Words to Live By from Fiction’s Greatest Father (IMHO)

Yesterday was Father’s Day. In honor, today’s post was to be a commentary on several of my favorite fictional fathers. I mulled it over for some time before deciding to do a post on my most favorite fictional father, and what he represents, not only as a father but also as a human, using his own words. His words are timeless, full of truth, and well…far surpass any of my own in both wisdom and eloquence.

 

I fear my choice is a bit cliché, but I cannot help it. I am a Southerner—Alabama-born—and my favorite fictional father is the epitome of the true Southern gentleman. The book in which he lives was the work of an Alabama-born author, and it has been said that the man and father so beautifully drawn in her book was inspired by her own father. So perhaps in some ways, my choice isn’t all that fictional. Quite moving to consider.

 

I’ll start the list of what this character represents by saying: Lucky, lucky Jem and Scout Finch. They have a father who loves them, guides them, chides them when he must. Most importantly, they have a father who leads by example.

 

Atticus (Gregory Peck), Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham) Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Atticus (Gregory Peck), Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham) Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

 

 

And lucky, lucky Harper Lee. She must have had the same.

 

Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee

Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee

 

Fictional or no, Atticus Finch or Amasa Coleman Lee, you don’t have to be a father to follow their example.

 

EMPATHY

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. …until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

(If I had to choose one line in all of To Kill a Mockingbird as my all-time favorite, it would be this one.)

 

COURAGE

 “I wanted you to see what real courage, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

JUSTNESS

 “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.”– Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

(This quote represents Atticus’s opinion, but his words are, to me, idealistic–the way things should be. Reality is all too often the opposite. Even the book’s reality is opposite. Atticus’s words are disproved in Tom Robinson’s case. However, his thoughts on what our judicial system should be are inspiring. Now if we could just get there…)

 

 HONESTY

 “Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

INTEGRITY

 “…before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”—Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Who is your favorite fictional father? Your favorite quote? Feel free to comment and share.

 

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Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about a young girl learning to let go and find her own way amidst the trials of the Great Depression and STANDING TALL ON MULBERRY HILL, another middle grade about Klan uprisings and true friendship beyond color lines in 1949 Birmingham, AL. Find out more about Laura and her books by visiting her website or chatting with her on Twitter.

 

 

Unsticking the Label of (Historical) Fiction

Why do you write historical fiction?

I get asked this question all the time and I do my best to answer it by expressing the passion I feel about my characters, my stories and my writing.  Because sometimes, I get the feeling that the question that’s really being asked is why don’t you write something I want to read?

Historical fiction is a tough sell—any one of us who writes it can tell you that (except, perhaps, Philippa Gregory or Bernard Cornwell).  Especially to teenagers.  It all too often reminds us of schoolwork and multiple-choice exams, of that teacher who assigns a chapter in a textbook and then snoozes through the class period.  I unreservedly admit that I would probably react the same way if someone said, “I write statistical fiction.” Or “I write stories about dishwashing.”  There’s something onerous about being forced to do something that makes it that much more difficult to try to find pleasure in anything associated with it.

I visited my old high school last week as part of the Humboldt County Author Festival.  I spoke to two different assemblies and then had a round table discussion with the student-run book club.  I told them outright that I don’t remember my high school history classes at all (except for the fact that the guy who sat in front of me junior year always—always—chewed gum.  That boy had enormous jaw muscles.)  I didn’t take any history classes in college.  (Not one.  I got out of my CSU requirement for US History by taking a multiple-choice exam.)

I didn’t fall in love with history until I got a taste of experiencing it when I lived in England.  At eleven a.m. on November 11, everything in the town I lived in stopped.  I was on my way to the library and when the church bell tolled, all the pedestrians—all the traffic—stood still for a minute of silence to remember the day World War I ended.

It made history feel very real.  People lived and died and starved and suffered and celebrated.  And people remembered.  And this is why I write historical fiction–because it is real and visceral and more than just dates and battles and multiple-choice.

So how do we get readers to come to that same epiphany?  We know that the things that went on in history can be more desperate than a dystopian, more horrific than horror, more romantic than romance, more fantastical than fantasy.

Perhaps part of the problem is the pigeon-holing of genre.  I’m sure authors of vampire novels will tell you that vampires are a tough sell because people are tired of them.  And authors of dystopian novels will say that the market is so flooded that no one wants to see another dystopian.  At the end of the day (or the book) the genre shouldn’t matter.

The story should.

I hope that my stories could be set in any time period and in any setting and still have resonance.  Gilt is about a girl who must extricate herself from a dysfunctional friendship before it’s too late.  Tarnish is about a girl struggling to find her place in a repressive world. It could happen on a space ship, in a modern high school, on the high plains, or between two fallen angels.  I just happened to set it in the Tudor court.  I’ve even riffed on J. Anderson Coats’s idea that history is the ultimate secondary world and detailed how the Tudor court was actually a dystopian society.

Genre shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately too many of us get stuck in the mindset of I only read paranormal or I don’t like sci-fi or Historical fiction is too much like school.  We all need to unstick the labels—authors, readers, publishers, reviewers—and get back down to the reason we fell in love with reading in the first place.

Story.

Geeking Out

How do you know when you’re a history geek?  Well, check out Elizabeth May’s brilliant post from Monday for starters.  You’re probably also on the geek side of normal if you can answer yes to any of the following questions:

1.  Can you speak/read/understand/make jokes in an extinct language?

2.  Have you ever insisted that your family accompany you on a 300-mile roundtrip journey just to visit a field that may or may not have been the site of a long-forgotten battle?

3.  When they have a history question, do your friends call you rather than check Wikipedia?

4.  Do you know more about the family tree of a historical figure than you do about your own?

5.  Have you ever got a sense of deja vu only to realize it’s because history repeats itself?

6.  Do your local reference librarians know you by name?

7.  Have you ever had to tear up a check because you wrote the wrong century in the date line?

8.  Have you ever gone a week without bathing or washing your hair, cooked on a coal-fired stove, slept on a straw-filled mattress, worn a hair shirt, walked a mile in leather-soled shoes or even tried to read by the light of a single tallow candle just to see “what it would have been like”?

9.  By the same token, are you thankful every day for modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and toothpaste?

10.  Have you ever dug up a carpark just to see what lies beneath the asphalt? (bonus points if you know what I’m referencing.)

 

Most of my friends have got used to me blurting out historical factoids and talking about 16th Century characters as if they’ve been cavorting on a reality TV program called The Real Housewives of the Tudor Court.  Many of my new acquaintances accept my geekiness for what it is–because most of them are writers in some way shape or form and we all have our own brand of crazy.  Even my editor–after a phone call in which I went off on tangents about everything from the Levellers to Thomas More to the end of Apartheid in South Africa–said, “Geekery in general is something I have a soft spot for.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t spend my life working with writers!”

I’ve found my people.  Are you with me?

 

My Teenage Love for Those Moody Men of the Moors

When I was in high school, I fell in love with Gothic historical fiction. And Gothic historical men. I can’t remember which tempestuous hero of the English moors first sparked this literary infatuation, but I was smitten.

Here’s a short tribute to the brooding Byronic males who won my heart when I was a teen reader.

Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, you moody wild child, I didn’t care that you clashed with Catherine and embraced your dark side far too often. You had unruly hair and an undying love: that’s what mattered most to teenaged me (who also happened to be named Catherine).

JaneEyre

Mr. Rochester, you lonely, haunted master of Thornfield Hall, when you fell in love with plain Jane Eyre, you gave this quiet, studious girl hope that romance could happen to just about anyone. I didn’t care what or whom you were hiding in your house.

Rebecca

Maxim de Winter, you charming, troubled widower from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, I think I loved you most of all, although looking back, I see you were far too old for me…and you had one of the creepiest housekeepers in literature. Yet you inspired me to write my own Rebecca-style novel, The Days of Devonshire, which I lovingly wrote by hand in three spiral notebooks…and which will never see the light of day, if I can help it.

Dracula

Even you, Count Dracula, caught my young fancy. That neck-biting move with the ladies was awfully alluring, and you were always such a nice dresser.

Now that I’m a grown, married adult, I realize these troubled literary heroes would all make terrible real-life boyfriends and husbands. Undying love is a beautiful thing…as long as you don’t have to deal with daily mood swings and troublesome first wives who don’t completely go away.

Still, there’s an eternal soft spot for these gentlemen in my heart, and I suppose, looking at some of the male characters in my own Gothic historical novel, I can see that my love for troubled heartthrobs haunts my writing to this day.

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Cat Winters is the author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a WWI-era ghost tale coming April 2, 2013, from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.