the author of Come and Take It: Search for the Treasure of the Alamo. Visit with Landon at www.authorlandonwallace.com.