BackStory: Four Questions with Becca Borawski Jenkins
Author of You May Hear of a Killing
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise)?
I tend to read mainly non-fiction history, but I love when it is shared in a narrative form. So, for example, Erik Larson’s novels are among my favourites. These sorts of stories allow me to learn (which is why I love history) and also be fully immersed in a compelling story at the same time. The other book that comes to mind immediately for me is Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell—and I can proudly say I read every single footnote (which amounts to more pages than the story itself). I think the “why” that ties my reading interests together is that I like to geek out on facts and the crazy way all the puzzle pieces of history come together into unexpected and dramatic moments.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite? (And why?)
When writing historical fiction, the research is absolutely my favourite part. The writing may even be just an excuse to get sucked into the Internet for hours at a time. I love when I discover a (new-to-me) fact that I can work into a story. It’s like stitching a little gem into a piece of fabric—I know some people will think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and others will recognise the gem and its origin and find a deeper meaning, and yet others will be prompted to identify the gem themselves and so the learning continues.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
Most likely the American West in the 1880s. I tend to write in that period a lot and I think it’s the renegade spirit of the era coupled with the harshness of life that intrigues me. It wasn’t easy to live there in those times. It’s been my personal experience that harsh areas breed a unique type of person full of toughness and generosity at the same time. The people who forged their way into the American West were entrepreneurs, adventurers, lost souls, dreamers, runaways, and much more. The potential for dramatic conflict is high, and yet it all still rings true to what we face today—to what ends do we pursue our dreams? What are we willing to let go of to find our dream life? And what happens if it’s not what you dreamed?
What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing historical flash?
For me, it takes the idea of poetry or prose poems to another level—because not only are there elements of the story that are not or cannot be explained in the space allowed, but then there are all the bits of historical context that can’t be elaborated upon either. I think it’s what makes it powerful and intriguing, but also challenging. What can you include to make it feel authentic and to draw an evocative and accurate setting, but not bog down the poetry, rhythm, story, and…run out of space. Being able to effectively draw the reader into the time period and setting is a challenge, but it’s also what makes historical fiction so unique and powerful. I think it’s an unexpected combination for many people, especially when you pull genre into it, as well, so you have the opportunity to do something very fresh.
Becca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has stories in Menacing Hedge, The Forge, Ghost Parachute, and Jellyfish Review. She recently received three Pushcart Prize nominations. She spent a year living off grid in a remote part of Idaho, and now roams North America in her RV. Find her online at http://beccabjenkins.com/ and on Twitter @BeccaNJP.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.