AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

The Process of Fraying
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Separating Fact from Fiction

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Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
Inevitably when I meet with book clubs, I get asked about how much of my novel is true and how much has been fictionalized. It is (maybe not surprisingly) the #1 thing I get asked. I am going to approach this post as a very generic look into what is factual and what isn’t without giving any spoilers (which means I can’t cover much). If you’ve actually read the book, and you are looking for more detail, you can check out a blog entry I wrote shortly after publication over on my website: http://jessnealwoods.com/author/index...

As mentioned in the introductory post, The Process of Fraying is loosely based on my great-grandmother, Violet, and her experiences as she dealt with depression and anxiety in small town Tennessee. Even with first-hand accounts, letters, medical records, etc., I quickly realized that I couldn’t tell her story entirely accurately. There were too many holes (and, to be frank, it was not completely uncommon for medical records to be skewed when it came to institutionalizations). I knew all of this going into the writing journey, and I never intended to write a novel that was an exact portrayal of my great-grandmother’s life; rather, she became an emblem for exploring the social, religious, and medical stigmas surrounding mental illness during mid-20thcentury America. The hope is that a story inspired by her will cause pause and reflection; while we, as a society, have come so far in the way we view and handle mental illness, we still have a long way to go.

With that in mind, here are a few differences between the real story and my fictionalized version:
1. During my research, I found that the years spanning between 1900-1940 were really fascinating (and utterly horrifying) in regards to the treatment of mental health from both a scientific and medical perspective, so I bumped my novel’s timeline back twenty years in order to neatly fit into the end of this era.
2. The second change to the timeline came in the form of the duration of the struggle; my great-grandmother suffered for decades. For the sake of story-telling, I’ve compressed the timeline of my novel to four years.
3. Not everything that happens to Violet the character happened to my great-grandmother, but everything within the novel could have happened to anyone struggling with mental illness during the time period.
4. Most of the characters are fictitious. Some are composite characters.

Here are a few things I preserved:
1. The love Violet and Miles had for each other, their family, and their land is indicative of what I know of my family. Many of the routines within the novel are derived from memories the family has shared with me.
2. The number of children and the progression of birth order is intact. The children’s personalities and experiences are largely fictitious with a few random traits or memories being preserved within the text.
3. The farm is still in the family, and the nature imagery throughout is representative of the property. The nature imagery is one of my favorite parts of this entire story! If you love nature and its impact on our well-being, I think you will appreciate this story.
4. The stigmas Violet faces from the social, religious, and medical communities are aligned with the time period.

Question Time: Feel free to leave comments below to continue this discussion, but I'd also like to ask a question.

I think historical fiction is SO important because it helps history, events, circumstances, people, etc. come alive for readers. Is there a particular historical fiction book you've read that really opened your eyes to something or someone?

Remember that all initial comments count as an entry into the end-of-the-week Giveaway!


message 2: by Amanda (new) - added it

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments Learning about Coco Chanel in Marius Gabriel's The Parisians changed any desire I have ever had to purchase any Chanel products. I am not sure why her history with Naziism isn't common knowledge.


Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
That's interesting! And something I didn't know.


message 4: by Sheila (new)

Sheila Myers | 74 comments I always loved James Michener books for their rich historical detail. Chesapeake comes to mind.


Jess Woods | 109 comments Mod
I've not read him! Will look into it.


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