I stepped across the damp cobblestone floor. The musty air filled my lungs as I drew a deep breath. I did nothing to hold back the tears. I stood in a place that still to this day the name alone brings a sense of foreboding. Auschwitz.
I love history! I have for as long as I can remember. I have a photo of myself with my hair braided like Laura Ingalls Wilder, one braid on each side of my head, wearing a plain old-fashioned floral dress, and trying to get a ball on a string into a cup. For my 14th birthday, I had an old-fashioned tea party (pictured). I wore a peach Victorian dress borrowed from a friend. Everyone had to wear a hat and we drank tea from china teacups. About that same time, I wanted to join a group who did Civil War reenactments. I remember meeting one of the ladies at the county fair. She said I would make a good Rose, the daughter of Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a confederate spy. I held my wedding reception at the Landon House, a Civil War plantation in Urbana, Maryland, best known for hosting the “Sabers and Roses Ball” in 1862.
Perhaps, I love history because I grew up smack dab in the middle of it. I was born in Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital city. My hometown of Frederick, Maryland, is the burial grounds of Francis Scott Key and Betsy Ross. I grew up within a half-a-day’s drive of historic locations like Gettysburg, Antietam, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Mount Vernon, and Harper’s Ferry. My favorite place to visit was the Rose Hill Manor Park and Children’s Museum, once the retirement home of Thomas Jefferson.
I’ve also visited the Alamo, Plymouth Plantation and the Mayflower, Carnton Plantation in Tennessee, the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Cades Cove, Tennessee, Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, Ford’s Theatre, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Verona Arena in Verona, Italy… I’ve seen hieroglyphics, petroglyphs (Indian drawings), the names of the pioneers and covered wagon tracks carved into sheer rock on the Oregon Trail. I’ve walked through the ruins of castles in Europe. I’ve seen blood stains on floorboards in a plantation house-turned-hospital.
When I’m in these places, I imagine what it was like to live there… to see life through the eyes of those who lived so long ago. And although we can visit these historical locations and get a feeling for how things were, it’s impossible to go back in time and experience their lives… or is it?
Historical fiction breathes life into history. It becomes real. It’s your own personal time machine where you can travel to any era or event you want. Of course, most of the characters are fictional, still you can experience life the way they lived it. You can answer Alexander Graham Bell’s first phone call. You can sit in the theatre when Abraham Lincoln was shot. You can catch the first look of shoreline after weeks on a schooner or a merchant ship. You can feel every bump and jostle as you cross the open prairie. You can hear the clang as the gate of Auschwitz closes behind you. You can feel the warmth of a campfire and hear the lowing of the longhorns as they settle down for the night. You can feel the damp chill of a stone castle. You can taste the corn for the very first time that the Indians taught your family to plant. You can go anywhere and any “when.”
My favorite eras are the Civil War (love me some hoop skirts) and the Pioneers (who hasn’t dreamed of crossing the prairie in a covered wagon, right?)
Is it any wonder that with my love for history, my debut novel is a historical romance?
Comment with your favorite era of history.